I gave the Discovery 2013 interns some “Summer Homework.”
Many of these students were in my Literary Citizenship class this spring, but some were not, and so we’ve decided to spend the 10 weeks leading up to the conference doing some training via “homework.”
Every Friday by 3 PM, they’ll engage in something I call “Charming Notes.” It’s a version of what Carolyn See prescribes in her book Making a Literary Life. They’ll be required to friend or follow or engage with five people, writers, magazines, agents, or publishers in order to expand their literary horizons. (We did this in my class during Spring 2013, and it worked wonders.) One of those five must be an “active” note–meaning they have to say something to the person, comment on a blog, send an email or message, not just passively follow someone.
Every other Friday by 3 PM, they’ll post to their blog. I’ve told them that these posts can be:
- journal entries
- book reviews/what they’re reading
- commentary about articles they read while preparing for MWW
- interviews with writers
- a roundup of links to helpful articles or information
- fearful questions and anxieties
- a response to someone else’s blog post
- I’ve recommended that they use my blog Literary Citizenship for inspiration, esp. the links in the right-hand column.
I’ve warned them: “You can blog about or share your own writing, but primarily, the goal is to be interested in what other people are doing, not what you’re doing.”
They must read ALL of each week’s posts (5 or 6) and comment on them. In a sense, they will “workshop” each other’s posts, but in a supportive, helpful way. Such as, if they think the post could be formatted more attractively or they catch a typo, they should tell the person in our private FB group (only we see that). But if they want to engage in a conversation with the post, they’ll do that in the comments section.
Basically, I’ve created a blog circle.
Ultimately, I want each intern to find the community they need and blog about whatever they need to blog about, but I also want them to form a community among themselves.
The internet is about circles and communities and connections. Our job is to find the right ones to plug into.
A metaphor: going online at first is like being a boat drifting in the middle of the ocean. You write into a void. No one can find you. You’re a needle in a haystack. You’re not even a ping on anybody’s radar.
What you have to do is find some other boats and tie yourselves together. Not just any boats. The right boats. Boats like you.
Hang out with them. Talk. Learn. Eat. Plus, you’re more visible to search parties.
Who’s in your blog circle? If you don’t have one, think about how to find one.
An example: I just proposed a panel for AWP 2014 in Seattle on teaching novel writing. The first people who came to my mind were people I’ve met via social media who share my interest. John Vanderslice comments on my blog “The Big Thing” quite often because he teaches a similar class. Then there’s Roxane Gay and Jon Billman, with whom I talk about the subject on Twitter from time to time.
They sent me Charming Notes, or I sent Charming Notes to them.
That’s the benefit of being online, I think: that when particular opportunities arise, names come to mind.
Q: Professor Day, how do I get published?
A: Work to create a culture in which books can thrive.
Q: No, seriously. How do I get people to buy and read my work? How do I get discovered?
A: What did you do today to help get someone else’s work discovered?
This is the essence of literary citizenship. Or as Chuck Sambuchino says in “How to Support an Author’s New Book: 11 Ideas for You,” a new post over at Writer Unboxed:
Help writers sell books. It’s that simple. Just help them and support the publishing industry. Good karma will befall you, and the hope is that others will help you in return as your big release day comes.
They are simple steps: Buy the book. Make sure it’s face-out on the bookstore shelf. Read the book in public. Request the book at your local library. Be an advocate for the book on social media, etc.
If you’re a part of the indielit world, the small press scene, these ideas and suggestions will be nothing new to you. These strategies are what have allowed the independent literary press world to explode and expand in recent years. (Go to the AWP Book Fair. You’ll see what I mean. 11,000 attendees. 650 exhibitors.)
But all authors need readers who will do these things, whether they’re publishing with a tiny micro press or the Big Five.
And all creative writing students need to know this is work they can (and should) do.
In 1967, there were 13 creative writing programs. Today, there are more than 500. Every year, we generate thousands and thousands of graduates. We spend a lot of time and energy helping them to self-identify as writers. We are fools if we fail to show them how to self-identify as literary citizens, book buyers, lifelong readers, and lovers of books.
We’re creating a small army. Imagine what good work they could do.