The Writing Life

In the last semester of my writing program, many wonderful authors shared their experiences and wisdom on leading a writer’s life. As I sit here prying my mind away from another episode of Rosemary & Thyme, I’m reminded that distractions aren’t necessarily a bad thing—they can help us cope with hard things (like now) and they can help us stave off the urge eat a block of brie, as this Psychology Today article details. But another murder in the English countryside solved by an unlikely pair of horticulturists is not going to make me a better writer. Or, if it is, the inspiration is a slow brew and will taste divine by the time all the Rosemary & Thymes and all the Poirots and all the Miss Mishers and all the Father Browns steep in sulphur-tasting DC water before being boiled and poured into my cup.

So, in the meantime, while all that’s percolating, I thought I would check my journal to see what nuggets I’d jotted down during those sessions when these generous and wise people showed up on a screen in the room. I won’t attempt to capture the stories about their paths to publication—as varied as the types of poison popular in murder mysteries—but I wanted to capture, if for no one but myself, a list of the ways mentioned that a writer might contribute to the community of letters.

Attend Readings

This is a must to support fellow writers and your future self. Given the pandemic and physical distancing measures, the literary world has transitioned to readings online. The upside of this for me is that I can attend a reading in the evening or on the weekend that I previously wouldn’t have been able to see. The downside: I miss cramming into a small room rimmed by walls of books and smelling of paper and people. Not that I was all that social when I could be, but I also miss the opportunity to talk with other writers or, at least, to see how they interacted with the world, which brings me to another great thing about attending readings, in the virtual or actual: You can experience what readings are like and imagine that the person at the front of the room behind a wooden podium or sitting on a stool or filling the computer screen will one day be you. So support other writers by attending their readings. You will learn from them and you will be inspired. And one day you will be the one reading.

Review Books You Read

Similar to attending readings, you can help out authors and learn from the experience by reviewing books that you’ve read. I listed a few sites mentioned below, but I’m sure there are many others. One tip people shared: Don’t do negative reviews. You can certainly share your opinion from both a craft and personal perspective, and even suggest what type of readers may like the book best. But when you type the words, just imagine: How would you feel if someone wrote this review about your work? Because, someday, that might be true.

  • Goodreads
  • Washington Book Reviewers
  • Amazon

Attend Workshops and Conferences

Workshops and conferences give you a chance to learn and practice your craft. I’m gathering they are also a great way to learn about different publishers and potentially meet editors and agents. Here are a few I’m familiar with but there are MANY others (e.g., this list of Conferences and Residencies from Poets & Writers).

Of note, one person said to attend at least one conference with an application, meaning you have to submit your work and be accepted.

Subscribe to Magazines & Journals

Two that I’m aware of:

Both of the above have many online resources, as well, including this list from Poets & Writers of Literary Magazines—good for both finding journals to subscribe to and those to submit to. More to come on that soon! Until then, I hear there’s an unsolved murder somewhere in the British countryside waiting just for me.