How to Network as a Writer When You Live in a Remote Place

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Speaker 1: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. More.

Speaker 2: Welcome back to working overtime. The advice driven Jake the dog to regular workings fin the human. I’m Isaac Butler.

Speaker 3: And I’m Lady Rainey Crane. Sorry. No, I’m Karen Hahn.

Speaker 2: Karen, how is it going out there in Los Angeles? Are you making bacon pancakes and are you finding time to write?

Speaker 3: I haven’t made bacon pancakes yet, but now that you mention it, I do feel like I should be doing that. But I am finding time to write, which is good.

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Speaker 2: That’s great.

Speaker 3: And I’m very excited to record another episode of Working Overtime With You, which brings me to my question what are we talking about today?

Speaker 2: Today we are responding to another listener e-mail. This comes from Carissa, and she has a question about being a rural writer when it feels like everyone else lives in the big city. She writes, Hello. A question for the pod. I live in very rural Montana and feel so far from the poetry circles I creep on over the internet. How can rural poets become connected to these countrywide opportunities and communities and find mentors and peers? Is metropolitan life the only road to writerly success? Thanks for the work you do, Carissa. Chris Thank you for the work you did in writing in. And first of all, I just want to say, Karen, you and I, we’re both city mice, but I do not think it is necessary to live in New York or L.A. to have writerly success.

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Speaker 3: Yeah, I think you’re totally right. And the existence of the Internet has definitely made it a lot easier to achieve, quote unquote, writerly success because you can do the job from anywhere and connect with people from anywhere. But it does mean that you have to be especially good at social networking to make up for what you’re not getting in terms of face to face interaction with the people that you want to build a community with.

Speaker 2: That’s definitely true. Another question I have about the email itself actually is what do we mean when we say writerly success? You know, because it actually sounds from the email that what Carissa is really striving for is community. You know, it’s not like she’s saying, you know, I want to write Good Bones or be Maggie Smith or you’ll be Rupi Kaur or whatever it is.

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Speaker 3: Yeah, I think sort of as you’re saying, the important thing is to know what success means to you. And I agree that in this case, it sounds like being considered a part of this writing community is what Chris considers writerly success. Carissa, I apologize if you’re misinterpreting your email, and it’s definitely more difficult to achieve that if the writers that she’s following are all in New York or some other city. That said, I think it’s worth noting that given the fact that she’s able to creep on these people through the Internet, there may also be. I’m just using her own words. No, no, no.

Speaker 2: I know. I know.

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Speaker 3: There may be an avenue to connect with them over the Internet as well. Like, that’s kind of why it exists.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, totally. But, you know, I think about like you and I, you know, our friendship started on Twitter just because we liked each other’s writing or whatever. And we ran into each other randomly at a screening. Like, I consider you a friend and I think we have hung out IRL maybe six times. Do you know what I mean? And that doesn’t mean that we’re not, you know, friends. Yeah. Know, artistic buddies or whatever. And I should also say, though, that, like, some of this isn’t really about geography. You know, before I became a published writer.

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Speaker 3: Mm hmm.

Speaker 2: I was living in Minneapolis and then in Brooklyn, and I still felt that way. I felt like. Like I’m on the outside, and there’s this, like, six inch thick, bulletproof aquarium glass on the other side of it as this party and everyone is having fun in that party. And, you know, how do I get in there? But it is worth saying that a lot of how people present themselves online is, of course, a performance. It is not reality. And the Internet can give you a kind of distorted sense of how these scenes work and how the culture industry really works.

Speaker 3: That’s absolutely true. And I think the other important thing to consider in terms of having that kind of FOMO feeling is that I really hope that you’ve also done work to build your own community around you outside of that professional community, because that will help a lot to kind of mitigate those feelings. Like it should be fun and exciting to finally get invited into that circle that you want to be in. But at the same time, if that kind of becomes a sort of tunnel vision issue, then it can become really unhealthy, both for you and also for the people that you were trying to connect with. Because if it becomes a purely like ladder climbing scenario, it’s very transparent and people will not really want to engage in that kind of a relationship with you, if that makes sense.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, totally. Which I mean, it definitely sounds like that’s not what Clarissa.

Speaker 3: Yeah, yeah. This is a worst case scenario.

Speaker 2: Worst case scenario.

Speaker 2: Yeah. You know, I do think that that brings up this tricky thing of like you read a writer you admire, maybe you want to get to know them instead of just following them on insta or whatever. And how do you actually go about doing that? I mean, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about this with you is I think of you as someone who did a really amazing job of building a community around yourself and building a career, often through just that process of reaching out to people and. You know, getting to know them. So could you talk a little bit about your experience doing that?

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Speaker 3: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I will say the thing about the way the kind of media and culture and writing in art in general has proliferated over the last several years, is that there’s no like one path to being successful anymore, which is frustrating in and of itself, because there’s no longer you can’t be like, Oh, I’ll do X, Y, Z, and that’ll mean that I’m I’ll be doing well. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. Yeah.

Speaker 3: That said, my personal path did rely a lot on my being able to use social media in a way that was beneficial to me and to extend the kind of party metaphor that you’re using, knowing when to insert yourself into a conversation. Because the temptation, like when you see people that you admire, like tweeting and each other, funny stuff to jump in and make your own joke is really high, but you have to kind of find the right moment to jump in there because otherwise it does feel like you’ve elbowed your way into the conversation. Like that’s kind of the tough thing where you have to judge for yourself whether it feels organic as an interaction or not.

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Speaker 3: I know I wasn’t always successful with those because sometimes I just append like, Oh, here’s a funny image and I like that’s kind of the Korean word for this is like douchey or like the ability to read the room. But that’s kind of like what a lot of this banks on because like you have to make those connections in order to get your work out there, which is kind of the frustrating thing. It doesn’t totally depend on your being a good writer, which is like not a good sign about, I think, the current media landscape, but certainly still true where if you are doing really good writing, if it exists in a vacuum, it doesn’t really help you in terms of like getting it published or building up like your career.

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Speaker 2: I will also say no one hates hearing that you love their work. Do you know what I mean?

Speaker 3: That is true. That is very.

Speaker 2: True. Love something someone wrote, it’s totally fine to tweet at them, be like, Hey, I just read this thing that you wrote. I loved it. You know what I mean? Like or, you know, there’s a poem you really love, you know, since we’re talking about poetry here, you know, being genuine in your admiration for people is never going to steer you wrong. I don’t think.

Speaker 3: I think that’s actually the main thing. It’s like just be genuine. Don’t try to force yourself into being someone that you think like these people will. Like, don’t try to force yourself to be cool. Like, just be yourself. It sounds really, really hard and maybe not helpful, but truly like that is the best thing you can do. And I totally agree with that piece of advice. Like there is absolutely no harm in reaching out and saying, hey, like I really like this thing that you wrote or that you did really meant a lot to me, whether it’s tweet, message or email. It’s a nice gesture, and especially if you’re coming at it from a perspective of not trying to get anything out of it. It really works. Like I can cite like one kind of bad example where people will be like, Oh, this is interesting. Have you read this thing that I wrote about it? And it’s like, Oh, no, yeah, you shouldn’t be using this as an opportunity to plug your own work.

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Speaker 2: Absolutely. But I will say, you know, you and I am probably on the extroverted side of the spectrum. Let’s be honest. That’s one of the reasons why we’re podcast hosts. For all I know, Carissa is too. But, you know, some people, they have a lot of difficulty reaching out to people and trying to make friends. It’s it’s hard. It’s a really challenging thing. I see.

Speaker 3: This.

Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I see this with my kid as an extrovert, of course, but I see this with her classmates as well, you know, how do you get up the gumption to reach out to people?

Speaker 3: One thing I think that is helpful is to start by trying to see who you would consider to be in your peer group. Like they may not be the kind of really shiny name that you’re like, Oh, I wish I could have their career. Or they’re like the author that I look up to, but it’s really useful to look around and see who else is doing the kind of work that you want to do and is doing it in such a way that you admire them, even to some small degree.

Speaker 3: It’s useful to see who else is in the trenches with you, because more often than not, the relationships that you build with those people are maybe more important to you later on down the line, because rising tide lifts all boats as you work together and all become kind of more established and more successful, you’ll all be able to provide each other with more resources, more help, more emotional support. That’s what I guess that doesn’t really answer the question of how to reach out to these people. I will say this is another social media thing, but like especially people in my age group, we love to like post memes and just silly shit posts and if you find a good one and you can add it to a thread then. But there’s no harm in that.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, and maybe this is because I’m old, but I do also think that like the old fashioned letter goes a long way. You know, like if there’s a writer you admire and you happen to be able to get their address or their agent’s address or whatever right to them just to say, Hey, I love your work or blah, blah, blah. It’s not about having expectations about anything, it’s just a way of reaching out, you know, Hey, this is this thing you wrote. It meant a lot to me. Here’s why. There is not a person on earth who doesn’t like getting one of those. Have you ever sent a letter or an email to an artist you admired or gotten one yourself? What’s happened like for you?

Speaker 3: I don’t think I’ve ever done that because I’m too I think I’m less extroverted than you would think. And I’m like, more. Who terminally shy to really send stuff like that. Like I will say that to people that I’ve become friends with where I was like, I really, really like love this thing that you did. But I tend not to write to strangers just because I’m nervous about it, which I guess is kind of the issue that we’re getting at. That said, I have received some really, really lovely emails and I appreciate all of them so much, and I’ve also formed some lasting friendships as a result of those connections, because sometimes people will say something that you really want to respond to and then it becomes a back and forth. So you really never know how that’s going to go.

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Speaker 2: Well. We’ll be back in just a moment with some more on how to stay connected, even when you feel far off the map after this.

Speaker 2: Hey, listeners, Isaac Butler here. Just a quick reminder, if you’re enjoying this podcast, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you happen to have gotten it from. And also that we want to hear from you. We love featuring our readers emails and phone calls here on the show, and we also just love hearing from our readers about the kinds of guests they’d like to hear us talk to or ideas they have for episodes or advice they have for us or anything. So please drop us a line at working at Slate.com or give us a call and leave a voicemail at 304933. W. O. R k.

Speaker 2: And now back to the show. Karen. Maybe I’m reading a lot into this email, but I feel like, you know, Chris might have like a little bit of a FOMO, a little bit grasses, greener feeling about the area that she lives in or whatever. And I wanted to pick your brain about that because but I’ve lived on the same block for 20 years. And meanwhile, you recently moved across the country. So you probably maybe have recent experience of like there’s the fantasy of the place and then there’s the place itself and they’re not always the same thing.

Speaker 3: I will say that my experience, I think, has less to do with L.A., the city itself, and more with increasingly realizing just how opaque the film and TV industry is. Where it is so open.

Speaker 2: Oh my gosh.

Speaker 3: It’s kind of horrible.

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Speaker 2: That aquarium glass is so fogged up you can’t even see the part.

Speaker 3: It’s just a concrete wall. Like you can’t see what’s on the other side of that. Yeah, exactly. That’s it. I really liked L.A. itself, I think partially because all of the New York to L.A. transplants that I know were like, oh, wait, just because they loved New York so much. And I also really love New York. And I feel like if I really had to choose, I would want to live in New York. But that’s just not like what the work is telling me right now, right where I don’t have the financial like leeway to be able to do that or that, I guess, notoriety. That said, I definitely understand that general feeling because prior to moving to New York, I lived in Illinois and I definitely felt that FOMO because there just wasn’t really that much going on where I was. Or maybe it’s because I wasn’t really looking for it that I didn’t find it. And it’s really tough to get over that. And I don’t know how much advice that I can offer on this front specifically because my solution to it was obviously moving to New York.

Speaker 2: That’s true. But, you know, in your case, though, it’s like if you want to work in media. Mm hmm. It’s definitely like a smart career move to move to New York. If you want to work in TV and film, you probably have to move to L.A. until you’re at the point where you could be like, No, I am standing in my room in New York or whatever it is, but it is not true that you have to live in a big city to be a poet. Like very specifically, poetry is very decentralized and we have a long tradition in this country of great rural poets. The fact that she lives in way out rural Montana, you know, she talks about it’s going to shape her writing in profound ways that make it more interesting and more her and more unique. And that perspective is one that we need and, you know, one that you’re not going to get if you only read poets who are, you know, super hooked into New York or whatever.

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Speaker 2: Right. It’s sort of like if you’re on Twitter too much like I am, and then you suddenly realize, you know, you’re reading a bunch of articles on various websites and like this is all actually just connected to Twitter. This is like everyone’s talking about this thing on Twitter and then this piece is going to get posted to Twitter and then they’re going to get to talk about it on Twitter and just exist in this bubble. But there’s so much to the world outside of that bubble. Yeah. With talking about and thinking about and writing about.

Speaker 3: I think that’s definitely kind of the glass half full part of this argument where the fact that you don’t live in New York or L.A. can actually be really beneficial to you because you are living through experiences that these other people aren’t. That’s it. I sort of worry that I haven’t been able to give enough practical advice on like how to make friends over the Internet. It is really hard, and I think it’s the same struggle of trying to make friends as an adult where you just have to figure it out all over again because you don’t have the luxury of like being in a classroom for 8 hours a day with the same people where you kind of have to make friends with them. That’s it.

Speaker 3: I don’t know. I feel like it is worth trying to like look around online and see if like if there’s a poets group near you or even like if you have friends on the Internet already who maybe aren’t in the circle you want to be in, but also have similar aspirations. If you start working together like start a discord group, like start a weekly zoom call or something like that, there are ways to be proactive in trying to form your own community and gradually kind of like building it into a big Venn diagram of the community that you’re kind of dreaming of at the beginning. But it is really hard and it does take a lot of kind of like just stealing yourself to do like outreach that you may not want to do or may not feel comfortable.

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Speaker 2: And speaking of discord groups, I reached out to my Discord Group, which is authors who live all over the country and some of whom have even studied and went to graduate school in Montana. And I wanted to get their specific advice for Karissa, and here is what some of them said. First, you are probably going to have to travel a bit, but not as far as you might think because of the MFA program there. Missoula, Montana is actually a serious literary hub. A friend of mine’s agent even lives there. They do a literary festival every fall. There’s usually at least one interesting reading a month there. Find a way to kind of regularly get to Missoula to take advantage of that.

Speaker 2: Second, consider applying for residencies and programs like Bread Loaf. A lot of writers form communities through people they have met in artist residency. This is actually even true of me. I will say, even though my residency, so to speak, was in Lower Manhattan, like, you know, I still they still run into. People from that all the time. I’m like, Oh my God, how are you? What are you up to? You know, if you go to P.W. Dawg, which is the website of poets and writers, you will find a very long list of residency opportunities to apply to.

Speaker 2: Third, this is an expensive option, but you might want to consider a low residency MFA. That’s where you know you live, where you live. And then a couple of times a year you travel to a location to meet and discuss work. You will form a community through that. You will get mentorship through that again. It’s not cheap, but it might be worth talking about. And last I want to say, working on June Thomas actually posed this question to one of our guests. So here is our recent guest, Jessamyn West, who’s a librarian in rural Vermont with some great advice for Carissa.

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Speaker 1: One of the things that’s pretty interesting about being rural people who are talented in sort of a literature liberal arts direction is there’s often things that are going on that love the idea of a person from, as we say, away. Like, I feel like my friend who is up here gets more traction being a Vermont poet in New York and Boston than she would have being a New York or Boston poet in New York and Boston. And it’s kind of weird that that’s the case, you know, the exotic sensation of the other. But if you can make that work and if being a montana poet. Winds up being a cool thing in the Pacific Northwest generally, or depending on what side of Montana you’re in, the Dakotas. That can sometimes be a place to to move with it.

Speaker 2: That’s great advice. Thanks again to our special guest, Jessamyn West, for weighing in on this listener email.

Speaker 3: And that’s all the time that we have for this episode.

Speaker 3: Thank you so much for listening. And if you like the show, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And if you have ideas for things we could do better or questions you’d like us to address or even better. Suggestions for how connect with people. We’d love to hear from you. You can send us an email at working at Slate.com or give us a ring at 304933 work.

Speaker 2: If you’d like to support what we do, please sign up for Slate Plus at Slate.com. Slash working. Plus you will get bonus content, including exclusive episodes of slow burn and Big Mood Little Mood. You’ll get bonus segments on Working Prime, our main show every Sunday and you’ll support the work that we do right here on working.

Speaker 3: Big thanks to Kevin Bendis and to our series producer Cameron Diaz. We’ll be back on Sunday with a brand new episode of Working. And in two weeks we’ll have another working overtime. Until then, get back to work.

Speaker 2: So.