The follow-up to last week’s post, What You Care About Should be the Same as Your Social Media Feed, this week Katey Schultz dives into what we, as literary stewards, can actually say and contribute. Get into the nitty gritty below, and join us next Wednesday for part 3:
I’m Ready to Contribute—Now What?
Too often, writers think that the best way to share what they’re all about is to remind everyone what they already know: you’re a writer, you write things, you read things, you blog, you submit your work, you have a book for sale or a class you’re trying to fill. But the key to being a good literary steward and finding your right audience has to do with contributing to conversations, not taking. Most people who know or follow you, already know that you’re a writer, blogger, book lover, or all three. But do they know that you volunteer at the Humane Society because you love animals? Do they know you lead the PTA because you’re an avid dyslexia empowerment specialist? Or that you just ran your first marathon, earned your black belt, or passed your yoga teacher certification?
Literary citizenship doesn’t have to mean sharing your personal life with your audience, but it does mean finding multiple ways for them to connect with you. It means presenting yourself as the well-rounded person that you are. Your audience will feel “connected” when what you share is real, informative, and consistent. What you do with your life and the kinds of choices you make about how to spend your time reveal a lot. People really do want to know about this. Why? Because they believe (and they’re right), that your passions inform your creativity and, more than anything, that’s what they want to understand.
Let’s look at two examples. First, an example where the conversations a writer cares the most about, directly overlap with the topics that they write about. Oregon author Molly Gloss (The Jump-Off Creek, The Hearts of Horses, and more) loves horses and the landscape of the American West. This is obvious in all of her writing. If you visit her Facebook page, you won’t see links to her latest reviews or reminders that her book is—yes—still for sale. Instead, you’ll find photos of her with her horse or notes about her recent trip to Iceland, a landscape she’s always yearned to explore. You’ll find out that she has quite the personality—she says what she means, she laughs a lot at life, she’s well read. You’ll discover she loves chamber music and dark chocolate. In other words, she might be a New York Times bestselling author, but she’s also a real, relatable, human being. Just like the rest of us. When you go to her website, you’ll find an in-depth version of all of these tidbits as well—plus the book links, reviews, blurbs, events, etc.
Second, an example of a writer who cares about topics that seemingly have nothing to do with what they write about. Most readers of my books, Flashes of War and Still Come Home, assume that I am a veteran or have traveled to the Middle East. But one look at my online presence, or one visit with me in a bookstore, and you’ll know that’s not the case. As a result, I’ve created themes on my blog so that readers know what I care about right away: mindfulness, engagement with the natural world, the creative process, and deep revision—to name a few things. When I travel to give public talks or book readings, I tell audiences about how the natural world provides a necessary antidote to my explorations of war. I let them in on the fact that I love the inner workings of bourbon culture and am actively researching its history—just for fun, just because the unique word choice and language of those times excites me. I let them know that I’m drawn to moments of disconnect and dissonance, and that when my imagination latches on to such moments (real, researched, or imagined), that is the birthplace of story.
Why do these connections matter? They help me be a better writer, of course (just like chamber music and dark chocolate surely help Molly Gloss). And that’s what I talk about: online, in person, at events, in passing. Not because I’m trying to sell my book, but because I care about these things. They’re easy to talk about; they’re enjoyable. By opening up my worldview, I make myself accessible to others, expand my audience based on my interests and passions, and eventually reach more people.
Coming up next week, how to determine the best approach to literary citizenship and content, based on your unique needs.
KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, IndieFab Book of the Year, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Learn more at www.kateyschultz.com.