Emerging? Established? We May Have Different Needs, But We All Need Each Other

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.”

The real 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.

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Tags: #about she writes, #organizations/associations, support, writer's communitees

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Comment by Julie Kenner (aka JK Beck) on August 18, 2010 at 7:42pm
I was poking around for something else entirely, and saw a snippet on which I thought I'd comment: "One book does not a successful writer make - unless your name is Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Stephen King, etc."

I totally agree that rarely does 1 book make a successful writer, but the writers listed weren't 1 book slamdunks, with the possible exception of Stephen King who sold his paperback rights in such a lucrative deal at a time when mm/hb weren't bundled. But Nora started in category romance, and I've read Dan Brown's freshman novel, and it was before Robert Langdon. Perhaps a better example for "unless" might be Stephanie Meyers or JK Rowling? At any rate, I think the point is that unless a book hits what I'd call publishing lottery, this career is a marathon, not a sprint, and "seasoned" really does some it up.
Comment by Christina Brandon on April 20, 2010 at 8:34pm
This post and all these comments wonderfully articulated reasons why the She Writes community is important. Living in a small city in China with only three other native-English speakers around, I've realized how important the idea of "community" is, and I started to miss even more the writer's group I left when I moved. Writing can be a lonely thing anyway and I felt even more isolated, but here, talking about ideas and sharing experiences about writing and the Process keeps me energized and inspired.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!
Comment by Terri McIntyre on April 20, 2010 at 7:33pm
I too feel this is a valuable discussion. Whenever something I'd written through the years was published, I'd feel like a "real writer." In between (long in-betweens), I'd stop telling people I'm a writer. Instead, I'd say, "I'm a teacher," which I was until retirement. I loved teaching, but since childhood, I knew I was a writer. The few published pieces are outweighed by boxes of unpublished work, but I'm proud of both sets.
Comment by Donna Tagliaferri on April 19, 2010 at 6:46pm
I so much want to be considered a writer by others and not just in my fantasy...being with writers is so important to me. I want to run with the big dogs....I don't know if I can even be considered an emerging writer...although I will label myself that in order to be with all of you!!!
Comment by Barbara Field on April 19, 2010 at 5:41pm
I was very moved by what Kamy wrote. We can redefine emerging, established, seasoned, etc. and figure out how meaningful or meaningless the categories are. But bigger yet is this idea of a community of women, some experienced, some passionate, some expert in one area, some in another. And compelling still--- this idea of helping each other cross the divide...After I left CBS and Manhattan, I felt isolated in San Diego these last twenty years being a single mother while my NY friends won Pulitzers, National Book Awards, Hollywood awards and wrote/edited for major newspapers and magazines. These thought capsules on SHE WRITES are so thoughtful, inspiring, loving and helpful. All I can say is thank you and I want to contribute to the life of this site!
Comment by Mylene Dressler on April 19, 2010 at 4:52pm
I''m an established writer who's been emerging for many years, even with three novels published. There is no sell-by date, I find, on how long we can feel wonderful and glistening and chrysalline, on how many times we might shed our skins.
Comment by Julie Maloney on April 19, 2010 at 4:30pm
Kamy, I love this discussion. This past Saturday, at a Work-in-Progress Workshop that I lead, the topic of "process" came up among two writers. One sat at the table - in my dining room - with 2 typed pages. The other, with manuscript in hand, breathed a deep sigh as she announced she was ready to write her book proposal for an agent who also had sat around my table a few months ago and expressed interest in writer number two's book. But "process" kept coming up. I LOVE PROCESS. I do agree that experienced and non-experienced writers can learn from one another. My philosophy is that there is always room for good work. If the walls in my house could talk, they would shout "best-sellers" as many of my workshops are held in my home. The other night, I finally said it: "There is no difference to what's on the shelves at B&N, other than what we're hearing tonight you just wrote spontaneously in pen in your notebook." Each week, the writing knocks me out. We write, we listen, and we are wowed. Some have never written before; others are published. Who cares? Process. Process. Process. Please keep your "doors" open to everyone. There's so much good going on here. This is a great topic for discussion. Glad to be a part of this.
Comment by Pauline Frederica Kiernan on April 19, 2010 at 4:20pm
This is an important topic and the posts here are a really valuable contribution to it. I would only add that creative writing - of whatever form it takes - is a travelling into the unknown, however many books we have published or screenplays we have been commissioned. I imagine we are all at the same source hoping the spring will well, all terror-stricken at the blank screen, all filled with self-doubts and the fear that what we create will only be banal and derivative. Labels, then, become pretty meaningless. The writer who has yet to have work 'approved' and the writer who has convinced someone she's 'worth' publishing are, in essence, the same.

If you can bear a personal anecdote: After my first academic book on Shakespeare was reviewed I was at the International Shakespeare Conference in Stratford. At the coffee break in the gardens I suddenly found myself surrounded by publishers and fellow scholars and felt like a honey pot being swarmed by eager bees. Yet the year before, when my book was going to press, I was 'nobody'. Well, not quite, but you get the picture. Before the rave reviews I would have been labelled an 'emerging Shakespeare scholar' even though I'd already written the book and written many journal articles and reviews. After, I was deluged with begging offers by publishers, and you know what? I kind of felt unclean. It was a horrible experience. I should have felt like bathing in the glow, but I didn't. I just wanted to tell them all to f***k off. Which, incidentally, I did. Because that's when I decided to give up my academic career.
Sorry to bring in a personal note here but I do think this story is relevant to the topic. We need to treat all writers the same, whatever so-called 'stage' they are at in their careers.
Comment by Rose E. Grier on April 19, 2010 at 3:13pm
how do you submit writings to She Writes?
Comment by Meg Waite Clayton on April 18, 2010 at 11:17am
Thanks for this discussion, Kamy. I just did a panel with Richard Bausch at AWP, and love the quote you have from him on this. The five of us on that panel all agreed that published writers aren't any "better" than unpublished ones. Only perhaps more stubborn, and a little luckier to date.

I love the fact of the mix here. When my first novel was in production, I stumbled onto a wonderful group of writers at readerville.com - many well published and happy to share their experience. Though the readerville community is (sadly) no longer in existence, I have remained ever grateful for it, and am glad to have found something like it again here. So I for one would hate to see us stratified.

Meg

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