Saturday, August 20, 2016


I've got Sex Pistols in my head.



OK, I know the song's not about submitting to contests and publishers. But dang if it isn't in my head when I'm doing it!

This summer I dusted off a bunch of old pieces and started sending them out into the world again. I had stopped submitting for a long time. I got really tired of the rejection letters. The occasional acceptance was exciting, but I realized I was starting to place too much emphasis on what might get my piece accepted when I was writing, which sucked most of the joy out of writing.

I also didn't have a good idea of what it was all for. If I had 5 poems published in 5 journals, so what? I wasn't very good at maintaining relationships with editors or readers, or getting paid, or working toward some goal beyond submit/reject-or-accept/repeat.

Yeah, I was getting jaded. So I stopped.

Editing, revising, and considering the reader are all important, but writing for an imaginary editor--or worse, changing your writing to be more like what you see published--is a bad road to travel.

It took dealing with lots of submissions as an editor for me to wake up. When I'm reading subs for Literary Mama, I have to consider many factors: Does the poem move me, is it well-crafted, does it fit the journal's mission and style? And of course, where can I fit it, and do we have too many poems similar in theme/style/subject?

We receive lots of excellent poems, and it's a blessing and a challenge to have to choose among them. I try to add personal notes on those that I really considered, but when I get 50-100 in a month, and I respond to them all, there's only so many responses I can write. And sometimes the decision is so difficult that I worry I let something really good get by.

On the other hand, when I accept a poem, or work with an author to polish a piece to perfection and then help to share it with readers, it does feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself, sharing art and vision and voice with people who really care. Oh yeah, that's why we do this!

I started to realize that acquisition editors are just people--no, really--doing their best. Yes, they are gatekeepers, but each gate looks different. Even the gate I manage has other editors that must also approve the work, and they don't always agree with my taste--but we all work as a team to choose the best work that will embody our journal.

For my own writing, this opened up possibilities. Rejections still suck, but I don't feel quite as worried about it. My responsibility is to my work, and making it the best and the me-ist I can make it. Somewhere out there gates will open for it. And communities of readers will be excited to read my words, be moved by my ideas. Then we'll truly be sharing something magical, from one mind to another. I won't find them unless I submit. And neither will you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writing beyond "what you know"

Every once in a while, I come across something offensive.


I don't, generally, offend easily. Mostly because I tend to avoid that which I know is going to be problematic. (Ahem, politics.)

But as an editor, and a reviewer, I don't get to filter before I read. I am the filter. And that's a strange responsibility.

On one hand, I need to offer the author the benefit of the doubt. I need to assume good intentions and consider the work's merits.

On the other hand, I'm pissed off as hell!

In situations where I can get a second opinion, I do. When that's not an option, I give myself time--to cool down, reconsider, look at it again. Reevaluate. Approach with a cooler head.

When it's something I need to review, I have to come up with a measured, well-researched response, considering the author's intention as well as my reaction. In most cases, the author's intent is not to be inflammatory or offensive--usually it's quite the opposite. The author is trying to be helpful, but is doing so without looking at all angles or considering viewpoints other than his/her own.

I represent the reader, and my job is to consider how different perspectives might approach the piece in question. If I think the author has written something potentially hurtful to some audiences, I'm going to say so in the kindest terms possible--again, because the author is usually blundering along with good intentions.

Nonetheless, the result is "the grossest thing ever."

It's impossible to guess how every single person in the world would interpret your work. But sharing it with a variety of people before submitting it, training yourself to consider many viewpoints, or listening to what people very different than you say about similar works will give you a head start.

  • Do your research. Especially about the group of people you're trying to help. Do they want your help? Who else has offered, and what did those offerings look like? How does yours compare?
  • Know your limits. If you know what you've written is not for all cases--maybe there are some extreme situations that are beyond the scope of your piece--say so. It is even better to mention who you're writing for, and who not.
  • Offer alternatives. It's also beneficial to suggest alternatives to your own perspective in your piece, and the ways you agree or don't with those alternatives, or where some readers might find more of what they're looking for if you can't provide it. Admitting you're not the end-all be-all makes you seem well-researched and intelligent, not to mention truly helpful.

For my own writing, I take these instances (as I pace back and forth and try to come up with the right way to express ARRRGGHH) as lessons to remember to get out of my head sometimes. Come up for air. Read widely, and consider opinions other than my own and those closest to me. How might someone completely different from me interpret what I've written? How can I move forward instead of shutting down?

When we write beyond what we know, we risk offending the very readers we're trying to reach. We can minimize the problem with a little research. Or we can stick only to our own experiences. But what fun is writing if you don't get to explore?