Paying it Forward

My son has been participating in an Arts and Music camp all week, a venture that he loves to partake in every summer (because my art skills are limited to a small subset of crafts we find on Pinterest). This year the camp’s theme is “Community,” and when he came home the first day and told me this, it made me reflect upon my writing community. Writers cannot exist in isolation, though we may feel isolated when we sit at our computers with no one but our characters to keep us company. Your particular community may be your critique partners, people you meet for coffee or lunch or brainstorming, a reading group, the people with whom you connect with on Facebook or Twitter, or others. The other week, I saw a post shared by one of my social media friends where she wanted to thank an anonymous person who had paid for her order at a Starbucks drive-thru. In turn, she paid for the person behind her in a drive-thru on a different day. The generous gesture strikes us because it seems unusual and wonderful, but we do this all the time, sometimes without even realizing it: paying it forward without expectation. 

There are so many ways to be part of our writing communities, but I’m struck most often by how we give to each other. How do we pay it forward? Here are some ways:
Offer constructive feedback. You may have your usual group of critique partners or you may regularly beta read for certain writers. But you may also come across a writer who is not part of your regular circles who might be looking some feedback. If you can, offer that occasional help by giving constructive comments to people outside your normal circles.

Offer encouragement. People are on social media because they have something to share: sometimes good news but sometimes not. Try to offer encouragement when you see someone in need. We all have those sorts of days, and empathy is a lovely thing that sets humans apart from badgers.

Mentor another writer. Some writers actively mentor other writers through a process or program that they once went through. For instance, one of my critique partner was selected for PitchWars one year, and she became a mentor for PitchWars the year after that. I was lucky enough to have a mentor during the drafting my first book. He didn’t critique pages like my critique partner did, but he taught me things about voice and impact, and how not to suck as bad as I did. His industry advice was also invaluable. If you feel ready for this step, do it! You may save someone like my mentor saved me.

Participate in a panel or give a talk at a conference. The writers at Thinking Through Our Fingers are great fans of attending or presenting at writing conferences. (For a sneak peek into the inner workings of a writer’s conference and how you can contribute, read this post.) The bottom line is that we all highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful way to meet other writers, learn from other writers, and give back to other writers. And most of all, they can be a lot of fun!

Read a book. Yes, it’s that simple. Writers are readers too, and we must feed the reading monster (it’s a very friendly one) by reading lots of books. Authors are very happy when you feed the reading monster one of their books, especially if you take the time to let them know or give them a shout-out or a quick tweet.

Recommend a book. Love that book you just read? Share the love by telling a friend or by sharing the book itself. (But make sure you remember who you loaned it to, because there is nothing as crummy as losing a book that you love.)

Leave a review for a book. Leaving an honest review is probably the biggest act of appreciation you could give to a writer, especially if you liked the book enough to say something nice about it 🙂

That’s just a small sampling of ways that we can pay it forward within our writing communities. But just as we would become broke if we paid for everyone’s order at Starbucks, we would have little time to write our own works if all we did were altruistic acts. There is a certain value to isolating yourself when you’re writing for the sake of minimizing distraction, but I believe that the reason so many of us have to make a conscientious effort to do so (i.e., take the “writer’s hiatus” from social media) is because we crave that interaction with others. So yes, take your hiatus so you focus more on your story and less on the terrible things that have been plaguing our world as of late. But then be sure to come back into the community and interact again. Because we need you.

How else do you pay it forward within your writing community?

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. You can find out more about her at http://www.helenboswell.com.

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