Words by Christine McPaul, ACTWC Blogger in Residence
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
―Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Beetles, bees, butterflies and fleas share something with writers – they all have to emerge if they are to be successful.
Sarah Vincent, membership officer at Writers Victoria, suggests that making the leap from emerging to published writer requires hard work and a preparedness to engage with the writing community. Mary Cunnane echoes this sentiment, believing it requires both talent and commitment.
This engagement can take different forms. According to Vincent, a committed emerging writer will go to literary events, volunteer to help at writing festivals or to support their local writing organisations. Many undertake short courses or study writing at a tertiary level. Belonging to a writing group is another way to seek constructive critiques of your work while making connections.
The important thing though, argues Cunnane, is to just keep writing and submitting. It takes effort to do this, needing both time for the creative process and attention to the various submission guidelines. When asked for advice at a writing workshop, Kate Llewellyn once replied: ‘Put things in envelopes!’ Although many submissions are now accepted online, the message is still the same – no-one will be able to read your work unless you submit it.
Even if you live in a regional area, or have other family or personal circumstances that make it difficult to attend literary festivals and workshops, you can submit online. Your writers centre can provide a list of competitions as well as journals calling for submissions. If you are in any doubt about whether publishers read Australian literary journals, they do. Vincent recommends Kill Your Darlings, The Lifted Brow, Overland, and Meanjin as places to aim for.
Of course, not everyone can be published in these major literary journals, so building a credible writing biography can be a challenge. It comes back to commitment and professionalism. For Vincent it is about creating signposts that indicate your literary journey. Being a member of your writers centre is easy and should form part of any writing biography. As an aspiring writer, work on your social media presence, as this is increasingly of interest to prospective agents and publishers. You could also apply for professional development programs like HARDCOPY, run by the ACT Writers Centre, or manuscript development programs such as at Varuna.
Seeking out a mentor is another option as an emerging writer. Cunnane acknowledges that mentoring can be valuable in any field, although she suggests that finding the right ‘fit’ and ‘chemistry’ is important. Vincent agrees, noting that having an independent person to provide honest, informed advice is a wonderful aid to an emerging writer. A mentor can help you hone your potential as you prepare your project for presentation to agents and publishers.
Friends and relatives generally do not make good mentors. Better options are a writing tutor or workshop leader. Alternately, an established writer may be willing to take you under their wing. Writers, at all stages, are very generous towards other writers, according to Vincent, but if you have not come across a ‘natural’ mentor, consider hiring one through your local writers centre.
Is there a single piece of advice for emerging writers? Vincent once heard a commissioning publisher say, ‘If you work hard, have a great voice and an interesting story to tell, you will get published. No doubt.’ Cunnane points to her favourite motto: persistence pays. The common denominator here is that you have to work hard and be prepared to be in it for the long haul.
So as you refine your writing skills, build your biography, join a writers centre, engage with the literary community, create an online following, talk to your mentor and submit your work—keep in mind that it’s not the pupa you are leaving behind that matters, it’s the writer you are becoming.
Christine McPaul is a member of the HARDCOPY 2014 alumni, and is also a founding editor of the e-journal, Softcopy, launched in May 2015. Christine has written shortlisted fiction, published academic articles about literature and women’s writing, book reviews, and a biography for the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Christine was awarded a PhD from the Literature and Theatre Studies Department of the Australian National University in 2009. She tweets @christinemcpaul and muses about writing, reading, and finding that illusive inspiration on her blog, Capable of Anything.