“My Amanuensis”

Like a lot of people who write, I teach. This gives me a couple of free months each year when I can rededicate myself to writing. During the school year, I’m too busy to get any real writing done. What I do is to jot down notes for essays, stories and poems. Then in the summer I take a look at what I have and revise or develop. But after writing for a number of years, I finally realized I needed an amanuensis. Of course, as a teacher and part time writer, I do not have the money to hire a secretary. The answer was obvious: I would have to function as my own secretary.

The problem? I’m a very bad secretary. I would never hire myself if I didn’t have to! I’m not well-organized. Not good at planning. Not good at details. Hate filing. Rotten at follow through and forget about anything even remotely connected to networking. I would rather be home reading or writing. Nonetheless, I was available and I got the job.

I am reliable. Each morning I report to work at my desk overlooking the street. I’ve created an objectives page where I list what I’ve done and what I want to do. My objectives for this summer are to finish editing a short story manuscript and a young adult novel and to begin the process of trying to get them published. Here my problem is a common one among my students. I’m much better at beginning projects than ending them. I get bored easily and want to do something else. I’d rather be reading The Best American Short Stories or The New York Review, Harper’s, Poets & Writers, The New Yorker; when I’m not reading I’d rather be out playing basketball or softball, or watching a movie, or eating a chocolate chip ice cream cone.

In addition to editing new work, I use the summer months to send out material for publication. This turns out to be frustrating because many publications do not read in the summer. In fact, many of the small magazines and journals that I send to have very limited reading periods. Ploughshares (which accepted some of my poems once but ran out of room in the issue and never used them!) accepts material after August first. But The North American Review (which has published a story and an article I wrote) only reads between January and May. Each magazine is different. That means that one has to check Writer’s Market or Poets and Writers and/or the magazine website to make sure the magazine is accepting material.

Of course, it’s always good to take a look at either an issue or a website to see what the particular magazine is up to although if you were to follow the advice of the editors: “study our magazine before submitting,” you’d spend all your time reading magazines and trying to figure out what they want. And hey, isn’t that their job? Isn’t it our job to write the stories and poems and articles? Their job is to choose what they want to use.

What the editors want is that we should do their job for them. We should do some pre-editing or pre-selecting. As if they would turn down a poem by Charles Simic because it wasn’t their type of writing or a story by Joyce Carol Oates because it wasn’t the type of story they publish. And do they really want to only get stories and poems like the other stories and poems in their magazine? Don’t they want something different?

What has worked with me is finding out if a magazine has an upcoming theme. That is, when Cream City Review did an issue on memoir, I sent them a memoir and they published it. Or when The Bellevue Literary Review called for fiction about old people I sent them a story I had about an old guy who’s losing his memory and they published that. That’s okay, I like themes. Maybe I should say that my secretary likes themes.

When I finish editing the short story manuscript and the young adult novel, my secretary sends out queries and samples. This is tedious work and my secretary balks. He threatens to strike unless he is paid. I promise that he will indeed be paid eventually. He just has to keep at it. Scouts honor.

 

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About Ed Meek

Ed Meek is the author of Spy Pond (poems), What We Love (poems(, and Luck (short stories). He is living the dream with his beautiful wife in Somerville and Wellfleet.