Walking The Walk
By Scott Nicholson

Writing is a solitary occupation. Even in collaborations, only one writer can be at a single keyboard at a time. While being self-absorbed and reflective enough to spend many hours alone with your thoughts is probably one of our requisite job skills, it doesn’t mean you have to wall yourself off from the world.

Living as a form of “character study” is obvious—you watch people, you see the world, you feel emotions, and you translate that into words. What is not as natural is stepping into a peer community. Writers’ groups, critique sessions at coffee houses, and Internet chat rooms are probably not second nature to most writers. But involvement brings rewards that may never show up in book advances and royalty statements.

I've been a member of three professional writing organizations: Horror Writers Association, International Thriller Writers, and Mystery Writers of America. I have served volunteer roles in each of them. I've been trustee and vice president for HWA, served on ITW’s publicity committee, and served a term as regional secretary for MWA and have volunteered to work on the organization’s publicity committee. I helped launch Horror Day in 2006, I participated at Storytellers Unplugged and other blogs, and I stay busy answering email questions from fellow writers who may have less experience than I do, in addition to my freelance editing work.

In rounding up other writer volunteers for group efforts, I hear the common complaint, “I’m too busy.” One thing I’ve learned is that the people who are truly the busiest, who have real careers and ambitions and realistic goals, are the ones most likely to have a little spare time. They don’t find the time, they make it.

As an example, I received media interest from the North Carolina Associated Press in an article about Horror Day. I immediately emailed about two dozen people in my state, most of them horror writers, letting them know they might get statewide coverage for participating. I got exactly two emails in response. While I was dismayed at what I consider a major missed opportunity for my fellow writers, I was not at all surprised to find the two who did respond were the most successful writers in the state. They get it. They understand. The others? Well, I guess they can be content with their occasional small press sales and a sullen attitude that “Nobody cares about horror.”

In my peer organizations, I find time and again that large volunteer efforts rarely succeed. I struggle with understanding the apathetic attitudes. I can’t decide whether such efforts induce psychological stress, are somehow threatening to the individual, that people genuinely see no worth in communal projects, or simply really don’t have spare time. I have a young child and a full-time job and I still manage to publish a novel a year, write scripts, articles and short stories, and wade into my peer communities with a willing and helpful spirit. I’m not saying I’m a model of unselfishness and Gandhi-like strength: I admit I want to further my career and sell more books. But I also want my peers to step forward and sell more books as well, because, though we compete for shelf space, we all win as more people read and more books are purchased. We really are all in this together. As a community.

Sure, it takes time, but the rewards will be immeasurable. And maybe one child in my community (the one in which I live, not where I “work”) will develop or deepen a love of books and horror because of the small events I do at the local library.

This isn’t a rant meant to browbeat my fellow writers into shame or action. But perhaps a self-examination is in order: What do I give freely today, and what gifts came as a result of yesterday’s giving?

(Copyright 2006. Contact Scott for reprint permission)

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Scott Nicholson is the author of THEY HUNGER, THE FARM,THANK YOU FOR THE FLOWERS, and four other novels. He’s a professional freelance editor, an organic gardener, a semi-professional liar, and a goat breeder. His website www.hauntedcomputer.com serves up a blog and more writing advice.

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