Literary Citizenship has been topic circulating for some time now among writers, and popping up as a subject for discussion at writers’ conferences and in writers’ groups. Although the concept has fuzzy edges – in other words, it doesn’t possess a clear and singular definition that everyone agrees on, I think we all have a sense of what it entails. After some thought, here’s my take:
Unless employed full-time at a newspaper or print journal, we writers work almost exclusively alone. We put in long, solitary hours at our desks or favorite writing spot putting word to page, researching, revising, thinking. Our work thrives in isolation, nurtured in quiet moments and pregnant pauses. We lose focus and grow irritated when our space is invaded by noisy intruders — phones ringing, sirens blaring, dogs barking, spouses reminding us that we promised to take out the trash an hour ago. The very last thing we want is to be engaged in conversation with another human being. After all, with all those important conversations happening inside our heads (“I’ve got, like, way too many adjectives in that sentence, and I should rename my ‘Bobby Smith’ character ‘Carmina Burana’.”), we don’t have the time or the inclination to have a one-on-one with a live person, let alone a crowd of them.
But what about those times when you’re not writing? What about those rejections that keep piling up? What about those periods when nothing clicks on the page/screen/tablet? What about those moments when we wonder if anyone out there cares and is reading the results of our hard labor? Those can be pretty tough and lonely times.
Solution (drumroll) = Literary Citizenship!
For me Literary Citizenship means putting myself in a position to engage, encourage, share, learn, critique and be critiqued by other writers. Certainly writer’s conferences are good places to start; but, in most cases, as inspirational and helpful as they are, the sessions are short-lived and the contacts fleeting. So, better yet is to join a writer’s group — and that is what I’ve done. It isn’t a large group, but it really works well, with a core of good people who are enthusiastic about the craft and honest in their opinions. And, it allows me to participate in the creative process with a community of like-minded individuals who otherwise may not cross paths.