Editing Advice

Beneath the Skin: Levels of Editing Poems, a guest post by Marilyn McCabe is one of the better sets of advice I’d run across on how to improve a draft. Applies to prose too. She elaborates three levels:

  • text on the page – adverbs, adjectives, punctuation, line breaks.
  • intention – does the poem achieve what I want/intend.
  • ambition – why am I doing this?

Worth a read.

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Who was that masked man?

I wanted to thank him. tagline from the Lone Ranger TV series.

Has a different connotation these days. Older people in Austin, TX are pretty good about having a mask though not always wearing it properly. Younger people in our apartment complex aren’t hostile, but they aren’t good about always wearing a mask when outside their apartment. We wear masks even to take the trash to the dumpster.

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The Win is Not Always to the Strongest

I recently had one poem accepted out of a batch of three. It wasn’t the strongest poem and I felt a little odd. On reading the published journal, I found it fit in just fine. The editors acknowledge in their introduction that as a issue comes together, a theme emerges. And only one of mine fit the emerging theme. The stronger poem, if in fact it is stronger, will find a place somewhere else.

“Grey Brother” is a poem I wrote 25 years ago. It needed very little editing. Feedback in readings was very positive. I submitted it 9 times before it was accepted. That’s my personal most submissions. It is good company where it was published. Strong poems may be hard to place because of their strength.

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Early Voting

Getting submissions back a few days or a week after I submit them bugs me. I must be doing something wrong, something that makes it too easy to decline. I’ve gone back and carefully checked the guidelines and rarely find anything. However, there have been hints. One journal closed submissions in the middle of the reading period because they were full. Another lists the reading period: opening date, closing date, or until full. An editor of a journal begged us to submit early.

Contrary to what I expected some journals start reading before the closing date. Late entries may face a issue that is already complete.

I’m changing my workflow and priorities to submit soon after the opening date rather than just before the closing date. Generally, the submission tasks in my TODO list have the opening and closing date. I just have to let them show up on the opening date.

My goal last year was an average of 10 or more active submissions. I met the average, but ended the year with 8-9 active submissions. This year so far, I’m not doing any better. I’ve added the goal of submitting early, not late. This should help my active submissions average if they don’t come back so fast. Also I’m reconsidering journals I gave up on several years ago because my submissions came back too fast.

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Advice on Getting Published

I’ve had fifty poems published over the years. Over the last year I’ve averaged one or more poems published out of every four submissions. This is typical for mid-level poets willing to share their acceptance rate. However, one writer said that if your rejection rate isn’t over 90%, you aren’t aiming high enough. So opinions vary. Given that I’m doing okay, I’m willing to aim a little higher.

Throwing Your Heart into The Fire, or How to Win at the Publication Game – guest post by Elya Braden is the most complete advice I’ve encountered on how to get published in literary journals. Some of it I know. Some of it tells me what I know, but don’t know that I know. Some builds on what I already know. None of it is contradicted by my experience.

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Tiered Rejections

For most of the 4th quarter of 2020, I received no acceptances. Discouraging. My number of active submissions fell below my goal of 10. However, 3 of the rejection e-mails used language like, “Didn’t find space” or “Didn’t fit in this issue” with a request to submit again and naming a specific poem they liked. I thought of these as personalized. Turns out there’s a name for these, tiered rejections. A journal often has several tiers of rejections with generic No at the bottom and varying amounts of encouragement and feedback. There’s even a Wiki with rejection letters from literary journals to help you figure out how you are doing.

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2020 by the Numbers

2020 was a fairly productive year. The numbers are:

  • New poems worth typing in: 90
  • Submissions (average 3 poems): 65
  • Acceptances: 18
  • Unique poems accepted (one was accepted 3 places): 16
  • Published: 14

These are reasonable numbers. or the next year I’m aiming for:

  • More poems written.
  • More submissions outstanding; 2020’s goal was an average of 10 (met, though it fell below 10 at year’s end); this year’s goal is 15.
  • Submit to more journals that nominate for the Pushcart Prize and/or Best of Net (which probably means more rejections).
  • More “tiered rejections,” rejections that say something like, “It didn’t fit in this issue. Please submit again. We especially liked X.” Most journals have several levels of rejection from a generic “No thank you” or the worse, “Read our journal to understand what we publish.” I always read at least an issue before submitting. Until I understand what I did that they disliked, I don’t resubmit. The most recent was a journal I had been reading for well over a decade, longer than the tenure of the current editor.

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The Work of Inauguration

My poem, The Work of Inauguration, was published January 4, 2021 on Laurence Musgrove’s newest project, Texas Poetry Assignment. It plays off Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas”.

Laurence’s previous two projects, Tejascovido and Texas Poetry Ballots were successful enough, he’s decided to make a ongoing themed poetry Website/journal. The first assignment was the Inaugural. These will be published from New Years Day to the Inaugural Day. The second assignment is the January 6 Capitol Riots. I’m working on a submission for that of one or two poems.

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Margaret Atwood on Creativity

“Everybody has creativity. It’s a human thing.”

Margaret Atwood

Read enough and you’ll run into interesting articles in unexpected places. There is a page and a half long interview with Margaret Atwood in the AARP weekly newsletter. Worth the time to read and even bookmark or save for periodic re-reading.

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Love Song for My Organs

Love Song for My Organs by ire’ne lara silva details her organs one by one, their gifts, and their deficiencies. She struggles with diabetes and its effects on her body. It’s a beautiful poem that offers a glimpse into her struggles. Diabetes does not run in my family, so I can view the poem from a distance, until I encounter these lines on her pancreas:

you fought the rising glucose hordes fought
until you were spent until you could not go on

years now i have lived on foreign insulin
always approximate subject to wild swings

of not enough too much almost in time
i long for your fine tuned calibration

This is my situation with cortisol and my pituitary gland. The heavy steroids to control nausea during chemo convinced my body it didn’t need to produce its own. My pituitary has gone to sleep and I’ve been living on “foreign” cortisol for four years. With my endocrinologist’s help I am cutting back on the foreign cortisol hoping for the pituitary to wake up. It’s not an easy ride. The excess cortisol (a steroid) was keeping the arthritis inflammation under control. I have more arthritis than I knew. I doubly want my body to wake up and start producing its own steroids, cortisol and others.

Good poetry provides enough to pull the reader in without too much to keep them out.

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