January 6th, 2020

Harnessing the Power of Writer Karma

by Karen DeBonis

writer karma

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.

What you give, you shall receive.

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.

Positive energy out, positive energy in.

I reached out to several more experienced writers in my quest to research writer karma.

Marion Roach

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 & Lifesits dog-eared on my shelf.

Susan Shapiro

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?).

5 Tips To Spread the Writer Karma

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.

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Karen

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

58 responses to “Harnessing the Power of Writer Karma”

  1. barbaralinnprobst says:

    Thank you for opening this topic up, Karen! I agree 100% that "what goes around, comes around" and "treat others as you would like to be treated." Making that extra effort to be generous. As you say, the world can use it right now. And one never knows how important a small gesture can be. In Judaism there are seven levels of "charity" or "kindness." The highest level is when the recipient never knows who the giver is, and the giver never knows if her gift has been received. It's the generosity itself that counts, the energy that gives to the world—not the personal feeling of being appreciated. That idea has always seemed so powerful to me! And we can start with the small things, as you remind us ....

  2. Thank you for encouraging comments! I believe in writer karma, yet I generally don’t add my two cents to a blog feed. I’ll start today because “this spoke to me.” Thank you for the post, and I hope your son and sister are doing well.

  3. Writer karma or simple kindness. Writing is NOT a competition. It's a fellowship where sharing primes everyone's creative well. Well, said, Karen. I love the very positive ways to share. TY

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Judythe, I think this comment gave everyone some joy. We believe that here at WITS, that it takes a village to succeed in this crazy business. I think it runs counter to so many other things in life, that in writing someone else's "more" doesn't mean you will have less.

      This is a business where a high tide floats ALL boats. It's much more about encouraging readers and writers to do more of what they love. The more readers, the higher the tide for all of us. 🙂

    • You're so right, Judythe - writing is not a competition. The way I see it, since I'm an avid reader, any writer who has success only enhances my enjoyment. It's a win-win! Thanks for your comment.

    • jeanne kern says:

      Judithe, I was marveling yesterday that I am still using one of your promo pens to do the daily crossword puzzle. I must have had it for 20 years! It still has ink. Magic, I say. Lovely to run into you in this comments section.

  4. Michelle c Dodson Ferrer says:

    Good points to appreciate. As an emerging writer, I learn from other writers and am happy to tell them so. If a work particularly impresses me, I'll write a review and post it, and have on occasion contacted an author directly. I always just thought of it as good manners, but it feels better to regard it as supportive. The writing world can be most harsh. Thank you, Karen, for reminding us that we're not alone.

    • Michelle - Hello, like-minded newbie! I'm so glad to know you share my philosophy of reaching out to writers. True - the writing world can be harsh, and it's certainly competitive, but I've also seen such a wonderful community of people cheering each other on. Your words surely have had that effect. Best of luck as you continue to emerge and to bloom!

  5. Laurie Wood says:

    This is a harsh business and difficult to learn the ropes without others who're willing to actually tell you how it works "behind the curtain". Mistakes are rarely forgotten, so I believe sending kindness and grace out into our personal writing "world" can make a big difference in someone else's life. As judytheMorgan said above, writing is NOT a competition although it feels that way most of the time. A well-regarded published author told me this past holiday to "keep your eyes on your own page", and I appreciate that tip as well. So, thank you for this great post on the first Monday of 2020! Karma or positive energy or kindness spent on behalf of others is always a good thing.

    • Laurie, I'd cringe to admit how little I knew of this whole writing business. And I still have a looong way to go, so any kindness--like yours, commenting here-- can buoy me for weeks. I also love that tip to "keep your eyes on your own page." It's easy for others' success to unleash the negative self-talk voice sitting on one shoulder. I've been caught in that trap, and it's a good reminder to just keep putting words on the page and focus on creating our own success. Keep up the kindness - we all need it!

  6. jeribronson says:

    I love this! I do reach out especially if a blog post has resonated with me and I always try to leave reviews for books especially on debut authors like myself.

  7. I, too, have never heard of the term "writer karma" before, but I sure believe it its effects. What goes around, certainly does come around. You've raised so many good points in this post that I'd like to share it in my #TeachWrite Writing Round-Up soon. I work with teacher-writers and I know your words will resonate with many of them. I work hard to lift them up as a way of repaying all of the mentors who have helped me. Thank you for being one of those mentors today!

    • Jennifer, you're talking the epitome of writer karma - wanting to share my words (and, yes, please do.) And I'm so flattered - I still feel too new to writing to think of myself as a mentor, but thank you! I guess it's like a parent experiencing the world anew through their child's eyes--my newbie expereinces may put a different spin on an old topic in a way that revitalizes it for experienced writers. Thank you for taking the time to share your impressions!

  8. Elisa Waingort says:

    Love this! I hadn’t heard anyone call what you describe as “writer karma” and I agree that responding to what we read is so important. If you’ve taken the time to read it, then leaving a “like” or, better yet, a comment, is a small kind of courtesy.

  9. dholcomb1 says:

    Welcome!

    I've become friends with authors because I've engaged with them privately. I think kindness and finding the commonality is key, knowing if more than a one-time comment is necessary, and being open to friendship. One never knows what can happen.

    denise

    • You said it, Denise. I'm amazed how many friends I've made in the writing community--people I've never met in person, but who know me so well (and still accept me!) because they've read my words, I've read theirs, and we've made a connection. Thanks for your comment!

  10. Linda Staszak says:

    This packed a powerful message. It's surprising how a simple 'like' can boost your spirits and give you energy to keep trying. Thanks!

  11. Jenny Hansen says:

    Thanks for this message, Karen. I believe that simple kindness can effect great change and work miracles. Writer Karma is a great term for the kindness and knowledge that I've been shown by others who were further down the path and took the time to grab my hand and guide me forward.

    • Jenny - Thank YOU for making this possible and seeing something in me that I wasn't ready to see in myself. Wouldn't it be fabulous to know that this community of writers, as well as others, is planting and watering and nurturing the seeds of kindness? Small deeds CAN effect great change.

  12. Eldred Bird says:

    You definitely get what you give in the writing community. I benefit from the kindness and knowledge of other writers everyday. I can't begin to tell you how much I've learned from critique groups, classes, conferences and just sitting down one on one with other writers. I fell bless to now be in a position (thanks in part to WITS and social media) to pass some that knowledge along. Writers truly are a community, not competitors, and the more you give, the more you get back.

    • Well said, Eldred. Most writers (well, ALL that I've had contact with) have been so generous with their knowledge and support. I can imagine how much you've learned because I've probably learned DOUBLE that, since I had so far to go, lol. I look forward to continuing to learn from you and other here at WITS.

  13. crbwriter says:

    Thank you for the inspiration!

  14. Victoria Marie Lees says:

    Everything is so true here, Karen. Thank you so much for reminding us all how to show others they are important by liking what they've written, sharing what we've learned, and encouraging others. All best to you!

  15. Rick George says:

    I like your fourth suggestion. I have often done the first three ideas, but it hasn't occurred to me to "hunt down the author" to tell that individual that his/her piece mattered to someone. Thank you, Karen!

  16. jeannenicholas says:

    Thank you for the Karma article. Hopefully, I wont have to cash it in one day due to some medical condition but in the last five years I make it a habit to write reviews of books that I read. I even convinced my mother to start writing reviews for her 2020 resolution. She reads a book a day, practically. If I am not giving 5 stars I will always tell the author why. All these reading challenges that people announce as resolutions should be shared with some authors or provide feedback. Otherwise, the challenge is not accountable. Plus, the review makes me remember more about the book I've read and the characters and the action and how it was written. Its a cliff-note review to remind me why I'm giving that rating. A ton of Indie publishing is really producing many unedited books, imho. But I also give kudos to those that put out quality and entertaining work. I find a few gems here or there that really deserve the highest reviews. Usually, I post those on all my Soc feeds. As well I read many articles. WITS, Women and Words, LifeHack, LinkedIn, and more. And sometimes books these articles mention get purchased right away. . And sometimes I have too much to say. Thanks again.
    JLNicky
    @jlnickymaster
    @lesbianspecfic
    FB Group Mod: Lesbian Spec Fic Global
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/LSpecFic/

    • Jeanne - you are the poster child for engagement. I share your concerns about medical conditions--about 5 years for me, too--and hope we both can retain our hard-won karma. And what a great way to spread the good vibes by suggesting your mom do reviews, too. Kudos to you both and thanks for commenting here!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Bless you, Jeanne! Nothing helps authors as much as reviews. You are making the path smoother for so many authors and I absolutely believe that comes back around. 🙂

  17. Dear Karen, thank you so much for this article. I have been writing for years, feeling alone, and at times desperate about how to get know, to find editors and readers for my blogs and books. I have lived most of my life in a remote part of the world, and the pioneer spirit sort of teaches one to grit one's teeth and get on with it! Marriage to a narcissist for twenty five years did not help.I will certainly be engaging more positively with those I follow from now on!
    Glenda Warburton
    glendawarburton.com; @glendaih: https://www.facebook.com/tellittothewind/;7. http://www.linkedin.com/in/glendawarburtonwriter

    • Glenda, I can only imagine your isolation--physically and emotionally. When you've learned to be tough, it must be hard to admit to the emptiness that comes when you've put your heart on the page/screen, and it disappears into a black hole. I've had to come to terms with the fact that my own family-of-origin seldom reads anything I write. Other writers have shared that same expereince. I gues if you're not a writer, you don't get it. And I wish I had some secret to tell you how to find readers, but then I'd bottle and sell it and be so rich, I could publish my own book. LOL! So, yes - do engage more and see if karma comes back to you. (Also - check your Facebook link - it didn't work for me. Please feel free to repost in another comment!)

  18. I wish more people commented. It seems that, if someone took the trouble to write a post, the least I can do is like, and the best is to continue the conversation thus begun with a comment or the thought that the post inspires. It's almost always something.

    It's daunting to write and get no feedback.

    I know many people are hesitant to comment, but it gets easier with practice. Good for you.

  19. Hi. First, I can't find the like button. Am I missing it? Second, this is great advice. I've been writing fiction for a few years. It's a solitary endeavor, as you know. Writing conferences energize me, as does interacting with other writers. When I rebranded my blog last year, I was surprised at all the encouragement I received from other writers. It really makes a big difference.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Theresa, I'm working on a new site design for WITS and I'll make sure there is a "Like" button, okay? Thanks so much for taking time to visit with us in the comments section!

    • Theresa - you earned 1000 writer karma points for noting the absent "like" button. Unlike Whose Line is it Anyway (a TV improv show) the points DO matter, lol. And you double your points since Jenny will add a button in the new design. (And that's my bad - I hadn't even noticed.) Like you said, Theresa, "It really makes a big difference," so thank YOU.

  20. Lois Bilusack says:

    As an unpublished(yet) writer and silent reader of this interesting and helpful blog, I have been reluctant to make comments.Your post is encouraging me to be an encourager. Thank you for the nudge

  21. Marion says:

    I am deeply honored to be quoted there. Thank you, Karen. This is a terrific topic and you handled it beautifully.

    • Well, Marion, I'm only returning the writer karma you extended to me so long ago with your graciousness and encouragement on my very shitty first, second, and eleventy-ninth drafts. Many thanks, many times over.

  22. John Peragine says:

    Sometimes in a really busy week, this is something that slips. I do rely heavily on the comments and encouragement of others, and I need to be more diligent to comment and like posts. (Yes Jenny Hansen I am paying attention!)

    • It definitely can be a time suck, John. It's hard to find time to balance all that goes into being a writer. I'm a fan of the simple "like" feature, so I rely on that when possible. I'm glad this was a little reminder for you, but don't beat yourself up, either!

  23. Donna Capil says:

    Love this article! I totally believe in karma and paying it forward. Thanks Karen.

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