The Importance of Being Literary

Sloths love both community and Oscar Wilde references.

Sloths love both community and Oscar Wilde references.

I’ve talked before about my literary citizenship class with Cathy Day, where we learn about why, as writers, we should be making an effort to be part of the literary community and how we can do that. For the class, we all had to participate in organizing a literary event. I was in a group of five (click for their blogs) that helped to promote Ball State’s 8th In Print Festival of First Books. If you happen to be in the Muncie area, In Print continues tonight with a panel on publishing and writing. Student Center Ballroom, 7:30 PM, be there or be square.

I have to give a quick plug for the attending authors – Elena Passarello, Marcus Wicker, and Eugene Cross – because they blow me away with their writing. They reminded me just how badly I want to be a writer. I dream of being able to manipulate words and shape stories – in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry – the way they do. Go read them.

Part of this assignment was to blog about the experience of organizing a literary event. I’ve spent weeks trying to figure out how to do that with promoting In Print. What do I talk about? Brainstorming places to advertise? Writing the article for the Muncie Voice? Blowing up Facebook and Twitter? What would be the point of that post? I didn’t want it to read like a homework assignment.

It was a classmate in my nonfiction class that unwittingly gave me my post. On Tuesday, she came up to me and said, “You know about this In Print thing, right? Where do I go?”

She just wanted the information because our professor was giving out extra credit for attendance. She had no idea what she’d done for me. At that moment, I finally felt connected to the festival. I was a person to go to for information – a trusted source. Compared to the huge amount of work that went into putting In Print together, I did very little, but suddenly it felt like it was mine. I was proud. My part in this amazing event may have been minuscule, but I was still part of it. It was on the inside of the literary community and it felt so right.

If you’re a writer or a reader, go get involved. Volunteer and spread the word. If you can’t find an event to be part of, go make one. Help your fellow writers. Be a literary citizen. You won’t regret it.

On Age and Writing

 

This sloth has experience.

This sloth has experience.

The Writers’ Center of Indiana recently held The 2012 Gathering of Writers – unofficial hashtag #GatheringofWriters2012 if you want to check it out – a one-day conference for writers both new and established. Cathy Day invited Ball State students to go with her, and I was among them. The keynote speech was given by Allison Joseph, and you can check out that hashtag for some great quotes. There were three sessions with three classes per session that you could choose between – one on fiction, one on poetry, and the last on non-fiction. Fiction is my concentration, so I chose to attend those classes. Melissa Fraterrigo presented on writing effective beginnings. Ben Winters talked about plot and structure. Sarah Layden discussed setting. Finally, the conference finished with Laura Baich talking about how writers should use social media.

When I started writing this post, I was going to give you a giant summary of the day. I was going to go session by session and tell you what was said. If there’s interesting in posts based on the notes I took in the classes I attended, I can certainly do that. But I don’t want to spend this post summarizing. I’d like to talk about something else. I want to talk about age and writing, and I want to call myself out on my own bullshit.

Ball State was not the only school represented at the conference. There were other students. Most of those attending, however, were much older. There were well-established writers who know more about writing than I might ever know. Others were just starting out. The majority of them had very little presence in the world of social media, but others were considerably better at it than I am.

I’m going to admit that I have a habit of comparing myself to writers older than me. I often decide that I’m probably behind in writing, but surely I’m ahead in social media. I was born in the internet age, after all. Shouldn’t that give me an edge? They have the advantage of being older than me and having had more time to write and build connections, but I have an almost instinctual understanding of the internet. Shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t that make me better in some way?

At the conference yesterday, I had moments in the classes where I thought, “I already learned this. We discussed this in class. I figured that out through practice and reading.” Meanwhile, writers twice my age diligently took notes. I sat there feeling like I was better than them because they were so much older than me but just now learnings things I’d already figured out. Put me in a situation with writers younger than me, and I can’t help feeling a little snide towards them because I have more experience and they’re “just kids”.

Problem is, that’s bullshit.

It’s not about age. It’s about dedication. It’s also about talent, but Theodora Goss has a better post about that than I could write.

I’m 22. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I’m okay at social media. A 40-year-old writer could have been writing since before I was born, but be baffled by the idea of running a blog. A 50-year-old writer could have been writing for two months but have thousands more Twitter followers than I could ever hope to gain. Plus, there’s always going to be amazingly talented writers who couldn’t care less about expanding their social media network. There are teenage writers that write 2000 words a day and are busy building a following.

None of this makes one writer better or more worthy than another. We’re all learning. We’re all trying, and we’re all doing it at our own pace. So what if I learned about writing beginnings before someone else did? Give them some time to practice and they might kick my ass at beginnings. I have no right to sit around feeling superior because I learned something first. Starting now, I have to change my attitude.

What about you? Do you find yourself discriminating against writers younger or older than you? Did I miss something, or is there more bullshit to be called out? Head to the comments and chime in.