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Advertisements for Myself

I don’t think any writer starting out on her career believes that she’ll be expected to promote herself—endlessly—as I am doing right here, right now, on Facebook which RSS feeds into Goodreads, my Amazon Authors Page and Twitter. I have missed-out on Instagram I learned the other day at the “I Wish To Say” PEN event in Bryant Park. I was one of the readers, a professional photographer working the event was snapping pictures, and she asked if she could tag me on my Instagram account. I have opened an account but I don’t use it, I told her. Not yet anyway. And if I continue on this path of social media advertising for and of myself, which is already so time-consuming, will there be any time or inclination left to write?

Innocently, at first, we assume that others will do the work of pimping and primping for us. Pimping is the selling part of the busines, primping the copy-editing and proofing of text. I don’t want to be doing any of that. All I want to do is teach and write. That’s hard work enough. And satisfying. And although the work comes to fruition with pimping and primping, I don’t like it, nor do most writers and artists I know. Not to mention that most of us are solitary creatures, solitude required for the writing endeavor. How else can ideas, sentences and words surface in us if we aren’t quiet?

Quietude, what a quaint idea.

Once, riding shotgun in a car in Geneva with the publicist for the International Committee for the Red Cross, he told me that if I wanted to get the book I was working on about humanitarian relief work “platformed,” he could introduce me to John le Carré’s agent. Perhaps he could write a preface for the book? Le Carré was immersed in humanitarian advocacy and said yes in two minutes. The preface was written—with not a word out of place I might add. We also landed a beautiful photo for the cover by James Nachtwey, a renowned war photojournalist. Platform “favors.” And though we had to pay for them, the price stayed low. Neither Nachtwey nor le Carré wanted a lot of money.

Was I pleased? Of course I was. This was a worthy project that took two years to complete. Did I promote the book like crazy in the US and the EU? You bet I did. But it wasn’t advertisement for myself (in the solipsistic sense), it was advertisement of the work itself, which is different. I’m not sure that what I am doing here in this blog is the same. True, I concentrate on writing and the writing life, and hope that what I write has some value for writers and students, but self-promotion per se makes me queasy.  Read More 
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Young Writers

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to meet and encourage a young writer or two at PEN, one of the organizations I belong to, down on lower Broadway in Manhattan. Stacy Leigh, the director of “Readers and Writers,” had sent out an email blast asking for some help. I’ll quote the PEN blurb here:

“Established in 1990, Readers & Writers serves low-income populations that have limited access to writers and a diverse range of literary culture. Working with these groups, Readers & Writers aims to inspire both adults and children to read more regularly and more critically, and to encourage them to explore writers from various cultures and regions. Each year the program sends 60 authors and their books to literacy programs, community centers, schools, and other sites nationwide, reaching out to Americans who can read but may not have a relationship with literature.”

When I arrived, Caitlin, a junior in high school, was still working on her manuscript. I understood the impulse to perfect a draft before letting anyone read it, much less a stranger who is a professional writer. I waited patiently and chatted to Stacy about various PEN issues, including a library that could use some volunteer action. Then Caitlin arrived and Stacy left. I began by asking questions about her process, how the story—it was piece of fiction—unfolds, how she drafts, the nature of revision. Caitlin was full of ideas and enthusiasm which I found completely refreshing. It’s why I enjoy teaching so much.

Readers & Writers also runs during the year. If you are interested in participating, contact Stacy @ PEN: 212 334-1660 stacyleigh@pen.org.  Read More 
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