We are thrilled to welcome today’s guest and current president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Christine Adler.
When I first started publishing articles and essays, I emulated what I’d read. National newspapers and magazines were my guides for pacing and tone. My editors loved the articles and my readers responded well to the editorials and essays. So I figured I could do the same thing when I decided to try my hand at fiction—emulate what I’d read.
If you don’t already know, let me tell you how much harder it is to write fiction than non-fiction. How can that be? You ask. It’s easy to make stuff up.
Yes, it’s easy to make stuff up. I’ve known that since I hid my brother’s favorite blanket when he was two and said I hadn’t seen it because he was being a pain. But articles are also easy. You talk to people, you learn about a place, an event, an organization and put it all down in black and white. Who, what, where, when. No emotions involved, just the facts, ma’am. But fiction? Whoa. It’s not just making stuff up. It’s making stuff up that people will care about, want more of, cry over, laugh over, love. Nothing easy about that, it turns out.
So I set about learning the art of fiction, turning to those tried and true tools upon which fiction writers depend: workshops, daily journaling and craft books. Then three years ago, I heard about a new, online writers’ group called the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and I signed up. I figured meeting other writers—even virtually—would be another way to help improve my craft.
Not long after becoming a member, I was tapped to volunteer. To do what? I thought. I’m not a published author. What could I possibly bring to the table? But I was game and had nothing to lose, so I said yes.
Jumping into the deep end of the pool taught me to swim with the big fish in a hurry. I learned a ton about non-profits, Boards of Directors, bylaws, planning and moderating writers’ workshops and more. But volunteering also taught me some skills that I never anticipated. The best part is that they translated to my writing. Here’s how:
I wasn’t much of a volunteer before WFWA. Nothing that required interacting with people, anyway. When you volunteer to do a job, no matter how big or small, you’ve promised to show up and work for no pay. That means you’d better love the organization you’re supporting and the work that they do. How to know? Do a little soul-searching. What matters to you? What gets your blood going? If you knew your time could make a positive difference in people’s lives, whose lives would you change? The answer will bring authenticity to the work you do. It will matter because it matters to you.
Once you’ve done that, you can’t help to bring that authenticity to your writing. You want to dig in, find the root of problems and get your hands dirty. This is where you need to tell the truth. Yes, you’re making stuff up, but at your story’s heart is an emotional truth. That truth comes through in my stories where it didn’t before. It’s made my stories and my characters real. Authentic people can’t help but write the emotional truth.
Asking for help is hard. Painful, even. Be it emotional, financial or otherwise, I hate to be vulnerable, to need others, to put myself out there. But life sometimes demands it, demands that we swallow our pride and say, “I can’t do this alone.” I’m a firm believer in karma, so when I’m in a position to help someone, I just do it. I’ll smile, encourage and give whatever knowledge or skills I have that can make someone’s life easier, if only a little bit, if only for a little while. Because it makes me feel good. Useful. Brave. I feel strong not because someone came crawling to me and made themselves vulnerable, but because I was able to lift someone up without making them leave their pride at the door. We’ll all need help at some point in our lives. Helping others when they need it creates a beautiful balance in the universe. The more positive energy we expend, the more of it there is in the world. That can never be a bad thing.
The great thing about helping? It’s empowering. I’m changing the world for the better!
*strikes Wonder Woman pose*
And that translates into courage in my writing. I’m not afraid to take risks with plot ideas. I don’t shy away from the tough conversations between my characters. I ask others for their feedback and use their input to improve my work. When I feel good about myself as a person, I feel brave with my writing.
At a time when everything feels so divided, volunteering with other like-minded, passionate people to do good for a community is one of the best ways to come together. Writing is such a lonely endeavor. Mutual support can remind us that we really are all in this together, and the more we help each other, the better our world will be. Remember those other WFWA writers I volunteered to help? They make up one of the most caring communities I’ve ever encountered.
I used to think writing fiction was just a way to tell my stories to individual readers. Now, I write books that I hope will change lives. Maybe they’ll help someone tackle a personal challenge or feel less alone. Maybe they’ll bring readers together to discuss ideas, fears and hopes. With my writing, I can build community through books, uniting people I may never meet. Like volunteering, writing isn’t just a one-way shout out to random strangers; it’s a way to change the world.
WFWA is a supportive, inclusive and professional organization of writers run entirely by volunteers. I’m honored to have been elected President this year. Come check us out! womensfictionwriters.org
Christine Adler is a recovering IT Help Desk Design Specialist from corporate America. After her first child was born, she started a blog and never looked back. Since then, her articles, essays, poems and book reviews have appeared in various print publications and anthologies throughout the United States and Canada, as well as online. She’s a former Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine Inkwell, and the regional NY Westchester Parent and Rockland Parent magazines. The current President of WFWA, she lives in New York with her husband and sons, where she dives into history and research for fun, something her children cannot comprehend. She’s diligently at work on her second historical novel. She enjoys Hershey’s Kisses, red wine and floppy-eared puppies, and has a very close relationship with coffee. She blogs at www.feedalltheanimals.blogspot.com and https://christineadler.wordpress.com.
3 thoughts on “How Volunteering Improved My Writing”
Great post, Christine! My mom has always been a big volunteer worker. When my dad retired decades ago, she set him straight. She wouldn’t be giving up her volunteer work to wait on him.
He started doing his own volunteering (as an only child, the world had pretty much revolved around him!) and it changed his life and outlook.
It improves our attitude with everything… why not with writing? 🙂
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Hi, Jill! I love that your mom set your dad straight about volunteering. We can never have too many helpers in the world, in my opinion! No matter how old I get, I continue to be amazed at how much I keep learning about the world, myself and my writing. Now that I’m a convert, I agree with you about volunteering–it improves our attitude with everything. We can all use more positivity in our outlook, right? Thanks for reading! 🙂
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