Sunday, October 7, 2018

Reading (Paper) Books

A picture the 5yrold took from a Plants Vs. Zombies book
As you might have guessed, I like books. Even though my career as a primarily online writing teacher takes place on the computer screen, or perhaps because of that, I prefer paper books. I like to hold the book in my hand, turn the pages, make notes, and even just carry it around. I like to look at the books on our bookshelves and think about the books I've read and the ones my family has read. 

Sure, I've read some books on the Kindle app on my phone, especially since they are easier to carry on vacation. I can't say that I really enjoyed reading the books like that. 

Our child likes to hold his books, rearrange them on the shelves, sometimes put them out on the table to "play library" and make recommendations to us. The best part recently has been when he takes "grown-up" books off the shelf and looks at them. For a while, he was pulling down comic books and looking at them. Last week he noticed that we have cookbooks with pictures and recipes we could try. Sometimes he notices the art books and flips through the pages. 

Having physical books around make a difference for us and our child. In the New York Times Article, "Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves," Teddy Wayne writes, "Were I a teenager in 2015, I may not have found “Lovely Rita” or acquired an early taste at all for the Liverpudlian lads. The albums stacked up next to the record player, in plain sight for years, would be invisible MP3s on a computer or phone that I didn’t own. Their proximal existence could have been altogether unknown to me." Replace the albums for books and this is what we hope to offer to our child.

We read regularly to our child, sometimes choosing the books for him and mostly letting him choose the books. Since he's five, it is hard to model reading, at least serious reading, in such a way that he can watch us read. But he clearly likes his books and we enjoy reading with him. Sometimes we can read a page or two of our own books together. One day we'll be able to read much more. 

His favorite series right now is Plants Vs. Zombies. I honestly find them hard to read and follow, but he loves them. He'll look at the pages himself, ask us to read them, and then he takes pictures of the pages, acts them out and draws some of the characters and new scenes. Since we're in the camp that any reading is good reading, we encourage this by taking the these books out of the library.

If you're looking for recommendations, you might follow me on Goodreads or visit your local, independent bookstore or library. A Mighty Girl has great kids' books recommendations and Common Sense Media is also helpful. 

Do you read paper or e-books? Share your thoughts in the comments section. 

More on reading paper books and keeping books at home: 







Tuesday, October 2, 2018

ICYI: The Birthday Tradition That Costs Nothing, But Means Everything


Thanks to Scary Mommy for publishing my piece, "The Birthday Tradition That Costs Nothing, But Means Everything." For five years now, we've been keeping a birthday letter throughout the year for our son. We write down not only the places we go and the things we do, but also funny things he says, what he's interested in and more.

Click through to read the whole piece. 


Monday, September 24, 2018

Walking Out @ 1 pm



Sexual misconduct and assault happen regularly to women. This has been the cost of being born and living as female in the United States.

I don't want it to be like this for the next generation.

Today at 1 PM I'm walking out.

I'm walking out because I don't want our daughters to grow up afraid and told to: check the back seat of her car before getting in; avoid empty subway cars; sit near the bus driver just in case; think twice about entering into a car alone if someone is sitting alone in the next car; never tell anyone on the phone that she is "home alone;" check behind the shower curtain in a hotel; carry keys between clenched fingers if she is out in the dark; think twice about wearing a pony-tail that someone could grab; take self defense classes; stop being hysterical, avoid wearing any clothes that might be interpreted as, "asking for it"; check a quiet public bathroom before going into a stall; be aware of anyone anywhere near her; accept anything from someone who might think that means she is saying, "yes" to sex; smile; not smile; never travel alone; stick with friends after dark; know her place; watch her drink; stop being a bitch, avoid eating out alone; avoid running alone; stop being so aggressive; avoid going into a store alone; avoid groups of men on the street; avoid a single man standing on the street; avoid listening to headphones; avoid looking at her phone; avoid eye contact; make eye contact so "they think you are human;" not ruin the good man's life (#whyIdidn'treport).

What if our sons grow up learning to: treat other people, especially women, with respect; ask for consent; never, ever hurt anyone; take responsibility for anything they do; believe women when they speak their experiences.


Information from Facebook:
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez have bravely come forward and shared their stories about sexual misconduct and assault at the hands of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Even though Dr. Blasey Ford has repeatedly stated her desire to testify and bravely share her story, Senate Republicans are doing everything they can to shame, bully, and force her to testify under their unacceptable, inappropriate conditions.

At 1 p.m. EST Monday, join us for a national walk-out to show our support for Dr. Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez. All you need to do is wear black and walk out - of your home, your office, your classroom, wherever you are - and post a picture to your social media with the hashtag #BelieveSurvivors.

If you can’t walk out, you can show your support by posting a video or a picture to this event. Help spread the word: we believe Dr. Blasey Ford. We believe Deborah Ramirez. We believe survivors. And we won’t stand for Senate Republicans’ despicable attempts to strong-arm a sexual assault survivor.

If you're in Washington, D.C., join dozens of organizations in the Senate Hart Atrium at 12:30 pm EST. At 1pm EST, we'll walk out of the atrium to the Supreme Court for a National Speakout.

The event is co-hosted by:
Alliance for Justice
Alianza Nacional De Campesinas
Be A Hero
Center for Biological Diversity
Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC)
Center For American Progress Action Fund
Center for Reproductive Rights
CREDO Mobile
End Rape on Campus
Girls for Gender Equity - GGE
Know Your IX
Indivisible Guide
Jobs With Justice
Justice for Migrant Workers, J4MW
Lambda Legal
Legal Aid at Work
Me Too Movement
MoveOn
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Domestic Workers Alliance
National Organization for Women (NOW)
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Women's Law Center
People For the American Way
Planned Parenthood Action
Progressive Turnout Project
SEIU
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The National Center for Lesbian Rights
The National Women's Health Network
The Opportunity Agenda
The United State of Women
UltraViolet
YWCA USA
Women's March

For more: 
5 Ways to Raise Boys Who Truly Understand Sexual Consent
A Mighty Girl
Not that Bad by Roxane Gay




Monday, September 17, 2018

Writing As Process

Close up of drawn apples with numbers and letters in the center.
The Kindergartener has colored some in with  different colors
and drawn a frame around them in yellow. 

Our Kindergartener is learning how to write letters by first learning to control his marks on paper. There are coloring and tracing exercises. Sometimes he writes uppercase and lowercase letters. The focus is on practicing and learning through repetition and approaching the material from different angles. I don't think anyone is telling him he's done something wrong, only to continue on and try his best. The focus is on the writing process rather than the outcome. Watching him play with crayons, markers and pencils on blank paper and worksheets reminds me of how artists create.

A focus on process is a good approach to take when you draft a new piece of writing or even edit something you've gone over many times. By lessening the importance of the final product, you might learn something new by looking at it differently. Try rewriting a piece in the second person or the first person if you wrote it in the third person. Change the tense to the past tense if you started in the present tense. Maybe you could try to take someone else's point of view. These exercises, whether they end up in the final piece or not, are all a part of the writing process.

No writer becomes famous if their work remains unpublished. There are good reasons to prize final drafts. But we should also prize how we arrived at that final draft. The active process of writing, revising, renewing and reviewing our work is a part of the final process, even if it is invisible to a reader.






Monday, September 10, 2018

Telling Your Story

Frame Designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany c. 1905 - 1920 from the Metropolitan Museum's art in the public domain 

Dear Reader:
I'm going to make some assumptions about you. 1. You've had at least one argument in your life. 2. After that argument, you and the other person disagreed about how the argument went.
True?
I thought so. Most of us have been in that situation more times than we want to admit.

How can you avoid this happening in the world you create on the page? It is your job to craft sentences, plot and tone that lead the reader through the same journey you intended, not the one that she set out to have. Sure, every reader will enter your piece with her own experiences and biases, but you want to do your best to make your writing as clear as possible.

Let's say your character is sick, dropped her car off for service, went to the pharmacy, and then waited for a ride home in the rain. You might say that this character is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Or, maybe instead of simply stating what happened, you can add in some texture that makes it clear the character is happy she has a job to pay for her car service and medicine, not to mention is excited to try out her new raincoat. Adding more details will help to clarify the character's mindset and experience, which is information that teaches the reader more about the character and the piece's overall plot.

This isn't just a "cup half-empty" discussion, but a scene-setting exercise. You can use tone and description to present a series of events (the plot) in a number of ways. It is all about how you frame the events themselves.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Monday, August 27, 2018

Upcoming Book Festivals in the Washington, D.C., area

Pile of picture books, mostly from the DC Public Library system,
by authors who will be at the National Book Festival.

I'm excited about the upcoming book festivals in the D.C. area. This will be the first year that I take our child, now five, to hear some of the children's book authors at the National Book Festival. We've been reading some of the authors and are excited to hear Dan Santat read. Maybe we'll see you there? 

Below are the links to the upcoming National Book Festival and the Fall for the Book Festival. For more area readings, check out the Folger Shakespeare Library's O.B. Hardison Poetry Series 2018 - 2019,  and Politics and Prose Bookstore's events, as well as Beltway Poetry Quarterly for more listings. 

What readings are you excited about attending this fall?


Saturday, September 1 at the Washington Convention Center. 


October 10 - 13 at George Mason University and other Northern Virginia locations





Monday, August 20, 2018

First Day of School & Patterns

Chair from my child's new classroom with the words, "Where The Wild Things Are"
and the seat painted with characters from the book.

Our five-year-old started elementary school today. (Yes, of course, I cried a little. A new school and a new school year...)

Our child's new school year marks another transition and fresh start for all of us. My family is back in Washington, D.C., after an academic year abroad and I have a chance to start new habits and routines as a parent and writer. Part of starting a new routine is recognizing my current habits first.

This attention to patterns is an important aspect of parenting. We ask ourselves many questions over the weeks - Is my child always tired at a certain time of day? Does my child need to practice doing X in order to be more independent? We parent-writers are often good at identifying our children's habits in order to help them, but it can be hard to turn that analytical eye on ourselves, especially when it concerns our creative writing endeavors.

Habits and patterns are useful to notice for ourselves as we think about our commitment to writing. Here are some questions I'm asking myself as we start a new semester that might be helpful for you, too:

How much time do I dedicate to drafting, editing and reading each week?
How can I find more time?
How can I prioritize my time to ensure that I continue to dedicate X number of hours per week to drafting, editing, and reading each week?
Do I have polished work that can be submitted for publication?
When will I regularly submit my work, new and recently rejected work?
Are there readings that I'd like to attend this season? Did I mark them in the calendar and commit to them?
Do I have a writing group or other readers who support me? How can I find them if I don't have them right now? Are there people or groups I could reach out to?

Here are some additional helpful links:
Earlier blog posts about fresh starts and self-evaluations
How to Break Bad Habits published in Psychology Today

If you are looking for more personalized help with your writing, including setting deadlines, let me know if I can help as a writing coach. Learn more by clicking through here



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

DC-area writers: Narrative Memoir Workshop at Politics and Prose Bookstore


Front of the t-shirt reads, "so many books so little time" and the back reads the name of Politics and Prose Bookstore. While wearing this t-shirt in a cafe in Reykjavik this summer, a woman asked me where I found my shirt because, she said, "it would be perfect for my daughter!" Here's to celebrating reading, writing and independent bookstores locally and from abroad!

I'm excited to announce that this fall I will be teaching a memoir writing workshop at Politics and Prose Bookstore. Please scroll down for the details and register directly through the bookstore. The class will be held at their Northwest location on Connecticut Avenue.

Spaces filled quickly in the past when I've offered this workshop, so I encourage you to register sooner rather than later.

If you have any questions about the class, don't hesitate to email me: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com or contact the bookstore directly.

Five Mondays. Oct 15, 22, 29, Nov 5, 19, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
Price: 
$175 (10% Off for Members)
Memoir, like all creative non-fiction, relies on literary craft tools such as scene and plot to mold a clear storyline and develop characters. 
This five-meeting workshop will help you to write your memories into scenes for essays or chapters of a full manuscript. Participants will respond to writing prompts and workshop one essay or manuscript excerpt (up to 750 words.) We will consider issues of editing, revising, organizing research and chapters, and publishing. Students will receive feedback from peers and the instructor during group workshop sessions throughout the last four classes.  
This class is open to all levels, from first-time memoirists to experienced writers.
In-class writing prompts will change every session; you are welcome to take this class more than once.
No homework is due for the first day of class. Please bring paper and a pen (or charged laptop) to every class. You will be writing in-class and at home starting with the first session.
We will rely on email for communication and distribution of student writing after the first week.
To participate fully in the class, it is necessary to have an email account that you check regularly. 

Required Reading: 
Current issue of Creative Nonfiction (https://www.creativenonfiction.org/issue)

Recommended Reading:
The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. by Phillip Lopate
Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoirby Beth Kephart
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
Chloe Yelena Miller has been teaching writing privately and at the college level since 2005, when she received her MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poetry chapbook, Unrest, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her writing has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Poet’s Market, Inside Higher Ed, The Cortland Review, and Narrative, and others. Read sample publications and writing advice here: http://chloeyelenamiller.com

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Returning to Washington, D.C.

Geysir steaming in Iceland
My family and I are back home in Washington, D.C., after our academic year in Florence and some travels through parts of England and Iceland. Much like a new year, this moment feels like a good chance to encourage thoughtful habits and live the lives we wish to live.

From a writing perspective, the distance from our usual routines, tastes, sights, conversations - well, everything - encouraged me to look at things differently and literally shake things up. The usual voices keeping me quiet with, "no, you can't write that," or sarcastically asking, "you think you're good enough to try that project," were mostly overtaken by better voices. I hope to continue to give myself this distance from those negative voices, real or imagined, and explore our surrounding world as if it were new. 

It was lovely to live in an apartment in Florence with large windows and a view of the hills. Sure, we couldn't run the dishwasher and the washing machine at the same time without blowing a fuse and the internet didn't always work, but the airiness and having few of our personal belongings gave us space to be together. From counter and table space to closet space, we literally had more space to move about and focus more deeply. This year we hope to continue to live more simply from a materialistic point of view and make room for more important things. 

My first impressions of returning to Washington, D.C., are mostly startling. It was familiar, but didn't immediately feel like home. Of course, I followed the news from abroad and continue to be shocked by what I read and work to counter, but it was the daily life around me that first struck me. Driving for the first time in almost a year felt difficult at first and then freeing. Such wide roads and so much space compared to sitting in the passenger seat of Italian cars and motorini zooming around! The supermarket looked like three stores knitted together after shopping in Florence. The prices seem insanely high after Florence and insanely reasonable after our time in Iceland. Walking through the local Trader Joe's and collecting jelly beans and my favorite cookies felt like a happy dream. I'm trying not to be offended by no one saying, "good morning" or otherwise acknowledging each other's presence, even after sometimes feeling like it was too much talking with strangers in Italy. 

Our child is thrilled to be back in his room with the many things we didn't ship to Italy. While he woke up the first morning needing help finding the bathroom and claimed he never, ever ate oatmeal before, he otherwise remembers this version of life. And, yes, former-Italian-teachers-of-his, we promise to keep up his Italian with a class, books, movies and friends!

I look forward to working in-person as a writing coach and teaching a class at Politics and Prose bookstore this fall (registration should open next week.) Don't hesitate to email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com with any questions.





Friday, June 15, 2018

Until September!



Our academic year here in Florence, Italy, is (somehow!) coming to an end. We've experienced so much that I'm sure I'll be writing about it for years to come. We'll be spending the rest of the summer saying, "ciao, ciao," to our friends, city and many "last" bowls of pasta before settling back into life in Washington, D.C.

If you are interested in writing coaching, I will be available to meet with you in-person or virtually after Labor Day in Washington, D.C. Email me to schedule your appointment (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com. You can read more about my writing coach services and packages here.

I'll be back to blogging in September, too. Until then, maybe we'll cross paths on Twitter or my Writing Coach Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

New published piece: Do Your Parents Have Amnesia About Parenting? (Hint: Yes)


I'm excited to have a new piece, Do Your Parents Have Amnesia About Parenting? (Hint: Yes), up at Sammiches & Pysch Meds today. I hope you'll read it for a laugh.


PS: This is not memoir. My parents and in-laws are very supportive. But my friends and the internet talk. A lot. I changed the details and braided in some fiction.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Birthday Wish: Donation to So Others Might Eat



So Others Might Eat is an outstanding organization in Washington, D.C., that helps those who need it the most. As my birthday approaches, I ask that you consider donating to this outreach organization. Click through to donate directly.

Here is their Mission:

SOME (So Others Might Eat) is an interfaith, community-based organization that exists to help the poor and homeless of our nation’s capital. We meet the immediate daily needs of the people we serve with food, clothing, and health care. We help break the cycle of homelessness by offering services, such as affordable housing, job training, addiction treatment, and counseling, to the poor, the elderly and individuals with mental illness. Each day, SOME is restoring hope and dignity one person at a time. We invite you to join us.

The Need

There are 8,350 homeless men, women and children in our nation’s capital. Nearly one in five DC residents live at or below the poverty line.

You can watch some of their success stories here

Monday, May 21, 2018

Writing Prompt for Getting Unstuck

A child wearing a hat and vest while looking through binoculars
Some people are afraid to write. Sometimes we are all afraid to write and we feel blocked. That "we" includes me, of course. The blank page can be daunting.

To get unstuck, I might start by looking closely at a physical object and writing down exactly what I see. Grammar, details and insight don't matter at this stage. The goal is to start writing a concrete description of something in front of me by looking closely at the object. How big is it? What color is it? If I were to smell it, what does it smell like? What about tasting it? What if I touched it? What textures are there? If I dropped it or knocked on it like a door, would it make a sound? (Yes, you're right: use your five senses to describe the object.)

You might set a timer and write continuously for five minutes. If you aren't sure what to write, you might simply repeat, "This is a stupid exercise." That should quickly bore you and you'll eventually get down to the business of writing something more interesting.

As you flex your so-called writing muscles, ideas might pop up. The object might appear to be a metaphor for something. Or you might start a scene in which you throw the object into a pool to watch the splash. Or maybe nothing comes of it, but, hooray!, you've written for five minutes and gotten started.

The key to breaking writer's block is to write. Write about anything. Write a list of what you did today and then look back over it for patterns, interesting words or insight into what you meant to do or did accomplish today. Everything is possible fodder for a piece that you can better explore in a later draft. And if you write something that doesn't go anywhere, that's ok, too.




Friday, May 11, 2018

Publications: Lyric Essay and Poems

I'm writing to share some publishing news -




Thank you to Entropy for publishing my essay Cement Foundation, which you can read here. I've been working on this lyric personal essay for years and appreciate the thoughtful feedback that friends have offered on various drafts, as well as Entropy's editor's advice. This essay, built around a clay statue of an Albanian woman churning butter, is about love found, love lost and life lessons that come with the passage of time.



I'm also excited to share that two poems about my miscarriage will be in the next print issue of Room Magazine. Friendship and music (a reference to Jovanotti's song Amami starts one poem) offer a starting point for these poems. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Carrots with Bones

What a ride! Black and white photo of a mural at Pinocchio Park.

Our almost-five-year-old child came home the other day and announced he wanted "carrots with bones." He said that the chef at his Italian pre-school prepares "delicious" carrots with bones. He declared my boneless carrots "not good."

Um, what?

I talked to his teachers to see if there was something, anything?, that might resemble carrots with bones. One teacher explained that since there are carrots in the meatballs that of course he thinks the carrots have bones. Another teacher reassured me that they do not insert bones in the carrots.

Huh.

Sometimes parenting, perhaps especially while living abroad, is 30% confusion. Maybe all parenting is like that. Writing is at least 30% confusion.

As we approach Mother's Day, I want to send a shout-out to all parents who are working to understand their world, care for their families, work and write. It isn't (always? ever?) easy to balance so many loves and responsibilities.

I wish we could rebrand "Mother's Day" and "Father's Day" as "Parent's Day." So many of us parent a child, whether we are the official guardian, birth parent, relative or friend. Our gender doesn't matter and drawing attention to it only excludes some parents and families. As a friend of ours would say to her child about loved ones, those of us who love and care for children are "their people." We are the ones the child can depend on, laugh with, cry with and and prepare carrots for -  with or without their bones.


For more on writing while parenting, you might enjoy these posts:
Cut + Paste / A Residency in Motherhood Radio Show
Guest Post: Writing Resources for Parents by Dr. DeMisty D. Bellinger






Thursday, May 3, 2018

June Writing Coach Sale (book and pre-pay by Friday, May 11)

View of the sky (wispy white below a darker blue)

Thinking about working with a private writing coach? I'm offering a 15% discount* on June appointments booked and pre-paid between today and Friday, May 11th (midnight, EST.) This offer is valid for the first three new or returning clients who contact me.

Via email, phone or video call, I can offer you feedback on your writing, help you to create a writing to do list or outline and offer you prompts and reading suggestions to get started on something new.

Click through here to read more details about my writing coach services.

Most of you know that I am currently in Florence, Italy. If we schedule a voice or video call, it will likely be during your morning (East coast, USA, time.)

I will have limited appointments available this coming July and August. As of Sept. 4th, I will be available both in person in the Washington, D.C., area and via voice or video calls.

Email me today to discuss and book your first appointment (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

*The 15% discount is taken off of the base price per hour. It does not include the usual 10% discount off of three or more hours purchased at once.






Monday, April 30, 2018

Drafting: Seemingly Unrelated Drafts & False Starts

Black and white photo of Florence seen above from Fiesole.
I find endless photos on my phone taken by our almost five year old. He practices and practices until he finds the angle, light and composition that interests him. He was very happy about this one. 

I might sit down to write something new that's unrelated to anything I've written before. What fun to try something new! Those first words seem to glitter in the light. Sometimes, after some work, the results are strong. And sometimes, even after hours of writing, editing and revising, the result is, well, sh*t.

Of course, no writer, perhaps especially busy parent writers, wants to sit down with the goal of writing sh*t. We all wish to write something moving, beautiful and maybe even important to a reader somewhere eventually. But that can't happen in first drafts and it certainly can't happen all of the time.

For those failed attempts, the end result of having written only adds to your writing experience and strengthens your skills. Even if it doesn't feel like it at first, that's ok. (Enter deep breaths and logical thoughts.)

In a graduate writing workshop, Tom Lux would call "extra" writing in a poem the "on ramp." It might be that you needed to write something in order to get yourself to the necessary idea or writing. Eventually, that beginning part that got you there - the "on ramp" - can be deleted (perhaps with some pain on your part) from the final draft of the poem.

I think of failed drafts as "on ramps," too, because they helped you to literally practice writing. 

Like practicing a sport, you need to stretch and tone your muscles, focus your concentration and try new things in order to get back to the core actions of your sport. Maybe you are a runner and you try some yoga. Or you are a swimmer and you spend some time dancing. In the end, using your body differently will help you with your final, perhaps seemingly unrelated goal. 

Writing is the same. You need to keep writing and thinking. You might try writing in different genres or writing on different topics. You might try to tell your memoir in a children's book form in order to see the main ideas quickly and simply. Or you might need to write a resume for a job application and find yourself thinking about your life experiences that relate to a poem you want to write, but don't know how to start. You might decide to write about something upsetting and discover that you don't yet have the necessary emotional distance to tell the story well. 

I find that I have a lot of false starts that never lead anywhere. Sure, sometimes that feels like a waste of time and energy. I try to remind myself that the exercise of writing, thinking and working to craft words in a particular order helps me to be ready to write the next (perhaps even better) urgent thing.

So remember that you will have many false starts. You might write and edit full drafts that never end up published anywhere. You might write lines for pieces that never get written. This is all practice as you limber up your writing skill and hone your editing skills for other pieces. 

And who knows, some of those false starts that feel wrong today might eventually clear themselves up in your mind so that you can approach the subject or idea or key word better in the future. You might just surprise yourself and write something new and different that will have value to readers. 


Monday, April 23, 2018

Writing Resources

Geometric ceiling design in the Bardini Museum in Florence, Italy

I hope that your writing, editing and submitting is going smoothly this spring.

I'm writing to ask how my website can serve as an even better resource for you. If you look around my site,  chloeyelenamiller.com, you'll see that I've gathered resources along the right side of the homepage. I would be happy to add more links based on questions or comments that you might have. To share your thoughts, please respond to this post or email me directly (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com).

To learn more about working with me on your project. you can learn more on my Writing Coach page. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Why Do I Teach Writing?

In some of my online college composition courses, I ask my students to complete a student questionnaire. The final question is, "Do you have a question for me?" In one class, a number of students asked a version of, "Why do you teach writing?"

Why do I teach? Why do I enjoy teaching online to mostly adult students? There really isn't one answer.

Perhaps the biggest answer is that I am a writer and I enjoy discussing the craft and power of good writing. In particular, I enjoy helping students, especially self-proclaimed, "non-writers," to find a way into a subject and present their ideas clearly. Most of my classes are required for graduation. The students might not love writing, but as adults navigating personal, professional and educational obligations, they understand it is an important skill.

We need to regularly communicate with words, if not in writing. We need our words, sentences and paragraphs to clearly communicate our ideas. This is true for journalists, plumbers and dancers. That is to say, everyone needs to find peace with words and use them regularly.

Most of my college students have years of writing experience. They don't see it that way because they aren't professional writers or they think that their writing (by which they might mean any form of communication) hasn't been particularly successful or easy. I see an important part of my job to be encouraging them to gain confidence in what they already know. The classes I teach build on that prior knowledge and help the students to think critically about what they know and want to know. I encourage them to practice the craft of writing in order to be more precise, creative and interesting to an intended reader.

There is (or can or should be) a lot of overlap between teachers and coaches. One of my writing coach clients recently referred me to this article by Jim Sollisch in Poets & Writers Magazine, "Piano Lessons: Do Writers Need a Teacher or a Coach?" I particularly like this section, "The difference between teaching and coaching is the difference between thinking and doing. Teachers are in the concept business; coaches deal in the physical world. Theory versus practice."

I enjoy working with students and discussing writing. There is no doubt that this is a useful skill that I am helping them to practice more regularly and comfortably. I appreciate that the skills are useful and I'm not producing waste.

As the character Lloyd Dobler said in the (troublesome through the lens of 2018) movie Say Anything, "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that." Teaching writing accomplishes this and much, much more. (And now you know that deep down I am and always will be a kid from the 80's.)

Thank you to my students for their questions that continue to teach me something about writing and myself.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Not Always Writing in Italy: Brief Photo Essay

Easter weekend is taken very seriously here in Florence, Italy. We were wished, "Auguri!' by our child's classmates' parents before the four day weekend, which made it feel like the Christmas holiday all over again. I wish I had pictures to share with you of the endless giant chocolate eggs filled with "surprise" gifts in the supermarkets and coffee shops throughout the town. Our favorite chocolate treats were definitely from our local chocolate shop, Dona Malina.

The town was festive and we enjoyed the holiday with my parents and two friends who were visiting with their families. It was wonderful to all be together, as always.

While our guests have returned home and the stores have reorganized their shelves, the city streets are still full of tourists. It seems that the spring/summer tourist season is definitely starting off strong.

It is time for me to return to my desk and writing. Luckily, we experienced many beautiful moments which might find their way into some poems or essays. The art, food and company felt exactly appropriate for this start of poetry month.

Here are just a few of those adventures:

Mom and I took a fresco making class with local artist Alan Pascuzzi

My parents and I took a walking tour with Signature Italy Tours,
 including visiting the Loggia Del Pesce

Our Signature Italy Tour also brought us into Cecilia Falciai's inlay workshop

Bardini museum

Feltrinelli bookstore's child-sized lookout (Piazza Repubblica)

Changing of the Guard at Palazzo Vecchio

Fresh pasta from Sfoglia D'autore


Smoke from the Explosion of the Cart on Easter Sunday



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Poems Published in Dying Dahlia Review


Thank you to editors Abbie Copeland and Ehlayna Napolitano from Dying Dahlia Review for publishing my poems Meaning to Be and Mammals' Cries. These poems come from a poetry manuscript that discusses my miscarriage and postpartum depression after a second pregnancy.

If you are interested, you can click through to read more poems from this manuscript:
Carrying in All We Can Hold
Short Duet / Dualities in Literary Mama
Figs in Literary Mama
Objects in Literary Mama
Also, composer Lauren Spavelko has set related poems from the same manuscript to music

Monday, April 2, 2018

April is National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month Poster from Poets.org

April is National Poetry Month! This is a month to read, write, listen to and integrate poetry into your daily lives. Of course, you shouldn't limit your poetry to the month of April, but rather jump-start your poetry this month and keep it going all year long.

There are some ideas to get you started:

The Academy of American Poets shares 30 Ways to Celebrate
Read poetry in translation from Words Without Borders
You might write a poem a day all month (Camille T. Dungy gives you tips on getting started)
Read more about Tracy K. Smith, our Poet Laureate
Visit a local, literary place
Read and subscribe to (i.e. financially support) a literary magazine
Buy a poetry collection published this year



Monday, March 26, 2018

'Self-Care' for Creative Types: Finding Time To Create

Sunset in Malta

Someone posted a link to this article, "This is what 'Self-Care' REALLY Means, Because It's Not All Salt Baths and Chocolate Cake," in a Facebook group that I'm in. I like the article's focus on facing your problems, from the personal to financial. I would add that 'self-care" for creative types also includes making time to think and create.

Writing coach clients talk to me a lot about not being able to find time to create.

Wait. That's not exactly true. What I should write is that my female clients talk to me a lot about finding time to create. They are especially busy with full-time jobs (which might be parenting), parenting, organizing things at home, taking care of their own needs and trying to find time to spend with the partner, too. Where does time to create come in, especially when the output rarely generates income?

While I wish for everyone to be able to take time away for a writing residency or create a writing residency at home, that's not always financially or logistically feasible. Here are a few tips that I recommend to get you started - and into the habit of - creating time for creativity:

Start by giving yourself permission to think about something related to writing during the day. You might read a poem first thing when you wake up (or while you are making or drinking your coffee) and then think about it during the day. You might carry around a copy of it and think about the opening line while you commute, fold laundry or wash dishes.

You can use the same approach with something that you are creating. Read the current draft of something before you go to sleep or when you wake up in the morning. Then give yourself a question to think about. Maybe you need to figure out why a character made a decision or you aren't sure about particular verb. Give yourself the day to come back to this question and try to find an answer by the evening.

I find that the best way to use those smaller bits of time, maybe twenty minutes here or there, is to first set up a Writing To-Do list. This document (which admittedly will take some time to create and maintain periodically) will help to give you small goals that you can try to complete in those short periods of available time. This approach helps you to avoid spending the free time trying to figure out what you should be doing and instead simply get to the doing.

This next suggestion is a little woo-woo, but I think it works. When you do have time, use the energy that is coming naturally to you. I know that sometimes I feel very much like creating and other times I feel really good about editing.

What other tips would you recommend? Please share in the comments section. 




Monday, March 19, 2018

Writing To-Do List

Sunset view in Florence, Italy, across the Arno

Most of us keep calendars marked with deadlines and upcoming activities. We know the value of writing something down to remember. My most important list, my Writing To-Do list, is the one that keeps my writing organized and helps me to be more efficient with my time.

I encourage all of my writing students and clients to create a Writing To-List which should accomplish three major tasks for you: 1. It will help you to see all of your projects in one place, including the ones you are working on, the ones that are taking a break and the ones that you hope to write soon. 2. The list will break down a large project into smaller pieces for you. 3. It will save you time by helping you to be able to accomplish small tasks quickly.

My Writing To-Do list begins with the big category Large Projects. Here I list my very big goals and projects (for example, I will name my current poetry manuscript, name a children's book project and remind myself to work on individual poems and essays. I will also list the projected title or a quick summary of something that I hope to write next.) This is like a very vague outline to remember what I'm working towards.

The next section, Individual Sections To Write Or Edit, will list the above larger projects followed by chapters, research, back stories, etc., that need to be written. For example, I might include something like:
Novel Y (Finish Thanksgiving scene, edit birthday chapter, research holiday music in 1950 and write backstory for Aunt E.)
This is the section that breaks the larger project into smaller pieces. If you find that you suddenly have one hour to do some work, you can look at your Writing To-Do list and choose something to write, research or edit. (This is different from each individual project's complete outline.)

The next two sections deal with pieces that are ready for submission: Individual Projects to Submit/Resubmit and a list of submission ideas organized by due dates: Submission, Grant or Residency Deadlines. This is another good place to look when you only have a small period of time to accomplish something related to your writing. (Another vital list to keep organized is your Submission Spreadsheet.)

The final section of my Writing To-Do list is less urgent or specific, but rather a loose gathering of places that I'm considering submitting my work to under the header of Submission Outlet Ideas. The places are organized by theme or type (for example, I have one section for creative non-fiction outlets and one for poetry.)

Every Writing To-Do list will look different, depending on where you are in your project(s) and what your goals are. Create the headers that make sense for you. You might also include Writing Prompts, Daily Goals, Reading Ideas or Research. 


Monday, March 12, 2018

Dear Young Neighbor Who Complains About My Baby

Picture of a woman and her baby illustrating my article on Scary Mommy

Thanks to Scary Mommy for publishing my humorous piece, "Dear Young Neighbor Who Complains About My Baby." Two apartments later, I can laugh about our experience. Here's to making lemonade... 

Click here to read, "Confessions of a "Former" Go-To-Parent," published earlier by Scary Mommy. For more parenting humor, you might enjoy my piece, "Accumulated Wisdom From the Mom With Kids Just A Little Bit Older Than Yours," recently published by McSweeney's

Friday, March 9, 2018

ICYMI: Accumulated Wisdom From the Mom With Kids Just a Little Bit Older Than Yours




In case you missed it, my humorous momsplaining piece, Accumulated Wisdom From the Mom With Kids Just a Little Bit Older Than Yours, was published yesterday in McSweeney's.

Maybe most of this piece is memoir, overheard or imagined. Maybe I've been on both sides of the momsplaining. I'll never tell, but I'm guessing that if you parent a child of any age that you might recognize something.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Thursday is International Women's Day!

Looking up at the yellow mimosa blooms in front of a blue sky

In Italy, women are often given mimosa on March 8th to celebrate International Women's Day. In honor of holiday, I'm celebrating a few favorite groups that support women's literature. I encourage you to visit the sites, support the organizations, buy books and subscribe to literary journals that support women writers:


PEN International's The Women Writers’ Committee 

Lit Mags for the Ladies (from The Review Review)








Monday, February 26, 2018

Write, Edit, Write, Edit (Repeat)

Olivetti typewriter

Good writing requires endless rewrites. (Ah, early overwriting.)

As we head into mid-semester for traditional classes, early drafts are due. This is a good time to think about editing and revising. Here is a guide with links to earlier posts that consider each idea more thoroughly:

Focus your editing with lists: It is nearly impossible to catch every error, inaccuracy or overwritten line in one reading, even if you slowly read your work aloud. Make a list of things you are usually good at and a list of your trouble areas. Your lists might include things like punctuation, organization, word choice, etc. Next, read your work with one issue in mind to focus your editing.

Read your work backwards: Start with the last sentence, then the next to last sentence and continue on like that. This approach will help you to focus on the individual sentences.

Verbs give muscle to your ideas: Always start by editing your verbs. Verbs must be as precise as possible if your work is going to move forward with any action or ideas.

Precision and concision: Cut extra words. Don't give the reader any room to misinterpret your work. In fact, make this your motto: Precision and concision.

Outline your work: Keep your outline by your side. Your outline is a "legal cheat sheet" because it reminds you where your paper has already been and where it is going. Since writing is a form of learning, your ideas might change as you continue to research, write and revise. Keep your outline up to date as you work on your piece.

Think about your energy: This can seem a little woo-woo, but it can help. Sometimes you feel creative and sometimes you feel more critical. Use your creative moments to write and your critical moments to edit.

Everyone needs an editor (or a peer editor): Here's an informative guest piece by Amy Bucklin on this topic (specifically for memoirists, but it really pertains to all writing.)

What else has or hasn't worked for you? I hope you'll share your thoughts in the Comments section below.