To Hear Myself, I Listen to You: How Reading for Literary Magazines Informs Writing

Posted by on Aug 5, 2013 in Uncategorized | 6 comments

I’m a true believer.

By that, I mean that I believe—fully, wholly, and with an often naïve, reckless abandon—in the transformative power of writing. I believe that writing changes lives. I believe that writing saves lives. I believe that writers are shaped by the world they live in, and in turn, assert their influence back onto that world: reflecting it, synthesizing it, changing it. I believe that writing is a healing experience, for both the author and the reader. I believe that writing matters.

As a writer and true believer, I want you to hear me.

I started working with literary magazines in high school. That’s when it’s the hardest—you’ve got a clear sense of what you want to do, but neither the experience nor the tools to do it well—but much like a child learning to ride a bike, these were my training wheels. By the time I started my undergrad degree, the training wheels came off. Every creative writing class I took in college taught me how to take what was then raw talent, strong instincts and the drive to Make you hear me into better stories and poems, how to see other people’s writing for what it was and could be, and how to help others fine-tune their work into the best version of itself that it could be—which in turn, taught me how to apply that to my own writing. All those voices and classes and shitty booze-fueled college poems twined together to make a quilt of experience. After I graduated, I struggled to keep writing, get better, and figure out how to get published. Those were the quiet years, the bound-and-gagged years, the long, dark haul where I felt alone and unheard.

I questioned my ability.

Almost gave up.

No one heard me.

Until.

I realized that I’m competent at other things but not good at them the way that I’m good at reading, writing, editing, understanding, explaining, and teaching the beautiful mysteries and complexities of stories and poems. Not only did I have something to say, but I could hear myself by listening to the echo of other writers. So I left the life where I’d never know what I would have been if I’d tried. I promised myself that if I failed, it’d be okay, because I’d know, and that another life would start, and that even if I’d failed, it’d still be better. Because I’d know. I’d know that I’d tried, instead of knowing that I’d settled for okay, when I might have been extraordinary. I started submitting again, and my work began to get accepted and published.

I was finally being heard.

But what does this mean to you, the reader of this publication, or the writer, hovering your mouse over the “Submit to Spry” button?

This:
This publication is part of a real, literary community, one where writers from all the different stages grow and change together. We celebrate our successes and bitch about our failures, because we know in 20 more years, we’ll be even better than we are today. We are the true believers: the people who read and edit for these literary journals, who make tough calls, who spend long, thankless nights reading and deciding and sending out acceptance letters that might change that one writer’s life and rejections that might, too. I know that for most of us, saying no to another writer is as awful for us as it is for the writer whose work is rejected, because We know.

I want to invite you into this community.

I want to listen to you, so that I can hear myself.

As we go through submissions and we cull down the short list to the few precious pieces that make the final issues, I consistently spike between despondence and euphoria. I envy you, the author whose work I wish I had written. I admire you. I learn from you. I am humbled and awed and crushed by the responsibility of decisions—What do you mean, we can’t take all of them? Why not?

I listen to you.

I hear your stories.

I come away from them changed.

You are with me when I sit down to write again.

If you are still reading, I suspect that you are like me—a true believer—and that you are dedicated to the power of writing as a means to understanding each other as humans, by hearing each other’s stories. I want you to go ahead and stop hovering over that button and just click “Submit to Spry,” because I will be one of the people reading what you send in. I will be listening to you. Hearing you. Allowing myself and my own writing to be changed by you. Whether or not your piece makes it to the final round of decisions is only a part of this process. Don’t think that if you receive a rejection, it means your piece didn’t change us. It did. Deciding on the pieces to accept is a necessary cog in the wheel that keeps the journal in motion. Every rejection hurts me. Because I know.

Every submission that makes its way to our editors and readers is an act of courage and a show of trust.  Your work is an expression of your sense of self and your place in, and relation to, the world around you. Whether or not your work right for a certain journal—ours, or anywhere else— at a certain time, for a certain issue, is not the point of clicking that “Submit” button.  I respect every author that is brave and introspective enough to sit down and try to pin their thoughts, emotions, experiences, triumphs or tragedies onto the page.

I am listening to you.

I do not take this responsibility lightly.

If you are a writer who is only writing in your head because you think no one will listen to you—I hope that you will scratch something down on the back of a receipt, because I am listening. Maybe tomorrow, you’ll scribble on a napkin; maybe next week or next month, a piece of paper. If you are a writer who has given up, or is ready to give up, I want you to go treat this journal like a tent revival and Get your soul saved! I want you find religion here—in the stories and poems you read at Spry—and I want you to start preaching. I want you to run towards your stories and never stop; God help whoever gets in your way. I hope that someday soon, you read something that changes you so much that you sit down to write a Facebook status about it, and that before you know it, it’s become a blog entry, or you’re pretty sure that you just wrote a piece of creative non-fiction, a story, or a poem—because you had something to say, and Dammit, they’re going to hear you.

I’m listening.

Allie Marini Batts is a New College of Florida alumna, meaning she can explain deconstructionism but cannot perform simple math. She is currently a dual concentration MFA candidate at Antioch University of Los Angeles, leaving all hope for mathematical comprehension utterly lost in the ether. Her work has been published in over 200 print and online publications that her parents haven’t heard of, but they pretended to be impressed when she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Awards. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband, a Black Mouth Cur named Bean, a herd of tame raccoons and opossums, and the treefrogs that somehow always manage to break into the house (she thinks it must be the sticky toes.) In addition to reading for Spry, Allie is also the business manager for Antioch University’s Lunch Ticket magazine, and reviews books for The Bookshelf Bombshells. You can find links to her work on her blog, and you can find her on FacebookGood Reads and Twitter.

6 Comments

  1. What a lovely and encouraging post, Allie! It’s so painful sending your work out, especially if you know that (more than likely) it will be rejected before it’s accepted. It’s one thing to read about rejection, quite another to experience it. But it helps to know that the editors at Spry are writers too and that they know exactly how the process feels on the creative end.

    True story: the day I got my acceptance e-mail from Spry, I looked across the table at my husband who was working from home that day and said, “Oh, look – another rejection in my inbox.”

  2. “If you are a writer who is only writing in your head…” Nice one. Also? As her husband I can testify that while this may be ONE thing she is exceptionally good at, it is certainly not the “only” thing;)That, and she means every damn word of it – so yeah… submit. You are in good hands, here. Trust me, I know:)

  3. Kelly,

    I’m so glad that day was different for you–I remember very clearly reading your piece, and thinking, “Wow, 2nd person POV–now *there’s* a hard one to pull off….and what’s this ex-fiance all about?” So that day was different–for both of us! (And we couldn’t be happier about it!)

  4. Hi Kelly,
    I’m so glad you read the whole email, because we are so happy to include your work in our journal!
    Erin

  5. I agree with Christopher! You are in wonderful hands with Allie and the rest of our incredible readers! Erin

  6. Amen.

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