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Giving Something Back
by Dawn Copeman

Return to The Writing Life · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

In December, Moira wanted to know how we as writers give something back to our community. From your responses it seems that the readers of Writing World are a very generous bunch.

Some of us do little things when we can to help other along, like Leslie Korenko and Terrie Todd. Leslie wrote: "I link suitable websites to mine, even if I don't get a link back. I've also helped several people with businesses write their personal profiles - it's so hard to write about yourself."

Terrie was moved to write: "Moira's question intrigued me, because years ago at a writer's conference, I was struck by the words of a keynote speaker who told us 'the most significant writing you ever do will not be the books and articles read by hundreds or even thousands. It will be the short notes of genuine encouragement given to those you know personally, who will tuck them away and read them again and again.' I have tried to remember this, and I always keep a supply of blank note cards in my purse. Each Sunday in church, I look around and pick at least two people to whom I will write a card of encouragement and appreciation. It seems like so little on my part, but it is amazing how meaningful these words are to folks, especially in our digital age when the same words in an email or text message would somehow just not feel the same."

The thing that most of you seem to give is your time which, as Stuart Aken writes "happens to be my most precious resource." Stuart, Suzanne, Sonya and Martha all give their time to help others. Stuart wrote: "I give impromptu English writing lessons to a Chinese and an Indonesian girl - totally informal but great for spreading literacy.

"And I provide other writers with a space to promote their work.

"And I try to find books to review for readers, and websites of interest to writers and readers. And I introduce topics of controversy for discussion on my blog in the hope of raising awareness and inciting people to think. This all costs me nothing but time, which happens to be my most precious resource. But it's what I do."

Another writer who gives of her time is Suzanne Shaw. She writes: "I produce a little newsletter each week for our little writers' group, with some helpful hints and links to your site. I help the elderly, hopeful writers to become more computer literate, transcribing their documents sometimes, if it becomes too much for them. The elderly writers (which will be me in a few years! Yipes!) are the most challenging, yet the most talented, for they actually have something to say. They have lived! The youngsters are learning to write well, so that when life craps on them - as life will - they will be ready to write it down. I tell them, 'Never waste a good depression! Get the tea and Kleenex ready; the paper, the pen, and just let 'er rip!' I don't waste joyful moments, either. Down onto the page or computer it goes! Mostly, life is lived between these two extremes, and less exciting."

Many of you give back by writing for nonprofits, as Sonya Carmichael Jones does. She wrote "I volunteer with Taproot Foundation - an organization that awards marketing service grants to nonprofits. Sometimes a project will call for a copywriter to write website content or craft copy for an entire annual report. It has been a rewarding experience in that I work alongside top-notch photographers, graphic designers and other marketing talent. I also walk away with a broader professional network and wonderful portfolio pieces."

Martha Emrey helps nonprofits in a different way. She writes: "To 'give back,' I write columns/stories for newspapers and magazines on non-profits. It's my 'volunteer' work, to help them get free publicity to gain more visitors, volunteers, and donations. Of course, writing them is one thing; getting them published is quite another."

Peggy Raposa gives back by helping others with her writing skills. She wrote: "I write my husband's business proposals for him. I write silly poems to drive a home an idea or a more serious point in the library system where I work. At the library the patrons often ask for help in making a sentence or paragraph more correct. I offer my advice and then try to find an example in a book or online if I must resort to something beyond books. I started a small writer's group so that writers can learn from one another and share what they've got and get motivation to get into gear!"

Two writers who give back in a totally different way are Lisa Sonne and her husband. Lisa wrote: "My husband and I are writers and we founded a nonprofit that offers Charity Checks, which are good for ANY charity. They are gifts that let both the giver and recipient 'Give back.'

"For over a decade now these 'Giving Certificates' have provided meaningful gifts (stocking stuffers, tree ornaments and something special to put in with a greeting card).

"When you order them online, you save shopping time, qualify for a tax deduction and get unique presents that can help the future - the recipients get to choose the charities! They get to fill in the payee lines and give the funds directly to important causes they choose. (There are over 1.5 million nonprofits now!)

"We do this around our paying work with help from others. Since we don't charge a fee (and also oversee a Charitable Literacy program for classrooms so kids can become givers and connect to causes) we don't have advertising budgets.

"Charity Checks depends on Word of Mouth so if you know any writers who want to add it to blogs, join our Facebook page/add it to their Facebook page and broadcast it around ( http://www.facebook.com/CharityChecks?ref=ts), put it in articles... It is a way to give back, and use your 'sphere of influence' be an 'ambassador with words.'

"They may find, like we have, that there are people who will thank them for pointing out the gift alternative (an antidote to holiday commercialism) and they could be helping many charities benefit and the holidays could have more heart.

Imagine if even ten writers let people know about Charity Checks - how many charities could benefit. One reader could order company checks with logos and give then to all their employees and clients... Another could decide to give one to Aunt Bessie who already has everything or start a new family tradition of giving each other Charity Checks, and spending the time they were going to shop - enjoying each other!

"We know people who still don't get why we would want to work so hard on something that gives money away instead of makes money - but I think many writers would 'get it.' It's a pleasure to see more joy in the holidays and to see money do good."

Finally, on this topic, Sonia Bellhouse has some sage advice on the benefits of giving. She wrote: "On the topic of how to give back to your community, I think it depends what you feel comfortable with.

"As an aspiring writer I joined a writing group - ten years on I am still with them and I could say that one action changed my life. In that time, I was encouraged by the group to attend university and get a degree, which I did. Later on, I met someone else at group, who I thought would benefit from university and I encouraged her university dreams. Now, she is midway through a creative writing degree.

"I have had articles and stories published nationally and internationally and I have also written a chapter of a nonfiction book which was published. None of which I would have attempted without the group.

"These days, I help run the group (on a voluntary basis) and also try to pass on what I have learnt, through many rejections. I have learned through doing and trying and listening and reading. Personally, I think reading is one of a writer's most important assets, so I also coordinate a book group (also voluntarily).

"While the members are not necessarily aspiring writers, their comments as to what works, what is interesting , all feed into my store house of writer memory. We have a real sense of community (in an impersonal world, that's a bonus) and although initially strangers, we have become friends through our love of books and writing.

"Whatever you give, I feel you do get back in ways that are meaningful to you."

And that's great advice for us all!

Find Out More...

Giving Thanks - Or, Why Writers Are Still Needed - Moira allen

How to Show Your Gratitude to Other Writers - Maria Chatzi

Wish You Merry... Happy Holidays in Not-So-Happy Times - Moira Allen

The Writer's Gift - Moira Allen
Copyright © 2011 by Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


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