For the month of August, our First Friday Club guest was Walter Mason, a travel writer, blogger and creativity teacher. Walter has written two travel novels, Destination Saigon (2010) and Destination Cambodia (2013) and also combines his passion for eastern spirituality with his writing process.
Walter’s career within the writing industry is an extremely active one and he is also a fierce advocate for what he calls the ‘the writing ecosphere’. In our 2015 August-September issue of Newswrite, Walter contributed an article on how to be a literary citizen. By ‘literary citizen’ Walter refers to the role each individual plays as a reader, consumer and active and supportive member of the ecosphere. The article included seven tips that would help to achieve this.
A year later, our program officer Ashley Kalagian Blunt has penned a response of sorts to Walter’s original article. Having followed his seven steps for a year, Ashley can attest to the benefits this approach affords, not just for the individual but also for the broader writing community. The more writers and readers take on an active role in their literary community, the more prosperous that community becomes.
Having the chance to hear these two literary citizens come together for a vibrant discussion on the notions of inclusivity, generosity and loving kindness was refreshing and also motivating for those of us who mostly see writing as a solitary journey.
Walter began by sharing that the genesis of ‘How to be a Literary Citizen’ could be traced back to The Writers Bloc where he first published his ideas on the writing ecosphere. Walter had been attending writing courses since the age of 15 without much success and in spite of shouting his talents from the rooftops for several years, it wasn’t until he organised an author event for another writer that he made the first significant step towards publishing his own work. He emphasised that ‘my way into the industry was doing something for someone else’. It’s this notion of selflessness that lies at the heart of Walter’s approach.
Buy new books and read them
One of the first suggestions Walter makes is to buy new books and read them. This is the easiest way to begin your immersion into the ecosphere because it keeps you in touch with your local literary scene.
Before moving to Australia five years ago, Ashley had not read any Australian authors, yet once she made the decision to pursue writing seriously she made this a priority.
Get your books at a bookshop
Walter was a bookseller for many years. When a bookshop he was working in closed down, he knew it could have been saved if people came in more often. Even if it’s only once a month, spending the extra four dollars in a shop is really worth it.
Following Walter’s advice, Ashley specifically buys Australian authors. She even gives local authors books as gifts to friends and family, which is a great way to support the literary community. Not only are you buying the books and supporting local bookshops, you are also sharing the author’s work with a wider audience.
Be a fan
Do as much as possible to talk about the books you’re reading. Use social media too whether it is Twitter, Facebook or your own blog. If you say something nice about an author’s book, even if you think it’s cheesy, they will like it. So few people do this so when they do it’s always appreciated.
Go to author events
Walter says there are countless disaster stories of author events and talks where only 4 people show up. It’s really important to attend these events regularly. Showing this kind of support will develop a stronger network, benefiting not just your career but the careers of others as well. ‘You will be noticed’, Walter says, even if you are one of the four people, treat it like a VIP opportunity.
Ashley followed Walters’s advice and attends writer events regularly, roughly once a week. Though this process she’s discovered what works for her. While larger events can leave you feeling disconnected, Ashley said she feels more at home in smaller author events, as she is more confident engaging with others.
Subscribe to lit magazines
We all want to be published in literary magazines, Walter says, but so few of us actually subscribe. It’s important to show support to the literary magazine scene because these are usually the first platforms upon which writers get published. Many magazines now stipulate that submissions of work will only be accepted from subscribers.
Ashley had been reading literary magazines online but decided to subscribe in order to enjoy having hard copies of the issues. Having the physical object made the content much more memorable.
Be a campaigner
Possibly one of the more intimidating approaches to literary citizenship, becoming a campaigner can still be a rewarding experience. Don’t be afraid, Walter says. When you find something you like, promote the work on social media or amongst fellow writers in your community. Walter even has what he calls a ‘Spreadsheet of Loving Kindness’ in which he lays out a schedule and a set of tasks to carry out in support of an author or particular book, which includes praying at the temple of the goddess of mercy (optional of course!). But however you go about it, campaigning for fellow authors is great way to form connections and immerse yourself in the literary ecosphere.
Ashley found campaigning to be more challenging and intimidating. In the process of promotion, you expose your own reading habits and you may be worried about how the author is going to feel about your efforts. The answer again is very appreciative. Imagine if you discovered someone campaigning in support of your own work. You would no doubt be very flattered.
Ashley created her own spreadsheet around social media posts and promotion but found that the structure took away from the spontaneity of her online presence. Whatever works for you, it’s important to bring your own energy and enthusiasm to the process.
Last but certainly not least is the idea that literary citizens should embrace generosity and Walter does this whole-heartedly through many different avenues. About 80% of Walter’s Twitter posts are dedicated to sharing and promoting other authors. He also organises and hosts up to 20 author events a year. These acts of generosity stop writers from being too self-focused, which can sometimes be negative. Walter says that generosity can open you up creatively, ‘it will not take away from your creative output – it will contribute to it’.
Walter finished by offering a few pieces of advice to attending members.
- Don’t throw anything away. Ever.
- For those who don’t use social media, never underestimate the power of leaving the house! Keep participating in events, in order to stay in touch.
- Always have a signature hat!
Don’t forget to RSVP and join us at our next First Friday Club Event!