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