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Friday, January 2, 2015

A Writer's Responsibilities

In the early 1980s I joined a writers' organization and attended several meetings, conferences, and workshops.  But as my involvement grew, I could see where I was going because I could see the other writers ahead of me on the road. Several beginning writers threw themselves into the work of supporting the organization and wrote less and less. Several well-published writers continued to write and volunteer, though over time they wrote less and volunteered more. Many saw their careers fall by the wayside. After a year of this I jumped to the wayside.

My admiration for the men and women who create and sustain organizations that benefit others is unflagging but for purely selfish reasons I choose not to be one of them. The time I spent volunteering was time I wasn't writing. But I didn't really like this totally selfish person, which meant I had to find another way to contribute to my community. I hold the belief that each of us should do something more important than our self. I know not everyone else believes this, but I do and that's enough.

As I've gone along writing over the years I've found various ways to contribute to other writers' success or advancement. The Larcom Review was a labor of love but also published a lot of New England writers, and treated them like professionals. I joined with two other writers to found and edit for seven years the Level Best Books anthology. I've contributed to, and run, numerous workshops for no pay, and invited other writers to join me on panel discussions. I regularly offer to write reviews for others as well as serving as a beta reader for some. I have limits, of course, because I have only so much time, but I think being available in some capacity for others is important.

I can still recall the many individuals who encouraged me when I first started writing as a teenager, and when I first started sending out short fiction during my college years. People helped in various ways but the point is each one offered something--a suggestion on a book to read, a comment on a story, the sharing of a magazine, invitation to a book event, and more. These sound like small things but they arose only because the individual took the time to listen and care about another person's progress. At the time we don't think such small offerings are important, but in later years we remember them with gratitude and, in my case, mild amazement at how significant a small gesture can be.

I hope that in taking a small role in my community of writers I am in some way repaying all those who helped me along the way.

For the many who are better at volunteering than I am, I recommend Sisters in Crime (and my chapter, New England), Mystery Writers of America (again, New England chapter), and the National Writers Union, Boston Local. I can't say enough good things about these groups and how much they do for the rest of us.

  

10 comments:

Kathleen Valentine said...

I, for one, have always found you to be incredibly generous with your time and knowledge. I agree with your words about being supportive of other writers. Because my professional background is in graphic design, I try to lend my skills where I can. I operate on the idea that when you succeed that helps me to succeed.

Madeline said...

It's a challenge to achieve the right balance. I take tiny steps in the volunteer department because I'm terrified I won't be able to fulfill my promises due too my complex family commitments. However, children grow, and I hope to gradually change the ratio.

Jan Christensen said...

I agree, there's a fine balance to finding the right mix of volunteering and helping others and getting our own work done. What I try to do is write at the beginning of my day and edit at the end for at least an hour. Both are quiet times, and if I keep to that, I can work in some volunteering during the other hours of the day.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Like you, I try to help other writers, especially younger and newer ones. I also never forget those who have helped me and try to pay them back with my support. I do agree that there's a delicate balance involved because we don't want to neglect our own work.

Susan Oleksiw said...

First, thank you all for commenting. I wasn't sure anyone would be reading blogs so soon into the New Year, while they're still recovering.

Second, let me point out that the people who commented here are the writers I know to be especially generous with your time and knowledge. Kathleen, you've been a godsend with your ability to design covers, and your generosity in doing them for me. Jan, you encouraged me to try self-publishing when I still wasn't sure, and you've guided the discussions on Short Mystery Fiction Society list with grace and wisdom. Jacquie, you've been extremely supportive of my work and with your comments on various blogs. And Madeline, even though I don't know you I understand your position--you're between two heavy demands and yet you're still thinking about finding time for others.

I hope this indicates a very good year coming up for all of us.

Marja said...

I've done a lot of volunteering, but as you mentioned I found I wasn't writing very much. I've joined several groups, too, with the same result. I have a TBR stack that boggles the mind, and of course, I'd like to do a review for each book.

I don't know that I've actually done that much to help others, but the intent was there.

Excellent post! I hope we all have a good year, too.

Marja McGraw

Carole Price said...

A good topic for the start of a new year. The writing community has been more supportive than I could ever have imagined when I started in this business. I value and treasure every one who offered advice and support and do what I can to repay them by buying their books.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Marja, thank you for taking the time to comment. That counts, as does the blog you've set up for many of us to enjoy and participate in.

Carole, you're right about how supportive the writing community is. And if you're buying other people's books, you're doing a lot.

I started writing the post with a sense of examining what I haven't done and instead found myself thinking about how important small things are. I didn't mean it to be a pat on the back but a greater awareness of how this writing community of ours works. We all do something.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Susan! I'm a joiner and a volunteer, and have a very hard time stopping. I love my writerly organizations and the people in them almost as much as I love writing. One of these days I might be able to let go....but not yet.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Pat, it sounds like you have tremendous energy. I volunteer for a local library, and work on their programs and art events, but I know I have less energy these days. I too love my writers' groups. Thanks for posting.