Monday, February 1, 2010

Guest Blog: Jessica Handler

You’re at your desk, you’ve got your writing game on, and you are not writing. (I can’t see you, I’m just projecting my own weak moments.) You’re surfing the web, which is why you’re reading me now. Or maybe you’re at a coffee shop, intending to write, but you don’t have the good table and chair yet. So you’re doing something else until what’s known at my local coffee shop as “the CEO desk” vacates.

Congratulate yourself. You’re not procrastinating. What you’re really doing is building community. Almost. The ‘web is one way to build community. Others ways involve your feet (for getting to events involving writers) your voice (for speaking up) and your charming personality, for making friends.

Writers need community because writing is grueling, isolating, work. It’s work that not enough people in your immediate life understand. Seriously, how many of you have had otherwise beloved friends and family members say things like “oh, it must be so relaxing to write all day,” or “if I had free time like you do, I could write something, too.”

Show of hands? Thought so.

Writers need other writers in their lives because we need folks like us who “get it.” We write alone, in the company of our characters, but we desperately love what we do. We want to talk about it ideas, commiserate when the going’s rough, and celebrate when we feel like we’ve struck a little bit of gold.
Now that I’ve passed the six-month mark of publication of my first book, I hereby crown myself a near-expert in how community helps writers. Community gets the word out about your book, before and after publication. If you don’t have a book, that same community pumps you up about your writing.

So, here are my five tips for building community among writers.

1. Read the work of writers you know. Maybe they’re your teachers, your friends, or friends of friends. Read writers who have been recommended to you. You’ll get a better understanding of what’s on their minds, and what’s in their worlds. Check their websites and find out where they’ll be doing author events. Some authors have blogs (hmmm, like the authors here at “A Good Blog Is Hard to Find.”) Read their blogs. Think about what you’d like to blog about on your writing blog.

PS. You don’t have a blog or a website? Start one. A little visibility goes a long way toward being reachable by other writers. Use social media sites, too.

PPS. A caveat here. Do not let social media eat your writing time. One hundred and forty characters isn’t writing, it’s passing notes in class. Use social media to connect with your growing community and to identify yourself to the world as a writer, a reader, and someone interested in writing. Then go write and read for real.

2. Like someone’s work? Let them know! Drop a writer a short message electronically or by that old fashioned technique, mail. You’re not being sycophantic (maybe you are, I haven’t seen your note), you’re just being nice.

3. Get off the computer (no, not this minute) and get out into the world. Attend readings in your area. Yes, the big names, but also the emerging writers. Listen and take notes if something the author says strikes you. And buy the book! While you’re there, look around the room. You’ll recognize folks you know. You might be surprised. Say hello. Get to know your local indie bookstores, coffee shops, colleges, libraries, arts centers… these places host readings, too.

4. Befriend your indie bookstores. Even if you just buy a magnet or some greeting cards, support them, because they support writers. Ask if they have a mailing list. Get on it.

5. Be a mensch. (Yiddish: literally “person,” but in practice, “an admirable person.”) Introduce people to each other. Invite friends to readings. Host a reading or a salon yourself. Start a writers’ group with like-minded people. Send thank you notes.

I guess we could call this post The Golden Rule for writers’ communities. Read the work of writers in your area of interest and in your geographical area. Go to readings. Buy books. Say ‘hello.’ Bring more people, one by one. Say ‘hello’ some more.

Hello! If I see you at a reading, introduce yourself. You’ll help make our community just got a little bigger.

Jessica Handler is the author of Invisible Sisters: A Memoir (Public Affairs, 2009), which was recently named one of the “Eight Great Southern Books in 2009” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She can be reached at


Kerry Madden said...

This is awesome! Such good advice. I'm sharing it with my students. Thank you, Jessica! Still hoping to get you to UAB soon!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Excellent post. And yeah, I know, I should be writing.

Estelle Ford-Williamson said...

Jessica, your comments are right on target. I enjoyed Invisible Sisters immensely, and I hope to continue to read your work--and to have more of mine for you to read, too!

jessica said...

@Kerry, Estelle, and Vicky - thx so much! Hope to see each of you again soon!

Valerienieman said...

Words to live by!

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