Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Other Side

As a writer I've read and been taught, through grad school advisers and through workshop facilitator's, that editors need to be hooked at the start of your story. That they won't read past the first paragraph, or page perhaps, if they aren't immediately absorbed - or at the very least curious -after the first few lines.

I never paid this much attention. It seemed obvious to me and redundant to hear it over and over again, particularly in workshop settings. Apparently, they repeat it because it needs repeating.

Because I enjoy overloading myself with things to distract from the actual act of writing itself, I jumped at the chance to be an editor with a new literary venture. I love reading what other emerging writer's are working on, I love critiquing stories for workshops. Naturally, I assumed I would love this.

I have been reading and scoring anonymous fiction and nonfiction submissions for three days...and my head hurts.

It's true - if a story doesn't suck me in within the first page, I have a hard time not skimming over the rest of it, searching for some sign of life. But still, even if I am lucky enough to find one glimmering turn of phrase, if the rest of the story hasn't won me over, one small moment of beauty is simply not enough for me to raise my score. It's brutal and eye-opening.

Also, I now know it to be true that, yes, editors really are hoping to be blown away. In the few seconds between clicking on the attachment and waiting for a story to pop open on my monitor, I am hopeful. It's like a kid on Christmas, hoping to find a bike beneath the tree and not just a package of underwear wrapped with glossy ribbons and bows.

I want to read stories written with authority. Stories with under-stories, with threads that carefully intertwine and come together neatly by the end. I want conflict. I want newness - sentences that could have come from this author alone. I want the only the right details, the small ones that leave imprints on my imagination and do not weigh me down. To quote Brad Kessler, I want prosody.

I've been suffering from reality-induced writer's block lately. Too many things happening in the small-space of my life, not enough room in my mind to be creative. Yesterday afternoon, between reading submissions, I decided to try getting back into my own fiction. As I clicked to open my work, I caught myself having that same sense of - please blow me away - as I waited for the stories to load.

And when I wasn't - I went back and began revising, began writing with a better understanding of where the story will eventually be going. Writing with the knowledge that tired eyes aren't going to linger over my sentences simply because I've delivered them through the submission process. Because I certainly don't want to be the sort of writer whose story that gets the editorial eye roll, or whose work evokes the thought are you kidding?

Not that I roll my eyes or think such things. Although, it has only been three days.

4 comments:

Speak Coffee said...

Oh I feel your pain - although today I did find a story in the slush that was almost really interesting. Who are you reading for?

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Speak Coffee said...

I'm reading for Sotto Voce as well :)

Mella said...

Ha - you know I thought you might be. I scanned the initials of the other editors and saw yours and thought, hmmmm...

I hope you're having better luck than I.

Speak Coffee said...

I've found one piece out of about twenty that I loved and about four others that I felt sympathetic to.