What have you done?

Indexed - by Jessica Hagy

So, what have you done for your writing community lately?

We've talked before about good citizenship but it's a concept for which I can't stop trilling (or drilling). Here's the deal: It's not enough to write your novel, poem, story. You've got to give back. It's that simple. You give, you get, you give some more.

Pioneering the principles of Literary Citizenship, Cathy Day sums it best (italics mine): "I wish more aspiring writers would contribute to, not just expect things from, that world they want so much to be a part of."

How to contribute? Take a cue from these Literary Citizens:

Shine a Light (on someone other than yourself)
• Brian Brodeur, creator of How a Poem Happens, has penned two award-winning books but you'll never hear him hyping himself. Instead, he interviews other poets to gain backstory on their work (to date, over 150 poets featured). The results are insightful, sometimes amusing, and always useful.

• I like Mark Thalman's style. Rather than mention his book at every turn, he turns your attention to others. He created www.poetry.us.com for just this reason. Packed with poems and writing tips from his favorite poets, it's a one-man labor of love. He's not making money, and, in fact, he's busy teaching middle school students and writing his own poems, but he takes time and effort to make others look good.

• When poet Diane Lockward was writing a book of craft techniques, she reached out to other poets for poems they had penned using her prompts and practices. Using these real-world examples, her forthcoming book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, includes the work of 100 poets — a real chorus of the community!

Write a Book Review
• Give a writer gold. Write an Amazon or Goodreads review and that book will get traction, and maybe even sales. No joke, a quick review — and we're talking just two to three sentences delivered with enthusiasm — will boost a book's visibility. Forget those high school book reports, today's "review" is simply feedback, and it really is gold to an author.

Provide a Stage
Lisa Romeo, nonfiction writer and teacher, frequently invites authors to compose pieces on topics of their choosing. This simple action — providing a stage for writing colleagues to share their work — introduces others to new authors, books, and ideas. She illuminates, and helps others navigate, a wider world of writers.

Take to the Streets
Literary Citizens take action. They give words a fresh twist. Need some ideas?

• That man ranting on the street? Oh, that's just poet Shawnte Orion. He's taken part in over 50 readings and the venues are often, ahem, unusual. As in: pool halls, art galleries, and busy street corners. He's what I call a true poet of the people.

• Set up a booth — for poetry, like this group offering Poems While You Wait. Wouldn't this be a great fundraiser for your favorite literary organization?

• For three years, I've helped orchestrate a poetry contest for the Denver County Fair. Poems get ribbons (just like pies) and winners get to read their poems on the stage between canned preserves and pet pigs. It's a hoot, and it showcases local, often unsung, writers.

Encourage Others
We've all got voices in our head, and most of them are unkind. How wonderful, then, when a colleague offers sincere applause, or an offer to write together, or to share work. The simple stuff, really.

And even better to encourage young writers, those finding their way and their voice. Read to a child. Write with a teen. Small actions can yield powerful results.

"Writers and artists naturally have generous spirits, I think, and we need to tap into that generosity to support one another (and let go of envy)," writes poet Hannah Stephenson.  


Pay attention. Take action. Be a good citizen.