You may be thinking about submitting a piece of writing to this magazine. You may be wondering what the guidelines for submission are. The main one is: let’s talk. Let me know you want to submit a piece. Show it to me. If it’s too long we’ll publish it in installments. If it’s a bit thin, we’ll find a way to make it stronger. I’ll publish almost anything if it’s good writing (subject to the editorial policy*).
Is it possible to define good writing? Usually we end up defaulting to examples and getting into arguments.
“The Catcher in the Rye is good writing,” one person might say.
“But I hate it.”
“But you admit it’s good.”
And so on. What is this “goodness” that exists independently of whether or not you like it? If you’re considering writing a piece for our Magazine, first of all, please do! Get started right away, and if you have questions, please contact us. But how will you know when it’s ‘ready’?
First of all, just ask yourself if it’s the best you can do. If it is, it’s ready. I would say try to make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. We can talk about typos and grammar another time. But what is “the best you can do”? And how do you know if that’s “good”?
In some ways, my definition of writing was formed when I was 7. My grandfather, a retired attorney, was self-publishing a volume of his own poetry–works he had written over the course of some fifty years and still considered worth saving and sharing. Remember, I was seven years old at the time that I said: “Can I write a poem for your book?” I think he was too tickled to say no. Anyway, I wrote a poem. He said it wasn’t a good poem. But the way in which he said it has stayed with me for decades: “Anyone could have written this poem. There’s nothing personal from you in it. I want you to try again and write a poem that only you could have written.” So I did. I wrote a poem about listening to the radio. Yes, there were still radios back then. No, I’m not going to show you the poem.
It went in the book. Was it an accomplished poem by the standards of a man who had been intimate with the written word for over seventy years?
What do you think?
But it was a good start. When I think now about what makes a good piece of writing, my standards haven’t especially changed: Write something only you could have written. I like this as a motto. It’s a nice riff on the old standard “write what you know.” But what does it actually mean?
My current analysis is: it means give me your take on something you and I have in common. If the situation is common to both of us–getting some fresh air in a public park, for example, or sitting down to eat, or sitting in traffic, or watching a factory billow smoke into the sky–and you make me think about it in a way that I didn’t before, you will actually lodge your piece of writing in my head. I’ll think about your ideas, your characters, your plot every time I encounter that situation. Just like I can barely have a conversation turn awkward without thinking about Jane Austen. Or like how it’s hard to think about cities without thinking about Richard Wright. Tall order?
I’m not saying you have to write as well as Austen or Wright. My grandfather wasn’t saying 7-year-old Adam had to write as well as my grandfather did. What I am saying is: do your best and make use of this site’s resources–Writers on Writing*, A Piece of our Minds,* the forums*, the contact page*, the Facebook page*–if you get stuck.
Adam Katz, PhD