MFA in Creative Writing

How to Be a Literary Citizen

For Writers: Making yourself at home in the world of words.

By Sophfronia Scott

What does it mean to be a literary citizen? The word “citizen” implies living in a specific realm—a town, a state, or a country for instance. In this case we’re talking about taking up residence in the literary world. It’s a pretty cool place to be and obtaining a passport isn’t difficult. All that’s required is a passion for the written word. You could be a reader, a writer, an editor, a bookstore owner, a book reviewer, a librarian, or simply involved with any number of activities that allow you to express this passion. For the purposes of this piece, let’s focus on writers as literary citizens.

Clementinum Library, Prague Clementinum Library, PragueWe think of writing as a solitary endeavor but when you’re active in the literary world you realize you’re not alone. You’re in community with others living the writing life and when you support that community, your own writing life blossoms. You don’t even have to be famous or prolific. You gain inspiration, opportunities, encouragement, and maybe some laughs. Because at the end of the day we have to enjoy this crazy business we’re in!

If you are to thrive in the writing world you want to live in it, and know it just as you would your own neighborhood. It’s the only way to be at home there. Think about how you might behave as a citizen where you live. You probably know your neighbors. You pitch in if someone needs help shoveling snow in their driveway or, and this came up during the quarantine, doing their grocery shopping. There’s a recognition in your neighborhood that you’re all in this together. You can be in community as a writer in similar ways. Here are a few things you can do to activate and maintain your literary citizenship.

  1. Read. Sounds simple enough but it’s bewildering how many aspiring writers don’t read books or the literary journals that they expect to publish their work. Reading already takes a backseat to other forms of entertainment. Who will champion the written word if we who are most passionate about it don’t take the lead?
  1. Write reviews. As long as you’re reading, why not write about what you’ve read? You can write short reviews to post on Goodreads (see author Roxane Gay’s brilliant reviews there) and Amazon. Or you can write full length reviews to post on a blog or to pitch to journals which often need strong reviewers. My friend Shannon McCaffery, a few months ago, launched “Books You Gotta Read” and focuses on “books that could change your life.” How can you feature what you’re reading?
  1. Connect with writers and let them know you’ve enjoyed their work. Most can be contacted through their websites or social media.
  1. Attend or host writer events. Pre-Covid going to a bookstore event or hosting a library reading was a great way to meet in person the writers you’ve connected with online. So many events have become virtual, but this actually gives you more opportunities to hear and meet other writers. Once you do make a connection, develop the relationship by keeping in touch.
  1. Share in social media. Post friends’ book covers and their events. Celebrate their wins. They’ll probably do the same for you but don’t do it out of that expectation. Do it because you’re authentically excited about what you’re posting.

If you practice all of these activities enough eventually you won’t have to think to do them. They’ll be a part of who you are, of how you live. That’s when you’ll know you’ve settled in. You’re a true citizen of the literary world. Welcome home.

Want to know more? Read the full blog.

Story published on October 05, 2020