RMIT Gazette: Emerging, established or submerged?

Johanna Thewlis  

The RMIT Gazette is a dynamic daily newspaper produced, published and distributed around Melbourne during the Emerging Writers’ Festival. We’ll publish the Gazette’s top stories online during the festival.

When I googled ‘what does it mean to be an emerging writer?’ I got a range of responses, from the terrifying ‘you need to have at least one book published’, to inclusive encouragement ‘just keep writing,’ and all things in between.

The consensus is that to be emerging you need to be able to point to some evidence of accomplishment: awards won, competitions placed in and a list of ‘has been published ins’ in your author bio. While these accomplishments can be useful markers, they can be daunting to those of us at the very beginning of our writing careers. Are these feats we have to achieve before we’re even considered to be on the writing path?

Perhaps the most troubling subtext behind the term ‘emerging writer’ is the potential for failure: you’re the butterfly just starting to emerge from your cocoon but you still have painful years ahead during which you may or may not fly. ‘Nice try. But you’re not there yet’—is what it seems to say. But what if we’ve won no awards or competitions? What if our semi-regular submissions to our favourite literary journals are met with only silence or rejection? What if, far from feeling qualified enough to call ourselves writers, we feel as though we don’t even seem to qualify as ‘emerging’?

Writers, generally speaking, are not a confident species. Having the ability to piercingly observe the world around us and be truly aware of the inherent frailty of the human condition has its downsides when the glare is turned on itself. Honest self-examination becomes self-doubt in a blink and a questioning nature means nothing is so easy to question as your own ability to write.

Putting pen to paper on a semi-regular basis and managing to cover my rent, bills, food AND buy a new dress with earnings from freelance copywriting is definitely an achievement. However, there is still that nagging pressure that I should be spending more time on my first novel, submitting to competitions or working on a new poetry collection, rather than simply keeping myself fed, housed and clothed.

This is why I’m proposing a new category of writer, one that I myself subscribe to: the ‘submerged writer’. They might boast ability and talent but it’s somewhat hidden in the mire of all they’re currently slogging through. What writers need, in all the many and varied early stages of their career, is encouragement. Instead of putting their ambitions on hold, too many would-be ‘emerging writers’ give up. I’m not suggesting that you need to always be writing, even when life is kicking you in the teeth, punching you in the gut and then running over you with an eighteen-wheeler—sometimes you need to pull back in order to fight another day. Even when putting pen to paper seems an insurmountable challenge, you can still call yourself a writer.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival is a place that welcomes writers and storytellers of all kinds – it is not some sort of elitist community you can only join if you achieve x, y and z accomplishments. It is a festival that encourages a writing community and a writing life because underneath we’re really all ‘people who write’.

For more on the Gazette click here.