As the some time, assistant editor of an online literary journal, I am often amazed by the courage that writers, mostly poets in this case, display in sending their work in to us to be evaluated. So much of what we see never reaches the light of day through us. Especially at the time of the annual poetry contest, we may see two hundred poems, only a few of which are going to see electronic publication in our magazine.
I often wonder what possesses people to send their intellectual children off to strangers to be critiqued, knowing that most the time the answer is going to be “No, thank you,” if there even is an answer. Often, the response from the editorial staff is silence – if no return envelope or email is provided, we don’t usually send comments back – so the author has to just wait and know that no news is not good news, no news is probably a rejection.
I had only a little experience with publicly sharing my work before graduate school. Once in fourth grade I won a poetry contest and in twelfth grade a short story was chosen as the best in the school to go to a state competition. Both times though, I think that teachers must have submitted my entries, because I don’t remember being that brave. My shrink in college would have something to say about this, but I’m pretty sure this desire to keep my writing to myself is partly a result of being the child of a college educated mother who was quick to critique any writing I shared with her – no doubt out of a sense of helpfulness, but stifling none the less.
It wasn’t until I got into a graduate writing program that I really got into the swing of workshopping. Fortunately, I was in classes led by faculty that supported constructive criticism, not the bashing and personal attacks that workshopping horror stories are born of. Possibly, some of my stuff was pretty good, because I don’t remember ever having my feelings hurt too badly and I continued on with writing to share again. Or possibly it was all crap, because we were never too harsh on anyone, even the girl who wrote what I can only describe as complete tripe.
It was out of these classes that I became part of my current writer’s group and they are the people that I now share with, secure in the knowledge that they will give me useful feedback and without the fear of anything worse than some gently scolding for not getting pages written, but that’s a common problem for all of us. Some of us have sent our progeny out to the world to be evaluated and even successfully published. I am not there yet.
(Note: This blog is being simulcast at our writing site: www.keepwriting.org.)