In 2005, four days after my tenth birthday, Hurricane Katrina struck. I lived in Mississippi at the time, right near the coast. We rode out the storm in my parents’ house in the country, an hour drive from my grandparents’ home.
I remember the storm hitting. I remember it pouring rain, being hunkered down in the living room with blankets over my sister’s and my head. I was afraid the windows would explode. When I peeked out of the blanket, I saw my mom’s pickup’s back wheels lifting off the ground with every gust of wind, then slamming back into the earth.
Trees snapped. Shingles were ripped off the roof. My father and grandfather were going up and down the attic stairs trying to stop all the leaks. My mother and my aunt, from Costa Rica, were alternately praying and trying to convince us it wouldn’t last long.
During the eye of the storm, a thirty-minute break in the weather, where the sky was a whirling spiral and black and grey and white, my mom and I went out to walk the dogs. I was panicking, so mom brought my dog inside to sit with me.
When the storm was finally over, I had no idea the devastation that it had caused to others. I knew that when I went outside and looked around, the world appeared nothing like it had only several hours before.
My parents lived on a dirt road in the country, lined with pine trees. It took us and several neighbor families three days to cut ourselves out of the road with chainsaws, axes, whatever we could find, just so we could get to the fire station and get MRE’s and water.
We did laundry in a kiddy pool, and we showered with a bucket of water each from the filled washer or bathtubs while standing outside, hidden behind a beach towel. We didn’t get power back for nearly a month.
When my uncle and his wife went home to their house on the coast, it was gone.
I remember being taken to the local school and given a backpack full of supplies, toys, and clothing. I remember surviving off of MRE’s for weeks, and I remember the trauma and devastation of everyone around me.
There were 1,833 reported deaths. It took our relatives in the north months to figure out that my family and I weren’t among them.
During the recovery time, I remember hearing people on the radio saying things like “give back to your community.”
Giving back. That was all everyone talked about. Giving back, helping, rebuilding, starting over. Do what you can to help, give back. Give because someday when you need it, these people will return the favor.
That’s what we expected. Trauma and adversity made everyone a better version of themselves. For a while there were no differences in the color of skin, there were no snarls between neighbors who hated each other, there was none of that. Everyone simply banded together to survive.
So—what does any of this have to do with writing?
During times of trauma, everyone bands together. People help each other. If they can’t physically help, they send money or supplies. People look after each other. They give back because they know that when it’s their turn to face adversity, others will do the same for them.
What if we treated the writing community the same?
I know what you’re thinking: Cherise, that’s a big leap. Writing is not the same as rebuilding your life after a hurricane.
Sometimes, it is.
Feelings are Overwhelming
I shared a story in an interview this week with Abigail Swanson about how I was ready to give up writing. This year, after graduating from my master’s program, I was so incredibly burnt out and lifeless. I was so devastated by my own writing and paralyzed by crippling perfectionism. So much so that I didn’t want to write anymore.
I was convinced that I had nothing to offer the world and I should just give up and never write again. I thought that perhaps, somewhere along the road, I missed my calling and I was never supposed to be a writer in the first place.
This spring was my Hurricane Katrina.
The feelings that come along with writing can be overwhelming. And let me be the first today to tell you that—it’s okay to feel overwhelmed.
As I said in the aforementioned interview, writing is one-part exploration. Part of the reason that we write is to be able to explore ourselves, others, the world around us. That means that we are enabled to dissect the ideas, feelings, and emotions that come along with the process of writing.
So, if you find yourself in a spot rather like I was this spring: It’s an okay place to be.
My advice: Surround yourself with supporters. Not just people who will tell you to get over yourself and write—though sometimes we need that. Surround yourself with people who understand. Surround yourself with people who tell you: It’s okay to go slowly. It’s okay to not write right now. It’s okay to set it aside until you can rediscover your joy in writing again.
Surround yourself with people who will support you will love and truth rather than burden you with the anxiety that you’re already feeling.
In the interview I did with Abigail, I threw a little bit of shade at my friend, AnnMarie Pavese. I mentioned that she had me on an imposed sabbatical with my writing. And despite the shade thrown, she was right to suggest it.
If you reach a place in your life where the things that you love are becoming unhealthy for you, if you reach a place in your life where the things you used to love are now things you abhor, it’s time to stop and reevaluate.
That’s what Annie’s sabbatical has forced me to do.
And now, some months later, I can honestly say that though my heart and mind are not completely healed, and though I face a lot of fear about my writing, I’ve arrived at the place where I’m starting to care about it again. And more than that, I’m starting to enjoy the process again.
Don’t be afraid to take that for yourself. Sometimes, we need time and distance from ourselves to heal before we can put on the writer’s hat again.
What Does this Have to do with Giving Back?
First of all, you can’t give anything back to your writing community if you don’t first have something to offer.
What I mean is this, if you are at a place where you are empty and feeling lifeless as a writer, you don’t have the ability to fill others up. Take the time to fill yourself and heal yourself so that you are able to give back.
Once you’ve done that, you will have a plethora of things to offer to your fellow writers and community.
What Does Giving Back Look Like?
Giving back to your writing community looks different for everyone, but below is a list of possible ways that you can make sure that you’re offering your best to the writing community that you’re a part of.
First, make sure you’re a part of a writing community. I cannot stress to you how critical it is for writers to be a part of some sort of writing community. Whether that’s a school organization, a local writer’s group, or an online community, make sure you are surrounding yourself with other writers, editors, and people in the publishing community. The writing world is all about connections, and you cannot form those connections if you don’t first reach out and make yourself an active part of a writing community.
I also cannot stress enough that the key word in that sentence is active. It’s not enough to merely sit and listen to other’s conversations and browse around a community or listen as others are giving a critique. This is also important.
But it’s vital that you are actively becoming involved and forming relationships. It’s through these relationships that you will not only learn the most, but also be able to reach out to others and make necessary connections for both your writing career and others’ careers.
Second, set up a support system for yourself. Having friends within your writing circle is great. We all need that, but it’s important you have a solid support system set up for yourself.
I don’t mean this in the sense that most people do. Most people think of a support system as being a group of people who will make you write and yell at you when you don’t.
When I say support system, I mean create for yourself a circle of disciples. If you’ve read any part of the New Testament in the Bible, you’ll understand that Jesus understood the importance of having a community around him, as well as a support system.
Jesus had hundreds of disciples following him. These were extended people. People Jesus could count on when he needed food or shelter or funds or someone to make a connection for him somewhere. These were people he could count on to spread the word that hey, everybody, Jesus is coming.
Jesus also had fifty closer disciples that followed him. People that cared for him when he needed it in a more personal way, similar to that extended circle. But these were people he had close and genuine relationships with.
Jesus also selected the twelve disciples—the ones that everyone hears about. These dozen close friends left everything in their lives (jobs, family, friends, security—literally everything) in order to follow after Jesus. He taught them, he loved them, and he helped provide for them. In return, they cared for him, learned from him, and later in their lives some of them even went so far as to sacrifice their own lives to make sure that Jesus was not forgotten and that others understood the hope that His life and resurrection could bring to them.
But aside from that, Jesus also had three very close friends—Peter, James, and John—a part of the original twelve disciples. It was these three friends who supported Jesus in every way. They were the ones who stood behind him, who supported him, and who followed his instructions to the very end. Peter was the first to truly understand that Jesus was God’s son, and God blessed him for that. When Jesus went up the mountain of transfiguration, it was these three friends he brought with him. When Jesus was taken in the Garden to be tried and killed, Peter tried to defend him. When Jesus was dying on the cross, it was John that he turned to and requested to take care of his own mother.
You see—throughout his entire life—Jesus showed us he understood the importance of having a tiered support system.
We need to set up the same for ourselves.
We need those distant friends. We need the people we can call on and say: Hey, I’m needing some encouragement right now. Hey, I need another brain involved in this story with me.
We need some of those fifty friends. We need people we can call on and say: Hey, I have this book release coming up, would any of you be willing to help me? Hey, does anyone know anything about this topic—I don’t know where to start researching?
We need those twelve friends. We need people we can call on and say: Hey, I don’t know what to do with myself. This story is a mess. Can someone toss thoughts around with me? Hey, does this synopsis even look vaguely interesting? Hey, do you guys know anything about marketing or social media presence for authors—I’m really at a loss here?
We need those three friends. We need the people who will always be there to call on and say: Guys, I feel like giving up. Guys, I don’t know what to do. Guys, this story is a mess, who has time to help me critique it and make it better? Guys, I don’t even know what I need right now.
We need each level of these support systems in our lives, both as people and as authors. So it’s important that you follow step one so that you can be step two.
Third, become a part of someone else’s support system. As vital as it is for you to form your own support system, it’s also important that you give back by being a part of other people’s.
More often than not, you’ll be in one of those outer two circles. But keep in mind that somewhere in your writing circle is a person who needs you to be in one of those two inner circles—whether that’s as a friend who is sometimes called on, whether that’s as a staunch supporter and helper in their times of writing need, or whether that’s as a mentor figure for them.
Find those people. Find out how you fit into their circle. And be there when they need you.
Fourth, get around. Get around. That seems like a vague concept, and sometimes not a pleasant one. What do I mean by this?
I mean, make yourself available.
Is there a blog tour for someone’s book going on? Join in. Is someone asking for reviews for their book in exchange for a copy? Read it and review. Is someone asking for advice in a certain area? Share your knowledge. Is someone asking for another head to bounce around ideas with? Offer your thoughts. Is someone needing encouragement or trying to learn something about writing that you can help with? Then help. Does someone need a guest post on their blog? Volunteer.
There are tons of opportunities in the writing world for you to do this, especially where Indie authors and publishers are concerned.
Granted, don’t overbook or overwhelm yourself, but be involved. Be active. Be available. And be searching for new opportunities—this will not only help others, but it will better you as a writer.
Fifth, mentor someone. I’ll leave you with another Bible metaphor. This one in the example of Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus. After finding his salvation in Jesus after the intervention on the road to Damascus, Paul became a missionary.
During his time as a missionary, he was involved with several others. He was involved with Silas and Timothy, both of whom were close friends.
However, the distinction here is important. Silas was Paul’s counterpart. He worked alongside Paul, helping with his ministry while developing his own. Timothy, on the other hand, was being taught by Paul. Timothy was Paul’s mentee, if you will. He learned from Paul enough to carry on the ministry when Paul could not any longer.
In your life, both in writing and personal life, you will find yourself serving all three of these positions. You will be someone’s Paul—their leader, their friend, and their supporter and teacher. You will be someone’s Silas—their compatriot, their counterpart, and their voice of wisdom. And you will be someone’s Timothy—their follower, their student, and their hope for the future.
Make sure that you’re adopting in a Timothy or two. They need you to lead them with your example. They need you to teach them what you know.
And believe it or not, you need them, too. Pouring into other’s lives and careers can bring you an incredible hope and joy that you didn’t even know existed. Find that for yourself by pouring into someone else.
I know that this article may seem like a mesh of random thoughts to you, and I’ve come to accept that fact. Primarily because I’m reaching the point where I’m finally accepting that my own writing will never be perfect.
But—as I said above—it’s important to give back, to pour into others. And I hope that this writing and other pieces of writing that you may find here will enable me to do that.
Take care, everyone. Take care, and give back to those in need.
~ CS Taylor
Have you had the opportunity to give back to others, even in some small way, as an author? What did you do and what was that like for you? How would you encourage others to become involved in a writing community?
Do you have questions for me about my journey as a writer or about aspects of writing that you would like to learn more about? Drop me a note here or contact me at email@example.com.