Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Guest Post by Jennie Shortridge: Will Work for Meaningful Contribution to Society

We writers are an odd bunch. We choose lives in which we sit alone all day in front of computers. Not in cubicles, not in rows of other computers, mind you, but completely, entirely alone. All day. Did I mention every day?

Now, this is fine if you’re deep in the “introvert” range of the Meyers-Briggs scale, but for those of us who nose over the line into the “extrovert” category, it can get a little lonely.

Lucky for me, I live in Seattle, a holy grail convergence zone for writers. Sure, the Pacific Northwest is dark and dismal nine months each year, but it’s excellent (either in spite of or because of all that moisture) for quite a few things: coffee, music, natural beauty, bookstores, and many of the authors that fill those shelves.

When I first moved here five years ago, I didn’t know a soul, but that didn’t last long. I met Garth Stein (before the dog book) at an event we were both reading at, and liked him immediately. It’s hard not to—he’s pretty much the most likable guy on the planet. As writers are wont to do when frustrated by writing, we met for coffee. It became a regular thing, and soon other writers were joining us. Before long, there were seven of us.

What is now formally called Seattle7Writers, an awareness and fundraising nonprofit comprised of over 20 published authors, started simply as a coffee klatch, a kvetching, laughing, celebrating bunch of friends who got what each other was going through on a daily basis. We could clink to the good stuff—a good cover, a manuscript turned in—and offer condolences on the not-so-good stuff—a delayed pub date, a request for massive revisions, even sometimes the “orphaning” of a comrade (the state of an author whose agent or editor has left for greener pastures in another company).

The core seven now gather monthly for business, and by business I mean juggling the demands of putting on several fundraisers at a time, collecting and distributing donated books for pocket libraries throughout our community (in shelters and prisons), and the myriad other requests we receive and ideas we generate.

One of our aims is to energize and connect reading communities. We provide book groups with ways to connect with us, offering ourselves up to attend meetings by phone or Skype, or when possible, in person. We put on events at bookstores and libraries where book groups can come and chat with several authors at a time, perhaps get to know authors in the community they weren’t already aware of, and of course, support those local booksellers and libraries. And, yes, we ask for charitable donations at these events, or deduct it from the price of books. This year, our fundraising efforts are supporting a wonderful program in Seattle, Writers in the Schools, a residency program that puts real writers in schools, helping kids write.

It’s exhausting, and it’s amazing. Groups of writers in other cities are now considering organizing as well, the most lovely tribute of all to the work we do.

Lest you think we’re workaholics, the entire group is invited quarterly for social time, that precious couple of hours where we laugh hard at our stumbles and mourn together over titles not chosen, readings ill-attended. If not for the company of these writers, we’d all still write. We’d still publish and tour and do the work we do. We just might not be as happy, or as fulfilled.

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