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.

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.

Do 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!