Last night, in a steaming tub, I finished Claire Messud’s brilliant book The Woman Upstairs, and I thought – not for the first time – that this is what it means to write a book that really matters, but quietly so. I will do a full review of the novel on Sunday, but for now, let it suffice to say that the book is powerful.
That book coupled with a conversation I had this morning with the wise and insightful Jolandi Steven has me thinking about what makes a writer a good citizen of this literary world in which we all move. For me, literary citizenship entails a mutuality – between writers and readers but also between writers ourselves – that seeks to elevate not just our own work but the work of the community at large.
So today, with Messud’s and Jolandi’s words close to my tongue, I thought I’d share 7 ways writers can be good literary citizens.
1. Read. Read a lot. Read widely and deeply.
2. Review what you read in a public space – with friends, on Goodreads, on your own blog, on Facebook. Share your reading opinions and experiences with others.
3. Be respectful. Whether it’s in your writing about a culture or place outside your own, whether it’s in your memoir where you discuss the events of your life and the people who have had a role, whether it’s in a review of someone else’s work, be respectful of the people beyond your works. Speak truthfully – yes – but with a compassionate heart. And do your research if you are writing outside of your own experience (andeven within it, as well.)
4. Be honest, even if honesty is hard. In reviews, in conversations, but most importantly in your own work, don’t seek to create a character or a world that will “please.” Instead, create w work that will resonate as needed – to reinforce those whose footing is shaky and to tear down the sturdy walls of oppression and isolation that arise so easily.
5. Support other writers. Read and review their work, yes. But also go to public readings, buy books or check them out from the library, respond when someone on social media shares a great acceptance or laments another rejection, share people’s work with friends. Do for other writers what you wish them to do for you.
6. Advocate. If writers are being excluded, fight for their inclusion. If a book vendor uses malevolence to favor some over others, speak against that. If publishers are overlooking work you find to be stellar, shout about it everywhere. Use your voice to support all of us.
7. Take time for your own work and yourself. It can be easy to get lost in world outside of words – the promoting, the reviewing, the blogging – but what we most need from you is your honest, healthy self. So do what you need to do to be your best you. Take a nap. Read a book for an entire day. Go see a movie with a friend. Take a walk. Just get to a place where you can write, because we need you.
I can say – without question – that I would not still be writing if not for the community of literary citizens I have the honor of knowing. They – YOU! – keep me writing with kind words and places in which I can throw my energy. You send me virtual hugs when I need them and remind me that I, too, need to read and take care of myself. Thank you.
And when I can return the favor, I will as abundantly as I am able.
What would you add to this list of ways to be a good literary citizen?
For more great ideas on how to be a good literary citizen, check out Cathy Day’s great post on the subject.