[EDIT: It should be “I’m a SFWA Member Now”–members pronounce it “sif-wa.” But the URL generated from the title is out in the world now, so there we are.]
I’ve always loved to write, but it was only as an adult that I became serious about it. That word, “serious,” made it weird. “Serious,” to me, meant committing to improving my craft and increasing my output. The latter goal served the former. “Commitment” meant setting up structures of internal and external accountability. I took night school classes. Wanting some tokens of accomplishment, I finished two, 2-year certificates in the Creative Writing of Fiction at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. And finally, in 2012, I submitted my first story for publication. It was rejected, and I didn’t try again until 2016. That was when I got three acceptances–and the validation to keep trying.
What I didn’t realize was that “getting serious” about something, at least in my mind, entailed shaping it into something that looks serious to others. Academic credentials. Product. Revenue. Exclusive community membership. During the dry spells, when those things didn’t come easily or at all, I made a philosophical commitment to stop distracting myself with activities that were adjacent to writing, but not actually writing. That lasted as long as my next set of completed stories, and an ego-driven impulse to see if I could sell them. One sold, and I was back on my bullshit.
And now the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association (SFWA) relaxed their membership requirements, and the goal posts were suddenly behind me. I just had my application for Associate membership approved. I’m on track to become eligible for full membership by 2023. I had a bit of angst over applying. I didn’t cross the SFWA finish line; the finish line moved. Was this still a badge of pride? Going back to those distractions I’d written about just five months before, was I once again chasing external motives at the expense of internal ones? I started asking around about what SFWA membership meant to its members, aside from putting “SFWA member” in their submissions cover letters.
SFWA helps its members promote their books, settle contract disputes, and raise money for unexpected medical expenses (American health care ties health insurance to formal employment). It has private forum discussions and throws parties at writing conventions. It lobbies for fair practices in the industry, like a union. I’m fortunate enough that the $100 annual member dues aren’t a hardship, but as a corporate-employed hobbyist I’m unlikely to benefit directly from any of the things SFWA provides.
But the members I talked to gave me a perspective-shift that decided it. No, SFWA was not a badge of pride. It was a way of paying back, forward, and across the writing community. That has resonance. When I was young, the markers of accomplishment were all personal, a means of making myself more employable or marketable. As I grow older, I think maybe one’s accomplishments should center around elevating others. I do that in my day job as a technology team manager, why not as a writer?
And I can still put “SFWA member” on my submission cover letters.