Welcome to the literary world!
I’m back with some more things to say! Isn’t that wonderful?
Personally, I think it is. Not because I like the sound of my own voice (I actually find it a little aggravating) but because that means I have things to share that I believe will be of use to you.
Whether or not that is true, of course, is up to you.
So, here’s to you readers and writers, bloggers and internet surfers. Welcome to the Literary world. More specifically, thank you for being a “literary citizen.” That’s what they call you, isn’t it?
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase. I’ve certainly been hearing it a lot since my last year of Undergrad. But lately, it’s been popping up more and more. I find that interesting and have found a good time to write about it.
When we talk about the literary world, we think literature. But it’s more than that. It’s reading, writing, publishing, trying to publish, trying to write, saying hello and goodbye to good authors and bad poets. Being a part of the literary world makes you a literary citizen. And you’ve had your citizenship card since birth, my friends. Now, have you exersized your right?
That is the major question of the day.
The literary world is a new and old world that must be ventured. Have you done so? If not, then let me help you. Let’s start with the words “Literary Citizen.”
That is what you are. Do you know what that even means? If you do, then tell someone else because the truth is every living person who has ever bought a book, read a book, stole a book (and actually read it, and I don’t mean a line or the middle or the end, but the whole darn thing; don’t try and cheat!) and made use of it is a literary citizen. You have been a part of a world that absorbs stories, memoirs, life, beyond yourself and into yourself. You have been influenced and changed, and you may not even realize it.
Some say that you have more to do than just reading books, however, in order to be a “true literary citizen.” In an article by Donna Steiner, a former professor of mine and a successfully published author, a number of articles wrote that literary citizens as individuals who:
1. “[…]work to create a world in which literature can thrive and is valued.” —LiteraryCitizenship.com
2. “[…]work to nourish, cultivate, and engage with a community that values and supports the arts.” — Renegade Writers Vermont
I really do love the full quote from Renegade Writers Vermont. They even do this little cute list of things that make a literary citizen.
The point I make by mentioning this is because we need to understand that literary citizenship goes deep into the heart and soul of what it means to be a writer. As a writer you are constantly researching journals to submit to and writers you enjoy– want to emulate in some way. Writers do this to get to know the world around them, to learn and understand what they are getting into and what they want out of the writerly life. Writers need to do these things in order to see how others developed their work, their styles, their voice and to see where they fit in.
Writers can do much more than read and write as they grow. Taking classes isn’t the only thing that helps you develop. Join a writing group or make on up one with some classmates or friends. Start a blog, like I did, or go to reading events (if any in the surrounding area). All over New York City and plenty other states have a number of reading events that are free and you can see your favorite authors or discover new ones. Sometimes you can go and see one you’ve never heard of and talk to them, learn about them. The point is to go out and do something; maybe you’ll find something you like.
The job of a literary citizen as a writer is to extend your boundaries. Don’t just sit at home and stare at the screen of your computer and wait for inspiration. Most likely it may not come. You have to go out and find it. Making an effort to push yourself, to meet people, and to understand the world you are going into is important. Heck, even going to a local bookstore (not necessarily Barnes and Nobles) can be an adventure itself. Inspiration can be made.
When I was in SUNY Oswego, I was told to read as much as possible. I was surrounded by many wonderful, and not so wonderful writers. I spent time with people who loved different things, styles and always read something, wrote something, thought of something. We had ideas and we shared them or helped others to improve them. This is a literary citizen, in regards to writers. One of the most important things that was taught to me as I began to develop my craft is that as a writer I should be looking at other peoples work. When you first started, you are taught short stories, because it’s popular now. Also because the majority of the time you want to start off small and work your way into writing bigger pieces for developmental purposes. Some have made it writing novels off the bat, however building a reputation can also be helpful.
It really depends on your choice of path, but I digress.
In my MFA program I have been told to read journals. Read the journals you apply to when you’re beginning to submit works for publishing. The idea that a writer applies to a journal without even reading the type of material said journal publishes should be slightly embarrassing. One, because you could be rejected immediately for handing in something they’d never publish and Two, because you failed to understand the point of researching in the first place!
As a reader, you can do the same. You can help a friend who has an idea they want to write about or even help them. You could even write something yourself; a reader can certainly become a writer. There are no boundaries for you. If, of course, you don’t want to write but read and interact with writers, then you too should find events to go to. Keep a blog on books you like, things you’ve heard what other writers have said, things you think writers should be more contentiousness about. Write comments on their sites or write a letter to them! Read a journal from a short story publisher. Buy a book from your favorite author’s website even if it’s not their usual style online. Be unbiased and adjust, evolve. Do it! Promoting the literary world in your own unique way while expanding your own experiences is the point of being a literary citizen. It’s like going to France. You’re not going to go to France and not go up the Eiffel Tower are you?
What is wrong with you!?!?
Do it! Because you can. Because you want to. Because you love to write fan-fiction and keep a blog or read about your favorite author. Do these things because you want to and you have the time to do it. In a way, it’s a choice and a responsibility we have to one another.
Another reason I mentioned is Donna Steiner’s article because it mentions that a few critics claim literary citizenship is “just another way that writers are taken advantage of by the publishing industry. That it’s a “…hypocritical and crass way of promoting your own work and/or your own agenda.” Frankly, I find this offensive to those who actually put an effort to seeking out literary magazines, meeting writers they love and going to the library. I used to go everyday after school and borrowed twenty different books at a time. Authors/writers aren’t the only ones who promote literary citizenship. Every living person who reads a book, who writes on Facebook how much they loved a favorite novel, follows a blog or writes a review on Amazon for a book they enjoyed, is a literary citizen. More than that, literary citizenship spreads the word about authors we greatly appreciate for influencing us, for showing yo what works for some and doesn’t for others. This is a choice, a responsibility as a writer yes, but a choice nonetheless. I choose to post a million times about how much I love Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and Jane Austen, or how I just discovered T.S. Eliot on Facebook. We will always have time to write, so long as we make the effort to do it. No one takes that from us.
So, to the critic who said that,
You obviously have no passport to our awesome universe.
Or you haven’t bothered to use it.
I pity you.
We are awesomeness incarnate because we do what we do. We write, we dream, we love a book and share it on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Tumblr and you are a hater.
Yeah, I totally wrote that.
In regards, to an earlier note I wanted to address an interesting blog article someone wrote, but for the life of me the title escapes me (sorry!). In it a blogger mentioned literary citizenship was about reciprocation. I fully agree. She also mentioned that some people have a tendency to take advantage of this. This surprised me.
There was an instance where she had promoted a fellow writer, blogging about how wonderfully they were doing and she had (I may be mistaken) read a manuscript of their’s or something to that effect. Anyway, suffice it to say, someone messaged her/emailed her and said “Hey, you should look at my work and tell me what you think.”
Most people have friends in the writing world. It’s common. You’re bound to meet people with similar or vastly different interests and become friends/harshest critics. You have close circles, close friends who you want to be supportive of. These are relationships that have been established over time and you’ve learned to appreciate each others opinions. The author/blogger was surprised to get a second angry email about how she never responded to the first as well as how she was unfair in promoting a friends work and not their own.
When I say promotion, I use the term loosely, mind you. When I say promote, I mean she talked about it, mentioned it (possibly in passing) was congratulating a friend or even as a favor to her writer friend looked over a piece of work and wrote about it.
Do not be that person.
Don’t be that random person that gets angry because a complete stranger won’t read your work. People are busy. People have friends. And to be honest, would you read a strangers work if they randomly said to do so?
Some people try to take advantage of literary citizenship and this isn’t cool. The point of literary citizenship is to get to know people, to understand them, their work, their style and appreciate what they offer to the worlds you inhabit. There is nothing wrong with writing to an author and saying their wonderful, to talk about their book or story. It is wrong however, to think that because you spoke to someone once or twice they are obligated as a literary citizen to help you, to promote you, to do something for you because it’s their responsibility. That’s not true. It’s just not. Literary citizenship is a choice, you can inhabit this world and be our friend. You can come here and share your knowledge and meet like minded folks or you can come here to get ahead in the world. If the latter is the case, then you maybe you’re doing this for the wrong reasons. That’s certainly not what I’m here for. Having connections never hurts anyone, but if that’s all you concentrate on, then the relationships you’ve established are cold and hollow. You are going to lonely in the most soulful crowd you’ll ever be a part of.
If you are here because you genuinely want to be. If you are here to make friends and learn the ways of writers/authors, publishers, readers, imagineers and dreamers, then welcome.
Welcome to literary citizenship. Welcome to literary world.