by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo
The most important way to contribute to a community of writers is to read their writing. Buy and read the books and journals of those around you, those you admire, those who you wish to work with, those you call friend or wish to call friend. Of course, we can’t buy every book, but if you can’t buy it, then borrow it from a friend or the library (And by the way, support your local libraries! They do important work for the community’s children and families). We are writers; it’s what we do; it’s what we work for. Show your appreciation for others by knowing their work.
Use social media to share what you’ve been reading and help promote other writers’ work, readings, or events. I like to post photos of my current reads to Twitter and Instagram with #amreading and tag the author if I can. As someone whose first book debuted a year ago, I know it gives me all the warm, happy feels to see my book in a reader’s hands on social media, and I want to give that feeling back. Also, it helps promote their work and possibly gain them more readers and followers. I also like to share photos of events I’m at, especially if they are women, women of color, and writers of color centric events because we need to be archiving more. I think it’s important to capture these moments, and say, yes, these writers were here; their work is important; you should know these writers.
It costs nothing to share what you’re reading or the events you’re attending on social media, so why not give freely and widely?
Book reviews help a writer and publisher sell more books. The more reviews they have, the better. If you’ve read a book and you enjoyed it, do them a solid by posting a paragraph-long review on GoodReads or Amazon. If you have more time, write up a review and submit it to a journal for publication. Here is a list of places to submit book reviews from Entropy. Also, if you don’t have money for books, offering to write a review can get you a free review copy.
4. Show Up
Be sure to attend other people’s events with no other purpose but to listen. I know this is a hard ask for some writers. I once heard a curator say they always include an open mic because it’s the only way to guarantee an audience. This makes me sad. No one is listening at an open mic because they are too concerned with being heard. I say fewer open mics, and more challenging writers to show up for others.
Last week was the annual LitCrawl LA in North Hollywood. A few months back, I was invited to be a reader on two separate proposals for the crawl. I had to turn one down because you aren’t allowed to read at multiple events. The reading I accepted never got proposed. At first, this bothered me, but then when it came to the night of LitCrawl I decided to look through the listing of events and choose a couple of readings to attend. I shared my crawl plan on FB and invited others to join me. Two friends did. In doing this I promoted three events, attended and even brought a bigger audience with me, and in the end had a fun freaking night.
If you’re a person who tends to say, “How come they got XYZ, and I didn’t?” try to turn that negative feeling into a positive by showing up for others and celebrating them. If you are a person who has many events a year and often asks people to show up to your events, be sure to show up for others. Every once in awhile show up without an agenda, without an event to promote, without a book to sell, and be present.
5. Offer Services
If there is a journal you enjoy, volunteer to be a reader. If there is an organization you admire, be on the lookout for when they need volunteers and sign up.
Back in the summer, WWS held a Submission Strategies workshop in partnership with WriteLarge Press’s #90×90 events at Cielo Art Gallery. We wanted the workshop to be LiveStreamed in order to make it more accessible. I put a call out to our community for a videographer. Thankfully, WWS member, Andrea Gutierrez, volunteered to LiveStream for us, and our inaugural go at the medium was a success. Now, there are plans for Andrea to lead a talk on self-care at our December submission party.
Be on the lookout for such calls, or even let the organization know what talents you have and you are available. One, you will be able to help an organization you are passionate about, and two, you will be on their radar for opportunities later down the line.
If you are like me, you may have many organizing and curating friends. If a friend is hosting an event, ask if they need anything. Offer to bring a bottle of wine. If you don’t have any funds, offer to film, take photos, sell books. At the very least, you can help promote the event on social media.
6. Be Reliable
If you offer your services, and a person accepts your services, be sure to pay up on those services. Everyone is busy. Everyone is involved in at least 10 different events, projects, family events, and work deadlines right at this very minute. If they say, “Yes, thank you, I could use your help,” most likely they really could use your help. Do not make matters worse by promising something and then flaking on it. No one likes a flake.
7. Be Honest
On the other hand, be honest about what you are able to give. If you have nothing to give at this moment, it’s ok not to offer. Only offer what you are comfortable with giving. Be self-reflective when offering and don’t over promise. It’s better to be upfront about your availability than to miss a deadline later.
This past weekend the WWS leadership team had a planning meeting for the upcoming year. One item on the agenda was transferring our blog to a website. Rachael Warecki is our tech expert, and I asked her if December 1 was a possible deadline for the transfer. She said that she would probably need more time and that January 1 was more feasible. She apologized for needing the extra time, but no apology was need. Everyone should understand that we all have jobs and other commitments. As long as you are upfront, it’s all good.
8. Give more than Get
Try your best to give more than you get. If you find yourself often asking people for notes on your work, be sure you are also giving notes back. If you are often asking people to come to your events, be sure to go to theirs. If you often ask those around you for emotional support and bolstering, be sure to be someone else’s cheerleader.
This doesn’t have to be one for one. This doesn’t have to go directly back to the person who gave to you because this closes us off. If I’m only giving to the same five organizations or writers, then I’m missing an opportunity to connect with other writers in the community. I think it’s better to pay it forward, and in that way we make our community bigger.
9. Give Thanks
Everyone likes a thank you, and even better if it comes in the mail. If someone has helped you, opened their space to you, invited you to read at their event, hired you for a workshop, send a kind thank you note.
Until recently, WWS didn’t have funds to pay our guest speakers. WWS organizer, Tisha Reichle, has always been good about sending a thank you card in the mail to our speakers with a $10 Starbuck’s card. It’s clearly not a lot of money, but it’s a kind gesture that I think people appreciate.
10. Go Home
It’s ok to go home and be with your cat, or your dog, or your boo, or your Netflix, or your fried chicken, or your glass of red wine, or maybe all those together in one glorious evening. Try to let go of that nagging feeling that you must be at everything, or that you must be everything for everyone. To return to #7, be honest with what you can give and allow yourself the freedom to say no. Allow yourself the freedom to go home and take care of you, boo. It’s OK! Believe me, there will be other opportunities next week, next month, next season, next year to get involved.
Like they say on the plane before takeoff, you must first put on your oxygen mask before you can help someone else with theirs. Breathe, writer. Breathe.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, a first-generation Chicana, is the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016). A former Steinbeck Fellow, Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grantee, she’s received residencies from Hedgebrook, Ragdale, National Parks Arts Foundation and Poetry Foundation. Her work is published in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and American Poetry Review among others. A dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño, can be viewed at latinopia.com. She is a cofounder of Women Who Submit and a member of Macondo Writers’ Workshop.