Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Help a Writer Out: In Praise of Mutual Aid

When INTERN was in college, she had the extreme good fortune of having a best friend whose parents were writers and well-connected in Vancouver’s small press scene. When INTERN expressed an enthusiasm for all things literary, they casually and with no great fanfare took her under their wing.

Over the next three years, they introduced INTERN to poets and editors in their literary circle. Lent her a constant stream of obscure books. Helped her produce her first chapbook. Let her tag along to readings and book launches. They were (and are) great people and the best mentors an aspiring writer could have asked for.

INTERN spent the weekend visiting these mentor-friends in Vancouver and also soaking in/trying to get a grasp on the Occupy fervor that has bubbled up in that city like so many others (have you guys seen Occupy Writers? Lemony Snicket!). And it made INTERN think about all the ways we can help each other, as writers and as people.

1. Introduce writer-friends to one another!

Sometimes it feels like the only way to gain access to Serious Writers and writer-friends is to join an MFA program. The other pros and cons of MFA programs aside, this is downright ridiculous. We shouldn’t have to buy the company of other writers because it’s too hard to meet one another on our own.

Instead, let’s play match-maker ourselves. Introduce a poet to an editor to a short story writer to a critique partner to a Pulitzer-winning novelist. We shouldn’t need to take out massive loans to make fruitful literary connections—all we need is one another’s good will.

2. Lend a writer-friend a book!

Let’s thrust books into one another’s arms, yelling READ THIS! Let’s raid each other’s libraries on a weekly basis. Let’s drop books in the mail at the slightest provocation.

3. Take a writer-friend seriously!

Serious Writers come in all different forms—published, unpublished, self-published, old, young, university professor, highschool dropout. Taking someone seriously no matter where they fall on that spectrum can make all the difference between launching a new writer-friend into the world and watching them give up.

4. Help a writer-friend in crisis!

We’re all crazy and broke and uninsured and dying of lyme disease and on the verge of becoming homeless. Let’s give each other a ride, a meal, a safe place to stay, and a friendly ear.

5. Share your skills!

Help a writer-friend with book promotion! Design a self-published writer-friend’s cover! Show a writer-friend how to use a printing press! Look over a writer-friend’s residency application!

6. Share the cake!

Umm, literally. If INTERN comes to your book launch and there’s no cake left, things WILL get messy, mutual aid or no mutual aid.


  1. For an example of what one introduction can do, Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog introduced me to you, and your blog introduced me, blog by blog, to all the online friends I have.

    One just sent me a book from Australia, another book's coming from Greece, and even better, we're swapping stories and giving tips and keeping each other sane.

    Thanks for being the starting point of such good will.

  2. Heh, I think I'm overly annoying regarding #2. I have a tendency to thrust books into people's hands and demand that they read them immediately. :)


  3. This is a great list. Totally support writers helping other writers out especially if there is cake involved.

  4. Honestly, INTERN, there is nothing I would love to do more (other than writing...) than everything wonderful on this list! This cake will not be a lie!


  5. HUGE nods of agreement from me on this one! I am a massive proponent of mutual aid between writers.

    Twitter, surprising as it may sound, was where I met and started building my circle of like-minded writer friends (It does help a little to have a circle of writers working in the same genre as you - maybe I'm insane but it works for me!) which has led to awesome things that I would never have even imagined happening a year ago!

    Seriously, if I could surround myself with and help out a million other writers - I would do so with the greatest of pleasure!

    I think INTERN should get extra cake put aside specially for her just on the basis of espousing this most excellent of concepts.

    -Matthew C Wood (I gots me a wordpress!)

  6. Toally agree. Promote your fellow writers, nuture, workshop, recommend. It all comes back to you and you feel good about yourself too!

  7. Absolutely agree. Make the world of the written word better through kindness. And Cake. I would add mead to that. When my book gets launched (which may be with a friend, and may actually happen, because of some good fortune recently) there will be copious mead to symbolise the honeymoon of good fortune, and to get all those who show up merry, if they wish.

    I will send you a bottle with my book, if it actually happens, for all the encouragement you give.