“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams
If you’re reading this, chances are, your piece didn’t make it. I’m truly sorry. But this page is meant to help explain why, and more importantly, how you can get published in The Bitchin’ Kitsch in the future! Which is something we both want.
First and foremost, it’s important to realize that as an editor, I’m a reader first. I get to read 100’s of submissions each month that (possibly) no one else has ever seen! It’s both exciting and nerve wracking. As an editor, my job is to pick the pieces that make me go “wow.” And as the volume of submissions increases, I have to be more picky about the wow. Which sucks. It really does. But, it’s my job to use the valuable space we have in our zine the best way we can, and that often means not selecting pieces for print that I think have merit, but maybe lack the wow factor.
The most useful thing I can think of to say is: read your own work, out loud, as if you have never seen it. This is how I read your piece when I receive it.
If it is poetry, put a pause at each line break when you read it. Were the line breaks arbitrary, or did they serve a purpose? The purpose could be to emphasize an idea, or develop a cadence, or to purposely place them where they don’t belong to develop a staccato (if the theme of the poem makes sense for that style).
An example of a poem that uses purposeful line breaks that make a huge difference in how we read and interpret the poem would be Jess Provencio’s “layers” from the October 2013 issue. Her poem could have easily been written as prose, but the line breaks create a cadence (sometimes in mid line with the use of tabs), and work with the content of the poem to bring about emotion in the reader:
By: Jess Provencio
lost boy sitting on the back steps of the bus
your mama dressed you in layers
ever since you were real young
one time you made the mistake of rolling your sleeves up
in a classroom with no air conditioning
after your teacher called home
you never made that mistake again warriors don’t cry
broken ribs don’t leave visible bruises
skateboard stickers match the rasta colors on your tam
because you believe those songs your granddaddy sang
before he went and died left you alone with your mom
someday there’s gonna be freedom and redemption
its gonna be our turn the African drums promise you
even though right now the closest you can get
is a beat-up board and a broken down skate park
two hours away by bus it’s better than staying home
four walls can suck out your soul in short order
the beatings don’t come anymore
but the bruises haven’t faded from your heart
your long eye lashes and soft playdough nose
making the sound like you had the sniffles too many times
no money for inhalers for relief
your teeth stick out just a little too much as you laugh
who can afford braces when you can’t afford electricity
your shoes with a hole in the toe just a little too loose
your brother is wearing new ones
but then he was always her favorite
she knows who his dad was
empty water bottle becomes the drum sounding the song
to raise up the African blood of the warrior
If it is poetry, did you use rhyme? If you did use rhyme, what type did you use, and has it added something to the poem; is it still readable? It’s common to throw in an end rhyme scheme, but if that scheme works against the cadence or forces bad grammar, it hurts rather than helps the poem. It also has a tendency to make the reader read it sing-song even if the content doesn’t follow (this can be an interesting element if the poem is particularly morose). Sometimes, it is better to use internal rhyme, slant rhyme, sight rhyme, or mosaic rhyme, or to end rhyme certain lines and not others because of this.
An example of a poem that uses end rhyme well comes from Afzal Moolla “The Sound of Distant Ankle Bells” from the July 2013 issue. Afzal uses end rhyme on a few lines, which serves to emphasize those lines.
The Sound of Distant Ankle Bells
By: Afzal Moolla
Memories of those delicate tinkling bells,
casually fastened around calloused feet,
take hold of my waking moments,
and fling my thoughts back to a distant time,
where folk-songs were heartily sung,
joyful, yet hopelessly out of rhyme.
I barely saw her, a construction labourer perhaps,
hauling bricks, cement, anything, on a scorching Delhi day,
while in the semi-shade of a Gulmohar tree, her infant silently lay.
A cacophony of thoughts such as these swirl around,
yanking me away from the now, to my cow-dung littered childhood playground.
Now, a lifetime of displacement has hushed the jangling chorus of the past,
to a faint trickle of sounds, as distant as an ocean heard inside tiny sea-shells,
I know, that the orchestral nostalgic crescendo, rises, dips, and swells,
as tantalisingly near, yet a world of time away, as were
the tinkling of her ankle-bells.
After reading your piece out loud for its sound, now read it for its content. Did you bring something new to the table? A lot of times we write because we have something we want to get off our chests. Which, of course, is part of expression’s purpose. But, did you write something that you wanted to get off your chest that would have relevance to someone else, or is it more for self gratification? If it was for self gratification, that’s great! But, it probably doesn’t belong in a publication. If it may have relevance to someone else, make sure now, that it is also a good read.
Meaning is important, but not the be all to end all of a piece. Sometimes the wow factor in a piece can be its lack of meaning (if that’s the point), or the feeling it leaves the reader with.
Does the piece have verbal nuance or is it driving the meaning through the reader’s skull like a mallet (if it is, is that done with a purpose)? Is it unnecessarily vague and confusing (if it is, is that done with a purpose)?
Is the piece too brief or too long for the subject matter or style? Each piece will determine how long it needs to be. Some great pieces use brevity to really punch something home, like kaleeM rajA’s piece “The Queen’s Jubilee” from the September 2013 issue:
The Queen’s Jubilee
By: kaleeM rajA
I don’t care it’s the queen’s jubilee.
What’s the queen ever done for me?
And some pieces may need four pages to feel complete.
If your piece is a fiction, non-fiction, or essay piece, does it have a beginning, middle, and an end? Do any of these parts of the plot or narrative feel forced or rushed? If it does, does it do so on purpose?
After reading your piece for content, now we get to the nitty gritty editing. Check your grammar and spelling thoroughly. Check your sentences. Are they interesting, do they use vibrant rather than stale words, do they use action verbs (of course passive verbs are okay too, and may be interesting if you write it entirely in passive voice, provided that you do so on purpose)?
Did you pad your piece with words of temporality (while, meanwhile, as, during, and, etc.) or words of causality (because, thus, so, causing, therefore), or words of opposition (yet, but)? If you did, are there better ways of saying it that may be more dynamic?
Did you resort to cliché phrases (made up my mind, hand in hand, can’t live without you, etc.), images (tears, blood, shadows, roses, moon, etc.), rhymes (eyes/lies, ache/break, tears/fears, cry/die, frown/down, be/me, heart/apart, etc.), or metaphors (storm/anger, fire/passion, cold/distant, darkness/sadness, light/happiness, rain/tears, seasons/stages of life, etc.)? Are there more interesting, less conventional ways that you could convey those ideas or were they used with a purpose?
As you can see, it’s hard to pinpoint and explain what would be a wow factor piece. A literary function that would be somewhat blasé in one piece may make a different piece pop, if it seemed intentional or part of the message somehow. These are just a few things you can check in your piece and improve to make it better.
I would like to thank you for submitting, and encourage you to revise and resend your piece. And as always, happy creating!