Dear Someone Awesome —
I just returned from a dance party with 12,000 of my closest friends at AWP Los Angeles—where I met all these incredible people saying smart and inspiring things. I talked with editors about their work and my work and it felt like I was really part of a community. It was great and positive and now I kind of get the whole “literary citizen” thing in a way I don’t think I had before. But I’m also feeling pretty overwhelmed by all these feels and worried I won’t be able to sustain the work and good will now that I’m home trying to squeeze in my own writing between grading stacks of composition papers by the dim light of my coffee cup. What do you do to stay connected after the bookfair closes?
Missing LA Already
Dear Missing LA Already,
It sucks, doesn't it? Coming down off of that literary high and realizing you're back to, as you say, the "dim light of the coffee cup?" But fear not! You can sustain that high, even if you never come into the physical presence of another writer the rest of the year. (Though I hope you can and do!) Take it from me. The internet may be a blessing and curse but when it comes to staying connected to the literary community, it's all roses as far as I'm concerned. I work outside of academia and like everyone, have a very busy non-writerly life, so the way I've sustained relationships, learned about new books, collaborated on new projects, and just kvetched with writers about shit no one else understands—that's all been online. I assume you already have a Facebook account and the five million writer friends. But have you reached out to writers you love and suggested a writing club? Some of my closest writer friends, I met through a small group that used to read and critique each other's work informally. I also have a small circle of friends, none of whom live anywhere near me, who read everything I write before it gets published. But you have to ask! And offer, too. Don't be the writer who just asks busy strangers to look at your manuscript. Be the writer who reaches out to people you've had loads of conversations with on Facebook and Twitter, your writer soulmates, and says, "hey, I'll look at yours if you look at mine?" Or something like that.
Now, Missing, I don't know where you live so this one's a little tougher, but there might be a lot going on in your area that you just don't know about. Scan your Facebook event invites, check your local arts paper listings, and search Facebook for people who say they live nearish you and ask. What are the reading series near you? Are there writing centers in your town or a nearby town? If there's nothing around, can you start and organize a series, or jumpstart one? And if you're really out in the boonies, which you may very well be if you're burning the academic midnight oil, can you apply to stuff like Bread Loaf or other writing residencies and conferences, places where a lot of writers gather in one place? Can you plan a trip to New York or Chicago or Minneapolis or wherever and schedule time with your new friends? There are lots of regional conferences and festivals all year long, too. In DC, where I live, there's a pretty awesome conference put on by Barrelhouse Mag, called Conversations and Connections, and (shhhh) but it's actually a lot more fun than AWP. There are festivals all over the country that you can attend, with panels and readings and yes, dance parties, too. And some don't cost much at all.
And barring all of that, there are of course a million literary blogs and websites to keep up with that can be a huge inspiration and source of creative renewal. For me, in the past if I felt isolated, I made a project and invited people to jump on board. Turns out, there are so many writers in the same boat, hungrily waiting to talk craft and passion and sales and yeah, the poetry of Kendrick, too. Just get on Facebook or Twitter and make the ask - you'll be amazed how many people are dying to collaborate or talk or just identify as lonely writers, too. So you do not have to suffer all year in sadness and solitude, Missing LA. You can be part of an online community and hopefully one or more local communities, and that will keep you so busy that by the time DC's AWP rolls around, you'll be like, damn, already? That was a quick year. Good luck and happy connection-making! And see you in my city soon.
--Someone Awesome aka Amber Sparks
Amber Sparks is the author of THE UNFINISHED WORLD AND OTHER SHORT STORIES, as well as the collection MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES, and co-author of the THE DESERT PLACES with Robert Kloss and Matt Kish. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. She lives in Washington, DC with two beasts and two humans, and she lives an awful lot online at www.ambernoellesparks.com or @ambernoelle on Twitter. She's almost certainly seen more Godzilla movies than you