John Amen on Writing, Revision, and Submitting Work

Please welcome, poet, musician, editor of The Pedestal Magazine, and guest blogger John Amen, author of More of Me Disappears and At the Threshold of Alchemy (click for my reviews).

Serena was kind enough to invite me to write a guest-post for her blog, suggesting that maybe I could offer some thoughts regarding the submission process and my own experiences with editing The Pedestal Magazine. A couple of basic things to start with: it is really important, I think, to read a journal’s guidelines. Pedestal, for example, accepts work via a submission form; throughout our guidelines, we mention that we don’t accept submissions via regular mail or email. Still, though, we receive quite a few submissions by both mail and email during each reading cycle. We always respond to the person, asking him or her to resubmit via the form, but this is time-consuming for everyone involved. Also, with some issues we are looking for specific work; for example, we tend to publish only flash fiction in one of our summer releases. We’ll post this in the guidelines, but sure enough, a few submissions will be full-length stories. So, again, it is really important to read and comply with a journal’s guidelines.

Beyond these basics, the real question is not so much a matter of protocol, but rather a matter regarding writing itself. I mean, the mechanics of actually getting published in a journal are not that complicated: write, find the proper magazine to submit to, adhere to various guidelines, and submit your work; if the editors resonate with what you’ve sent, the work will be published. So the real issue has to do, I believe, with one’s relationship with one’s own writing. I’m not a fanatic about revision: I think each piece needs to be approached on its own terms; some pieces need more revision than others. Universal mandates or prescriptions are not the way to go, in my opinion. However, I do think it pays to be patient, studious, reflective, contemplative about one’s writing. 

People say, “At some point, you’ve got to just let it go, quit revising.” Well, if you’re reading the piece and something clearly isn’t working for you, then why wouldn’t you want to continue editing? It often occurs to me that editing is really just observing one’s reactions and responses during the reading process. While I’m reading, is the experience fluid? Or am I hitting bumps, so to speak, points where I get hung up, where the language doesn’t flow? Are there spots that undermine the “blooming” of the piece? Is something missing? Is the piece as a whole being compromised in some way? If so, how? One can practice conscious editing by reading one’s piece and simply making notes about the experience. As you read your work, simply note where and when you have reservations, where and when something seems unclear or ineffective for whatever reason, where and when you become aware that something seems to be missing or lacking. Don’t necessarily try to revise on the spot, just makes notes. Then you can come back and begin to address these areas; you may repeat this process several times. Developing a sense of neutrality and objectivity with one’s own work is quite helpful. Sometimes things fall into place quickly; sometimes the process can be prolonged. I do think that it’s often a good idea to postpone attempts at publication. It’s easy to be results-oriented; i.e., wanting to see the piece “out there.” But all said and done, the process of writing is really what’s important; and revision is as much a part of the creative adventure as a stimulating first draft or the sweetness of publication.

Thanks, John, for a wonderfully informative guest post.  I hope that writers will find it useful when they feel uninspired or that they haven’t made any progress.  Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with John Amen on my D.C. Literature Examiner page as well.

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