How to give like a writer


Silk’s Post #113 — I always get a little misty when I hear Christmas carols. I think the sound of music is directly hard-wired to our memory banks. I can’t hear “The Little Drummer Boy” without choking up.

It transports me back to a cold, crisp Long Island night years ago. We’re bundled up in boots and scarves, music sheets in hand, the big fir tree in the town plaza winking with coloured lights, singing our hearts out. It’s probably a composite memory, a montage of Girl Scout carolling, school concerts, the car radio in the background of holiday double-dates, the soundtrack for trimming the tree on Christmas Eve.

Age of innocence stuff.

What I especially loved about “The Little Drummer Boy” (written in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis) was its magnificent humility. It was, and is, my favourite carol by far. As all know, it’s a story set in the Christian nativity scene, where a poor drummer boy, who has no gift to give befitting a king, is asked to play his drum as his tribute to Jesus. No gold, frankincense or myrrh. No angels with golden trumpets. No soaring religiosity. Just a kid who knew how to play a drum. That was his gift.

What it means to me is this: if you have a gift, share it. 

This multi-faith season of celebration seems a perfect time to think about what everyone with a gift for writing can share with others. Maybe it’s something you can wrap up and hand to a loved one, or maybe it’s something you can give to many people over time. But if you are lucky enough to be a writer – to be a lover of words – then it’s worth thinking about how you can proactively share your gift with others.

You know I’m going to have some ideas on this … so here are 8 great ways to share:

1. Give books to kids.

If you have children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews, make sure they have books to unwrap every holiday season. Start, if you can, before they know how to read. Engage the adults in their lives to read to them, to make sure they fall in love with storytelling. As they grow, keep their library shelves full. Find out what kids at their age level are reading now. Challenge them to read up a level. Introduce them to the classics. Feed them non-fiction that expands their understanding of the world. Keep them engaged in reading, from nursery rhymes up to YA fiction. Give video games and sports and other time-sucks a run for their money by making sure kids have every chance to become life-long readers. And maybe even writers, someday. (Of course, giving books should be at the top of the list for friends and family of all ages!)

2. Be a volunteer writer.

Every single non-profit organization in the world needs to communicate. Whether they’re raising money to cure cancer, recruiting volunteers for community service, or reporting to members about events, these organizations all run on networks. And words are the glue that hold those networks together. Hey, it’s not literature. But writing is essential to meeting the goals of all these groups. If you have a gift for writing, you can contribute hugely to the success of whatever organization you wish to support. And you also get the opportunity to prove that newsletters can be entertaining and effective, that volunteer-run websites can have pro-quality content, and that even email blasts can be worth reading. And you thought writing a novel was challenging?

3. Write something for someone you love.

Okay, we’re writers. We all want to be read – preferably by millions of people. But sometimes an audience of one is the most important of all. The obvious example is literature’s rich trove of love poems, but there are many other gifts of writing you can give to people you care about. Write a story for your children or grandchildren. Write a family history or a memoir for the generations to come after you. Write about a trip or occasion shared with friends. Now add pictures. Now publish it using iPhoto or Shutterfly or Snapfish – there are lots of resources that are extremely easy to use and economical that allow you to create and print beautiful one-off books of memories. These books are incomparable gifts from the heart.

4. Write book reviews.

In this digital age, when many books are e-published and purchased online, reviews of books by readers are critical to commercial success – especially for writers who self-publish or aren’t yet famous. That’s why so many writers are constantly on the search for reviewers beyond family and friends. Taking the time to write thoughtful reviews of books for websites like Amazon and Goodreads, or on your blog (or someone else’s), is a gift to the author and the writing world as a whole. Reviews written for the wrong reasons – gushes of false praise for a friend’s book, or undeserved and destructive criticism to satisfy some weird urge – do not count as real gifts (at least according to me). But writers who are generous with each other in providing sincere and intelligent reviews online will be rewarded in kind.

5. Write for other writers.

There’s an incredibly rich array of great writer-to-writer blogs (this will be a topic for a future post). Generous writers who share what they’ve learned with other “emerging” writers are creating a new kind of community. We’ve tried to do our bit with 5writers5novels5months, and our purpose has evolved over the past couple of years. It began as a bit of a madcap writing adventure when we challenged ourselves to each write a novel in 5 months, back in 2012. The blog idea was something of an afterthought. Maybe we could engage people to follow our progress. Maybe they’d like to read our resulting books. It was fun. But what we learned from the exercise was that the act of blogging became an education in itself. Instead of our readership disappearing after our 5 month challenge, it continued to grow as we kept writing about our successes and failures as we pursued the dream of becoming published writers. And from our comments, and the great online friendships we’ve made with other writers, we know that, as we’ve shared what we’ve learned, we have also helped others. Even if you don’t blog, your comments on others’ blogs contribute to this community, so join in the conversation.

6. Get involved with literacy.

There are literacy organizations in many communities, from big cities to small villages. Wherever you are, you can probably find an opportunity to volunteer to help promote literacy – and thereby reading. Remember, without readers there’s not much of a market for books (or any kind of writing). And what a sad world that would be. There’s a historical name for it: The Dark Ages. Whether you can teach, coach or contribute in some other way, consider getting involved with efforts to promote literacy. It’s one critical issue in which all writers have an obvious stake.

7. Teach and promote the writing arts.

Hundreds of writers’ conferences, workshops, festivals, organization-led events and other activities are held every year. Often, speakers and workshop presenters are paid. Often they also have some skill, service or book to promote. Wouldn’t you love to get to that elite point in your writing career? Sure. So would I. But these folks are likely not getting rich at it. And there are thousands of other contributors to activities that promote the writing arts who volunteer their time backstage, or provide workshops or presentations without pay. (A great example is the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, with their amazing team of volunteers). Do you have a teachable experience, a skill or some advice that would help develop better writers? Look for an opportunity to share it (and be prepared to spend probably more time than you ever imagined developing a great program).

8. Share your library.

And by “share”, I pretty much mean “give away”. If you’re like me, you’ve already run out of room for the ever-growing lifetime collection of books you’ve got squirrelled away in every possible corner of your house. And perhaps basement, garage and attic. I’m long overdue for a big book giveaway. Okay, I can’t part with many of them for various reasons, both practical and sentimental. However, hundreds of books sitting on my shelf are doing no one any good. Books are meant to be read, not stashed. So join me in finding a good channel for sharing … and purge. It might be a fundraising book sale, an organization that promotes literacy, or some sort of local library. Get your previously-enjoyed books in circulation and you’ll be promoting reading. Always a good thing.

Like “The Little Drummer Boy”, writers have a unique talent to share. While our main focus is, and should be, sharing our own stories in published form, there are other ways to give that can make a real difference.

And here’s an absolutely knock-out a cappella version of “The Little Drummer Boy” carol by Pentatonix. Give yourself a gift – and a lift. Click on the link.

Happy holidays to all!


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