As the southern hemisphere tilted further and further away from the sun I was beginning to wonder whether the celestial machinery might break down entirely and the sun disappear over the horizon, never to return. The winter solstice is a reason to rejoice as it marks the journey toward the emergence of spring, but it’s cold enough to freeze the (insert your preferred body part) off a brass monkey at the moment.
The words ‘emerge’ and ‘spring’ make me think of a butterfly as it emerges from its chrysalis and bursts into the air to entertain the spring flowers. Last week I experienced a different kind of emergence when I went along to the Emerging Writers Festival National Writers Conference. What is an ‘emerging writer’ you ask? I love the image of a soft moist writer breaking out of a chrysalis, pen in hand, ready to flutter about enlightening the world with their words. But it’s a bit more complicated and contentious than that.
Humans love a hierarchy of power and it turns out the industry for introverts is no different. The world of writing has its own meritocracy designed around the utopia of publication. We are categorized as early, emerging or established depending on how much, and how, we have published. Early writers have not published, emerging have published in journals or anthologies and established writers have published a full manuscript. The last category excludes self-publishing. Publishing and self-publishing is a whole other hierarchical discussion. These writer categories relate to peer recognition and the politics of power tied to that. They completely overlook the effort an individual may have put in to produce their work and discount that there are some excellent self-published books on the market.
The writer status must apply to the development of ones ‘craft’ in the public domain rather than a lucrative career given that most published authors still need a day job to sustain them. The terms also serve a purpose in the funding arena to determine who can and cannot apply for grants. For example, the Richell Prize is for early and emerging writers (publication in anthologies and journals or self-publishing do not exclude you from entry).
I recall when one of my earliest poems (judged blind) had been selected for publication. The organization sponsoring the prize contacted me and said, “I don’t know why they selected that one,” as if being unknown should have excluded me from the privilege of selection. It does highlight the importance of not taking yourself or what other says about you too seriously, something I waxed lyrical about in an earlier post about writing resilience. As the saying goes what other people think of you is none of your business.
Anyway, I digress. The National Writers Conference was an opportunity to hear a range of established authors reflect on their emergent journeys. One common theme was that the angst of recognition is almost immediately replaced by a different kind of angst once established. Many of the established writers who spoke wished for the lack of expectation that existed before they were published. They suffered from fear of the blank page. Will I be able to do it again? Perhaps writers and artists in general are an inherently anxious bunch due to the mysterious and sometimes illusive muse, aka imagination.
The festival was a great opportunity to hear writers and publishers reflect on their craft and the industry. The thing I love most about music and writing festivals is coming across an artist you find inspiring but have never heard or read before. I was particularly taken by Melissa Lucashenko’s reflections to inspire writers. She also shared her eloquent insights on writing and colonization and how we, as Australian writers, think about land, place, people and out history when writing. I’ll be adding her novel Mullumbimby to my reading list and she has another one, Too Much Lip, coming out in September. Rajith Savanadasa, author of Ruins, a novel about a family living in Colombo and grappling with the changes brought about by the Sri Lankan civil war, gave a poetic lecture about nourishing yourself and your creative practice. I will also add his book to my reading list.
What are you reading now?
Image: Dainty Swallowtail Butterfly checking out the grapefruit