Monday was a major step in the right direction for me. I participated in a focus group for Poets & Writers magazine! Yes, I was swooning and nervous to be in the offices of the place I would love to work for one day. Oh my goodness, was I nervous!
The session focused on writers of color. It's something I have thought about in passing, but not pertaining to myself. When I write, I am not influenced by race, gender, sexuality or any of that hoopla. I write based on what I feel and the last time I checked, I was human.
But being human doesn't count when you are trying to publish and sell your books. The color of your skin does start to matter. Which is disheartening when there are so many other factors already against your poor creation, like the declining number of bookstores, the breakdown of traditional publishing models, and so forth.
Issues of race are common in every field though. You can break down the solution to one formula: Show opposing forces your culture and how it can benefit the scheme of things and continue to do it, loud and strong, until changes comes about. Show those afraid of what they don't understand your humanity. I believe that this could be applied to any field of work. With books, we need to show them that our writing contributes to the writing community, our genres, and the culture of this country plus show the common humanity in the themes of our writing.
While all I could do is nod and agree with the statements being made about race, I was able to contribute something to another issue: Showing guidance to emerging writers. Poets & Writers does a fine job in supplying resources that writers need in the writing world, but in my opinion, it needs to strengthen its tactics when it comes to the brand spanking new writer. However, P&W is not the only organization that falls short of that. A lot of organizations, publications, and even educational institutions do too.
I'll explain my struggle.
In college, you take courses that touch upon the life of a writer. Most classes are designed to nurture the technique of writing, but only suggest that you check out certain resources if you are thinking about publishing your work in literary magazines. Very few classes talk about publishing a book. Fewer actually instruct you in how to go about it. You write your little heart out, possible put a book or portfolio together in class, and then get a grade plus have more writing under your belt. Sounds great right?
What happens after you leave college, have occasional contact with professors (or none at all in some cases), and you are ready to go live the writer's life?
You are on your own a lot of the time, that's what!
Until a writer can find their place within the writing community, a lot of the development happens when you are alone with your pen, pad, and computer. You research. You inform yourself. You put what you learn into practice and you start to either hit or miss those finer points that you have learned. For myself, what I did to get the ball rolling was start submitting to online literary magazines. My first year after college was dedicated to that. I also sat down and redefined my goals as a writer. I decided what course of action I was willing to get down and dirty for and I made an effort to stick to it.
Part of that plan was this lovely site. I switched servers, thought about things I wanted to write about, redesigned the site and built The Write Queen into its own entity. It wasn't just the name of a blog on a thrown together portfolio site anymore. It became its own living, breathing slice of me, about my journey and identity as a writer.
And I did this by myself (with the help of the internet and encouragement from friends, most non-writers, but lovers of the arts).
I have a foundation. What boggles my mind is the breakthrough. How do I get recognized by my peers in the writing community as well as those who can help me with my dreams?
I know that I am part of my problem. I have to throw myself out there and know that there are supportive writers out there. But sometimes it would be nice to not have to do a Google search to find them. What I want Poets & Writers and other publications, organizations, and schools to do is to dedicate time to talk to the emerging writer. Have workshops about the writing life. Publishing articles from more up and coming writers. Give them opportunities that you would give the mid-career writer. We all need our breakthrough and we are young (both literally and figuratively) writers who are thirsty for it, but have to swim through a lot of information that we need guidance to get through.
We are here!
I would love nothing more than to be a modern day writer. To have the opportunity to write and publish my work under traditional and new models, while sharing what I learn with others and to have others like me in my corner.
But I do need help sometimes. At 13, a teaching artist changed my life by having my class write poetry. However until college, I had very little guidance in the craft. I didn't have programs centered on expression find me like a lot of teens have today (plus I honestly think that no one cares about the kids in Queens. Maybe we weren't unfortunate enough for someone to take us by the hand...but that's for another day, another post).
I taught myself and I am very proud of that. I was able to come into my writing courses with a head start that I didn't expect to have, but realized I did have because I took the initative. Eventually, you hit a wall though and you need to be taught. You need someone to take you by the hand and say this is how it's done. Right now, I am hugging that wall when it comes into living the writer's life.
My challenge to the big dogs is to teach us. If you really care about the next generation of writers, then really pay attention to us. Not once in a while. Make it common practice to nurture a writer's beginning.
Don't just teach us how to write. Show us what it means to live writing.