Why Being an Active Participant in your Literary Community Matters

Aside from attending the annual Writer Symposium by the Sea at my alma mater, Point Loma Nazarene University, I hadn’t gone to many literary events. I guess my initial reaction toward them was lukewarm, expecting the usual: authors discussing their work or debating an issue affecting the publishing world.  Only recently did I realize how wrong my perception had been.

This summer, tired of the boring cycle of going to work and wasting time online or watching movies, I decided on the spur of the moment to attend an event put on by Black Hill Press, the 1888 Center, and JukePop as part of their Summer Writing Project 2015. The panel, “A Brief History of Local Literary Journals,” was held at Chapman University’s Leatherby Libraries. During my second semester of graduate school, I had attended a Calliope Art & Literary Magazine writing workshop with Black Hill Press which advertised the numerous events they would be having over the summer. Despite how interested I was in attending some of them, I eventually forgot; I wouldn’t have gone to this one had not a friend posted on Facebook that the event was happening.

When I arrived I saw some friends I knew, but was also welcomed by people whom I’d never met. They were glad I could come out to be a part of the event. Let me reiterate that last part: Be a part of the event.

Enjoying the first panel, I then planned to see if I could attend the remaining sessions. For the ones I couldn’t make, I made sure to listen to “The How The Why” (#THTW) podcasts of the events once they were posted online. For those I could go to, I showed up early, chatting with people I had met at the previous panels. Over the course of two months, I got to know wonderful people on a first name basis, learn of their work, and connect with them on a human level. Through involvement, I realized, you become part of something larger, and, as a result, develop a sense of purpose.

Many writers have discussed how being a writer is not just an act of sitting down daily at a desk to write. It is not a solitary journey. We are not alone, which is why writers should not be ignorant of, or choose to not participate in, their local literary community. Therefore, to nurture your talent and expand your horizons you need to branch out to that community. Don’t be on the periphery of what is happening. Be involved.

You can participate by:

  • Attending Local Readings and Literary Events (AWP, among many others)
  • Supporting your local bookstore
  • Starting and maintaining a writers group (outside of—and in addition to—your workshop classes), no exceptions
  • Engaging in or developing your own panel discussions
  • Reading book/author recommendations from friends and colleagues
  • Attending or presenting at academic and creative conferences
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Freelancing for, or interning at, your local newspapers or magazines
  • Being an active board or committee member on your campus literary magazine
  • Submitting work to your campus, local, and national literary magazines
  • Following your favorite publishers, authors, and artists on social media
  • Actively promoting your and your fellow writers’ accomplishments
  • Connecting with other writers or artist of different disciplines—not only for the sake of networking, but to actually develop close, long-lasting relationships with people

In this short time, I have grown more confident—not only in my writing, but in how I can walk with other writers on their own journeys. As I mentioned above, once you become involved you develop a deeper sense of purpose and come to better understand your role in the broader community.

Ray Bradbury writes in his book of essays, Zen in the Art of Writing:

“To feed well is to grow. To work well and constantly is to keep what you have learned and know in prime condition.”

Feed your creativity, feed your passion, feed your knowledge—if not solely for yourself, then to share with others through your writing, your encouragement, and your support.

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