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Why Literary Citizenship Matters
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
January 2015
Written by
Kamy Wicoff
January 2015

From the day of She Writes' launch--June 29th, 2009--Lori A. May has been here. She was one of the first people to join who I didn't already know personally, and it has been such a pleasure to get to know her here and in our correspondence since then. (She is the founder of the Poetry Social group if you want to connect with her there.) Lori, who is generous, thoughtful, and a gifted poet, too, instantly understood the power and potential of a community like She Writes. And now, five years later, she's written a book, The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship and the Writing Life, that I think every writer, new or old, should own.

This line, from the introduction, says it all:

"When we offer more to others than what we ask of them in return, good things happen. When we work to benefit the greater good of our literary circles, everyone benefits." 

For new writers especially, I can't imagine better advice, but these are words writers at any stage of their careers should remember as they ask themselves, "What did I do for my literary community today?" It doesn't have to be hours of volunteering, or planning an event, though those things are critical contributions. It can be something that takes just a few minutes, from commenting on a fellow writer's blog to reviewing a book on Amazon, writing a fan letter, or attending a reading in your town. We are all busy--overcome by our own obligations and often overwhelmed by the chaotic pressures of e-mail, social media, and the like--but these acts of generosity are critical not only because of the good karma they create when we need others to support us, but because they nurture our own creative lives as well. "By being exposed to a wider diversity of peers," Lori writes, "I continually enhance my knowledge and practice of craft." Hear, hear.

Lori is also right about the energy and solace writers can get from their fellow travelers. "The art of writing is a solitary act," she writes, "but it is in the support of others, in the encouragement shared by writing peers and community members, that much of our anxiety about the creative work may be placated." I have felt that so many times when I have written about my creative struggles here. Thank you to all who have taken the time to leave me a comment, a bit of encouragement, or a piece of advice. We need one another! Lori also emphasizes the importance of finding and participating in one's local literary community, something she did as the new poet in town when she moved from Ontario to Detroit, Michigan. In her first weeks there, she attended a poetry reading with strangers, and those strangers later became colleagues and friends.

With chapters like, "Community (re)Defined," "Book Reviewing: Write (about) What You Read," "In Print and Online: Working with Presses and Journals," and "In and Outside of Academia," Lori has, through research and hours of interviews, compiled a guidebook and resource invaluable in this ever-changing literary landscape. 

I was honored to have a small part in this project, as one of the literary community founders Lori interviewed. But as she quotes the author and writing coach Dinty W. Moore saying of her own career: "My success, such as it is, is partly hard work and dedication, but also an accumulation of one thousand moments of generosity from other writers and editors, and the more of us in the literary world who recognize this, who act accordingly, the better the writing world is for everyone."

Amen. If generosity is the new currency, this book is the bank.

Let's be friends

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  • Jannat Marie

    WOW!  This site is amazing and very scary to me.  Amen to this post.  There are so many layers and dimensions I am easing my way into this world.  Thank you for opening up to let me into the She Writes World.  Peace Jannat

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Thanks for these comments -- I love the undercurrent of spirituality here -- it really is a philosophy to live by. 

  • Charlene Diane Jones

    As a practicing Buddhist for over five decades who learned the Paramis mean everything (parami= virtues) and the first parami is Dana or generosity I am blown away by this post as well as many others, especially those by Brooke which demonstrate the Universality of those Buddhist principles. I feel immersed in a warm bath! Thank you to all here.

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you for this reminder. ~:0)  Each time I extend some energy in support of another, I am uplifted.  My Writing as a Spiritual Practice (volunteer group that I offer through out UU church) has given me a chance to write fresh material and listen to the writing of the others in my group. So far there are two, but I am sure it'll grow. :0)

  • Jo Anne Valentine Simson

    "When we offer more to others than what we ask of them in return, good things happen. When we work to benefit the greater good of our literary circles, everyone benefits." 

    A marvelous, optimistic quote. I'm afraid it reflects a more female ethic than male--which is partly why we need more women in politics!

  • Charli Mills

    This is so affirming to read! I host a literary community where we practice craft by writing weekly flash fiction and sharing blog posts, book reviews and discussions on process. When I set out to build my writer's platform, I thought I could do it as a solitary venture or could use it to create a community. I'm so happy I did the latter, and grateful to read that literary citizenship is vital! This is definitely a book I'll be getting!

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Hi B. Lynn -- She Writes is open to women and men! We are mostly women, obviously, but our doors have been open from the beginning. RYCJ thanks for commenting, I am always happy to see you here and appreciate so much your participation in our community. And Cate, hooray! I'm happy to hear you are writing about women working together. So many things in my life would not have been possible without the sisterhoods I've been privileged to be part of.

  • RYCJ Revising

    I Love this post! Absolutely on point and my uplift to starting my day. Thank you.

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    What a delight to read "When we offer more to others than what we ask of them in return, good things happen. When we work to benefit the greater good of our literary circles, everyone benefits." That's the philosophy behind Writer Advice, We've been around since 1997. We should have grown more, but I've put my time into reading, reviewing, interviewing, and ... oh, yes... telling my own stories.

    If you write short prose (fiction or memoir) you might want to take a look at our current contest. Yes, there is a fee, but we also give some wonderfully specific feedback that tells you what we love and where (if) we trip up. Sometimes I add a suggestion or two for publishing your work as well. Take a look, check out our archives, and see if you think you have something you should send.

    Kamy, thanks for ALL you do to validate, encourage, and promote writers. SheWrites is an excellent site, and I'd like to review it for the next issue of Writer Advice. Quick question: Is this only open to women or can the men who love them read (and comment) as well if they want to?