Emerging Writers

I saw yesterday that my alma mater is holding a special event celebrating emerging writers in the creative writing MFA program.

This is likely code for “these are three people who’ll be graduating in May and trying to hack it in the real world, so let’s give ’em a bit of a boost.”

The thing is — and I know I read and watch way too much sci fi, so this could be just me — the term “emerging writer” always sounds vaguely insectile to me. Kind like pod-people covered in weird mucus-stuff. I know I’m likely meant to envision the beautiful butterfly, but I tend to fret about the cocoon itself. If a writer “emerges,” where were they before that?

Sealed in muck, wrapped in a protective package?

Maybe they have a point.

The word “emerge” comes from the root mergere, which meant to dip, sink or dive. So “emerge” originally meant (according to the Oxford English Dictionary, my bible in all things etymological, if not entomological) “to rise by virtue of buoyancy from or out of a liquid.”

See? There we are, right back in the mucus, the nutrient bath. I suppose there could be something to the metaphor. Many writers talk about the act of writing being like swimming. Annie Dillard said that it’s like diving underwater and not knowing where your head will pop up. But that idea implies that the diving and emerging is a regular event, part of a writer’s daily life. In that scenario, a writer would emerge by virtue of some unspecified form of buoyancy, only to deliberately dive again.

Which makes sense to me.

It’s one of the great truths of being a writer that you are never there. You never get to dry your wing membranes and fly off to giddily pollinate flowers. Which is probably a good thing, since a butterfly’s life is cruelly brief.

Only by diving back down again, can we find the buoyancy to emerge, over and over.