An Editor's Playful Playlist

As our Greensboro Review submission final deadline and Valentine's Day, approach, here’s a little editing love story (and some affectionate advice) from The Greensboro Review told through a playlist of our favorite love songs.

Chapter 1: Billie Holiday “As Time Goes By”

So as you sit down to your desk, or your kitchen table, or that stack of pillows you call a desk, you might be wondering, “Which poems or stories should I submit?” or, “What should I write about?” Now, this varies from journal to journal, but here at The Greensboro Review our unofficial motto is, “we’ve been old school since 1965”. While we’ve never turned our noses up at experimental writing, it is important to remember that what captures the attention of the human heart tends to be the same no matter where you set your story, or what sort of lineation you’re using.  As I was often reminded in my undergraduate creative writing classes, the authors of the Bible complained about a lack of innovative material, so don’t be discouraged because you happen to write love poems, or because you wrote a breakup story. As Billie reminds us,

Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny
It's still the same old story.

We tend to stumble through our lives assuming that our experiences are unique.

As editors what we learn every day, and what we see in some of the best writers we publish is an acknowledgement of the reality that we all feel grief, displacement, and loneliness. And on the other hand, that we all experience the tingle of a crush, the joy of succeeding, and the comfort of loved ones. Birth and death, two of the most ordinary things in the world when one really thinks about it. Yet we cannot help but write about our losses, our lovers cities away, and the complications of being a child and having children. I say that Billie is right. Some things do endure as time goes by, so never write off a subject matter merely because you think that human history has it covered.

 Chapter 2: Mariah Carey “Fantasy”

So all crop-top and roller skating jokes aside (watch the video, my friends), this is the part of the story where you’ve sent us your work (in an appropriately sized envelope, with a SASE) and we, the editors, start watching the pile of submissions grow and grow. Every day a few new envelopes show up, the count of submissions on Submittable rises, and we start to imagine pulling the next Pulitzer Prize winner out of the depths of the pile (a former Pulitzer Prize winner would work too). With boxes brimming with envelopes the possibility for the next issue is electrifying and daunting, as Mariah sings, “It’s just a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby.” The road to the final issue, printed and bound, is littered with deadlines and many long days spent sorting and commenting on each of the manuscripts. As we move through these steps, though, all we are hoping for is someone to make those fantasies real. Someone whose voice is so unique, their language so clear and precise, that they knock us on our collective editing butts.

Chapter 3: Cyndi Lauper “Time After Time”

So, this is when you might want to excuse yourself, have a cup of coffee, eat a handful of Sweethearts, and come back, because I’m going to tell you about the months of two editors reading 500 fiction manuscripts and another two editors reading 1,500 poems.

Here at The University of North Carolina, Greensboro, in a tiny office that houses six people, we make each issue happen. No one screens the manuscripts, the first pair of eyes that your work sees is someone who will eventually make the decision about whether we accept work for publication or not. As you might imagine, because we see everything that comes through the door, we notice trends in what ends up in our rejection pile. As Cyndi sang, “If you’re lost─you can look─ and you will find me. Time after time.” Except in this case we aren’t talking about that one person who doesn’t leave your thoughts, someone you can return to after years and years, we are talking about manuscripts that show potential but seem to be plagued with similar problems. On the poetry end the trends include lack of rhythmic integrity, congestion with thesaurus look-ups, and mastodonic obtuseness. On the fiction end gimmicks, lack of initial narrative drive, and lack of convincing character motivation tend to earn a low rank from our editors.

The up-side to these trends is that poetry and prose that conquer these hiccups stands out. In other words, taking a harsh look at your work before you send it to us will serve you well. If you have the time, pick up a copy of The Greensboro Review (or read our featured work online) to get a feel for how other poets and writers have found ways to make their stories and poems engaging and unique from the get-go.

Chapter 4: Etta James “At Last”

Finding a great poem or story often feels like meeting someone who is cute, funny, and, Wait…what’s that in your bag? A book of W.S. Merwin poems? Oh, sorry. I got a little caught up there….

 What I mean to say is that finding a submission you believe in is exciting and intoxicating. In the office we often thrust the poem or story into our assistant editor’s hands and demand that the poem or story be read that second. Just like in Etta’s ballad, the work that makes us jump out of our seats are,“ a thrill to press my cheek to. A thrill that I have never known.” But like a good wing-man, often it is the other editor’s job to tell you to play it cool until we’ve given each and every sheet of paper in our office its fair shot.

Chapter 5: Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”

Just like in life, sometimes you fall for someone and by the time you get the nerve to express your feelings they’re dating someone else. This is the untold heartbreak of being an editor: when you receive a withdrawal from a writer that you were eager to publish. In this moment you feel a strange mix of frustration, happiness, and validation. The frustration comes from the thought of seeing that gem of a poem or story in another journal’s pages, the happiness comes from knowing that that writer you believe in has found so much success, and the validation comes from knowing that, despite the hours that you spend questioning your own ability as an editor, you do have the ability to find work that will resonate with your readers.

At The Greensboro Review we want the very best fit for our writers. We try very hard to make each poet and writer feel like their work has found a home, so we try our best to follow Cee Lo’s advice when we lose work, “and although there's pain in my chest I still wish you the best” and we do our best to pick ourselves up and ready ourselves to have an Etta James moment with someone new.

Chapter 6: The Beatles “In My Life”

A few years ago, The Greensboro Review moved from a tiny house, to a set of new offices just down the road. We quickly filled the new space with a maze of back issues, reading posters, faculty books, old photographs, and walls of bound theses. Since 1965 numerous prize winners have had the honor of editing and being published in The Greensboro Review. This is something that we never forget, but as you think about where you might want to send your work on this Valentine’s Day you might want to think about the lyrics to (in my opinion) one of the best love songs,

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more.

At The Greensboro Review we like to form close relationships with our writers because we want them to become a part of our history. We work hard to carve out a space for each new voice that we add to the wall of issues that spans back to the chapbook sized first issue that came out in 1965.

So a happy Valentine’s day to all our GR readers and contributors, and don’t forget to post or submit a belated card of poems or stories tomorrow.