How Not to be a Twitter Twit

I’ll never admit to being ahead of the curve. It usually takes me awhile to catch up with everyone else. When I finally joined Facebook, I felt like I’d arrived late to a party that was already in full swing. Then someone told me to get onto Twitter. I resisted, finally opened an account, didn’t get it, got exhausted trying to keep up with it, and closed it.

Then I finally decided–late–that I really had to be there. That happened when the indomitable Cathy Day (who else?) introduced me to hashtags and Tweetdeck, and suddenly I could make some sense of Twitter. (HootSuite is another option that works like TweetDeck to organize tweets via hashtags.) You can find me @LindaEdits if you’re so inclined.

credit: iStockphoto
credit: iStockphoto

I found some folks to follow (agents, other authors, publishers). Then, I went to this site, 44 Essential Hashtags Every Author Should Know, and found some hashtags that I want to follow. By creating TweetDeck columns for some of these hashtags, I have a constant feed, often with links to great blogs and articles, about the topics that matter to me. These blogs and articles give me great information for my classes, my research, and my teaching.

I follow people who interest me, I get followed, but I’m not trying to break any records. In fact, another indomitable force, Jane Friedman, explains why chasing after huge numbers of Twitter followers can just be a waste of time. Like any other tool of the trade, we just need to use Twitter wisely and well.

Since I’ve jumped back in and found so many interesting links and articles, I also realized the possibility of connections for jobs. Not only do my students need to understand Twitter, they should be there making connections as well as gaining experience in using it. Sure enough, many of the job postings they’re finding want people who understand and know how to use social media–and use it wisely. So this past week, my students in my Writing for Business class had an in-class exercise to create Twitter accounts. We talked about hashtags, and I gave them the link noted above that lists hashtags for writers. I created a hashtag for the class and everyone created a post and used the hashtag. With TweetDeck projected on the screen, their postings immediately appeared as they tweeted.

But I have to admit that it can be a little overwhelming. There is so much information out there that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. TweetDeck does help me by sorting tweets into categories where people are talking about writing or books or publishing or proofreading (my hot buttons).

How do you use Twitter? Has anyone done live tweeting as part of class? How can I make the most of my tweets? What do you find most helpful in your Twitter feed?

14 Good Reminders about This Writing Life

One thing about being a graduate student in my 50s is being able to step back into a world that I left behind three decades ago–a world where learning flows around you like the snowflakes that circled around my house this morning. Just circling, spinning, delighting me even though it is March and high time for them to be on their way.

But I digress.

The In Print Festival–A Rousing Success

Being part of the university community means getting to take advantage of learning experiences there for the taking! Ball State InPrint writersjust held its annual In Print Festival–a festival of first books. The writers who come to speak and read are newly published. Fresh off that first experience, they’re eager to go on the road and talk about writing and publishing. They visit in classes. They stand around and talk after the readings. They happily sign books. Sure, maybe other schools bring in the big guns, but I love the fact that BSU supports these folks. And if the two times I’ve attended are any indication, these authors have so much to offer. Coming from a variety of backgrounds with different journeys to that first publication, they are quite an encouragement to up-and-coming writers. The writers this year were Eugene Cross, Marcus Wicker, Elena Passarello, and Sarah Wells.

And 14 Things the Students Learned

Cathy asked the students in her literary citizenship class to blog about what they learned about writing and publishing from these In Print authors. I’ve been around publishing for 30 years, so I was excited to see what the 14 students in the class discovered. I thought some of their insights might be helpful to you, so here follow 14 interesting things they learned (with accompanying links to their blogs should you want to read more–and you should):

(1) John writes that he wants to open his reading horizons more–to read other people’s work that interests and intrigues him because that will inform his writing and help him find his niche. Good advice for us all.

(2) Michael discovered (beyond some great writing and revising tips) that the writing community is like a family. It is. What a great thing for a new literary citizen to discover!

(3) Jackson brilliantly included book titles in his blog as part of the copy and described his experience, “Their answers to questions showed me something vital: That Abyss between us and Published Writers is not so vast, is a matter of words.” Deep. And good to know. Before we’re published, that goal seems like the other side of a huge abyss. It’s not.

(4) Austin likes to write in all lower case (saves time I’m sure) and describes his opportunity to speak with Eugene Cross, having also crossed paths with him at AWP. His take? “that’s what this is all about, as far as i’m concerned. writing good stories, smiling big, and, every once in a while, covering the tab.” That’s also good advice.

books(5) Rachael described inspiration from Eugene Cross’s book because it is a collection of stories. That can make a book, too! That’s encouraging to those of us who write more short form.

(6) Sarah discovered that “if you’re always drawn to the same topic, stop fighting it.” Just start writing. Eugene didn’t want to write about his hometown of Erie, PA. But when he stopped fighting it and realized that Erie was what he knew . . . well . . . you know what happened. Elena never thought she’d be writing about the human voice . . . but as a theater major with a great speaking and singing voice . . . well . . . it was a natural.

(7) Marv was involved in advertising this festival and, as part of the invitation, reminded people that going to such festivals is important for being literary citizens. We all need to support one another. I know I’m glad I attended!

(8) Kiley learned to bust out the red pen. “Marcus Wicker said that revision is all about time, distance, and being ruthless with your work. I feel like revision is the broken hammer in my writing toolbox, so I soak up any tips on it like a sponge.” Ah, a woman after my own heart.

(9) Lenny was inspired by the night of readings and writes that it “was a breath of fresh air to see three young writers from three different sections of literature that I can keep on my radar and follow their careers as they grow as writers.” Good way to be a literary citizen, Lenny!

(10) Lindsey had some insightful advice for me as an editor: “Editors should not just edit but also write while they edit. Editors who forget to take the time to write their own work aren’t going to be able to relate to authors or keep up with their story-telling skills. In this world, we have to be able to wear multiple hats at once.” She’s so right. I spent too many years editing and not writing. I need to up my game. Thanks for the encouragement, Lindsey. Editors out there, take note!

(11) Jay is the media/video guy in our class. He’s on a different track and he offers us a new perspective. He helps us writers think beyond advertising by posters to this newfangled thing called video . . . he’s good! We would do well to think about promotion in new ways.

(12) Mo reminds us to read a lot–especially literary journals. Find the ones we like and then submit to them. That’s how we figure out where to submit.

(13) Kayla encourages us to not be afraid of rejection. “Without rejection there can be no progress. And if that one publishing company or literary magazine rejects you, they’re probably not right for you. Go back, edit, revise, reread, resubmit.” Words we all need to hear because we all face rejection.

(14) Stephanie mentions how contests can be a good way to get our work published. This was a new world for me–discovered since grad school. You can check out some of the lit mag contests here.

There you have it . . . 14 good reminders for all of us.

Writers Write, Right?

So as writers, we’re supposed to write, right? I have to admit that I need to think of writing as my job; I need to schedule time to do it. Some days it’s difficult; often it’s just plain hard work. Sometimes it’s rewarding; other times I melt into a puddle of frustration at my inability to say what I want to say.

Ever been there?

What do you do to stay disciplined and keep writing–even when it’s tough?

I’ve been an editor for a long time and have done my share of helping other people’s work sound better. Then I started graduate school at Ball State University, a full thirty years after finishing my undergrad at Houghton College and after a long career in publishing. The writing classes took what felt like dried-up creativity and infused it with new life. I could write again–for myself. I could read some of the best writers, study their techniques, and try them out. I could listen to peer reviews and learn how to make my writing better.

It’s been stupendous.

And I realized that I needed to go about the business of being a writer–which means writing.

Right?

Yes indeedy.Calendar

In my class with Dr. Deborah Mix, we discussed how to keep writing. She gave us five key points:

(1) Decide on a writing commitment and post it where you can see it.

(2) Set a word goal.

(3) Set aside time every day to write.

(4) Be creative in how you motivate and reward yourself.

(5) When that distracted feeling comes, realize that at that very moment your brain is working hard. If you don’t yield to the distraction, you may experience a breakthrough.

So I jumped into the proverbial pool. I’ve taken on my job of writing with renewed energy and enthusiasm. One of my favorite sites is 750words.com–a simple site that gives me a nice blank page and counts my words for me, congratulating me when I get to the magic 750. It sends me a reminder by email every day, “You should write your 750 words” and it gives me a little hashtag on a calendar to track my monthly progress.

In any case, set a goal and then keep track of your progress.

Need writing prompts? Check out these rolling prompts at Writers Digest when you need some inspiration.

Need help with not being distracted? Download this program called Freedom. It blocks your access to the Internet for a set amount of time. You will literally be unable to check email or Facebook or the latest news during the time you’ve set aside to write.

Great idea, eh? What will they think of next?

As citizens of the literary world, we should join our fellow writers in our commitment to write, write, write because, well, it’s what we do.

How to Write a LotNeed more motivation? Pick up this little book, How to Write a Lot, by Dr. Paul J. Silvia (American Psychological Association, 2007). He encourages us not to find the time to write but to allot the time to write, treating our writing time as sacred. And, as a busy professional, he understands that writing can involve more than just writing. Perhaps you have to do some research, or review page proofs, or read the book you’re reviewing. Do it during your writing time because “writing is more than typing words. Any action that is instrumental in completing a writing project counts as writing” (19). He especially takes to task those writers who don’t write because they’re waiting for inspiration. “Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend to them than inspiration” (27). His help with setting goals and charting progress is invaluable.

It’s an odd task we’ve set ourselves, this thing called writing. We do it because we love it. We do it because we take joy in the look of words on the page and the sounds of words as they bump up against one another. We love to see what happens to the characters in our story.

So what keeps you writing?

The Art of the Book Review

I just got off the phone with my friend, L. Marie, who recently created a blog, “Thoughts about writing and life.” I’m thrilled that she’s blogging! We chatted about Literary Citizenship and how she needs this online presence in order to impress the agents where she’s currently shopping her young adult fantasy book. She has an MFA and is a terrific writer—but she realized that she needed to get online and join the literary world. I talked to her all about what we’re doing in our class; we talked through WordPress and how to add hyperlinks and tags. She’s on a roll now!

She’s also an avid reader, so I encouraged her to do reviews of books (her current blog is a movie review that ties into her writing). And wouldn’t you know it, our Lit Cit class is talking about that very topic this week. Book reviews are extremely important–especially book reviews by book lovers and writers who understand the craft.

That’s you.Reading 2

Indeed, Robin Becker at Penn State has an entire class on book reviewing because “my own experience had led me to book reviewing. Years ago, just as my first book entered production, I asked a more experienced poet how to get my book reviewed. She replied, ‘Review other people’s work. That way, you participate in the conversation.'”

As citizens of the literary world, we should participate in the conversation about books by reviewing books and helping along other authors who are just getting started.

Sure, review the latest Stephen King if you want, but it will be a great help to another fledgling writer if you discover and love his or her book and write a well-crafted review. Post it on your blog, sell it to a magazine where it might fit, offer it to a newspaper in the town where the author will be doing a reading. Follow up with an interview and do the same thing.

But maybe, like me, you wonder how to craft a good book review. Well, here’s some help.

I’m new to this, so I come to the topic eager to learn. Our class website featured an interview with David Walton, author and prolific book reviewer, who offered his advice on writing book reviews. So I am passing along what I’m learning to you.

I love the pie chart included there; further detail about each category on that pie chart is here so that you understand what plot synopsis (35%), critical analysis (25%), showing off (20%), providing context (10%), and quoting from the text (10%) mean in the context of a book review.

Reading 1I also discovered that there is a lot of conversation happening in the literary world regarding book reviews. I think I’ve stayed away because I thought: (a) I’m not high profile enough to write in the New York Times book review column, (b) I don’t know how to write a review, and (c) I don’t even want to comment on Amazon because isn’t that just people who either like or dislike the author or the topic and really write nothing about the quality of the book? (Charles Baxter calls this “Owl Criticism”: I don’t like owls; this book is about owls; I don’t like this book.) Indeed, many publishers are vetting their book reviewers to make sure they’re legit.

Well meanwhile, over at Amazon, there’s been plenty of conversation about fake reviews, with Amazon actually pulling down many suspect ones. (For help in writing one of those short Amazon reviews, check out this post.)

So what does that mean for those of us just getting started?

First, read the book.

Second, understand the craft and study the book well enough to be able to see what the writer is doing as a writer.

Charles Baxter’s “Owl Criticism” post puts it this way, “A reviewer is entitled to any opinion at all, but he or she earns that opinion based on a description and a judicious citation of evidence. . . . Is it too much to ask of a reviewer that he should know what he’s talking about?” He goes on:

The marks of a trustworthy review, therefore, have a kind of doubleness: the reviewer manages to assert somehow that the book under discussion is of some importance for one reason or another; and second, a good review provides a formal description of the book’s properties, so that you could reconstruct it from the reviewer’s sketch of it. This description is not the same as a plot summary, although a plot summary may figure into it. What a formal description does is to show what a book is about in relation to the form in which the subject matter has been shaped or located. In order to write such a review, let’s say of a novel, you have to have a basic idea of how novels are constructed; you have to have the technical knowledge that allows you to stand back from the book and to say how a book is put together. By these criteria, quite a few book reviews are worthless.

Los Angeles Times book critic, David Ulin, discusses the importance of well-crafted reviews:

Criticism matters — not because of how many people read it, or whether they agree or disagree with it, but because it is a way of engaging with literature. . . .

Books can stir this range of emotions also, which is why the act of criticism can be so hard. It’s not just about opinion but engagement, the sense of hope, of anticipation with which we come to a book, and the ideas, the feelings, with which we walk away from it, even, or especially, if they are not what we expect.

For me, this is how I know I’m doing my job: not by whether I like a book or don’t (whatever that means), but by what I learn. When I’m reading and writing well, books open up before me; often, they turn my preconceptions around. They make me think — not just about the flow of this text, but also about the flow of all texts: the different texts by this particular author, the different texts that I have read. I have, in other words, to confront myself, to figure out what I think, and then like all writers, to follow that line to its logical conclusion, for good or for ill.

For us writers, it’s a part of our craft to learn to write a good book review. It’s an art form. It keeps us reading. It allows us to learn from one another. It connects us in this literary world. It allows us to share good books with one another.

It helps us be good literary citizens.

Get Thee to a Writers Conference

It’s great for us to be able to connect virtually with so many writers–we can build our tribes with people literally all over the globe. But then . . . there’s something to be said for that personal touch, getting to talk and laugh with other writers face to face.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a local writers group that meets regularly, give those folks a big hug next time you’re together. Many writers are laboring away alone because they haven’t been able to locate a group with whom they can connect. Hey, if it was good enough for C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien to meet with others in a group called the Inklings and read one another’s work, it’s certainly good enough for us!

Many of our college students in writing programs are worried about what happens when they leave. Their college community and the folks in their major provide a positive and supportive group that disappears once the diplomas are handed out. What next? We want to help them understand that the writing world has many, many places where they can connect with other writers.

One of these is the writers conference.
Bright ideas
I’ve spoken at my share of conferences and am currently privileged to be on the board of an excellent midwest conference–appropriately named the Midwest Writers Workshop. Our conference is held for three days every July on the beautiful campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. This is our fortieth year!

As a new member on the board, I’ve so enjoyed watching my committee members in action. They work hard to bring in agents who are eager to hear pitches and faculty who can teach about a variety of genres. This year we’re expanding our social media training module to help writers do exactly what we’ve been talking about here–increasing their presence by building a website and using other social media. Some of our older attendees just need a little guiding hand to help them get over the hump and engage in the online world–and incredible Ball State students offer their expertise. This year we’re also including a time for writers of different genres to get together and read a few pages of their work to one another (again, a la Lewis and Tolkien). Many of our attendees go away having found new tribespeople, maybe even discovering folks in their own backyard with whom they can meet regularly for reading, critiquing, and encouragement.

At writers conferences, faculty teach about the craft of writing. I really want that message to come through in all of this social media talk: First you need to be a good writer–and you need to hear that from others besides yourself and your mom. If you need improvement, go to a conference where a faculty member is talking about how to pace your plot (if that’s your problem), or how to create strong characters, or how to build a scene, or how to write dialog. These folks come to these conferences to help the likes of you–of all of us. Take advantage of their expertise.Speech bubbles

Conferences are happening literally all over the country at all times of the year. You can probably find one within driving distance. Prices vary depending on what’s offered, how long they are, and who’s speaking, but you can surely find one that works in your budget (perhaps the Left Bank Writers Retreat this June in Paris? . . . ‘twould be magnifique! Twist my arm!). The Poets & Writers website offers this link about writers conferences, and then includes this link with listings for various upcoming conferences. Newpages.com includes a listing where you can browse writers conferences by state.

So set aside a little time and money for you to spend a few days honing your craft and meeting new friends.

As citizens of the literary world we should continue to learn, continue to improve, and continue to challenge one another to be better writers.

And that’s why thou must get thyself to a writers conference.

Being Connected

As writers in community, it stands to reason that we need to be able to find one another. Part of the beauty of the Web is that we are all connected—or can be.

Back in the old days—you may remember, before the Internet, before computers, back when an electric typewriter was an awesome invention—we didn’t have access to our favorite writers. If we wanted to write to them, we sent a note (yep, it had to be with a stamp and everything—if you read last week’s blog post, you’ll see that you can indeed still do that) and probably never heard back. Everything was done on hard copy and by mail; there just were no other options.????????????????

I am amazed now that I can write to one of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, by way of a Facebook message and have him actually respond! I wrote him a “charming note” to thank him for his book, Disappointment with God, that I read during a dark time in my life—and what his advice had done for me. We had a chat about people we knew in common. He complimented how beautiful my granddaughter is (she’s my main photo on my FB page—and yes, she is quite beautiful). I felt honored to have had that moment of contact with him.

So my question to you is, are you visible? Can you be found by those folks who want to find you—and who you want to find you?

As citizens of the literary world, we should be connected to social media in ways that work for us so that we can be visible to other citizens.

First, you need to have a website. Many years ago, one of my favorite publishing friends, Terry Whalin, gave me this advice, “Linda, you have to have a web presence.” He noted that when agents or acquisitions editors receive query letters or proposals, the first thing they do is Google that person. They want to see what shows up and, of course, check out the person’s website.

Does that sound daunting to you? It needn’t be. And if you feel too un-tech-savvy, then call upon a younger friend, your kids, your grandkids. They’ll figure it out in a snap. Cathy Day’s post in our Literary Citizenship website talks about this very thing. You absolutely must have a website. You don’t have to spend money; starting out, just use one of the many sites that help you create a website for free or at minimal cost. Social media expert Jane Friedman offers advice on building your first website using WordPress. Chuck Sambuchino in his book Create Your Writer Platform (Writers Digest Books, 2012) discusses several types of social media and how to use them, but calls your website “the foundation.” Chuck says the elements of a good website include:

platform

(1) a landing or home page that welcomes people and links to other pages. It may include your latest news (“book released!”) or latest blog post.

(2) an “about me” page that tells who you are and what you do.

(3) a “my books” or “portfolio” or “my writing” page that tells about what you’re working on.

(4) “Contact me” information.
(Create Your Writer Platform, 102–103)

Realize that your website can be a unique as you. Take the time to think about what you want a potential agent, acquisitions editor, or even new tribesperson to see when they click on you. It’s the virtual equivalent of that first impression you get when you look someone in the eyes and shake his or her hand. You often can tell right away if this is someone to stay and chat with or someone to steer clear of.

So if you don’t have a website or if you’ve had one for years, I encourage you to think about or revisit your current website and ask yourself:

(1) What is my website saying about me?

(2) Do I have links to my Twitter or Facebook accounts? (Do this if you want, and only do it if you’re consistent across all social media. For younger people especially, if your FB account is full of goofy and perhaps less-than-professional photos and posts, don’t link to it—OR consider making your FB a bit more professional. You can still be real and friendly, but remove the photos or posts that don’t represent you well.)

(3) Do people have a way to get in touch with me? (If you don’t want to give out a personal email address, create a new one just for communications through the website.) Chuck Sambuchino even suggests that, when you put your email address out there, you type in the (at) and (dot) so you can’t get hacked with spam. For instance, mine is linda(at)lindataylorauthor(dot)com.

(4) Does my website include a recent photo of myself? (A photo makes you real. It allows for that virtual eye contact and handshake.)

(5) Is all of the information still up to date?

????????????????????????????????????????????If you’re like me, you might have a couple of personas. I have two different websites right now for my two different sides to my life. I have my “speaking at Christian events and writing Christian books” persona here, and I have my “adjunct professor/writing conference instructor” persona here. Then I have this blog. All were created at different times for different purposes. For now, I just link them together. I’m not sure I want to put everything on one website, but at some point I might.

Every day we’re milling around the room (the Internet) meeting each other (clicking on websites), having a quick chat (finding out what each other is about by reading web pages), and listening to what each other has to say (checking out portfolios and published works).

It’s vitally important that we be findable, visible, and real.

A Little Thank You

During the last weeks we’ve been building our tribes, looking at our bookshelves, finding out who inspires us.

Who did you discover? What is it about that person’s writing that does it for you?

You know what you need to do next?

You need to write a “charming note.”

The term comes from a book by Carolyn See called Making a Literary Life (Random House, 2007). She advises that every day, five days a week, you write a charming note to someone whose work you appreciate.

Literary lifeShe actually writes notes–you know, with stationery and an envelope and a stamp. Awhile back, I personally wanted to reignite the art of letter writing and I began to actually write letters to various and sundry friends. Alas, I didn’t get any back, although a few responded by email.

If you have some nice stationery gathering dust in a desk drawer somewhere, pull it out. Carolyn says in her book not to use anything floral or those notes with the Monet paintings on them, but personally, I think the very fact that you might actually write a note and mail it cancels out the flowers or Monet (although seriously, think about the impression you give by what the note looks like). She suggests getting some of your own stationery with your name professionally printed at the top–like those old-time calling cards. Not a bad idea. Of course you’re writing to them and it’s about them, but it can’t hurt to have your name on your correspondence in a classy way.

You don’t have any stationery, you say? Just some note cards with your last initial on them? That’s okay. Get started.

Seriously, it’s never been easier.

If you want to actually write a physical note to a physical address, you might be able to locate an address online, or at least a publisher’s address. You can always write to the author in “care of” a publishing house.

If you’re just not the “find a stamp” type, write your note by way of the person’s web site. Or find him or her on Facebook and write it there. Or Tweet it if you have to (it’ll have to be really short . . .).

Now, who was the last person who “wowed” you? You need to tell him or her. You need to write a charming note.

Carolyn See suggests this to her students: “Why not divide the note into three paragraphs of three lines each–the first one about their work that you like so much, the second saying who you are and why the work touched you, the third suggesting politely that you’re looking forward to the next thing they’re going to write?” (45).

And don’t be embarrassed. Think about it. How do you feel when someone takes the time to thank you–for anything? Sure, if you write to Stephen King to tell him how On Writing changed your life, you may never hear from him. But write to Alice Hoffman who published a wonderful essay about the “permission to write” titled “Introduction: Storyteller” in the Winter 2011-12 issue of Ploughshares magazine and chances are you might hear back from her. Then check out her novels and children’s books. You might make a new friend, a new person to add to your tribe because she inspired you.

Write to someone who is unknown and just starting out, and imagine how much it will mean to that person!

As citizens of the literary world, we should show our appreciation for others’ work by letting them know, and then letting others know.

Do that by blogging about it and sharing links, by talking about it, by buying the books or subscribing to the journals and . . .

. . . by writing “charming notes.”????????????????????????

If five times a week is daunting, then just do it once a week. Surely at least once a week you read something you like. It doesn’t have to rock your world–maybe it just made you think, or inspired you, or gave you a new idea.

Be willing to cross genres. If you’re a nonfiction writer, read fiction, poetry, flash. Gaze at some photographs in that literary magazine. It’s okay to write the poet and thank him or her for a piece that moved you—even if you didn’t fully understand it. You don’t have to be a scholar, just an appreciative audience.

It doesn’t even have to be “literary.” Perhaps the article by Carrie Neill in the November/December 2012 issue of Poets & Writers (“The Medium Is the Message”) about the future of print publishing helped you understand something that was heretofore mysterious.

And it doesn’t have to be current. Maybe what you read was from the 2005 issue of Ninth Letter that you found at the library or on the table at your doctor’s office (really? Give me the name of that literary doctor!). In any case, who cares how long it’s been? Art is art. Inspiration is inspiration. Write a note.

Be sincere. This isn’t about you. This isn’t about trying to network or “brown-nose.” Remember, we’re all just writers in this together, keeping literature and books and good writing alive.

Say thank you.

Remember what your mom taught you? A little thank you goes a long way.

Who Inspires You?

Who is in your tribe? I know I’ve been thinking about that this past week and considering who I want to travel with in this literary life.

This week I read (and highly recommend to you) Austin Kleon‘s book, Steal Like an Artist (Workman Publishing, 2012). It’s a fast read, a little book with lots of fun visuals that packs an important punch when it comes to our discussion of literary citizenship.
steal
One of his points is that there’s nothing new under the sun, so all of us are really getting our ideas from other people–“stealing” them as it were. “The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect the things that they really love. . . . Your job is to collect good ideas” (13-14).

Where do you collect good ideas? Your tribe and the conversations you have and the books you share and the literary magazines you read and the bloggers you follow–those are places to start. And Austin Kleon advises that you look to history as well. What classic books do you absolutely love? Which ones are on your shelves because . . . well, just because they do something for you? They speak in a way that no one speaks anymore. Find that one author and study everything you can about him or her–lifestyle, writing habits, opinions about writing and publishing, and of course, writing style. Then find others who had an influence on that writer and study them. Build your own “creative lineage,” as Kleon calls it. Add them to your tribe. They won’t mind. In fact, as Kleon notes, you can apprentice with them totally for free. “They left their lesson plans in their work” (17).

Then, what current writers are doing it for you? Who would you be a groupie for if authors had groupies? Who would you wait in line to meet? Who is writing in a way that causes you to just sit back and say, “Wow”?

What literary magazines do you subscribe to? Whose blogs do you follow? What online journals do you consistently read? Whose writing amazes you?

As citizens of the literary world, we should be studying and learning from those writers who inspire us.

Build your creative lineage, as Austin Kleon says. Collect good ideas. Surround yourself with the people (present and past) who bring out the best in you, who challenge you, who give you great ideas. (And you’re not really “stealing,” but you’ll have to read Austin’s book to understand what he means.)

Be inspired. And chances are, you’re inspiring someone else, though you may not even realize it.

Discover the people who do it for you. Share their books. Talk about them. Buy them. Give them away. Blog about them.

Just tryin’ to practice what I preach.

Membership Has Its Privileges

In last week’s blog, I talked about what it means to join the writing world. So if you’re going to join that world, the literary community, what—exactly—does that mean?

Communities exist everywhere—from clubs and organizations to online groups. The big ones get together at conventions. It takes folks of very particular interests to attend Comic-Con, or the World Orchid Conference, or the Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers fair (have to hold my husband back from that one). People attend these conferences because that’s where they find like-minded people passionate about comics or orchids or wordworking.

We’re all looking for our “tribe,” that group of people with whom we can talk about what we care about. Jeff Goins describes this as a “place to belong. We want to be heard and known, to actually make a difference. We know we need community.” We join these communities because we love to talk about what we care about. We want to learn from each other.

It’s the same with writers.Studying

Sure, we spend a lot of time alone in our garrets tapping away on our keyboards. Sure, we’re quiet and observant. Many of us are introverts.

But we still need each other.

We need to commune with other writers who understand what it means to have days of writing where nothing seems to work. We need to discuss particular aspects of our craft. We need to find our “sub-tribe,” those writers who have our same passion for political satire, novel writing, flash fiction, fantasy, memoir, how-to, or writing about cats. We also need fellow bibliophiles who love books and readers who absorb magazines and blogs—after all, if we don’t have an audience for our words, then who will read them?

The term we’re using for membership in this world—“literary citizenship”—is taken from an article on Brevity magazine’s web site called “Be an Open Node” by Blake Butler. (Apologies for some of the language in that post, but his points are important.) We’re borrowing the term “literary citizenship” to discuss what it means to be a member in the writing community, to have citizenship in the literary world.

Maybe you’re saying, “I’m fine. I don’t need a community. I have plenty of followers on Twitter or readers of my blog.” Or maybe, “I don’t want to join a community. I just want to write my book and sell it. Then people will find and follow me.”

I would argue that, first of all, if you’re a serious writer trying to sell your work or get it “out there” in some form, you’re already a member of the writing community. And so it follows that to be a member, you would do well to find the privileges of membership by following some basic guidelines. (People dress differently at Comic-Con than they do at the World Orchid Conference.) No, there aren’t really rules in the writing community, and no we don’t have a dress code (good thing), but in order to be good literary citizens, we should start with one very important step:

As citizens of the literary world, we should constantly give positive contributions to it.

coffee shopDo this: Imagine you’re at your favorite little coffee shop. Around you are some of your favorite tribe members. Maybe one of you has been recently published. The rest of you are working at various phases of your manuscripts. What are you talking about? Won’t you offer your services to tell everyone in the rest of your “other” world about your friend’s new book? Won’t you help your other friend work out a sticky plot point? Won’t you discuss the most recent book by another favorite author—and recommend other books to one another? Won’t you then go purchase some of those recommended books?

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

See? We need each other. That’s the first step. There are many ways to contribute positively to our literary world. And you know what? What goes around comes around.

Let’s talk together about being good literary citizens and the privileges membership brings. I’ll tell you what I’m learning as I go, and please feel free to tell me what you think and what you do.

You’re my tribe, so I’m eager to hear from you!

Joining the World of Writers

I’ve revised my blog a bit to take advantage of a new pathway my life has taken over the last couple of years. I began the blog simply to write about the experiences my husband and I have had moving from our little plot in the suburbs to our couple acres in the country–complete with many (many) animals. I surely haven’t exhausted the topic (after all, you haven’t heard yet about even more cats who made their way to us!), and I may even return to it from time to time should the situation warrant. But I’m excited about some new things in our lives (not counting becoming parents-in-law again or now being first-time grandparents).

Reading in the country.
Reading in the country.

Many of you know I’ve been working in various areas of publishing for the past 30 years. I walked into my first job not even knowing proofreader marks! The last 20 years or so I’ve spent working with Livingstone, most recently as editorial director. Suffice it to say, I’ve seen publishing change drastically in my time (you’d think I was ninety years old looking back at steam engines–but it almost feels like that when I consider the way I do my job now as compared to when I began).

I love editing. There’s just something about words. How they look on the page bumping up against other words. How they sound. The pictures they bring to mind. I love the search for the right word. I love to make a clunky sentence sing. I love to change “their” to “they’re” (or “there”) when the writer gets it wrong. I love helping writers sound the best they can.

And I love writing.

And I love books.

So all that to say that our journey from the city to the country brought me to a place physically where I already was mentally–it was time to finally get that master’s degree and then begin teaching in order to pass along some of what I know to the next generation.

So here I am, a 54-year-old married grandma graduate student sitting in classes with folks who could be my children. How energizing is that? I love it! Really, I wish I had had half the wherewithal these kids seem to have when I was their age. The students in my Editing class where I teach as an adjunct seem to “get” so much more than I ever “got” at the time. And right now, as part of my research paper/thesis preparation this semester, I get to sit in on a class with one of my favorite professors, Cathy Day. She is creating this class called Literary Citizenship, teaching Creative Writing students what it means to join the world of writers out there in the real world. These students already tweet and have fan pages and web sites and blogs–again, I wish I’d had that kind of gumption in my day (does “gumption” make me sound old? Well . . .).

Think about it–to join any kind of group or community, you have to follow a few ground rules that are just part of being associated there. To pledge a fraternity or sorority, you need to follow certain guidelines. To join a church, you need to make a particular statement of faith. To move into a certain area in town, you need to understand that once in awhile you may be required to open your historic home for people to view (ask Cathy about that) or maybe be part of the annual block party. I had a friend who moved into a house on a cul-de-sac and learned that she was required to have only white Christmas lights on her house–no colored lights. That would mess up the “look” of her community’s little circular part of the world at Christmastime.

Your turnWell, Creative Writing students are writers who need to realize they are part of a bigger community of writers. And many of you are writers–writing books, articles, essays, stories, blogs, reports, or even simply journaling your thoughts. You, too, are part of that community. Publishing has changed over these last few decades. You see, it used to be all about getting published. Now, push a few buttons and anyone can be a published author. (That’s good and bad, but also a topic for another blog post.) I like the fact that indie presses are out there taking chances on some of us “little folks” who might not break in to the Big 5. I like the fact that a family member can write up a family history and create a book as a keepsake for his or her limited (but appreciative) audience. Publishing is changing, and it can be tough to keep up. But as writers, we need to realize that it isn’t just about us; it’s about the community of writers–that “world” of writers. It’s about us supporting one another and the writing we create.

It’s all about becoming good literary citizens.

What does that mean? More to come here, but please also follow the rest of my class members’ blogs (the ones who have gumption, remember?) and our fearless professor, Cathy Day, at our Literary Citizenship web site.

Wanna be a writer? Become a good literary citizen. Join us on the journey.