What does it mean to be part of a literary or writing "community"? At every level: it means the world. To have writer friends and acquaintances who have your best interest at heart? Alliances built on the idea of mutually assisting one another as we blunder, write, and make and break our way through this life. My own literary community delivers gifts to me every day. Two very recent examples:
1. The play's the thing: Deborah Lerner Duane and I have been friends for 22 years. She's had a successful corporate, then solo PR career (during which we often collaborated when I too was running a small PR agency), then went on to complete a master's program in a totally unrelated field. Now, she will soon also be a produced playwright,( not once but twice!). Deborah and I have met for breakfast once a month, every month, for many years, a kind of two-person board of directors; we're there to encourage (often push!) one another, cook up strategies, check in on goals, set deadlines, vet plans; keeping each other honest when we say we're going to do something. Over the years, she's helped me get over many self-imposed hurdles, urged me to seek bigger opportunities, agree to do something challenging, and achieve goals.
Last fall I challenged her to begin entering play festival script contests. We set deadlines. She wrote, entered, won. I am so proud of her, and reminded again of the power of two friends seriously committed to each another's goals.
Did I mention that I only knew of the existence of 10-minute play competitions because a student of mine in a workshop at The Writers Circle last year was a fledgling playwright who had entered and won a particular competition, and that's how I could recommend it to Deborah – with a link at the ready – that first time we talked about her moving from writing to submitting?
2. From her to me to you, etc.: Last month, Alyssa Martino, a writer completing an MFA at University of New Hampshire, mentioned she was moving to Brooklyn, and maybe we could have a cup of coffee in Manhattan? I asked if she'd be at the ASJA conference (American Society of Journalists and Authors), and sent her the link to the ASJA Education Foundation's annual conference scholarship. You know the rest. She won, and we'll be having that coffee at ASJA next month where I'm on a panel because Candy Schulman, who I met on Facebook through our mutual writing friend Liane Kupferberg Carter, invited me.
Did I mention I won the first ASJA conference scholarship in 2011, and only because my writing friend Erika Dreifus clued me in? That I attended my first ASJA-sponsored event 30-odd years ago, because Bill Glavin, my college magazine professor, took the time to recommend it? And at that panel, a freelance writer named Arky Gonzalez, gave me his card and when I moved to Southern California two years later, met me for lunch and shared editorial contacts? Did I mention Alyssa was once a private student of mine? That I was so pleased to write her a letter of recommendation for UNH, where she would study with Meredith Hall, who once lectured at my Stonecoast MFA program? And who took the time to let me interview her the next year?
I have dozens of other such stories. This may sound like I'm tooting my own horn – look at me, I'm such a good literary citizen; but in each case, I was only able to do what I did because another writer had done what he or she did.
Many other people have similarly helped me in small and large ways. When I tweeted about Alyssa, she noted "writers pay it forward."
My goal is to always be paying, and not as often looking to see who pays me. Because sometimes, though only occasionally, that reciprocal payment is withheld. And it stings.
Sometimes, though happily only very occasionally, people I've assumed are part of what I'd thought of as a mutually supportive literary community have let me down. Behaved badly. Just a couple of weeks ago, in fact. When it happened, I briefly considered (hell, I wrote), a rant of a post about it.
Then, semi-smart 50-plus-year-old human and writer I am, I put that messy, needy draft aside for a while. Yes, it hurt like hell. Then, the moment passed (okay, it took two weeks), and I deleted the draft of that whiny rant. Decided the better approach was to write this post – the one about how much I love helping other writers, and how much I appreciate when another writer helps me.