What if I told you that there was a magical place where aspiring writers (that would be you!) are guided through eight months of professional mentorship, master classes, hosted Q & A evenings, and—the cherry on top of the literary sundae—two complimentary Writers’ Program classes(!)? “Sure,” you say, “and tomorrow chocolate bonbons will fall from the sky and I’ll ride to work on a unicorn.” Well, it’s time to pinch yourself because such a writing wonderland does exist, and it’s called the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship. Interest piqued? Read on.

A unique program designed for promising new writers who lack access to educational resources, Emerging Voices provides its fellows with the tools they need for professional success. The 119 alumni of the program (including Writers’ Program instructors Reyna Grande and Eduardo Santiago) are evidence of this: they have collectively published 34 books, been included in 46 anthologies, and appeared in 141 journals and newspapers.

Curious about the EV experience, I recently chatted with the 2014 fellows. A diverse group as always, they include Southern poet Brandon Jordan Brown, mother and memoirist Marci Carrillo, English teacher and novelist Andrés Reconco, 2013 James Kirkwood Literary Prize winner and short story writer Margaret Spilman, actress and fiction writer Hanne Steen, and playwright and poet Victor Vazquez. Here’s some of what they had to say about being an EV, the Writers’ Program, and finding a community.

On the Emerging Voices Program:

“One of the most valuable lessons I learned is to stop putting the act of writing on a pedestal, to stop saying the following phrase: ‘I’m not inspired to write so I won’t.’ Inspiration can’t be the only fuel for writing. The act of writing is sometimes painful, often lonely, and always difficult. The EV program has taught me that well-crafted stories rarely flow out by their own accord. Well-crafted stories must be extracted from difficult terrain.”

– Andrés Reconco

“Through talking to authors, editors, agents and publishers, the whole process has been demystified for me. Writing a book is no longer some magical lucky star that falls into your life–it’s hard work, patience, focus, and consistency of action. That’s not to say it’s not also magical and it doesn’t also involve luck, but it has been so empowering to realize that if I love to write, need to write, I will write, no matter what.”

– Hanne Steen

“Obviously I’m getting a tremendous amount of exposure to the Los Angeles literary scene, which is helping me figure out where and what I can publish in the LA literary journals. But beyond this the weekly author evenings give me a kind of road map to getting an agent and getting published; speaking with established authors and hearing their story has been a tremendous help.”

– Marci Carrillo

On what they learned at the Writers’ Program:

“I had never formally studied writing before the EV Fellowship. When you haven’t had any training, everything you do is purely based on intuition and the influence of what you read. Now, I can throw some instruction, great workshopping, and a deeper understanding of craft into the mix in order to feel a little more equipped as a writer. I still believe that good writers are great readers, but that doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive statement. The Writers’ Program provides opportunities to become exposed to all sorts of new poets, forms, voices, etc.”

– Brandon Jordan Brown

“That there is no one way to do this job of being a writer. There is no one path to publishing, no one work style, no one editing style. There is no one way to navigate the complicated emotions that come up when creating meaningful stories. The thing that links all powerful authors together is the simple fact that they never stop writing.”

– Margaret Spilman

Their advice for aspiring writers:

“Find support, and find or create a community of like-minded individuals that you can lean on and share all your confusion and doubts with. We all have it. Let’s talk about it, get over it, and find motivation to do the work.”

– Victor Vazquez

“Share your work. Share your work when it is ugly and fragmented and so much less than you thought it would be. Share your work when you have no idea what kind of story it wants to be. Chances are, if you have a community you trust, someone in it has the answer you need to get you back to the page.”

– Margaret Spilman

Interested in becoming an EV fellow? PEN is currently accepting applications for the 2015 fellowship (application deadline August 11th). Click here for more information, or attend the Emerging Voices Meet and Greet at Skylight Books on July 20th at 5pm.

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