It happens that I’m writing this blog in an airport, on my way home from a con where I moderated a panel about what SFWA offers to members. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot over the last few years, either at events like that or just in conversation with other writers: laying out all of the benefits that SFWA provides to members, talking about the services it provides to the SF/F writing community as a whole, explaining to Canadian members why things like the Emergency Medical Fund are relevant to them, and so on. After three years, I would say my patter is pretty much down pat.
Because I went last on that panel, though, the two previous panelists had already had a chance to mention all of the benefits I generally list, and I had to draw a bit more on my own personal history with SFWA. The fact is, though, that I’ve never used most of those services myself: even now, aside from visiting the discussion boards and using the Directory to help organize and notify people about events, I can’t point at too many things that SFWA offers that I’ve taken advantage of. (Of course some of its most important services – like the EMF and the Legal Fund and the Grievance Committee – are things I hope I’ll never need, but I’m glad they’re there.)
The answer I finally came up with was the main benefit of being a part of SFWA, for me, has been to give me a chance to do good for my community. That’s not as noble a statement as it sounds, because I’m mostly talking about how having that opportunity benefits me. I don’t know if it’s necessarily helped my writing career, but I do know that I’ve gotten at least as much ego gratification from doing this as I’ve ever gotten from writing. Having writers I’ve admired for years shake my hand and congratulate me, or thank me, for things I’ve done for SFWA, is incredibly gratifying and humbling at the same time.
The best thing about volunteering, though, isn’t that it’s gratifying so much as that it’s catching. Whenever I’ve done anything for SFWA I’ve been amazed by how much other members have been willing to give, from volunteering to bring delicious treats to a meeting (saving us from the soggy muffins on offer from hotel catering) to putting in hours of work on committees, working to ensure that we meet the needs of all members and all writers. I’m inspired, too, by the many members who give far more of their time and effort than I do. At its best, SFWA is a chance to give back — to those who came before us, to those who will come after us, and to those who need us now.
Matthew Johnson lives in Ottawa with his wife Megan and their two sons. His most recent book is the short story collection Irregular Verbs and Other Stories from CZP, and he can be intermittently found pontificating on Twitter as @irregularverbal and on his blog, www.irregularverbs.ca.