August 2022 . . . .

Neither A Critic Nor An Editor Be . . . .

I spend my time reading others’ writing. This is a joy. For me, that is. I suspect that it isn’t always a moment of confident pleasure for writers to submit their work to be considered for publication somewhere. There are many expectations to be met, on both sides. The writer, for example, has an idea of what it takes to be a contributor; what they bring to the table, the time and effort and skill / talent / inspiration that is required to create, and they release their work accordingly out into the world as something more than just words in the right order. An editor has, or should have, a not-so-secret list of guidelines that meet what they are looking for in a submission, a time allotted to the task — yes, task — of reading submissions, and preconceived notions of quality. This list is often, at least to the writer, something between a map with no coordinates and a Gordian knot, not fun for anyone to analyze, unravel or defuse. To the editor, however, it is a fairly clear picture in their mind of what their journal looks and feels like, and how an accepted submission should fall into that picture easily, like a carefully carved wooden peg sliding in a similarly shaped hole.

There is fine reward when everything comes together. Publication. Pain of many and various sorts when it doesn’t. Rejection is hard enough. Making of it a line in the sand is worse.

The process and all of its wishful thinking on the part of both parties leaves much room for conflict, of course, a sort of cold wariness between authors and editors. How to please those . . . ediots at literary magazines? What don’t they see in my 1600 well-crafted words? Or, on the other contentious hand, a brand-new way to show dialogue between characters? What can you actually be thinking? I cannot figure out this POV, so how can my readers? Please give me something new and tasty using off-the-shelf ingredients.


Add to this all of the real restrictions on word quantity (not word length, for crying out loud — feel free to use longer words, unless you think the editor suffers from Hippo­poto­monstro­sesquip­pedalio­phobia), subject matter, triggers, style prompts, what was recently published, what has already been accepted and committed, and language. As in foul, or any other so-called inappropriateness. And the general contentiousness of anything that requires judgment. The idea that we are in competition with each other in everything we undertake.

I think that writers and editors spar with each other, in very slow motion and at a safe (?) distance. And thank goodness, too. If they were in the same room, it would be trouble right here in River City. They think they don’t get along with one another. Editors think writers are the problem with writing and writers think editors shouldn’t exist, because they . . . get in the way. So, what can be done about the technicalities of a one-way system? Isn’t it a one-way system? Is the power of the publication process entirely in the hands of the publication?

I’m not sure anymore.

Carefully reminding ourselves that editors are allowed to run their publications how they see fit, and that writers are necessary to provide “content” (a word no one likes, I know) for said publications, one would think that this symbiotic relationship would be more amenable. That we could remove the concept of “power” altogether from the so -called equation. Social media (a misnomer, I feel) shows this to not be so, and hasn’t helped clarify anything. The writer is a petulant diva working in a vacuum. The editor is an out of touch critic of art with no skills to speak of. The rife tribalism of confirmation bias that the screaming platforms foment fans the flames of publishing culture-wars. Some would say as well it should. If there needs to be a revolution, the person once said, let it begin here. But . . . .

My older daughter says that I need to stop doing that. Making an argument beginning with the word “but.” That little word implies that I have the floor (I guess I do) and that anyone is interested in my point. (Are you? Perhaps. Perhaps not.) I may, but who cares? We live in a world where people like me have had their say for so long that we might actually have answers to problems, but no one is listening. They are exhausted with the ancien regime. We’ve lost our right to belabor the world with our opinions. I get it, I really do. Which still doesn’t matter.

So what is left to say? Viva la revolucion!