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  • Emerging? Established? We May Have Different Needs, But We All Need Each Other
Emerging? Established? We May Have Different Needs, But We All Need Each Other
Written by
The Salonniere
April 2010
Written by
The Salonniere
April 2010
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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  • 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.

  • Christina Brandon

    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!

  • Terri McIntyre

    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.

  • Donna Tagliaferri

    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!!!

  • Barbara Field

    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!

  • Mylene Dressler

    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.

  • Julie Maloney

    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.

  • 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.

  • Rose E. Grier

    how do you submit writings to She Writes?

  • Meg Waite Clayton

    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.


  • Thank you all so much for your thoughtful comments -- I feel really inspired by your dedication and your openness. It really is all about taking the risk to write, and sticking with it when it seems impossibly hard. And being able to connect with other women making the same effort makes it a lot easier somehow.

  • When I first crept out from under my rock and tried actual writing on paper instead of in my head, I felt like a WRITER for the first time. Every time I was afraid to write because other writers were published, I told myself, "Writers write. That's why they're called 'writers'." Instead of avoiding published writers because I wasn't one, I gave myself permission to read the writers I loved because I was a writer like them. Now I've had a few stories and an article published, and it's nice, but the WRITING is what I love. When I talk with other writers, published and unpublished, the ones I keep going back to are the ones who love to write.

  • Lois Yuran Gore

    I guess as I see it, we are all emerging human beings, and thus, writers. The truth of who and what we are emerges as we develop. As we unfold. We are in different places in our development. My writing, over the years, is an expression of where I am in my development. My capacity to be truthful with myself, to get out of the way of the truth that wants to express itself, is ever growing.
    I am not a published writer. I need guidance on the process. All kinds of guidance. About technique and structure and all kinds of things. And I do trust that exchange between humans, between writers, only works when there is an actual exchange. When there is mutuality in giving and receiving. I, probably, can't offer nearly as much as others, about many aspects of writing. I do have other gifts to offer: about truth telling, allowing .We all have our gifts to offer.

  • Donna Cavanagh

    Miranda, thanks for the info on the National writer's union. I used to belong to the Newspaper Guild but I haven't written for papers in a while. I was looking for something like that. Thanks so much!

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    Wonderful attitude and outlook. I know I have much to learn; I hope I have something to give.

    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

  • Miranda C. Spencer

    I completely agree! The National Writers Union works this way as well-- as long as you're writing and trying to get published (or have written 50 books or 500 articles -- doesn't matter) -- you're welcome.

    Cross pollination is great, plus we're all relative experts/newbies at different things. I've done a lot of media criticism and straight reporting, for example, but I'm still finding my way as an(environmental) health writer I've edited or otherwise done ghost work on scores of books, but am only just now working on my own book. So it all evens out in the end....

  • Donna Cavanagh

    Sally, I never really thought that "seasoned" writers would look to "emerging" writers for lessons on the process of writing. How naive was I to think that those who supposedly "made it" lived in their own world with fellow writers who had made it? I do agree with you also, that the process of writing is always a learning experience. I have been writing for more than 15 years and each assignment or each piece of creative writing shows me something I did not know before. I think that is what keeps the fire burning in my belly.

  • Sally Schloss

    In one sense we are all "emerging writers" just in different places on the continuum. The most well established, well published writers, are still pushing themselves to improve, learn and grow. I have interviewed and have had discussions with many published writers about the process of writing, and everyone of them has talked about their fears and challenges and what excites them about what they're learning. I run fiction and memoir writing workshops in Nashville and I deliberately include everyone from beginners to experienced "emerging" writers. I've been told by seasoned writers that they learn from the writing weaknesses of others. By thinking about what's not working in another piece of writing, they gain insight into their own work. Similarly, the newer writers make cognitive leaps in craft and understanding by hearing and reading the work of more skilled writers. I like Kamy's choice of the Richard Bach quote, "A professional writer is an amateur who doesn't quit." I think the community of She Writes is all about women with a fire in the belly to write and who are willing to persevere.

  • Sandi Johnson

    April, I think you bring up a valid point. It's intimidating when you see so many other writers who have been published. I think that comes in large part to our (or at least many writers') idea that getting a book published means you've "made it" as a writer. Like once you get that book deal, it's all smooth sailing - you're now a validated writer.

    But that is so not the case. I've seen many writers who get a great book deal with 6 figure advances, but then their next deal for a 3 book series barely eeks out a 10k advance for all 3, or worse yet - isn't picked up at all. As unpublished writers, we sometimes don't see that constant battle to be heard, even after you've been published. We think that getting that first big break is all we need. So naturally, when we see someone who has been published - we think they're already on the "other side" of the uphill battle, when in all honesty, being published is often just another writing credit in the eyes of a publisher. (Unless of course, you hit good sales numbers.)

    I like Patricia's description of a "seasoned" writer. I think that's a much more apt description of a writer with experience in getting published. One book does not a successful writer make - unless your name is Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Stephen King, etc.

    Being in writing communities like SheWrites has shown me life on the other side of the book deal. Now I'm not quite so intimidated by other writers who have been published. I have a more realistic view of what it's like to be a "published" author.

  • Donna Cavanagh

    April, you are exactly where I am. My humor has been in magazines and I had a column in a daily for years, but still can't get that contract for a publisher. I did a business book for Henry Holt years ago but humor I guess I am an emerging still. I was also intimidated when I saw so many truly established authors here. Now, I will be a little more adventurous in offering thoughts. Thanks.

  • April Scarlett

    I, for one, am quite relieved after reading this post! I will admit I have only dabbled in SheWrites, a bit intimidated by such a large number of established authors. I have been published in the newspaper and magazine markets, and on the web, but my book manuscripts have not been picked up yet. Thus, I felt a little unqualified to be here. Now, I will feel free to dig in to such a diverse and rich resource, and contribute to others as well.

  • Donna Cavanagh

    Emerging and established always were such confusing labels. I could be established and published in one genre but a newbie in another. So where do I fall then? I love to listen and talk to writers who are just starting or trying to break into something new or who are mentors. It's just a great feeling to have the community out there when writing is such an exercise in isolation on a daily basis. Thanks.

  • Andrea Porter

    I have one collection out, a radio play for the BBC and a few short stories published and I still feel very much as if I am emerging. I would hate in fact to be established as even the word smacks slightly of a sort of entrenched inflexibility towards the art of writing. I do know it is only a short hand way of differentiating some published writers from those hoping to be published but a writer is only as good as their next book, play, collection, film script etc. I think the struggle to engage with words in whatever genre and write the best we can never allows for complacency and I have learnt so much from those who may have never had anything published but who are generous with their time and energies towards other writers. Sometimes the best creative writing teachers are not those who have achieved great things in their field but ones who embrace the need to help others and can engage with the love aand obsession we all have for just getting it the best it can possibly be.. So I am saying, lets all continue to be emerging for in that journey we engage with what it means to be a good writer; the arrival at some place called established can often be less exciting than we think.

  • Sandra Hunter

    A tangent: I'm especially interested in the inter-generational aspect. At the college where I work, we have a poetry workshop where students, faculty and community members meet to read and discuss their work. Often the writing exercises require an older person to work with a younger one. This doesn't necessarily mean that older equals "more experienced" (some of our younger poets are published and are also experienced performers). However, they provide each other with different life perspectives. Some of our best chapbook work has been from these collaborations.

  • Patricia Valdata

    I'm not a fan of labels, or of false dichotomies. I tend to think any writer pursuing her craft is still emerging in some way; the term 'established' makes me think of someone who has stopped growing. I would hate to stop growing as a creative writer--churning out the same old same old would be awful. As for fitting a marketing category, well, 'emerging' is almost always used for someone under age 40, isn't it? Those of us who get published when we are over that age seem to get lost in the fog. I've been writing all my life, and my career has always involved writing of some kind: technical writing, corporate communications, some marketing communications, some PR. So in that sense I am pretty established, though I prefer to call myself 'seasoned'. I've been pursuing creative writing seriously since the late 1980s, and I have two published novels, but that doesn't make me 'established' in the writing biz. Afer all, the New York Times Review of Books has never heard of me, and no colleges are clamoring to have me as their writer-in-residence. I'll probably be 'emerging' for the rest of my life, but as long as my writing improves, that's not such a bad place to be.