The taxonomy of writers is a thorny issue. Leaving aside the genera, which are in themselves gloriously debatable (what exactly is literary fiction anyway?), many different species of writer appear to have been discovered, even if their characteristics are not as yet fully defined.
How do we distinguish, for example, between an aspiring writer, a new writer, and an established writer? How does that compare to being a published author, a best-selling author, or a distinguished novelist? Neither I, nor Google it seems, have a clear answer. Some like to play it safe and stay up at family level, opting for the simple ‘Writer’, but don’t worry if you can’t decide, there is absolutely no obligation to be consistent. Ask me to write an author bio and I’ll tell you one thing. Meet me at a party and ask me what I do and I’ll tell you another.
Still, one of the things we prided ourselves on as fiction editors at The View From Here was finding and showcasing the work of ‘emerging’ writers, so what did we mean by that? Emerging as distinct from established, perhaps. Strong new voices, or maybe voices that were not so new to us, but still new to many of our readers. Stories that stood out from the crowd. One thing’s for certain, even if I can’t pin down a description, I always knew it when I saw it, and coming across a story from an emerging writer in the submissions pile is what made my time as editor so rewarding.
It’s possible that some writers will take exception to this idea of ‘emerging’. It tends to suggest that you are either part of the great sea of writers of whom nobody has ever heard, or you are emerging from it (and so logically at some point you will have emerged to find yourself in the literary canon). Accepting that not everybody writes because they want to be published and not everybody who wants to be published follows the same route to publication, it is still true that many writers follow a similar trajectory.
Often there is a decision, or a recognition, that a writer is what you are. There is time spent learning the craft, practicing and using community writing sites or writing groups to read other people’s work and get feedback on your own. Then there comes the submissions process, entering competitions or sending off your work for publication in journals, newspapers and zines. Very few places will pay for work from ‘emerging’ writers these days because very few people will take the risk of paying to read it. But emerging writers understand that having their work accepted by a credible, well edited publication will start to get them noticed. It will add to their credentials, help them develop a track record and above all it will reach readers. Free publications like The View From Here would not exist if that were not the case.
To an editor, emerging writers are thrilling creatures. They rise up out of the swell with something noticeable, something extraordinary. They take creative risks with their work but not careless risks. They won’t submit a story unless it shines. Their work sings of an author who has read widely - and sometimes weirdly - and is developing their own style and this makes us happy because we know it will be exciting to our readers too. That when they read the story they will say to themselves, this is a writer who has what it takes. This is a story I would have paid to read. These are good words.
Emerging isn’t a discrete point in a writer’s life. It’s not a moment of transformation, like a butterfly coming out of a chrysalis. A writer can be emerging for years and many of us are. Your first writing credit can feel like a major breakthrough, and in some ways it is, but now on to the next one, because emerging writers need to be recognised widely, need to build up a body of work, need to rack up enough rejections to know that they can mean something or nothing and to keep pressing on. Emerging is hard work. It’s like treading water so hard that you actually begin to rise up out of the water. Have you ever tried that? It takes skill and strength and stamina. Once you’ve got the hang of it, try to do it and keep smiling at the same time.
Now, keep going until someone reaches in and offers you a hand.
Photo credit: Gregory Smith