reading writing

The Emerging Writer – a review

I’ve mentioned the Emerging Writers Festival a few times lately, and that’s because it’s a great festival that really attempts to help writers and inspire/teach/motivate them to write. I’ve spent most of this weekend there (when I wasn’t making incoherent tweets about Eurovision) and I’ve been to some terrific panels, met and talked with other writers and generally just hung out to learn and share.

One of the tools the EWF uses for learning and sharing is the book it produces, and tonight I’d like to look at this year’s effort, because it really sets a new bar for polish and richness.

The Emerging Writer has essays and articles from a wide variety of contributors, including new and established writers, about whatever they felt like discussing. This isn’t a writer’s guide (except when it is), or a collection of anecdotes (except when it is) or an industry primer (except when it is). If I had to pick a single classification, I’d say that this is a book about the experience of being a writer. Editor Karen Pickering calls it a book of maps, and that’s a good metaphor – it has both maps to show where you can go and maps showing where others have been. Some even have hidden treasure.

The book is split into four chapters with admittedly loose themes:

  • Why? Thoughts not just on ‘why write’ but also ‘why try to write a certain way’, ‘why continue after setbacks’ and ‘why try to live up to your idols’. There’s also a healthy dose of ‘why not’ and ‘why you shouldn’t’ mixed in. Standouts include Christy Dena talking about not listening to fear-based advice, Geoff Lemon on facing rejection and Jacqui Dent on defining your identity.
  • What? Essays on what you write about – how you choose it, how you become involved with it and the approaches required by different subjects. Unsurprisingly, my favourite is Stephanie Honor Convery’s on the joy of writing fiction and actually making stuff up, but Rebecca Harkins-Cross’ piece on choosing to write memoir and Hugh McGuire’s on digital publishing are also very strong.
  • Where? Not as in ‘which room should you write in’ but articles on where you come from, what you consider to be your writing turf and how the local/online writing community informs your work. As an ex-Brisbanite I couldn’t help but enjoy Christopher Currie’s thoughts on the northern writing scene, but another standout was John Weldon’s piece the way online environments change the relationship between writer and audience, as was Alan Baxter’s piece on defining your digital presence.
  • How? How? How do you write? Can you even answer that question in a way that makes sense to anyone else? These essays include both practical advice and metacommentary and there’s a lot of good in both, from Esther Anatolitis’ essay on how to put yourself on your own writing retreat to Liam Peiper’s story on suing a former employer to get payment owed (with details on how to do it yourself) to Kirsten Innes’ great piece on why you should stop wanking on about writing and just goddamn write.

The Emerging Writer is neither advice handed down from a panel of experts or theory delivered as cant by wide-eyed neophytes. It’s honest, personal stuff written by writers to their emergent peers with the intent of sharing knowledge and experience. There’s comedy, there’s drama, there are cartoon and flowcharts and essays and every piece is genuine in a way that you rarely see in a writer’s guide.

It’s also worth noting that the book is really well designed and laid-out, which matters a hell of a lot to anal publishing types like me, and the physical version is very well produced and printed. This is a professional piece of work that can sit proudly on your shelf (or on your PC if you prefer PDF).

I’m really impressed with The Emerging Writer, if you can’t tell. Not every essay will speak to everyone, but every essay will speak to someone, and I think even experienced writers can learn something from it – if only the realisation that every writer takes a different path and overcomes different challenges to reach that all-consuming goal of coming up with words that don’t suck.

The Emerging Writer has its official launch next Friday, and after that should be available from various bookstores and online. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

One reply on “The Emerging Writer – a review”

I was interested when you started tweeting from the festival’s workshops. Good to see a somewhat informal review of the book they have out. Must check it out when it’s released.


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