Every Thursday for the last eleven months, I’ve had the chance to volunteer at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, a nonprofit dedicated to helping both writers and authors achieve and continue to achieve their dreams. Here’s how helping out PNWA has helped me grow as a writer:
1. I’ve learned a lot about the business of books.
As a creative writing student, I learn about the art of writing. In class, we learn everything from Aristotle’s Poetics to the sublime to the use of dialogue tags. Other than the occasional “where is fiction headed,” there’s not much talk about the process a writer must go through in order to publish a book. In the eleven months I’ve been volunteering, I’ve learned how to write a damn good query letter, pitch a manuscript, research agents and editors (and why that’s important), self-publish, market a book; I’ve learned how much I can expect to pay an editor, and how much a book cover and a book tour can cost. I could go on, but you get the point.
2. I’ve learned more about honing my craft.
Events, workshops, and critique groups are always happening at PNWA. Each of these activities are presented or guided by either an author or a book industry expert or both. As a regular volunteer, not one event slips my calendar. I’m aware of what’s going on, and I always walk away from a workshop with a better understanding of how to strengthen stories.
3. I’ve built friendships.
This is my favorite part of helping out a community of writers. Aside from the crazy cool staff at PNWA, I’ve met many writers, authors, agents, editors, and artists. I’ve also met people who work in publishing, people who work or volunteer at other writerly nonprofits and people who help writers self-publish. (Bonus: I get out of the writing den every single Thursday. In other words, I shower and dress in something other than yoga pants and a fleece, then I go out and talk to real people. It’s exhilarating, talking to real people.)
4. I’ve made a contribution to the world.
Helping a nonprofit isn’t about making money. It’s about helping a community grow and thrive. It’s about supporting a cause you believe in. Every Thursday I walk out of the PNWA writers’ cottage with a skip in my step and a smile on my face, knowing I did something great for free. I’ve made the workload for the PNWA staff a little lighter, and I’ve lifted my own spirits at the same time.
So, what are your talents? What could you contribute, or how are you currently contributing to a writerly community?