What does it mean to be an ‘emerging writer’? Given that the average earnings of an author were just £10,497 in 2018 (according to a survey carried out by the University of Glasgow), it would be limiting to suggest that ‘emerged’ writers are those who make the vast majority of their income from their writing; it’s now possible to be established and still require alternative streams of income.
Choosing to be a writer is about deciding to prioritise the act of writing as a way of being in, and engaging with, the world around you. A writer is someone who writes, regularly and consistently, engaging in the process as they go. If this is true of you, you are already a writer. But if you’re harbouring a strategic career goal to develop your practice towards emerging, and, eventually, becoming an established writer, there are additional steps you’ll need to take.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of emerge is ‘to appear by coming out of something or out from behind something’. The first step in moving out of obscurity and into the light is a shift in perception: the thing we start off hiding behind in most cases is our own sense of self-doubt.
For some people, the process of emerging takes place within an institution via studying a Creative Writing course or undertaking a degree. But it’s also possible to emerge outside of these structures, by sharing your work with trusted confidantes before sticking your toe into the uncertain waters of literary magazine submissions, competitions and funding opportunities which will furnish you with the resources to take your writing career seriously.
For various commercial reasons, publishing gatekeepers often erroneously view ‘emerging’ as synonymous with ‘young’; many opportunities for début writers stipulate that they’re open to those under 35. This can be a particular issue for women, who are often otherwise occupied during this short time period in which you are given explicit permission to emerge, with confidence issues which prevent us from pursuing opportunities, or else with the pervasive demands of motherhood.
There are various other circumstances which further complicate the process of emerging. Working-class writers, writers of colour and disabled writers, for example, will each face different hurdles; the publishing industry has a long way to go before we reach the point where those from under-represented and marginalised communities can begin on an equal footing.
But the first step towards emerging requires spending time with your practice, allowing yourself to experience improvement, growth and transformation, and this is possible for almost everyone, whether that’s for 15 minutes once a week, or a few hours a every day. If you really want to write, to make writing an essential part of your career, you have to make time to do it.
However, because all of this can happen very (very) slowly, it’s easy to feel as though you’re going to be relegated to lurking in the shadows for good. This doesn’t have to be the case.
The first person you need to convince of your status as a writer is yourself. This gets easier the more publications you get under your belt, but it starts with one simple, scary fact: you have to start writing. It’s easy to find yourself saying ‘I want to be a writer’. The world is full of closet artists and aspiring authors who all have the same problem: they’re just not doing it.
If you’ve already established a regular writing practice, you can move into an emerging mindset by starting to take your work seriously. If you haven’t started yet, the time is now (and you have the benefit of knowing what it is you’re working towards from the off).
For a few years, I merely entertained the notion of writing, and wrote almost nothing in the process. I’d think about the same sentence for weeks, turning it over in my mind, never committing a single word to paper. Once I’d summoned up the courage to actually pick up a pen and write, I spent a few more years squirrelling away snippets, half-finished stories and standalone paragraphs like acorns for winter. I didn’t show anyone my writing, and I certainly didn’t send it out into the world. For every writer who begins by plotting their narrative arc onto an intricate spreadsheet, there’s one who starts out with the hazy vision of what being a writer might look like.
The good thing about burying acorns, though, is that – so long as the ground is fertile – they will grow. Once you’re in the emerging mindset, even tiny steps can yield results. What once might have been relegated to the reject bin when you weren’t taking yourself so seriously becomes an effort to carve out a conscious path towards a clear goal. (A path which is always, as it turns out, littered with the scrunched up scraps of poor, ostensibly pointless or otherwise rejected writing.)
If you’ve sought out Mslexia, you’ve already started the process of emerging. Next time we’ll look at ways to expand your community and promote yourself as an author.
Here are Maxine’s tips on how to coax yourself into the emerging mindset
• Tell other people that you’re a writer. If it’s too embarrassing to tell your friends and family, mention it to a stranger. Tell a taxi driver, confess to a colleague, or declare your writerly status to your dentist.
• Remember that even small steps can be purposeful and constructive. Keep your end goal in mind.
• Emerging is not synonymous with youth, even though the publishing industry might make it feel that way. You can begin the process of emerging at any age!
• Take yourself seriously. It’s easy to diminish our writing through how we talk about it. For example, we might say ‘I have a little story published here’ or ‘I’m just writing a few bits and pieces’. Your stories are important. Don’t apologise for taking up space.
MAXINE DAVIES is Mslexia’s Production Editor. Her work has been shortlisted in the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize 2020 and the 2020 Creative Future Writing Awards, and in 2021 she was commended for the Laura Kinsella Fellowship.