A few weeks ago I began a series called "Where To, She Writes?" and posted a series of questions for our community to discuss as we grow, move forward, and imagine the possibilities together for She Writes. One of the questions, perhaps the hardest and stickiest, was this: "Emerging" and "Established" Writers—Do We All Belong In the Same Place? (And How Do We Know Who's Who?)
The question of whether or not She Writes could be a hub and a home for both experienced and inexperienced writers, emerging and established, has always been of particular interest to Debbie and me -- but not because we ever considered excluding one group or the other, or even presumed we could tell them apart. Instead we have worried that by appearing to speak to one group, we'd alienate another. We’ve worried that when we offer a webinar like Writing A Book Proposal That Sells
, She Writers who have already sold one (or many) would feel this network is not for them. We’ve worried that when we offer connections to a-list book publicists
or ask new members if they have agents, writers who aren't yet published would feel She Writes was not for them, either. In groups like Memoir Writers
or Funny Women
, is the range of experience of the members too wide to create real community, and/or actionable advice? Or is there something to be gained from the mix, for both “established” and “emerging” alike?
Our answer to that last question -- our belief -- is YES. At first glance, it might seem obvious that an emerging writer needs an established one, and less obvious in the reverse. I admit that when Diane Middlebrook tapped me to found a salon of women writers with her in London, I was baffled: why would Diane, a literary doyenne and National Book Award nominee, need me, a nobody working on her MFA thesis in total obscurity, afraid to call herself a writer in public, to be her co-host and co-founder? Over time it became clearer to me. By teaming up with me, Diane created the kind of community she desired: not a community of her peers (she had plenty of those already) but a community of kindred spirits, enlivened by younger, less experienced writers whose perspective, enthusiasm and energy she needed. She Writer Marilyn Yalom
, who founded a sister salon with Diane in San Francisco, put it beautifully in a comment on my first Where To, She Writes?
post: “I like the interaction between young and old, popular writers and academics, and have been glad to share whatever wisdom I have at my advanced age with younger women and newcomers to the Bay area. [Established writers] are missing a great deal if they close the door to younger, less experienced writers. I learned, while directing the Stanford Institute for Research on Women, that sharing knowledge with other women and similar centers had a snowball effect, from which we all profited.”
trouble with categories like "emerging" and "established" is that they emphasize publication over process. (A distinction our VP of Education, BK Loren
, asks all of her students to make.) I care a lot less about whether a She Writer has published a book than I do about her commitment to growing and improving as a writer, and her engagement in the hard work required to create writing worth reading. I care a lot less about dropping things into buckets labeled "emerging" and "established" than I do about building a community that nurtures and inspires its members, and gathers them together around a shared passion for the written word. Just as Diane, in the end, cared a lot less about evaluating my experience than she did about my writerly soul. The real reason we teamed up? We wanted to indefinitely extend the three-hour lunch we had together one day, during which we talked nothing but the business and the craft of writing. That day, we found that our differences -- of generation, genre, and experience -- paled in comparison to our common love of the art.
This is not to say that writers at different stages of their careers do not have different needs when it comes to services, classes and community. She Writes will not serve any of its members well if it assumes all of them are all in the same place in their writing lives. The challenges presented by this raises questions She Writes is still seeking to answer, and your input on them as we go forward is much needed. What we do know, however, is this: we may have different needs, but in one way or another, at various points in our careers, we all need each other.