We hold our favorite stories and their creators in high esteem, putting them on pillars of achievement and enjoyment that is difficult to match. Those of us who wish to join that world by tossing our hat into the ring as writers, often have visions of what this world will look like, feel like, be like. In our day dreams, the literary world is one that appears shining and glittery.
But the real thing, sometimes isn’t as fabulous as we had hoped. No, banked on.
The Literary World, from start to finish, is a crazy beast. Often lonely. Often disappointing. Often heartbreaking.
Take it from writer Tom McAllister.
But for those of us who, as my friend Miranda says, “have the sickness”, refuse to give up. We just HAVE to be a part of this world.
Never fear. There are many ways we can make the literary community one that is a welcoming, inclusive, happy place.
Jane Friedman defines literary citizenship in this way.
The activities Jane mentions are things we can all do. Easy things. Simple things. Quick things. But, they take a little thought, a little extra planning and sometimes a little extra cash.
For example. My schedule is always BUSY, but a couple of weeks ago it was insane. It also just so happened that three literary events were set to occur in my town. (That might not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a decent amount for our city of 70,000 people.) I chose to be a literary citizen and go to all three.
First, I took my sons to an author visit at the public library. We spent an hour laughing our heads off as we were entertained by picture book author Aaron Reynolds. My sons each got a new book (I got one too!) which were eventually autographed. They also got to ask questions of a living breathing author (you know, one who doesn’t live in their house). The evening was a hit.
A few days later we went to Barnes and Noble where a former teacher I had worked with was selling and signing his science book. Again, the boys were treated to books, autographs and questions. They also discovered the joy of author SWAG and walked away happily with bookmarks and cool, handheld science toys.
(Bonus and maybe a blog post for the future… fostering literary citizenship in your children… so cool. So much fun!)
The third event I attended alone. Again, back at Barnes and Noble. This time for a signing by an author-friend from my writing group. I had already purchased two of her books and didn’t need another, but holy macaroni… a signing at Barnes and Noble!! This is a big deal. A dream come true for many writers. I couldn’t not show up! So, I went and took my friend a new pretty notebook (she had spilled something on hers last week and I know I couldn’t live without one…). I gave her a hug and chit chatted with a few others for about ten minutes and then left. It wasn’t much, but I guarantee you she appreciated it. I know I would have.
By the end of the week I had four new books, two very happy boys, shown my library and local bookstore that I value their event planning, supported two local writers, spent $75 to boost the literary economy, spoken to a “big deal” children’s book writer, and enriched the lives of myself and my children. Not a bad week as a literary citizen. I truly believe that my choices made the bookish community, as Jane called it above, a better place.
But these aren’t the only ways to contribute. Here are a few more thoughts from my literary friends. (P.S. Literary friends are the best part of literary citizenship!!)
“It starts with a mindset, the idea that the rising tide lifts all boats. If you can believe this--and you can look beyond the petty jealousies that distract from the work--then you're already on the right track. At the Guild, we like to say, "give your gift." It's our way of acknowledging that everyone brings a different skill set and specialization to the wider community. Are you a marketer, a fundraiser, an editor, a connector, an organizer, a planner? Whatever your gift is, give that!” – B.J. Hollars, Director of Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild and author of The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders.
"Being a literary citizen means buying too many books! (No such thing!) I will often post on social media about books I love, in hopes of generating a sale or two for the author when someone decides to buy a book after seeing my post." - Sarah Krosschell, writer and writing coach
“Supporting fellow authors is what keeps ME going! The act of writing can be lonely, yet all around the world, on their own computers, are these brilliant people who are all working with their own stories, trying to create a compelling narrative to connect with people through their work. When I meet fellow authors, especially at writing conferences, I feel such a deep respect for their ongoing efforts - often in the quiet hours of morning before leaving for their completely unrelated day job, or in a quick window of time between family and life responsibilities. I am so in awe and inspired by the individuals who identify as authors, and am thrilled to support them! I say my bookshelf represents my ideal self, with all the topics I would like to learn and stories I would like to know. I'd never have the time to read everything I buy, but I love to support the work of the brilliant authors who write the books!” – Colleen Waterston of Big Shared World and author of forthcoming book: Big Shared World.
So what do you think? Is literary citizenship for you? Ready to make the book world a better place? Come on! Jump in! Comment below with your own ideas on literary citizenship or let us know about events you’d like us to participate in! Happy reading, happy writing, and happy engagement/playing/vising/purchasing/showing-up to you!