Monday, January 29, 2018

Writing Retreat

Thank you to my husband for helping me to coordinate a three night writing retreat. It was such productive, creative and restful time!

I joined virtual forces with Stella Fiore and Amy Shearn's group of mother writers organizing their own residencies following, at least loosely, An Artist Residency in Motherhood. Stella and Amy will be discussing the collective experience with input from the participants across the globe on Stella's radio show, Cut + Paste, on Feb. 17. I hope you'll listen in!

View of the Santo Spirito facade from the Airbnb apartment
with the camel stuffed animal that our child sent with me on my writing retreat.
View of the side of Santo Spirito as the sun started to set.
I love those round windows and the light.
I booked an airbnb apartment in Piazza Santo Spirito, one of my favorite piazzas in Florence. After one freezing night without heat and using an emptied dresser as a desk since there was only one window in the four room apartment, I was able to leave early and move into Hotel Cellai in the center of the city. Listening to my gut, instead of staying put, really helped to make the rest of the time as successful as possible. Thank you to my husband for his quick help with that.

View of the Duomo from Hotel Cellai's roof garden.

Our child's camel on the second night in the hotel.
He was very encouraging.
Even with this little set-back, I was able to accomplish more than I'd hoped. I drafted, edited and submitted poems, essays and children's picture books. I also spent some time reviewing what I had, notes that were scattered in documents and email and updating my writing to-do list. I was particularly thrilled the second night to receive an acceptance to an essay submission I sent out the night before (stay tuned!)

I'm still feeling high from this great experience. Even the preparations for the residency were fruitful as I spent more time thinking about what I had drafted (or abandoned) and what I wanted to work on. I am hopeful that I will be able to rely on this "reset" button for a while and stay on path.

If you are thinking about creating your own retreat, you might start with this Residency Kit from An Artist Residency in Motherhood.

I haven't spent a lot of time away from our four-year-old (not a single night away for over eight months) and decided to find a location in our city.  I figured I'd "waste" less time traveling and be nearby just in case. I talked to our child about my leaving and left him a little clue and hidden treat each evening. We video chatted every evening and morning, which was lovely. I will admit some heartbreak when I opened up my toilettries and found his toothbrush. It wasn't easy to leave him, but he was brave and busy both at school and with Dad.

Closeup of the Porcellino in the Mercato Nuovo
which was cast in 1998 by the Ferdinando Marinelli Artistic Foundry. He is the subject
of a children's picture book I am drafting, so we spent some time together.  
The Porcellino at night in the market.
You can see the plaque about Hans Christian Anderson's
children's book about the pig. Read the story here
The original bronze Porcellino cast by Pietro Tacca,
(1634) is in the Bardini Museum.
This was a copy of the Hellenistic marble Porcellino
now in the Uffizi Museum.
My husband and son came to pick me up at the end.
Here's our son writing where I wrote.

Additional thoughts on do-it-yourself writing workshops and retreats that you might enjoy reading:
Guest Blog Post: A Do-It-Yourself Poetry Workshop
Alliance of Artists Communities

Sunday, January 21, 2018

One Semester Later

Four-year-old exploring the Ear of Dionysius in Sicily. 

As a teacher, I think in semesters. And here I am starting my second semester living, teaching and writing in Italy this time around. This is also the final semester of this particular adventure, which feels mostly like too little time.

Of course, sometimes I wish I could hop in our car and drive to Target for something that I miss (mostly Cheetos, since we've found just about everything else - and more - in Florence.) There are waves of homesickness or culture-shock, like the other day when it took two hours and an appointment at the Apple store to buy a nine Euro replacement part for the phone. (I miss you, smooth-running Washington, D.C., Apple store, no matter how much you intimidated me.)

Mostly, thought, I wish we never have to leave. We are comfortable with our routine and challenged by new words and many adventures to historic and cultural sites. I remain thrilled to reconnect with old friends here, even if we are all more busy with work and families than we were over a decade ago. I love that our son pauses to wave to the butcher and the barber through their storefront windows on the walk home from school. I love watching him laugh and giggle with friends at the birthday parties at school (which are brilliant in all regards. On birthday party days, the kids gather with some parents and treats in the lunchroom from 5-6. Such easy fun!)

I love the morning sun through our large windows. I even love watching the laundry drying outside in the wind. (I do remain worried something will blow away since a clothespin broke while holding up a pair of pants. We have no way to access the courtyard below.)

As for my writing, I've done some. I've created some new, experimental pieces and submitted a number of edited pieces. I've gotten a bunch of rejections and one acceptance since we've been here, which means both that I've done the work of submitting and have more work to do on the writing, editing and submitting front. 

We're all comfortable enough with our lives here that I've scheduled a writing retreat for three nights in a nearby airbnb apartment. I look forward to honing in on some writing projects and pressing on. I am thankful to be in this calm space in which I can do something like this with not only my partner's help, but his encouragement. See you on the other side!

Monday, January 15, 2018

You're the (Writing) Superhero

Father and son walking ahead on Halloween.
Our four-year-old is wearing a red cape with an "S" for Superman.

Our four-year-old likes to pretend that one of us is a superhero and the other is the villain. There villain usually "steals the baby to put him in jail," but that's another short story.

Happily, when we think about writing, there's no villain (or jailed baby.) When you hire a writing coach, the superhero is you. You don't have to wear a bright red cape, but you can definitely accept all of the praise for your final product.

The writing coach will nudge your work in the direction it wants to go with questions, reading suggestions and encouragement. She has the necessary distance to look at the piece objectively. You, however, know exactly what instinct or feeling started your piece and where you hope it will go. In the end, you will be the one who does all of the hard work with each word.

When I work with writers, I help them to develop and strengthen their voice. I encourage them to discover something by writing, writing, editing, writing some more and reading, reading and reading some more.

For more on my writing coach services, read this. The page has been recently updated with sample writing coach packages. Remember that you can always personalize our sessions and any package. You might also be interested in reading what happens during a writing coach session. Before our first session, please consider this list of questions

To book your first appointment or schedule a phone appointment to determine if writing coaching is right for you, email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Year & Improved Writing Goals

Ancient sculpture of a seated woman from the National Museum of Archeology in Malta
If ancient Neolithic people could 
you can write a chapter this month. 

I love the fresh start of a new year. This is a natural time to assess your progress and set goals for yourself.

It is also a natural time to drive yourself crazy rather than actually set and accomplish goals. Let's avoid the crazy to try a more practical approach this year.

Writing Goals & Plan
First, ask yourself some questions: What are your writing goals for the new year? What do you think you can actually accomplish and when will you do the necessary work? Set your goals down (maybe even in a Bullet Journal) and schedule time to meet those goals daily, weekly and monthly. Give yourself time to brainstorm, write, edit, submit and read widely.

Writing To-Do List
Break your large project into small pieces (for example: research a particular question, write this scene, etc.) In fact, keep a to-do list of the small steps necessary to complete the full project. If you add, "finish my manuscript" in your to-do list, you're less likely to ever cross that item off your list than if you had written, "write backstory for X character." I encourage you to schedule blocks of time in your calendar to complete these particular tasks.

Write Everyday? No
I've heard the mantra to write everyday since I started reading about writers' approaches. As a teacher, parent and human with unscheduled things popping up daily, that's never been a goal I can meet.

Cal Newport writes in "Write Every Day" is Bad Advice: Hacking the Psychology of Big Projects,  "Hard scheduling rules — write every day! work on research for one hour each morning! exercise 10 hours a week! — deployed in isolation will lead to procrastination as soon as you start to violate them, which you almost certainly will do. At this point, the bigger goal the rules support will suffer from this same motivation drop. To leverage the psychology of your brain, you need to instead choose clear goals that you clearly know how to accomplish, and then approach scheduling with flexibility. Be aggressive, but remain grounded in the reality of your schedule. If your mind thinks you have a good goal and sees your short terms plans are working, it will keep you motivated toward completion."

Be Happy, Too
The first book I read this year was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which a kind friend brought me from the States. I like Rubin's practical approach to meeting goals while being gentle to herself. My favorite resource is her 13 Suggestions for Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions.  She includes the possibility of giving up a resolution and asking for help. This is a general approach I can follow, rather than faltering one day and feeling frustrated enough to give up. You can be happy while achieving your goals. Why would you continue to work towards your goal if that work makes you miserable?

More Resources
There are many more fabulous voices adding ways to meet your goals in the new year. Here are some of my recent favorites:
Writing While Parenting by Sara Burnett
Don't Waste Your Time with Bad Resolutions by Tim Herrera

For more from me, I've written previously about Trusting Your Calendar and Setting Writing Goals

If you need help with your writing to-do list and setting a schedule for yourself, as well as individualized writing coaching, I'm available to work with you. You can read about my services here and email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.