Writer karma. It’s one of the myriad phrases I’ve learned over the last three years since I emerged as a writer. Writer karma has led me, an emerging writer, to be here at Writers in the Storm as a new quarterly contributor. Hello!
A bit about me…
I didn’t discover writing as a creative outlet until I was almost forty, a year after my eleven year-old son Matthew was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As our family recovered from the trauma, an awareness grew in me that our story must be told.
My first draft was dreadful. Even my 20th draft was shitty. But that didn’t deter me, perhaps because I didn’t know how crappy it actually was.
Then, I quit.
My son’s recovery was slow. Painfully slow. I found it impossible to write the story as we lived it, without yet knowing the ending, so I packed writing away and left it to languish. In 2016, when I medically retired, a voice in my head said, “Finish your book.”
And my writing life re-emerged. It was time to put those early lessons to use, and to learn more.
One of early writing lessons was the importance of boosting other writers. Read, share, retweet, like, comment. It all comes around in the writing and reading community.
Writers in the Storm, with its wealth of insightful and informative articles, was one of my regular stops, and I commented frequently. It never occurred to me that anyone other than the article author took note. Then, in November 2019, I got an email from Jenny Hansen, one of the founders here.
“I've been keeping an eye on you over at WITS for a while and I'm wondering if you'd like to take on a bigger role.”
And I thought, “Who, me?” But here I am, in all my newbie-ness.
I reached out to several more experienced writers in my quest to research writer karma.
Memoir coach, teacher, and editor, with an entire curriculum of online classes. Marion is the author of four published books. She was the instructor for my first live writing class.
On writer’s karma, she said, “What I was taught is what I use to write and what I teach. Given to me, it must be moved along.” Her book The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text on Writing & Life—sits dog-eared on my shelf.
An award-winning writing professor, and bestselling author/coauthor of twelve books, Susan has helped hundreds of students get bylines in the New York Times, Washington Post and other big-name publications. She shares her best practices in The Byline Bible, which also sits on my shelf, its pages thick with sticky notes.
When I asked Susan about writer karma, she wrote, “I think helping my students get published, returning the kindness my mentors showed me, is a way of paying it forward.” Susan believes the focus of an emerging writer’s promotion should be on non-famous writers, “especially debuts by women and marginalized authors from indie presses.”
What about other newbies, like me?
Ronni Robinson is working on a memoir about her recovery from over thirty years of compulsive overeating. She and I connected on social media and then exchanged emails.
When I wrote a Facebook post asking writers for their thoughts on karma, Ronni didn’t reply, which is unusual because she rarely misses an opportunity to comment or share fellow writers’ posts. When I emailed her, she replied: “It's funny, I saw your post about karma on FB and to be perfectly honest, it stumped me. I never heard of it, had no clue what it was, so I didn't comment.” Yet, Ronni shares more positive feedback than any other writer I know.
Back at ya’, Ronni—here’s a little karma for you.
Whether you call it karma or kindness or manners, writers helping other writers helps us all. Everyone decides how big a role engagement plays in those precious few writing hours (because there’s never enough writing time, is there?).
1. Read essays and articles.
In the time it takes to read one book (and I read lots of those, too), I can read dozens of pieces by dozens of writers, giving me scores of opportunities to engage. Don’t know where to find writers? Subscribe to sites like WITS to get you started. (And check out the Resources tab!)
2. If you read it, “like” it.
One “like” can silence the drone of a thousand post-publication crickets. Writers hate hearing crickets.
3. If you have time to comment, do.
Simple is fine: “Powerful.” “Thanks for sharing.” “This spoke to me.” “I enjoyed this.” If you have time for more, all the better. “I can relate to this because…”
4. If you love a piece with no like or comment option, track down that author and tell them!
Shortly after my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2018 (yes, two completely unrelated brain tumors in one family), I happened upon this Vogue essay on Twitter. Daphne Beal, a writer, had the same tumor as my sister—a meningioma—and was doing equally well. I found Daphne’s email address, wrote to tell her of our commonality and wish her continued good health. She was flattered.
Important note: If you reach out when there’s no direct link, be gracious: “Please forgive this personal email; I want to tell you how much your essay means to me.” Most authors will be thrilled that you took the time and energy to pay them a compliment. But, don’t be stalkerish! One email is enough. If you don’t get a reply, let it go.
5. Comment in a way you’d like to read about your own writing.
You can share a negative opinion politely. Or just scroll on by. What you send out into the world will come back to you, remember?
Whether you believe in karma or positive energy or the power of kindness, I hope you will spread a little writer love in the world. The world can certainly use it.
Do you have an engagement practice or tip to share? Please let me know in the comments, and I promise to reply. I need all the good karma I can get.
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Karen began writing twenty years ago after her eleven-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Those early pages are now a real-life medical mystery about a mother who must overcome her toxic agreeability if she's to save herself and her son. The manuscript is currently in submission for publication.
A happy empty-nester with her husband of thirty-seven years, Karen lives and writes in upstate New York. You can find out more about her journey at www.KarenDeBonis.com.
Top photo credit: Pixabay
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