Writers are no strangers to uncertain times. Living in a constant state of creation means living with at least one foot in chaos all the time. More than that, trying to earn a living or even just enough to give us a few spare hours to
keep writing, is tricky even in the best of economic climates. And things got a whole lot trickier for writers everywhere with the explosion of global unrest earlier this year. Whether we’re thinking about ourselves, our fellow writers, or simply the state of the writing industry in general, I doubt there’s a one of us who hasn’t paused to think about ways to help writers during the pandemic.
From my vantage, writers everywhere have rallied in magnificent ways throughout this year. A few months ago, I was excited and inspired by the invitation to take part in a 14-day challenge, hosted by the website Story Embers. Their Outreach Manager, Rolena Hatfield, contacted me in June:
We’re hosting a Support the Writing Community Challenge from August 3-17. With the current state of the economy and COVID-19, writers are struggling more than ever both financially and emotionally. Writing is often a solitary job, so it’s easy to forget that other writers are struggling too. We want to empower & encourage storytellers to come together and give back to the writing community in small, meaningful ways. We also hope to raise awareness of the problems of writers so we can support each other through these challenging times.
Before you read on, I hope you’ll check out the challenge and join in. You’ll find the opportunity to enter giveaways for several care packages, some of which feature paperback versions of my writing books Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs.
How Can We Help Writers During the Pandemic?
This a big question—because we are all facing our own specific concerns and worries in these uncertain times. However, in pondering the question in preparation for this post, I kept coming back time and again to all the many ways I have been helped and encouraged throughout my career by my fellow writers—many of whom are reading this right now.
The writing community is just that—a community. It is not a competition. It is a self-sustaining circle of writers-who-read and readers-who-write, all of us supporting and enabling each other in our deep yearning pursuit of meaningful art and meaningful lives. Some of us write as a hobby. Some of us write for a living. Some of us would like to transition into writing for a living. Some of us are widely read. Some of us are not. Some of us are really good. Some of us are still working on it. But we all contribute to this vast and crucial community, both through our writing and through our encouragement of our fellows’ writing.
I am here because of you. I write because of you—just as you are, I hope, helped and encouraged by me in turn. But the time has come for all of us to up our game a little bit.
If you’re looking for ideas about how to sow a little hope, a little light, a little encouragement, even a little sustenance during these times, following are my top five ideas. Some of these ideas cost nothing more than time and goodwill. Others ask for those who are able to give a little more. To help you get started, I’m offering some gifts of my own in a giveaway that will allow each “winner” to choose one of their fellow writers as the recipient. You can enter the drawing with the widget at the bottom of the post. Winners will be drawn in two weeks, at the end of the Support the Writing Community Challenge.
1. Buy a Book, Leave a Review, Spread the Word
The most obvious ways to help any writer is to, first, buy their books and, second, do whatever you can to encourage other readers to buy as well. Most books these days are so reasonably priced that it doesn’t require much outlay to buy from the authors you most want to support. It’s such a simple thing, but to many authors even just seeing that they’ve sold one more book is a huge boost.
More than that, if you enjoy the book, take the time to leave a review. Next to actual book purchases, this simple act is one of the biggest gifts to a writer. Not only does it offer social proof that encourages future sales, it also gives the author a chance to hear feedback from a happy reader.
You can even take it one step further and share your review, a photo of the book, or a quick shout out on social media. So many readers make their decisions about what books to read next based on the recommendations of friends.
These acts are so small and easy, but they mean so much to writers—both financially and certainly personally.
To Get You Started: If you are Winner #1 or #2 in the drawing (you can enter via the widget at the bottom of the post), I will buy a paperback from an author you want to support and post a picture of the book on social media.
2. Send a Note
I daresay every single person reading this blog has been, at one point or another in their lives, profoundly moved by someone else’s writing. Perhaps you might even say your life was changed. Why not send that person a note (assuming they’re still alive)? As we all know, writers live in a vacuum most of the time. With the exception of critiques and the occasional review from a stranger out in Internet-land, we receive little true feedback on our work.
You never know what dry soil your kind words may drop onto. A few years ago, in something of a synchronicity when I was going through a difficult period of questioning whether the writing life was something I was meant to continue, I started receiving what, in hindsight, feels like note after note from people who had no idea what I was going through at the time, but who literally kept saying “please don’t stop writing.”
Any random note of kindness is worth sending, but the more specific you can be the better. Think of an author (whether famous or small-time) whose writing has inspired you, stuck with you, or given you food for thought. Send them a note, leave them a review, or tag them on social media, telling them specifically what their writing has meant to you.
For example, just prior to writing this post, I received an email from Azalea Dabill (who is getting ready to publish her own book Fantastic Journey: The Soul of Imaginative Fiction and Clean Fantasy Adventure), which touched me deeply because it specifically referenced the very things I most wish my writing will accomplish—“hope and courage and joy in the journey.”
To Get You Started: If you are Winner #3 or #4, I will write an email or letter to an author friend you’d like to encourage.
3. Give a Gift: Something Fun and Kind
Birthday gifts are fun. Christmas gifts are fun. But isn’t there something extra special about random gifts? The ones that arrive “just because” and carry an underlying message that “someone is thinking about you” and “you matter”?
I have never forgotten a gift card sent to me by mystery writer Elizabeth Spann Craig as part of a random acts of kindness challenge. Or this awesome mug that Wordplayer Phong Lê designed especially for me after the publication of my novel Wayfarer:
The delight of receiving something for no reason at all other that someone appreciated you enough to send it can be a huge encouragement, especially in trying times. Right now when finances are tight for many people, even a small gift can make a big difference.
To Get You Started: If you are Winner #5 or #6, I will send a $20 Amazon gift card, in your name, to a writer you’d like to support.
4. Give a Gift: Something Useful
Even the most frivolous gifts can carry deep encouraging impact. But you can also reach out with truly useful gifts. This could be a gift of your own time and talents, in editing for someone else or helping them with their book in some other way. Or you might buy them something useful, such as a writing tool or publishing service.
Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi of Writers Helping Writers (apropos title, no?) have collated a “Services for Writers Showcase,” featuring fellow writers who also offer some sort of sideline business within the writing industry—editing, coaching, or workshopping. If you’re looking for ways to help, this is a double whammy, since a gift can aid both the writer who receives it and the writer who is paid for it.
You can also find ideas for helpful tools, resources, and services to gift your fellow writers by visiting the lists I’ve collated of:
At the end of the day, if you’re a writer, then you probably already know what would be most helpful to a fellow writer who is perhaps struggling during this time.
To Get You Started: If you are Winner #7 or #8, I will purchase the writing software Scrivener and send it as a gift to a writer friend of your choice (and I’ll throw in my Outlining Your Novel Workbook software as well).
5. Read More
What writers need most are readers. Even if you can’t afford to purchase another writer’s book, just borrowing that book from the library and curling up to read and enjoy is a tremendous gift to the author. And if you can tell the author about your experience or spread the joy to other readers, even better!
To Get You Started: I will read more. 😀 Huge sacrifice though it is, I will make it for the good of writers everywhere.
Finally, don’t forget that what you write is deeply important to your fellow writers. Keep writing your books, your blogs, even your social media posts. Your job as a writer is to use words to impact the world. Aim to impact others as this quote impacted me when someone posted it a few months ago:
Go out there and spread the power! And don’t forget to enter the drawing for a chance to win some gifts for your fellow writers.
Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What would you like to be able to do to help writers during the pandemic? Tell me in the comments!
Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).