Wednesday, December 30, 2009

out with the old, in with the do

"Small acts of literary kindness go a long way."

The countdown is on. A new year will soon be born. Holiday decorations will be packed away and a great number of resolutions made in good faith will slip into shadows, grow dusty, and wait for next year’s expected call of duty.

I’ve mostly shied away from the traditional resolution-making process in exchange for setting goals that not only hopefully improve myself as a writer, but also improve my role as a literary citizen. Throughout the year, of course, I evaluate my to-do lists, grand plans, and wishes and wants; at the start of a new year, however, I like to take stock of my writing ambitions, lay out some goals, and make tangible notes on things I wish to accomplish or participate in during the months to come.

Tangible is the operative word, here. In order to successfully check such things off the list, the idea must be firmed up in some sort of concrete, measurable way. Without getting into too much of my personal list of to-dos for 2010, I thought I would share a few examples of goals we can all benefit from, as writers and readers, and provide ideas for how to accomplish these to-dos.

Discover more new voices
Take advantage of subscription deals from journals such as Tin House, which offers 50% off the newsstand rate for four issues. If you’re a student, Poetry has an incredible deal for you: students receive a full year subscription for just $17.50US. There are a number of affordable, incredible journals that do their best to include emerging voices. By subscribing to a journal in 2010, you’re not only ensuring your exposure to some really great writing, you’ll also be supporting the livelihood of our presses. That’s a nice bonus.

A more varied, potentially less expensive, method for stocking your shelves with new voices is to make the mental note to pick up individual copies of lit journals each time you venture into the local bookshop. I say potentially less expensive, as many of us frequent the stores and this can add up; so, set your own goals here, but be sure to visit the magazines and periodicals section where you will find a cornucopia of journals looking for a good home. Even if you do this every other month, you’ll have read six new journals in a year and discovered some inspiring work, supported our presses, and helped pay the rent for your local bookshop. Which brings me to….

Buy local, let Bob keep his job
Writers need independent booksellers. Not only are they more open to supporting new and emerging voices, and not only do we feel good about supporting a local company, but the indies are also very active in hosting and promoting local authors. From readings to workshops to coffee house love, it’s our independent booksellers that help connect writers with readers. Not sure where a local shop is in your area? Make friends with the IndieBound website. It’s great for finding regional sellers in your area and for planning stops during weekend roadtrips.

Connect with others
Add a membership to your to-dos this year and take advantage of the benefits that come from supporting a not-for-profit. Poets House recently relocated and an incredible assortment of activities is ongoing throughout the year. Why not be the first to know about these events and support the wonderful work of this impressive literary center by becoming a member? Memberships start at $40 and include free admission to Poets House programs, invitations to special events, and a nice tax deduction.

Check your area for regional organizations you may join as a member and consider one of the many national groups, like The Academy of American Poets, as a sound investment for 2010.

Short on cash? It’s easy to connect with other writers with online forums and social media sites. Use the SpeakEasy Forum at Poets & Writers to connect with others in your area, your genre, or from outside your comfort zone. Find your favorite literary journals on twitter and FaceBook. Join some of the Fan Pages and Groups to connect with other writers, keep up with news, and discover cool opportunities.

Smarten up
If you’ve ever considered attending a colony, residence, workshop, or festival, what’s keeping you? Make this a goal for 2010 and you’ll not only have an experience that lasts a lifetime, you’ll connect with new people and likely find ways to add inspiration to your writing. If money is an issue, look for scholarship and fellowship opportunities to help defray the cost of attendance. Bear River Writers’ Conference, The Prague Summer Program, and Bread Loaf are just a few of the conferences that offer financial aid.

If you’re thinking something more local is up your alley, look into the readings and events hosted in your own city to get more involved. Find a critique group, open mic night, or local workshop to connect with others and work on improving your craft.

Share the love
You know that feeling you get when you finish reading a book so good you want to tell all your friends? Tell them. Then take it one step further and write a review. Writers need reviews. Even if you don’t write for a review journal, take the initiative and post a reader review on Powell’s, B&N, Borders, or amazon. People who shop at indie bookshops still look at reviews on amazon, so don’t be shy. Help spread the word about a great new author by posting your own review. You’ll feel so good about doing this I bet you’ll do it more than once. It’s okay. This is a good habit to get into.

Pay it forward
In summary, there are a great many ways to elevate your involvement in the literary arts this year. If you’re like me, there is a really long list of things you’d like to do, events you’d like to attend, manuscripts you want to work on, and the list is sometimes exhausting. Make it simple. Set small goals.

If there’s one thing you can do this year (and the next, and the next) that will put a positive spin on your art, your career, and your life in general, it’s the idea of paying it forward. It’s easy to focus on our own to-dos and our own overloaded schedules. It’s easy to brush off events or new releases from others when we’re overwhelmed. The “I’ll get to it later… I’ll go next time…” comments of good faith in our inner monologue can’t be helped. But it’s important to remember that we need one another. We need an audience at our readings, buyers for our books, subscribers to our journals…

Give yourself the challenge this year to be more supportive of others. Tell your friends about new books, go to an extra event each month, and maybe… when you find yourself saying “I wish I could” to someone, think about what you can do. Maybe you can’t make it to a book release party that night, but next week you can make time for a book review or a friendly blog post or even just a great nod of appreciation on FaceBook. A personal email is always a lovely treat for a writer. Small acts of literary kindness go a long way.

Whatever your literary goals are for 2010, I wish you the best. Happy reading, happy writing, and Happy New Year!


  1. I love this concept of doing small acts of literary kindness. I do this as a rule but I will be more aware now and add this to my New Year goal.

  2. It's a great goal, Judy. Have a great new year!