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Ask a freelancer: How to connect with writers you love (and not be creepy)

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Melissa Chadburn is a lover and a fighter, a union rep, a social arsonist, a writer, a lesbian, of color, smart, edgy and fun. Her work has appeared in Guernica, Salon, and the Rumpus, among others.  In Ask a freelancer, Chadburn fields questions about writing, the blogosphere, platform building, and all things scary. She don't presume to know everything but she knows people that know more things than her and if there's one thing she’s learned it’s that there's nothing to be gained from withholding information. Reach her at fictiongrrrl(at)gmail.com or follow her on Twitter. She loves your whole outfit right now.

Dear Freelancer,

I just got back from a writer’s retreat that’s hosted every summer. I love these workshops because it’s the one week out of the year that I get to be surrounded by writers and writing and I get so full of love and appreciation for the craft of writing. It’s like the one week that I get to honor this part of myself. Now that I’m home I’d love to reach out to some of the writers I met and other faculty members. How do I reach out to an author I love and want to connect with online without being an annoying stalker?

—Humble at Home

***

Dear Humble,

I know! I know! I spend most of my summers steeped in a brain crush meeting one writer after another and so often I find out just how generous they all are. How fucking brilliant and lovely and smart and kind they all are—in person. Most writers are not like other celebrities. People do not recognize them on the street so they really do appreciate it when you’ve read their work. The highlight of our day can be a personal email exhibiting an appreciation for the work.

Funny thing, a friend and I were just joking that I have this moderately inappropriate practice of going out and seeing people and then just sort of falling in love with how rad they are and coming home and sending them an overly sentimental email. It’s a practice I’ve curbed over the years but still lays there slightly under the surface. Threatening me and my oh-so-cool demeanor. And on the one hand what’s so wrong with that? Sentimentality? Since when was it such a bad thing to tell people how much you adore them? How they remind you of a summer you spent with your grandmother catching racer snakes in the woods and shooting cans with a potato-gun?

Well it’s not so bad but unwarranted it can appear to be stalker-ish, sort of stalker light. Also I’ve learned after lots of growing pains and—well, the hard way—that I don’t need to share how I feel with everyone. Everyone doesn't need to know at all times how thrilled or disappointed I am. It doesn’t matter how articulate I am about this. Because I am a hopeless romantic and I will always feel things so fucking deeply and every day is an epiphany. But I don’t need to bully people with these epiphanies. I’ve found the best way to connect with other people I don’t know is to keep it light and polite. Most writers teach— so if you can find out their email address at the university they teach at you can send them a personal email telling them that you enjoyed such and such novel or story or memoir and why, or you can send a message via facebook directly to an author you connect with.

All the spooky stuff aside, I will admit that these light and polite messages could really brighten a person’s day. Remember a good deal of us write to connect with other people so it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone would be delighted that you connected with their work. Also some hearty friendships of mine have begun this way. The first order of duty is to make sure whatever you’re doing is the most loving thing.

Also, about the retreats, I was once told by one of the greats. One of the greatest greats that will always hold a special place in my mind, my work, my sweat, someone I met this very way we’re speaking about, said:

“These retreats, these conferences: they feel so good. Often, you feel like you've "solved" it. Then you come home and you're back at your desk and three days later, it's like you never left.”

By that, I think he meant that regardless of who you get to consort with the cursor will always be there—winking at you. Welcome home, babe. Now get to work.

Xoxo,

Freelancer