Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advice for the weary

There is a lot of it going about the Internets these days.  Advice on how to submit to journals from the perspectives of both writers and editors.  Advice on how to get a book deal, win a contest, become the next little darling of the literary community, how to use social networks to promote your latest book/project/art object installation.  Advice on how you shouldn’t do this unless you want that.  Advice on how to ask for a letter of recommendation and how to interview for a job.  Now, all of these things are important, and all of these things have some merit when it comes to the world in which most writers live, but it still surprises me how many people violate these suggestions not by an inadvertent mistake, but on purpose and by design, as if to say, “I am the exception to every rule you have laid down.

As both a poet and editor I try to walk the line very carefully when I am treading on the largess of another.  When I submit to a journal, I try my best to adhere to the guidelines set forth.  Not because I want to get on the editor’s good side, but because that’s what one does.  When I receive submissions for my own little journal, I try to be forgiving.  I sometimes ‘forget’ certain rules.  I sometimes allow certain people to take advantage of my well of human kindness, shallow as it might be.  It’s all part of my overriding guideline, whether I am writer or editor.  Be nice.

That’s right.  Be nice.  I may not have the concept of being nice as part of my regular routine, but having been raised by my grandparents and having spent quality time in the army, I know what nice is all about when working within the system of writer community etiquette.  I know how to work in any system.  Oh, I’ve had my horror stories as an editor and as a writer, and I talk about them from time to time, but the truth is I generally forget them almost as soon as they happen.  That isn’t to say I forgive and forget entirely.  I have at times decided some editors and some writers are simply not worth working with, as I am certain that decision has been made about me by more than a few people.  I am just saying I feel the premise of offering specific advice is hopelessly optimistic or terribly misguided.  Either people are going to be nice and follow guidelines and forget the occasional faux pas, or they are going to have a blatant disregard for the rules and be entirely too rigid in their dominion.  What’s more, trying to get these people to change is simply not worth my time. 

As for the rest, good (note I mean “good” in the literal sense of behavior) writers and editors will pick it up as they go and will almost certainly find their own rhythm. 

Now, ask me how to prepare a practical small group activity for the French Revolution and I will give you some advice which really matters.  

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