Friday, 15 August 2014

Writers Supporting Other Writers

By Narelle Atkins 

How can writers support each other? What does this look like in practice? 

These are questions that have been discussed among my writing friends in recent weeks. I’ve personally experienced a lot of support from my writing friends and writing organisations. A non-romance writing friend has suggested my positive experiences reflect my involvement in the romance writing world. 

In recent weeks I’ve attended the Romance Writers of America conference in San Antonio and the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Sydney last weekend. It was lovely to catch up with Dotti and Mary in Sydney.


Dorothy Adamek, Mary Hawkins & Narelle Atkins at #RWAus14

The four days I spent in Sydney were very valuable. James Scott Bell’s Friday workshop was a definite highlight. I received my first sale ribbon at the conference. I was welcomed into the Harlequin Australia family at their fabulous author dinner. 

I loved catching up with old friends and making new friends. I attended Rowena Beresford’s helpful workshop on YA fiction. Dotti, Mary and I met Ian Acheson in person for the first time when he stopped by Olympic Park for a morning coffee at Gloria Jeans. 

During the Sydney conference I reflected on why this community of romance writers is so supportive of each other. The answer was obvious in every aspect of the conference. There’s a culture of generosity and volunteerism in the romance writing community. I’ve also seen this in action as a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) community. ACFW started out as American Christian Romance Writers, and the culture of volunteerism is very strong in ACFW. 

Romance Writers of Australia have members who are volunteering many thousands of hours each year. Yes, I said thousands. The organisation has nearly one thousand members. Their entire conference committee is run by volunteers who give up their valuable time, sacrifice their writing time and family time, to pull together an amazing conference each year. There are members doing a long list of jobs for the organisation behind the scenes, too many roles to list. They run a large number of writing contests and have volunteers who co-ordinate and judge the contests. 

The volunteers are willing to give generously of their time because they love the organisation. They don’t do it to get something in return. Although, when you have a culture a volunteerism you will ultimately receive benefits from the work and generosity of others. 

I’ve heard people complain about having to pay membership fees to writing organisations. They question if they will receive value for money from their membership dues. I think this can be the wrong question to ask. In a culture of volunteerism, we join a writing organisation with a view to give and contribute. We have a servant heart and ask the following questions: How can I help out? What unique gifts, talents and skills can I offer? 

The membership dues for organisations like Romance Writers of Australia would be unaffordable for nearly everyone if those thousands of volunteer hours were performed by paid employees.

Many writing organisations offer membership discounts, for example to attend their conferences and enter their contests. There are some costs, for example newsletter printing, postage, website hosting, that can’t be covered by volunteer labour. In most cases the annual membership fees are small when compared to the potential benefits for members. If you don't believe the membership benefits are relevant or helpful, it may be wise to consider joining a different organisation that could better suit your individual needs as a writer.

If your primary goal in joining a writing organisation is to get something out of it, and if you’re not willing to contribute your time, money and resources, you’re taking an unhealthy step in the direction of selfish author syndrome. The writing organisations I value would not exist without the selfless contributions by willing volunteers. 

My challenge for you: Examine the writing organisations you belong to and see if you have any capacity to volunteer in a big or small way. How can you ‘pay it forward’ by helping others in their writing journey?

NARELLE ATKINS writes contemporary inspirational romance and lives in Canberra, Australia. She sold her debut novel, set in Australia, to Harlequin's Love Inspired Heartsong Presents line in a 6-book contract. Her debut book, Falling for the Farmer, was a February 2014 release, followed by The Nurse's Perfect Match in May 2014, The Doctor's Return in August 2014, Her Tycoon Hero in November 2014, and Winning Over the Heiress in February 2015.

Narelle blogs regularly with International Christian fiction Writers and Inspy Romance. http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/ 
http://www.inspyromance.com/ 

She is also a co-founder of the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance (ACRBA).
http://acrba.blogspot.com/ 

Website: http://www.narelleatkins.com
Blog: http://narelleatkins.wordpress.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NarelleAtkinsAuthor
Twitter: @NarelleAtkins https://twitter.com/NarelleAtkins

14 comments:

  1. Hi Narelle

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post! One of the greatest challenges I feel that Christian writers face in Australia and NZ is the lack of local support. Generally speaking, with notable exceptions, this extends all the way from fellow writers to bookstore chains.

    Recently I was speaking to an author (non-romance, of course!) who found it impossible to get support in Australia. She finally turned her attention overseas and found lots of support there. I shared some of my more difficult experiences over the last six years at the helm of Omega Writers, saying that I hoped it didn't disillusion her. She replied that, on the contrary, it was an encouragement to know that it wasn't personal.

    Outside of romance, there are very few authors willing to sacrifice even a hundred hours on behalf of others, let alone thousands. Yet often those authors have benefited by the help of writers. Usually it's all about time: authors perceive that they don't have enough time for themselves, let alone to repay the hours others have expended on their behalf.

    At the end of the day, it's a spiritual issue. I believe there are Aussie and Kiwi authors who could have broken through significantly into the international scene. But they haven't honoured others, so the Lord hasn't honoured them.

    As I wrote in my article on thresholds [http://australasianchristianwriters.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/the-first-chapter-as-threshold.html], we intuitively know we have to make a sacrifice to get to the other side of the doorway (in this case, publication). Some of us sacrifice ourselves and some of us sacrifice others. In my view, God honours neither of these.

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    1. Hi Annie,

      It's disappointing to hear that a local author has had to look overseas for support for her writing. ACFW, for example, is a great option for international fiction writers. ACFW has a 'Beyond the Borders' Zone group specifically for fiction writers who live outside the US.

      I'm also sorry to hear that your own personal experiences have been disappointing. I'm especially sorry since it appears your bad experiences aren't an isolated incident. Selfish author syndrome is something that tends to get talked about behind closed doors. It's a topic I touched on in my Author Etiquette blog posts, and Iola has explored this issue in the context of her reviewing series.

      The way we spend our time is a reflection of our heart and our priorities. Actions speak louder than words. We can say all the right things, try and project a particular image, but our behaviour will reveal the core truth in our hearts.

      I'm sure there is a spiritual dimension to this issue for Christian writers. The international scene is very difficult to crack for all writers. Writing is hard work, and it takes persistence to keep going when the odds seem to be against you.

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  2. Great post, Narelle.

    Finding the time is hard for me, but there are ways to get around that problem. Supporting each other isn't just a good thing to do, it's what the Lord directs us to do.

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    1. Hi Rose, I so agree. The Lord directs us to do it - in fact, Psalm 133 says the Lord commands a blessing when we work together. I believe that this implies that if we don't help each other, then there is no blessing. That's what I meant by God not honouring us because we don't honour what others do for us.

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    2. Hi Rose, Yes, I totally agree. Love your neighbour as yourself. Treat others the way you'd like others to treat you. I also believe that if we value supporting others, we will somehow prioritise time to support them. You have been a wonderful supporter of me, despite your very busy life :)

      Annie, I agree, and it makes sense that Christian writers who aren't honouring God, and honouring each other, can't expect to be blessed.

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  3. Oh blogger ate my reply. this post makes me wish I could help more too.

    I have found from other things that often the ones who will help the most are the busiest. Its often the ones who complain about fees etc and could get discount if they helped then complain about having to help.

    An example is a friend years back at the playcenter or kindergarten they needed someone to do the cleaning a couple times a week to cut costs and also wash things like tea towels etc. there was a place to choose to once a term do these tasks for a reduction or pay full cost. Also if you were willing to do more you got a bigger reduction. My friend who was a struggling mum was happy to do as much as needed ended up doing most of the cleaning and washing but able to go for free and giving extra time for free but as it meant the kids got to go and at that stage just feeding them was a struggle she was happy to do extra work. I think this is the case with many who will help just to know they can help. The ones who complain are the ones who want something for nothing but then complain if the fee is higher.

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    1. Hi Jenny, I'm sorry Blogger ate your comment, but I'm glad you've found my post inspiring :)

      My mother has always said that if you need a job done, ask a busy person. The problem is other people are selfish and take advantage of the free help without contributing anything in return. Too many people want what they call 'a good deal', something for nothing, but the flipside of this attitude is that there is usually someone else paying for their free benefits.

      Iola has mentioned a number of times on our blog that Christians are called to a higher level of integrity. Our financial dealings should be transparent and honest. We should be paying for the services we use, whether that's a writing organisation membership fee or writing services we privately contract. We shouldn't expect to contribute nothing and get everything for free.

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  4. I wrote for more years than I like to remember without any contact with other writers, especially Christian writers, so know the real blessings of being a member of an organisation like Omega Writers. Before the days of the internet, I was a member of an association for Christian writers in Sydney for many years, but even when we moved house closer from out west, we still lived more than two hours drive away from where their monthly meetings were - and at least half of that time through slow Sydney traffic. With family and ministry commitments even outside my squeezed in writing time, I was fortunate to be able to meet with them a couple of times a year.
    The internet has transformed the ability to have fellowship across the world, but I find it can be time-consuming in too many ways and still nowhere near as good as regular face to face meetings. Writers' conferences sure do help and you could say I'm almost addicted to them!
    Can I mention also, Narelle, that we must remember that our experiences with RWA and also ACFW is that we are sharing with other fiction writers and RWA narrows it down even more to romance fiction. Despite all the different sub-genres, it is still targeting romance writing so members have far more in common. A general writers' group that has writers targeting many different kinds of writing has the difficult task to try and meet the needs of ALL their members whether fiction or non-fiction, Children's etc, etc I meet each month with the local Society of Women Writers Tasmania which I do enjoy, but there are only a small minority of writers who are writing novels. I have to confess that I cannot enjoy it anywhere near as much as I used to leading a local RWA monthly meeting group years ago. Today I try my best to support writers in the fiction arena, especially Christian writers. This is wher, I personally have experience and know about, but I do not feel qualified to help many other writers, especially poets and even devotional writers etc. Because I so much value contact with other writers, I am a member of several organisations these days. My biggest challenge is regularly checking with the Lord where and how HE wants me to volunteer HIS time in my involvement with supporting other writers, and when to have those extended seasons of concentrating on writing my own novels HE wants me to. My biggest and hardest problem for years is having to say "no" to a need I see and would like to help with - including as a volunteer.

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    1. Hi Mary, Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree, it's important for Christian writers to prayerfully consider how and where they spend their volunteer time and energy. If all writers are volunteering somewhere and doing something, in theory the burden should be lighter on everyone and individual member needs will be met somewhere in the writing community.

      Smaller groups catering for a wide range of writers can have their own unique challenges. What I've found interesting to observe is the writing organisations with a strong volunteerism culture, for example ACFW, have grown quite quickly in terms of the membership size and the services available for members. As a result, they've been a blessing for many writers.

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  5. I'm a paid-up member of Omega Writers (to support and promote Australasian Christian writing), RWNZ (to attend their conference, which attracts world-class Christian writers like James Scott Bell and Randy Ingermanson as speakers), and the Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network (to learn from them). Omega and RWNZ both have regular newsletters, and I contribute to both. I find the Omega Newsletter the most professional and most useful, even though it's probably the smallest organisation. I think it's worth the membership for that alone.

    I'm also a member of various unpaid Christian Facebook groups, including ACW, to engage with and support Christian writers and editors. Yes, there's an element of personal networking, but I'm following Tim Grahl's philosophy of being "relentlessly helpful" (although I guess whether or not I achieve that is in the eye of the receiver).

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    1. Hi Iola, I love the idea of being "relentlessly helpful". You've summed up my entire blog post in two words :)

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  6. For me it comes down to how can I best serve other authors in the time I have. That might be volunteering (which at the moment with 4 crazy busy children - isn't), it might be purhcasing books, it might be reviewing books, it might be reading blogs and encouraging aspiring author or well seasoned authors, it might be commenting on facebook or twitter or google plus, it might be joining organisations to support them. In these interesting times we live where the glorification of busy seems to rule too many lives, boundaries are important right alongside serving one another. Thought provoking article Narelle. And some great comments here as well. xx

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  7. Hi Michelle, I agree, a servant heart is very important. Volunteerism can take many forms and there a lots of different ways that writers can support each other. Boundaries are necessary if we want to live balanced lives and the glorification of busy isn't healthy, either. The challenge is finding the balance between being idle, at one extreme, and being too busy and over committed at the other extreme. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

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  8. Awesome post, Narelle! Not only are you generous about giving back, but you're also brilliant!

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