Sunday, February 24, 2019

Write Like the Sea

View of Miami Beach waves on a sunny day with some clouds

I know, "Write like the sea" sounds like woo-woo advice at best. But I'll tell you what I mean.

When you write, you write step-by-step. Maybe you start with a scene that draws you in or a character description. Or perhaps you are very organized and start with an outline. Being human, you can only do one thing at a time so you work methodically through your piece in your own way.

Remember that writing is a form of learning - you understand your ideas better by naming them with words. Therefore, you might find that your outlook or plans shift as you continue to write and better understand your ideas. This is where the sea metaphor comes in.

At a long beach, you can watch the waves lap the shore in (sometimes uneven) lines. This is a lot like writing. You need to work step-by-step, but you also need to consider the piece as a whole. At some points, you need to step back and think about the piece in its entirety.

Before you groan and decide that's impossible, think about how your ideas shift as you write. You will need to go back and update your earlier writing and your outline in order to keep everything even. This is what I mean by writing like the sea or thinking about your piece holistically as you continue to write and revise.

So be like the beach and write. Or better yet, go to the beach and write.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Finding the best writing coach for you

Sunset over the water (Malta)

Have you been thinking about working with a writing coach? Here are some tips on finding the best one for you and your writing.

Sometimes folks giggle when I say this, but I think finding a good writing coach is like finding a good therapist. You need to find someone who challenges you and leads you to new discoveries. You should trust the person and, of course, like and respect them, too. A writing coach might be perfect for your friend and her work but a bad fit for you and your work. And that's ok.

I recommend starting off small if you have someone in mind. You might take a short workshop with the person and see if you like their approach. Or you might request a short phone or in-person consultation. I am happy to schedule a twenty minute phone call with a possible writing coach client before our first formal appointment, just to make sure we are a good fit.

If you aren't sure how to find someone, you might contact a local writer's center, bookstore or university to see if they can recommend someone. Writers who teach often also work privately with writers. A quick internet search will turn up some names, too. You can work with someone locally in-person or call/video conference with someone elsewhere.

When you meet with the person, don't hesitate to ask if the coach wouldn't mind sharing some names of folks they've worked with as references (the coach might need to check with the clients first, so give them some time.) Take some time to read the person's published work, too.

When you first talk, the coach will probably ask you a lot of questions about your work, experience, goals, favorite books and more. You should also ask the coach questions, mostly about the process and the coach's expectations. This is a period to learn more about each other and see if you can come up with a plan that works well for both of you.

Remember that the coach is also deciding if she will be a good fit for you. There have been times that I've met with writers who are working on projects that I don't fully understand because of the subject matter. In these cases, I might recommend another coach to the writer. This isn't a rejection, but rather an effort to help the writer find the best writing coach.

Trust yourself and your gut in this process. If you like someone and think you will benefit from working together, say so. If you don't feel like the person is a good fit, then keep looking for the right person.

If you think I can help you and your work as a writing coach, let's talk more. You can read more about my writing coach services and what happens during a writing coach appointment. Email me to set up your first consultation (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com. I will have slots for a few new clients starting in mid-March.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Love & Outlining

Heart Amulet from Egypt (ca. 1295–1070 B.C.)

This is the month of love. Our kindergartner was asked to decorate a shoe box to receive Valentines and to bring a Valentine for each classmate. He was also asked to choose an African-American to present in class and he chose Michael Jordan. To add to the month's love, our child is excited to celebrate Michael Jordan on his birthday on Sunday, Feb. 17th, with "round like a basketball" food.

I'm quite taken by how basic assignments - exchange cards on the holiday! Choose someone to study and present! - can morph into discussions about friendship, history lessons and new interests. What do you love? What can you learn from your loves?

I challenge you to return to the books that you love this month. Choose 1 - 3 of your favorite books, essays or stories and outline them. Look for their bones and notice how the books are constructed. When are key plot points introduced? Who are the most important minor characters? Where is the book's central climax? What is the conflict that drives each chapter?

Study the resulting outline. You can use this as you think about structure for your own piece. Think about your pacing, character development and overall plot development. If you follow another structure, you aren't plagiarizing the book, but building on the craft that the writer used. You will write a different piece and likely make many adjustments along the way.

For more, read:
It's Alive! Your Outline
From Writer's Digest: The 4 Story Structures that Dominate Novels by Orson Scott Card and 5 Things to Consider When Structuring Your Memoir by Cheryl Suchors
From Ploughshares: How to Structure Your Memoir by Amy Jo Burns

Monday, February 4, 2019

Adults Starting the Writing Habit: Rely on the calendar

Our 5.5 year-old-child took this picture of the library stacks
at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library

I work with many adults who are returning to school to finish their undergraduate degree or starting (or returning to) a writing practice. These are busy people who are adding new deadlines to professional, familial and personal obligations.

It isn't easy, but it is possible to squeeze in something new to already full lives. I think the best way to do this is to rely heavily on a calendar.

I ask my writers to not only introduce themselves, but also to discuss time management. When and how will they complete their proposed projects? What has or has not worked for them in the past? Most of them remember having missed deadlines and are committed to avoiding that error again. But how?

Let's imagine that you are like these busy adults and you want to start something new. If, say, you want to submit a research paper or finish a draft of a short story, you might start by adding the deadline to the calendar. But that's not enough. The next step is to find time when you can work on that writing. You'll need time for editing, revising and maybe research, too. If you can block time off, then you are more likely to complete the assignment.

I recommend giving yourself enough time so that you can finish early, just in case you end up needing some extra wiggle room. Online classes or personal projects can be deceptively flexible. It seems like you have all the time in the world, but then suddenly you run out of time.

Think of these writing projects as in-person appointments. I suggest blocking off the time to work and treating that time as an appointment. If you miss the appointment, which will happen sometimes, then be sure to reschedule. But work hard to keep the appointments and complete the assignments.

It can take an average of 66 days to develop a new habit. I know, that sounds daunting. But instead, think of this new, desired habit as something that won't happen naturally. You will need to work at establishing the new pattern and making it happen.

I know that you can do it (with your calendar!)