The Practice of Creativity

7 Ways to be a Literary Citizen and Affirmations-366Days#86

Posted on: March 27, 2016

Affirmations-366Days#86: I find new and creative ways to be a good literary citizen.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

In May of 2013, I completed the 12 week ‘Mentored Workshop’ course as partial fulfillment toward a Certificate in Creative Writing from my local community college’s Creative Writing Program. The weekly three hour workshop covered a broad range of topics for advanced students including polishing, revising and submitting work for publication. Besides manuscript critique and craft readings, students were also expected to attend several author readings, read work at open mikes, volunteer to help with one of the Creative Writing Program’s events, and write three online book reviews. Our teacher created these additional requirements to strengthen our visibility as ‘literary citizens within a community of writers’.

That was the first time I heard the term ‘literary citizen’. I’ve since seen it used by many writers to mean similar things. Literary citizens are writers who are actively engaged in building their careers and helping to maintain and sustain fellowship among other writers.

Here are my 7 favorite ways of being a literary citizen:

Read Your Work in Public

Reading your work in front of an audience is an invaluable experience for a writer. We can see when people lean toward us, laugh (one hopes at the appropriate places), and get a sense of how our words affect others.  Readings help us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. I did three readings last year (two of which I helped to create). In most places there are many opportunities to read your work in public—open mics organized by writing groups, in bookstores and cafes, writing conferences, and informal gatherings with friends.  Practice, practice and practice some more. See Allison Williams’s great post on the ‘7 Deadly Sins of Public Reading’ for Brevity. (I found this post through the excellent Practicing Writing blog, created by Erika Dreifus).

If you get to read your work in public, be gracious if someone compliments you on your writing. Don’t say that you’re not really a writer because you’re not published yet (or published widely), or let any negative comments about your work leak out. Shine in the moment.

Attend More Readings
I hear from so many writers, “I don’t have time to read or attend readings.” Reading other writers and hearing them read is part of our writerly duties. We have to make the time. Attending a reading helps us learn about writers new to us.  But, it is also about building community and being visible as a public writer.

You learn so much from how an author gives a reading. You learn about their writing practice, you learn about how to answer questions skillfully, you learn about what kinds of things to reveal, and you learn about how much work an audience can digest in a given sitting. It’s a great way to observe differences in style and tone between newly minted authors and long-standing ones. We also get to practice going up to a published writer and introducing our self and talking intelligently about our own work (if asked).

How many readings did you attend during 2015? Shoot to double that this year.

Volunteer to Support and Serve a Published Writer That You Know

I have been privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.

Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.

Buy a New Subscription to a Writing Magazine and/or Literary Journal

Where do you learn about the field of publishing? How do you find out about new writers? We do this in many ways, through blogs, friends, librarians and visits to bookstores. However, writing magazines and literary journals can also play a key role in our professional development. You’ve probably been thinking about treating yourself to new subscription to a writing magazine or literary journal for some time. Do it! I’ve been a subscriber to Poets & Writers for the past two years and it is an invaluable resource.

Develop and Nurture Writing Communities

For years, I labored alone with my writing or joined writing groups that were dysfunctional. Despite these past experiences, I developed decent skills on giving feedback and support.  I, however, didn’t know how to ask for support or even what kinds of writing support might be good for me. That has changed dramatically. Over the past 6 years, I have developed layers and layers of yummy writing support, both online and face to face. Some fell into my lap and others I actively sought out (e.g. monthly critique group). I support my writing community by interviewing authors for my blog, connecting writers with each other, serving on a committee that administers the creative writing program I mentioned above, and widely sharing resources about writing opportunities.

Do Book Reviews and Spread the Word about Books You Love

My mentored workshop emphasized the importance of writing reviews. I know reviews serve an important role in the writing community. Good reviews take time and energy and like many, I find that reviews remain on my ‘gee, that would be nice to do’ list without any upward movement. Our teacher made this task easier by telling us that we could choose any three books (recently published or not) and to keep the reviews short. Since then I have worked to do a few reviews here on the blog, but also on Goodreads and other social media.

There is also the less onerous, but often helpful shout out on Twitter using the hashtag #fridayreads

Submit Your Work and Strive for 99 Rejections (and some acceptances)

Years ago, my writing teacher, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way. Every year, I have come close to doubling the number of submissions I make. I continue to receive a fair amount of rejections.

However, I also received a few lovely emails from editors who although declined the piece submitted, encouraged me to submit something else. The submission and rejection cycle is also one of building relationships with editors whose work you admire. Think of it as deepening your apprenticeship.

Can you up your rate of submission by 10-15% this year?


What are your favorite ways of being a good literary citizen?



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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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