#amwriting- award-winning, affirming and awesome community

Guest Blog/Interview with Johanna Harness –  founder of #amwriting

I’ve not interviewed anyone for the blog before or hosted any guest appearances, so any shortcomings in the format are entirely down to me and my inexperience. But I believe I’ve definitely got something right – and that’s my choice of interviewee.

I’m delighted and excited to be able to welcome YA fiction writer, Johanna Harness, to the blog. Johanna is the winner of the inaugural Christopher Al- Aswad prize set up in Christopher’s memory by Eight Cuts Gallery http://eightcuts.wordpress.com   It is awarded for ‘outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in the arts’.

Johanna received the award because of what she has done by setting up and running #amwriting on Twitter. But, as you will discover, there’s more to #amwriting than its status as a very successful common interest group on Twitter – although that is awesome enough.

Anne: So, welcome and congratulations on the award, Johanna. First of all, could you explain what #amwriting is and why you set it up?

Johanna: Thank you, Anne!

When I began #amwriting, I really had no idea it would become so big.  There was no master plan.  I knew I felt isolated in a way that I didn’t feel when I was teaching.  I missed the collegiality with others who were doing the same work I was doing, so I started a twitter call-out at the beginning of my writing day.  I’d chat and drink coffee until my fingers were warm and then we’d all dive into the words.  Writers who joined us later would stay longer and greet others. 

It was really thrilling to watch #amwriting grow into a nonstop 24-7 conversation.  We have over 2000 individuals posting every week from all over the world—and apparently a lot more who only read. The writers who post using the hashtag have so much enthusiasm and energy.  It’s really a wonderful group.  I don’t think anyone can plan for something like that.  I’m thankful.

 Anne:  How was it winning the award? What does it mean to you and for #amwriting?

Johanna: At first I was a little confused.  It never occurred to me an award could be attached to what I was doing.  We had this big hashtag and I’d started compiling author biographies for members of the group.  I still did my morning shout-out and looked for ways authors could help each other, but it always felt like we could be doing so much more.

The Christopher Al-Aswad award came with an amazing prize:  volunteers.  In order to accept the help of others (which, clearly, I needed to do), I needed to better understand my own vision for the group.  We could keep getting bigger on twitter, but I’d reached a practical level of difficulty with the author bios.  I needed to put my writing ahead of developing the site and I had more bios piling up every day.  I couldn’t get them all added.  What we needed was a new site. 

Winning the prize helped me to tighten my focus.  I had all these people willing to publicize #amwriting, to spread the word even farther, but I needed a website that could absorb that increased involvement.

Dan Holloway at Eight Cuts (http://eightcuts.wordpress.com) has been incredibly supportive and encouraging.  Sessha Batto was a great help to me in designing logos, badges, and backgrounds for the new site and I’ve received some great publicity from so many.  (Articles listed here: http://amwriting.org/archives/1208)

The member site we have now just opened December 1st.  Anyone can become a member and post to group forums.  Those who have been tweeting with #amwriting for a while are becoming authors on the site, posting new author bios as well as new articles for the blog. The focus of http://amwriting.org  is community.  I want growth to always flow from members helping each other.  We’re still really getting started there and I keep holding my breath, hoping the site will hold together as more and more people join.  So far, so good! 

Anne: You have a wonderfully refreshing and open attitude to writing and writers – you say on your website http://www.johannaharness.com that ’you’re an author once you author something’. That is a very affirming and validating thing for a writer to hear. What would you say to those who say you must be traditionally published to be able to call yourself an author?

Johanna: I really have no patience with limitations.  You can’t do that or you can’t say that or you can’t be that.  Who says?

We each have the responsibility to make the most of our individual potential.  That’s all there is.  How you define your potential is entirely up to you.

For every rung up on your personal ladder of success, there will be people pulling you back down, filling your space with negativity.  If you stop to address every one of those people, you’ll lose sight of your goals. 

So what do I say to those who would define writing or authorship in a narrow way?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  I keep exploring my potential and I keep encouraging others to do the same.   Life is too short!

Anne: Tell us a bit about your own writing? How did you get into writing, what does it mean to you and what sort of things do you write?

Johanna: I write young adult and middle grade fiction.  I started writing seriously a little over two years ago.  My dad’s death had an enormous impact on me, making me realize that I really didn’t have all the time in the world for my someday-goal of becoming an author.  If I wanted the dream, I had to put in the time.  I’ve worked on my writing in one way or another every day since then.

Most recently, I’ve been working on revising my young adult novel, Claire Morgane Almost Saves The World.  I have a series of short stories based on Claire’s early life available on my Claire Morgane website (http://clairemorgane.com).  I talk about recently signing with a literary agent on my author blog (http://johannaharness.com).

Thanks so much for this opportunity, Anne!

And thank you to you too, Johanna, for taking the time to collaborate on this post.

I urge all readers of this blog, who are also writers, to visit the #amwriting community on Twitter and the amwriting website – then you will truly appreciate Johanna’s awesome achievement –  from its small beginnings to its present wide-ranging, supportive and influential status. 

Christopher Al- Aswad Award Winner

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The first ever winner of the Christopher Al- Aswad prize has just been announced. This annual award was set up by Dan Holloway at Eight Cuts http://eightcuts.wordpress.com and it is intended to honour and commemorate the life of a very special young man who died in July this year, aged just 31. Christopher set up Escape Into Life  a community where barriers in the arts and literature could be broken down. He was a visionary artist and writer. You can read the beautiful tribute to him on the Escape Into Life site. Make sure to read his poem ‘The Pleasures are Fleeting’ – heartbreaking and heartlifting.  And apart from reading the tribute, you’ll be able to see the poetry, pictures and collages created by the members and to read about the amazing Moleskine Project.

 The prize is “for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in literature and between literature and other arts.” And the inaugural winner is – Johanna Harness, the founder of #amwriting.

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Image via CrunchBase

Johanna describes #amwriting as an ongoing chat amongst a community of writers who care about one another. She likens it to a water-cooler. It’s a gathering place where writers can pop in and out during their writing day. There they can say what they’re writing or share concerns, blocks and queries about the writing process. It’s reckoned there are more than 2000 writers using the #amwriting tag.

But there’s more to the concept than the hashtag on Twitter. There’s a website http://www.amwriters.com On the site, besides an Amazon linked #amwriters store, there’s also the opportunity to view and apply for listing in the #amwriting directory.

Johanna is, of course, a writer herself and she also has a new writing blog (begun in June this year) at http://johannaharness.com/blog    Here you can read about her own writing – as an author of YA and flash fiction.

So, what are the barriers that #amwriting seeks to breakdown?

Well  – they may be barriers of the writers’ own making – writing so often involves self-imposed exile and a siege mentality. The solitude required by writers can be a blessing when the mood and motivation are high, but it can also leave room for self-doubt and feelings of isolation. Having a staff room of supportive colleagues to check into is something to be cherished.

The barriers may be between writers – we can be a bit of a precious bunch, can’t we – defending our own areas whilst dismissing those of others? The genre writers versus the literary, fiction or non, prose versus poetry, shorts or novels, traditionally published as opposed to independent, journalist or academic – we like everyone safely boxed in. We can be overly judgemental and hyper-critical – of ourselves and others. And, as for those who won’t/can’t be pigeon-holed – artists who write, writers who make films, poets who write music…The #amwriting mentality has no truck with any of that – if you write – you’re a writer.

On the other hand the barriers may be between writers and their audience. We need to get our work ‘out there’. We need a network and we need outlets. The #amwriting community provides that too – the directory, the store, the support.

 And in case you’re not convinced about Johanna’s axe-wielding powers – I’ll let her words speak for themselves…

‘I don’t care if you write fiction or non-fiction, if you’re pre-published or published, if you’re traditionally or independently published, If you’re non-agented or agented, if you’re a blogger or a novelist or a reporter or a business writer.  *Pausing here to gasp for air*  I don’t care what you write or how you write it. I don’t care if you’re a planner or a pantster. I don’t care how much formal education you’ve completed. I don’t care how old you are or how long you’ve been writing, if you’re a newbie or a sage.  You don’t have to prove your credentials to be included.  You do, however, have to show up and write alongside other writers on twitter.  You have to say, “Here I am. I’m writing too.”  -And we say “welcome.”  That’s all there is.  It’s what we do.’

All the best and Slàinte Mhath to Johanna – and to all present and future members of #amwriting.

P.S. Johanna tells me she has plans to further develop #amwriting during the next year and she has agreed to do a guest blog here at Write Enough in December.