5 Pledges of Literary Citizenship

In the grand tradition of “last lectures,” Cathy Day posted a note to her students on the Literary Citizenship blog at the end of her class this semester. It’s not really a final lecture since the class will be taught again for another group of fortunate students; the post is more of a wrap-up of everyone’s accomplishments.

And for me who got to sit in on the class this semester, it was a way to think about who I am in this literary world.

istockphoto
istockphoto

I took the challenge and revised my blog to focus on my literary life, and I invited you to join us on the journey as I learned what it meant to be a good literary citizen. Bottom line:

Be interested in what others are doing.

I was doing that, but not in a visible way. Now I “like” and comment on blogs. Now I follow Facebook pages of literary magazines and authors. Now I link to other people’s blogs. Now I’m finding people on Twitter who are as passionate about editing and proofreading and good grammar as I am. Now I write notes to authors I appreciate and thank them for inspiring me.

I learned to write about my passions. I decided to focus on areas of editing and grammar, with nods to all kinds of other topics (it is my blog after all). It was great to stake out a territory and then look around for folks already there and join them.

I learned some technical things like how to tag and categorize posts (yes, I CAN talk about things other than grammar) and how to better use Twitter. I learned about book reviewing.

And I’m finding my tribe.

As any great teacher will, Cathy challenges her students not to stop now that the class is over. This is about building a literary life, after all. At the end of her post on the Lit Cit blog, she challenged us with a few questions. I encourage you to think about them for yourself, but here are my pledges of citizenship in the literary world:

I pledge to continue to blog on a regular basis and to share with my readers great books, bloggers, articles, and ideas (yes, and even great grammar!). At times, I’ll write about what I’m doing, but that’s not the focus. It’s not all about me (that’s just true on so many levels. Wow . . . wouldn’t our world be a better place if we all adopted that mantra?).

I pledge to write a personal note to someone at least once a week to thank that person for his or her contribution to the literary world.

I pledge to keep finding, following, and connecting with folks in my tribe. And then I’ll talk about them so more people can know them.

I pledge to be continually interested in what other people are doing.

I pledge to talk about literary citizenship whenever and wherever I can. It’s that important.

Have you pledged citizenship?

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.