Well, folks, it’s almost Thanksgiving, quite possibly my favorite holiday. First and foremost I’m always grateful to my family for being the continual force for good that they are, and this year, I must especially thank my brother and sister-in-law for offering up their home for our Great Turkey Hullabaloo. However, as I prepare for the holiday, I also feel that I should set aside some time to identify what I am thankful for as a writer, an occupation that can seem less an occasion for thanks than an occasion for struggle, and think about what that part of my life means to me.
So, what am I thankful for as a writer? Well, the obvious place to start is with:
- Books. Yes, as a writer I am most thankful for books. All of them: good, bad, overwhelming, ridiculous, charming, funny, sad, academic, you name it. I am thankful for the books I have read and the books still on my list to read. I am thankful for the old favorites I have read time and time again, and the books I haven’t heard of yet that will find their way into my life like a new friend. I am thankful for ebooks and free books and hardcovers and trade paperbacks, especially those with lovely soft-touch matte covers. I am thankful for the way they adorn my house and the way they make me feel as I drift from story into dream at the end of the day. William Faulkner said, “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” I absolutely believe this. Writers—and, if I may, people!—need books so first and foremost, I am thankful for them.
- Time. Time is a writer’s material. It is the basis of production. Somewhere in the frenetic pace of the everyday the writer must work to carve out time, and every minute, every hour, every uninterrupted day (oh how rare a jewel!) is a gift. For my writing time this year, including my wonderful writing weekend at The Writers Circle Retreat, I am incredibly thankful. However, remembering that writing is not only about the butt-in-the-chair-hands-on-the-keyboard kind of time, I am also thankful for the time I have found to simply be quiet. Time to think and to listen, time to let my mind wander and my imagination roam.
- The internet. Oh what a blessing and a curse! How it beats and bullies the gift of #2 to a bloody, useless pulp, while also allowing me to be connected to the world while wearing my pjs (and pj-wearing time is the happiest time of all). So despite the grudging reality that I might get a lot more accomplished without it, I still have to give thanks for the internet. It allows me to research, to discover and follow other writers, to read wonderful poems and stories, and, yes, to kill time. Sometimes a writer discovers wonderful things killing time on the internet, so I am thankful for that as well.
- Small presses and litmags. I already feel guilty that this falls at #4. It shouldn’t be #4 and is actually woven into #1, but at the same time it deserves a category all its own because for the new writer, this is it. This is where a writer finds those wonderful people who will champion your work, share your voice, take you by the hand and lead you out into the world. They do thankless jobs for no money (publishing your work can actually cost them money) and, often, no real acclaim. They do it for the love of literature, of writing, and of discovering new voices. In my world, these people are above #1. They get the prize. They make the world go round and I am immensely thankful for them, always. (Shameless plug: since we’re talking about wonderful litmags, go see my newest creative nonfiction work at Storyscape Journal.)
- Duotrope and New Pages. I’ve been using Duotrope and New Pages since I started submitting work and they are simply the best. Duotrope is a paid service now, but, honestly, it’s worth every penny. I can’t imagine life as a writer of poetry and short fiction without it. And there is nothing like seeing your work mentioned in a review on New Pages. Both Duotrope and New Pages support #4 and I am thankful for them every single day.
- My laptop. I can’t leave this out, if for no other reason than to prevent future bad computer karma. (They can turn on you, these beasts.) But oh, my machine! I’m in love with you. I would marry you if I could. What a dependable little creature you are. So thanks, machine. Be good to me and I’ll try not to leave you on the floor with the cats so much.
- Writers. I leave writers at the end of the list not because they are less important, but because it almost goes without saying. We are writers and we need other writers in our lives. Being part of The Writers Circle and engaging in a network of people who are doing what you’re doing and understand your frustrations and failures along with your breakthroughs and successes is immeasurably valuable. Other writers are our friends, editors, therapists, and cheerleaders. We need them as much as we need anything else on this list. So for them, I am eternally grateful.
Giving thanks is, to some degree, an exercise both in looking back and looking forward. This is my list for this year, but on Thursday, as you sit at whatever table you are joining under whatever circumstances you find yourself, I hope you can include the gift of writing (and reading) in your thanksgiving. Pause for a moment to look around and recognize all the things that influence your writing and set the stage for the work that will come next. For this week, I asked the writers in The Poets Circle to use Thanksgiving as their prompt, and I suggest the same for all of us, no matter what kind of writing you do. What things, large and small, can we be thankful for? Let’s celebrate them and, of course, write them well…