Be All Ye Can Be, Literary Citizenry: 10 Aids for Being a Good Literary Citizen

Literary Citizenship Word Cloud

The literary community is much more than an abstract ether of rejection and acceptance letters syncing contemporary artists together on the web. It’s not just a hunky dory image of a spotlight on a youthful reader possessed by a fleeting muse in a coffee house. It’s real people and real connectivity in a real age of driven networking. Contemporary literature is a thriving community with its arms wide open.

The greater good the literary citizenry serves cannot be denied. Its members watch out for each other, keeping each other inspired and creative. They are a tight knit bunch as concerned with their own development as they are with the welcoming of every new voice joining the artistic conversation, which bubbles under keyboards from China to Chiquimundi and back.

But how do literary folks everywhere move past the warm and fuzzy conceptualization of community and become powerful movers and shakers within the group? It starts by owning up to his or her own potential to serve as an exemplary literary citizen. Being “exemplary” doesn’t mean owning a polished Submittable account with heaps of published work or being a traveled laureate. Literary citizenship starts with the smallest attempts to broaden one’s own experience, until all the ripples eddy into a big splash on the scene that will surely be as rewarding for the author as it is for his or her community.

The staff at Sundress meditated on the lofty subject of literary citizenship for awhile across various snowy summits in the Smokey Mountains and came to some pretty nifty conclusions. (Actually, we just solicited advice from loyal Facebook users. Thanks, friends!) Here are some of the best ways to be the best kind of literary citizen you can be.

1.Revive with Reviews

“Review some work you might not pick up otherwise unless you were going to review it. Try to learn from it and see its merits,” says Sandra Marchetti. Writing reviews is a great way to flip the breaker in your critical mind to spark some new ideas. Through evaluating the work of others, you can come to realize your own strengths and weaknesses, or even discover some new ones. Really excavating a work also gives you some key talking points within your literary community, points that could further the efforts of your peers.

But don’t just stop at reviewing creative writing! Go further, reviewing literary journals, non-fiction, and websites. T.A. Noonan encourages writers to cite the things journals and presses are doing differently or strongly. The Review Review is a great example of a voice putting literary journals under the microscope.

2. Harness Your Passions

It’s okay to be a stuttering, flabbergasted literary fan; but when the spasms stop, it’s time to promote your newly discovered sensation and create some internet buzz. “Be available to blurb/help promote on Facebook when new work from writers you love/admire drops,” says Sara Henning. Social media is a powerful tool most artists rely upon today, a tool only as effective as its constituents.

Speaking of social media, Lisa Marie Basile encourages us to “Read work by people you don’t know and share it across social media.” The next best thing to loyal excitement is distributing that same loyalty and pizzazz to other authors. Be brave. Branch out.

3. Self-help with Self-promotion

You’ll never be scolded for shouting off rooftops about your publishing victories, except by the neighbors. Sebastian H. Paramo writes, “Don’t be ashamed to self-promote where you have published or your friends’ work. It shows support for the press and encourages others to do the same.” Paramo makes an excellent point that success is all the sweeter celebrated and shared.

But moderation is key, for too much presence or a sudden jump in publication may lead to a misunderstanding of one’s place in the greater artistic landscape. Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker refers to such successful leaps as tipping points, or moments where one’s craft culminates in a sudden series of publications. Dana Guthrie Martin warns against such points, saying they can argue with one’s creative flow. “Never think you’ve arrived in terms of your own writing. You haven’t. You are always on the journey, just like everyone else,” Martin says.

4. Recognize Relevance

To further one’s public relations endeavors and really promote peers, it’s vital to work smarter, not harder in terms of utilizing connections. Rather than posting paper fliers for a reading or paying for feed space on Facebook, why not send an email to someone with some pull in the literary world? While Stephen King might not pick up the line, there are plenty of major and minor players with a variety of strengths. Gladwell campaigns for writers to recognize someone’s status as either a social butterfly, a specialist of a certain corner of knowledge, or a persuasive activist.

“Be able to identify these personality types in others, and you will not only be making friends and contacts in the literary world who will be people that you can relate to on a creative level, but who will also be advocates for your work in a post MFA world,” Gladwell says.

5. Sponsorship

“Sponsor other writers by reading and sharing their work. Make a point of doing it *especially* when you get no political benefit from it,” Sara Biggs Chaney says. Chaney marks an important distinction between an alliance like the one Gladwell might foster and the idea of camaraderie for the sake of itself. Authorial friendships can launch entire movements once people began to discover their common goals. 

6. Stop Trolling in Its Tracks

How many times has a perfectly constructive feed on the internet been derailed by a line of thought as trite as it is obnoxious? Debates that are anything but productive can pop up, and people can be downright shocking. Trolling happens, but Chaney brings up another form of feed policing that any committed literary citizen should take seriously. Aside from perusing for those in direst troll peril, try to up the anti of a literary discussion with your own two cents.

“… when you can, try to raise the level of discourse that passes between writers online. When you think that your perspective could help someone else or provide insight in any way, try to provide it. Don’t be cute or hateful just because you can,” Sara Biggs Chaney says.

7. Fight for Rights

“Stand with those who have been hurt or wronged by other writers. Say no to bullying, abuse, assault, and other transgressions that occur in the writing community,” poet Dana Guthrie Martin says. This social responsibility should not be taken lightly. Passivity towards injustices, whether spoken or typed, will only lead to a breakdown in our community. If any person should be unduly ostracized or their voice stymied by oppressive harassment, his or her fellow artists have every right to step in to defend one of their own.

8. Wear Appropriate Hats – Submit with Tact

Leslie Salas makes an excellent point on the issue of submissions and bruised egos: “Another addition: Don’t be an asshat to editors. (The amount of unprofessional grumpy whining we get when writers try to skip the slushpile or when they get rejections is ridiculous.)” Sad but true, editors are often overwhelmed, and all it takes is one email to make one’s day go from bad to worse. Try not to be that headache if you can help it.

Erin Elizabeth Smith goes on to advise all those submitting to journals to “Practice internet decorum.” Remember, anything you spew into the airwaves or onto a blog could spread like a bad germ. Accepting rejection, arguing a literary point, or posting a seemingly innocuous social media comment must be handled with integrity and grace. Not a proverbial curtsy in the style of a Jane Austen heroine per se, but  grace nevertheless.

9. Suit Up and Show Up

While the internet and its multitudes are a great way to grow closer to one’s craft and reach an audience, a vast and very tangible marketplace of indie book stores, zines, and release parties are alive and well in the digital era. Literary citizenship should be a hands-on experience in the backyard, one that fosters the same frantic DIY attitude the draft process instills. Dana Guthrie Martin says friends and fans should show their support for presses and their catalog of authors by arriving in person to their respective events.

Don’t let the unknown keep you at home.  A roster of readers or a press you are unfamiliar with at a local event may be the perfect way to unveil a fresh scene or make new, productive connections. “Go up to people you don’t know whose work you like and say it was good,” Lisa Marie Basile advises. That’s always a good way to break the ice.

Don’t know where to find such events? The websites of local bookstores, small presses, and MFA programs often cite imminent events. Annual art festivals occasionally sprout up that feature literary readings, such as the Pygmalion Festival in Champaign, IL.

10. Escape Comfort Zones Before You Zone Out

Last but not least, carrying out the role of a good literary citizen means being equally good to yourself: change things up despite your authorial goals. Varying one’s literary intake makes for surprises in the craft process, and personal discoveries lead to public discoveries upon their acceptance by a journal or press. Dana Guthrie Martin expands upon this, saying that writers can box themselves up if they are not careful.

“Read writing that challenges you so you don’t fall into the habit of liking one kind of work. At least learn to appreciate aspects of work that doesn’t exactly speak to you,” Martin advises.

In the interest of breaching each of our literary routines, below is a list of sites for anyone interested in fulfilling and broadening their role as a literary citizen. May this list and the ten points above serve ye well.

Duotrope

Six Questions For

CWROPPS-B Group Yahoo Group

P&W Online

Joseph Dante List of Literary Journals for LGBTQ Writers, Women, and Writers of Color

Aerogramme Writers Studio

Writers Helping Writers

New Pages

Submission Bombers: Spotlight

Places for Writers

Antioch Writers

Submissions Grinder

Jacob L. Cross lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He studied creative writing and publishing at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he served as editor of The Popcorn Farm Literary Journal. His work has been featured in Still: The Journal, The Alchemist Review, and elsewhere. More recently, his poems are due for release in Clash by Night, a poetry anthology inspired by the punk staple, London Calling. He enjoys hiking with his wife, traversing Zelda dungeons, spoiling his dogs, and half-priced sushi.

Photo courtesy of Allie Marini Batts.

OUTSpoken Opens 2015 Workshop Registration for LGBTQ+ Writers

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OUTSpoken is a second-year program from the Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) that will take place in Summer 2015. Our goal is to create a platform for the LGBTQ+ community of Knoxville, Tennessee, and its surrounding areas to record and perform the experiences of sex- and gender-diverse individuals in the South.

Registration for the OUTSpoken workshop series is now open. On-site participants will be a part of three workshops over the course of three months in order to create, edit, and produce a piece of art to be performed during SAFTA’s OUTSpoken events in Summer 2015. Workshop attendees will work with professionals in performance, prose, and poetry to compose and tell their own stories.

Workshops will be held on January 17th, February 21st, and March 28th, 2015 and run from 1PM to 3PM at the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Cost for the workshop is $25 for one, $45 for two, or $60 for all three. (Participants who attend at least two on-site workshops will be eligible to perform their piece at the OUTSpoken events later in the year.) Scholarship applications are also available on our website.

As LGBTQ issues gain greater visibility, it is crucial that we explore the complexities of sex and gender diversity respectfully. That said, we realize that unity cannot and must not be silent, and that in order to create a meaningful dialogue, we must acknowledge and listen to the stories, experiences, grievances, arguments, and counterarguments of all sex- and gender-diverse persons.

Register today!

10 Brilliant Gift Ideas for the Writerly Friends in Your Life

Office Supplies

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It might sound cliche, but writers like pens, notebooks, and other seemingly-mundane office supplies more than the average person. Try beautiful notebooks and planners, (like these from Moleskine, Baron Fig, and Leuchtturn), pens from Staedtler or Pantone (especially if your writerly friend is also arty), or just a run-of-the-mill set of sticky notes in every imaginable color.

Fingerless Mittens

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For productive days in cold offices. (Check Etsy to support independent artists!)

A Flask and a Fifth of Whiskey

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Obviously the stereotype that all-writers-are-heavy-whiskey-drinkers doesn’t hold true in every circumstance (we invite you to use your discretion), but something to help your writerly friend fight their writer’s block and celebrate their victories is a thoughtful gift. Alternatives for non-drinkers include champagne, Cheetos, fancy chocolate, bulk coffee.

Literary Shot Glasses

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Continuing on that whiskey idea, check out this Great Drinkers Shot Glass collection so that your writerly friend can raise a glass with their idols.


The Gift of Solitary Confinement

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There’s a trend in the literary community of writer’s working furiously to win scholarships to fabulously expensive retreats to the woods, the desert, and islands. For what end? Time and space. You can save your writerly friends the pain of applying to eleven places by gifting them a reservation to a cabin, hotel, condo on the beach — whatever suits their fancy. (Or alternatively, pay their $25 application fee for the Sundress Academy for the Arts!)


A Subscription to Duotrope

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Duotrope is an online service for writers that helps us track and manage our submissions. It is only $5 a month and a fabulous resource for new writers and those who are just getting started.

Subscriptions to Literary Journals

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A journal subscription for a present might seem a little outdated, but to writers of literature, print publications are still a big deal. And by gifting a subscription to a poetry or fiction journal, you’re not only providing a thoughtful and useful present but also supporting the industry. Pushcart provides a list of their favorite journals, but smaller journals are easy to find online too. If you can’t pick one, there is such thing as Journal of the Month club. It’s like one of those monthly wine delivery services but for poetry. Speaking of which, a wine of the month service is always a good idea.


A Letter

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Write your writerly friends something written. Writers tend to be the types of people who value the written word immensely, and also the types who will keep a letter from a loved one for the rest of their lives. Find some pretty paper and give it a shot. It is the thought that counts. And the way you write it down.

Books! Books! Books!

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Buy your writerly friends your book. Your friend’s book. A book you enjoyed recently. A chapbook. A cookbook. An art book. A book you think they’d enjoy. Something the New York Times told you they’d enjoy. Writers love books. It isn’t a cop out, we promise. (And we have plenty of Sundress titles to choose from at our store!)


A Chicken with a Name

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Donate to Sundress Publications and your writerly friend can name a chicken who resides at Sundress Academy for the Arts. Writerly people are excellent at naming things. Do good by them and good for the world this holiday. (Not half bad for the chicken, either.)

MARCH/APRIL 2014 WARDROBE SUBMISSIONS

Here is the list of the amazing writers we received work from for The Wardrobe in March & April of this year.

Lindsay Lusby’s Imago from Dancing Girl Press (2014)

Tasha Cotter’s Some Churches from Gold Wake Press (June 2013)

Allie Marini Batt’s You Might Curse Before You Bless from ELJ Publications (April 2013)

Jennifer Militello’s Body Thesaurus from Tupelo Press (2013)

Judith Gille’s The View from Casa Chepitos from Davis Bay Press (October 2013)

M’s That Mythic Country Called Closure from Concrete Wolf (2013)

Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s Suicide Notes was self-published (2014)

Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s Last Hula from Rock in the River Lit Series (SRCA)

Sally Rosen Kindred’s Book of Asters from Mayapple Press (2014)

Kirsten Imani Kasai’s Rhapsody in Snakeskin: Tales of Erotic Horror from E-Book distributed by Amazon (March 2012)

Kristen Clodfelter’s CASUALTIES from RopeWalk Press (October 2013)

Jennifer Cheng’s Invocation: An Essay from New Michigan Press (January 2001)

Sarah Marcus’ BACKCOUNTRY from Finishing Line Press (2013)

Sarah Marcus’ Every Bird, To You from Crisis Chronicles Press (2013)

Elizabeth J Cohen’s The Green Condition

J Gay’s Decomposition from Dancing Girl Press (2014)

Jessica Ankeny’s One Simple Step to Keeping a Clean Gun from Dancing Girl Press (2013)

Lori Lamothe’s Diary in Irregular Ink from ELJ Publications (March 2014)

Amy MacLennan’s Weathering from Uttered Chaos Press (2012)

Angela Howe Decker’s Splendid Catastrophe from Finishing Line Press (2014)

G.L. Morrison’s Chiaroscuro from Headmistress Press (2013)

Mary Meriam’s Word Hot from Headmistress Press (2013)

Susana H. Case’s 4 Rms w Vu from Mayapple Press (2014)

Judith Terzi’s Ghazal for a Chambermaid from Finishing Line Press (2013)

 

Keep the excellence coming by submitting here!

Leslie Salas On Not Writing and Not Feeling Guilty

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In early spring, a dear friend and I walked the cobbled, hilly roads of Seattle taking turns choosing where our feet would take us. Our booted Florida feet leveled off the pier and made the giant circumference of the Ferris wheel, our eyes gazing out at the rocky shores of Puget Sound and the shadow of Mt. Rainier. We dawdled on the mossy grass beneath the Space Needle, the squeaky twitters of hummingbirds sharp in our ears. We navigated beneath the Pike Place Market to make our sticky contribution to the Gum Wall. Our matching raincoats tucked into our bags, we explored the city and split only once inside of the conference center.

Our sightseeing resulted from our attendance to the largest conference for writers and writing programs, a familiar venue for those of us who are bound to the written word. At this conference, I prioritized my time between raiding the bookfair and attending panels on maintaining the writing-while-teaching balance.

It was nine months after I earned my MFA, and I hadn’t written anything new. Sure, there was a blog post here and there, maybe a half-hearted query or two. Whatever I could squeeze in while being waist-deep into my first full-time teaching gig at a university, managing two sections of twenty-five students that cycled every month. I barely had time to also maintain my editorship at a literary journal where I contributed to design, layout, and proofreading. I was burned out and not writing.

The panels did not offer much solace.

We’ve all heard this narrative: in order to be a writer, you must writeWrite every day. And while not writing, you must feel guilty about it.

 

You Should Be Writing

 

I felt guilty about it.

During that same conference the prior year, I made time for a panel on about managing parenthood and novel-writing. Toward the end of the session, after tales of sneaking writing into grocery-shopping runs and investing in a secret office downtown, an attendee asked the panelists about the royal trio: “How do you manage being a mother and being a novelist and working in academia?”

The panelists looked to each other and frowned. One of them spoke up: “You don’t.”

Another clarified, “I’m sorry, I just don’t see that as being feasible. I don’t advise you trying to be all three.”

At the time, I did not take this advice to mean, “It cannot be done.” My stubborn self simply assumed, Challenge accepted.

A year later, I was ready to admit defeat.

The struggle of trying to keep writing, reading, editing, and publishing while still working in academia is very real. We may laugh at ourselves with the clever gifs of When In Academia, but at the end of the day, if we don’t do at least one writing-related thing, those of us who identify as writers feel guilty. We feel shame. We feel like frauds. And why shouldn’t we? That’s what’s expected of us, and that’s what’s said about us behind our backs.

I’d heard some whispers from former colleagues along the lines of, “She hasn’t written anything publishable since she graduated,” and “They only accepted her for that book festival because she’s cute and young, not because she has any talent.”

The first part was true—I was not writing.  I pressed my lips into a tight line when I heard the second.

On my last full day in Seattle, the unseasonably good weather finally turned overcast and grey. On the way back to the conference from a trip to get soft fibers from the local yarn shop, my dear friend persuaded me to attend a special edition of Page Meets Stage with her.  We sat, riveted by the panelists’ brutal honesty, their humor, and the excellence of their verse. But from Tara Hardy’s “Bone Marrow” I learned my greatest lesson:

I have been obsessed with achieving immortality through poetry,

but when I was told in no uncertain terms

that this rickety container has an actual expiration date,

I knew that immortality is bull shit[.]

calm-down

Poems will happen because that is how I process life,

but I will no longer mistake them for living.

Do not mistake writing for living.

A talented friend of mine—a prolific writer—recently commented that he is a writer before he is a human. For him, nothing comes before writing. Everything is secondary. He writes every day, whenever he can, for as long as he can.  I have witnessed him fall asleep while writing in a notebook. Writing is his priority, and it is clear in his dedication and the quality of his craft.

I have enormous respect for my friend and the writing standards he elevates himself to, but I cannot make the same commitment.

There are many advice columns about writing every day versus binge writing, using the pomodoro technique to improve productivity, and stopping in the middle of a thought so that you’ve got fuel for the next day’s writing. Our writing processes and techniques are all so unique that there’s even a writing process blog tour.

While this is all excellent advice for many people, it doesn’t work for all of us.

Hardy’s poem marks a paradigm shift for me: it helped me stop feeling guilty about not writing. I’d fallen into the habit of putting academia and career aspirations first, attempting to achieve that immortality that Hardy references, to the point where I’d borderline neglected my family and friends. Now I want to avoid some of the top regrets of the dying and live a more fulfilling life.

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I want to be happy. I want to spend time with the people I care about. If I find time to write, excellent. That might mean waking up pre-dawn to get writing in before my students drain my energy and creativity. It might mean setting those essays aside and getting a little behind on grading so I can get a blog post done.

But if I really need that sleep, or the grading deadline looms to close, I’m not going to get upset about not getting time to write in. Stressing out about it isn’t going to solve the problem. I’ll just try again next time.

I refuse to feel guilty, and you should, too.

Leslie Salas does not write as frequently as other people tell her to, but she doesn’t let that bother her. Clearly, she’s still getting some writing done. When she does write, it’s usually in flavors of fiction, nonfiction, or graphic narrative. She spends her days grading English Composition essays. She serves on the masthead of The Florida Review and Sweet: A Literary Confection, and her work can be found in 15 Views: Vol. II (Burrow Press, 2013), The Southeast Review, and more.

Sundress Publications Announces the Launch of The SAFTAcast with Scott C Fynboe

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Knoxville, TN—Sundress Publications and Sundress Academy for the Arts are pleased to announce the premiere of The SAFTAcast, Scott C Fynboe’s podcast for and about writers. The SAFTAcast is a fresh take on the writer’s podcast because the writing doesn’t matter. We want to know about the creators, not the creation.

Who are the people who write, edit, and/or publish stuff? What do they find interesting? What are their passions? On the SAFTAcast, there are no setup questions, no pre-packaged answers, and no stack of blue cards on a table. It’s casual conversation―entertaining, informal, and insightful. We encourage our guests talk about what they want to talk about.

New episodes and promos will be released alternating weeks and are always DRM-free to download, share, and enjoy. You can view the trailer at http://saftacast.com/past-episodes/

Scott C Fynboe lives in Port Saint Lucie, Florida where he teaches English at Indian River State College. He has extensive experience as a DJ, as well as experience in improv comedy, theater and writing and publishing poetry.

The SAFTAcast will premiere today, Tuesday, March 25th, and will be available at www.saftacast.com.