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On Commitments, Participation and the Writing Community

image by Rebecca Siegel

On one hand, I should be breathing easy. My alter ego recently turned in the manuscript of her next book — not the first draft, and not the final final one that will appear between covers, but a very important one. She’s at the stage called Delivery and Acceptance, where you turn in your manuscript and your editor says, “Yep, we’re gonna publish this.” (And in most cases it triggers a payment from the publisher. Cha-ching! Well, mini-ching, anyway.)

On the other hand: now I have to get busy doing all the things I wasn’t doing while I was pushing through the final revisions for that book. And a shocking number of those things have to do with other people’s writing.

Writing is a mad, solitary, frustrating business, and I’ve often said that having other writers on your side makes it worthwhile. Which it does. But friendship isn’t all other writers have to offer. Maybe you have some who cheer from the sidelines for you, and you cheer from the sidelines for them, but in many cases our obligation to each other goes well beyond that. We’re not cheering from the sidelines. We’re jumping up and joining in.

Several of my writer friends read and critiqued an entire novel for me this fall, on my timeline. That is a HUGE commitment. You can say (or email) thanks over and over and over again, but the only thing that really balances the scales is to make an equal commitment. So to writers who’ve given my work thoughtful critique, I owe them the same, and I need to do it on their deadlines. Their deadlines should be almost as important to me as my own. (I’m not saying I’m flawless on this, but it is and should always be the goal.)

I have other people’s short stories and novels-in-progress to critique. I have soon-to-be-published novels to read, some to blurb if I like them, and some just to enjoy and decide how to advocate for them on social media when they come out. I have author interviews to conduct (which in most cases means reading more books), and a list of agents I recommend to make for a friend who’s about to start querying, and… you get the picture.

Is this a lot, on top of my own writing? Yes! It really, really is! But that’s the choice I’ve made.

Participation in the writing community means different things to different people. For some it’s online camaraderie. For some it’s a formal critique group. Some prefer not to participate more than necessary, saving their energy for their own pursuits. Apparently I’ve decided to go whole hog. And yes, it can be exhausting, but here’s the thing: I get out of it what I put in. Not in a tit-for-tat, scratch-my-back way, but in the broader sense. I put my energy into being a part of the writing community. And the writing community is giving that energy back to me in ways I directly benefit from.

Q: How much of your energy goes into the writing community? In what ways?

About Jael McHenry

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.


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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.