I might have got the whole thing wrong but here are my ideas.
There are two factors that will contribute to the growth of a writing community and they are diametrically opposed to each other but entirely complementary.
The first factor is encouragement. You need to get a community of writers up and running. You need courses, workshops, small press publication, readings, dialogue to make this happen. You create a pool of writers, the larger the better.
Some of those writers will seek to be published. Many others will derive happiness from personal writing and perhaps the occasional piece in the newspaper or a magazine or an anthology.
The first responsibility of the encourager is to the writer. We have some great encouragers in the writing community right now and hopefully this will produce shoals and shoals of writers, working hard to improve their skills. They do, though, owe it to the writers to temper encouragement with a dose of realism.
But a writing community will amount to nothing in the end (although it may well be happy in its self-congratulationariness) with the second factor.
The second factor is selectiveness. The gate-keeping of high standards in print and the necessity of rejecting all but very best of the best for quality publication. This is the role of agent and the editor, and their first responsibility has to be to what will sell, not to the individual writer.
In Malaysia we have no agents. The fishtank is too small, not lucrative enough. Writers have to deal directly with editors. (Unless they decide they want to swim out into the ocean. Some do, and thrive.)
An editor selects the content for publication, rejects the rest. There's necessarily a very high wastage. An editor guides the shaping of the finished work in collaboration with the writer.
There aren't enough editors here, though, and of the ones we have, some are better than others. If an editor does his/her job badly, substandard material gets through. It muddies the water for the rest - because readers lose faith in the local product entirely if they feel they have wasted their money on substandard editons.
I would include on this side of the divide, the critics, the groundfeeders of the publishing ecosystem. The first responsibilty of the critic is to the reader.
A critic gives feedback through the pages of a newspaper or magazine. Hopefully they write objectively and fairly, kindly but firmly. We don't have enough good critics. We don't have enough space for critics to do their stuff. Local work often doesn't get reviewed. It's a real problem.
So there you have it: without encouragement, nothing will grow and thrive: without selectiveness, nothing of quality will be produced.
A lot of thoughts spin off for me from this central thesis.
First, where am I in this system? I am a writer, but seem to have drifted away from fiction which I consider (for myself) the real challenge. Partly that's because fiction is tough to write. Partly that's because I'm finding a lot of satisfaction in writing features and articles and I have no problem getting published. Partly because others seem to want to be published more than me and I think, why not let them? A writer needs to be hungry, and I don't think I'm hungry enough.
I am an encourager though my creative writing courses, and the teacher in me thoroughly enjoys this role and takes great satisfaction from seeing writers grow.
I'm not an agent but if I spot something good, I give advice and suggest a place to send it.
I can edit. Have edited a short story collection. Loved doing that because it gave me the chance to encourage new talent. Don't enjoy working with bad manuscripts. Could never do what Eric does.
I can be a critic. Am a critic. But feel guilty because I should be making more effort to write about local publications, but becomes hard to be critical when those writers are my friends, so I guess I run away from this task. No excuse. And if on the one hand I'm keen to be an encourager, does it help if morph occasionally into the sharp-toothed critic lurking among the rocks?
But multiple roles are a symptom of the smallness of the fishtank, I guess, and we have to live with that.
The Gentle Cycle (20/5/06)
From the Lips of an Editor (19/5/06)
Those Who Can, Write: Those Who Can't Edit (6/8/05)
Giving Writers A Chance (18/5/06)