Dispatches | October 18, 2010

I participated in a panel on Thursday, in which I was to read some of my work and talk for a little while, with the audience and the panel’s two other writers, about how to publish one’s writing. This took place at a small local college, and the turnout was good; the room was small, but it filled completely, which means at least fifty people attended. That’s not bad, for a relatively small town.

I always feel funny giving publishing advice to young people. This is in part because I am young myself, and I am nobody, to boot. It’s also because I’m wary of encouraging anyone to publish who hasn’t been writing for a while. Some people say that one should experience life and the world before writing and publishing – I say, forget life and the world, which will harass you and make you a reluctant part of it whatever you do; worry instead about sending a piece of writing out before it’s really finished – something I’ve done at least once, to my ultimate dismay. Years ago, I worked at a dog food company, wrote about it, published the resulting work, and looked at it again, months later, only to realize I could have written it much better with more time. Listen to me complain about something good happening to me – my signature move.

The Q&A was the part of this panel most worth blogging about, because the questions were all very good, and in most cases difficult to answer. Here are some: How do you know when something you’ve written is ready for publication? Is there a venue for publishing part of a screenplay? Is self-publishing a more viable option for an aspiring writer than it has been in the past? How does one negotiate the need to sometimes let a piece marinate in neglect, to be judged with fresher eyes later, with a pressing deadline, or the simple need or desire to publish sooner than marinating would allow for? We panelists struggled to do justice to these queries, and as we did I tried not to make a fool of myself, because everyone was watching.

My big question, in the wake of helping my fellow panelists field these questions, is, where does one go to have questions like the above ones answered, if one is not part of a writing program, or is not closely acquainted with an editor, or some such person, or does not have access to panels led by three graduate students, whose knowledge is inevitably limited? Surely there are resources – blogs, and publications like Poets and Writers, The Writers’ Chronicle, etc., to turn to, but what if you’ve never heard of those magazines, and a writing program is out of the question? What if you’re writing in a vacuum?

I suspect there is a very good and obvious answer to that question, but it’s not coming to me right now, and the other night I encountered a few people who appeared to be in the same boat.

Robert Long Foreman, The Missouri Review’s Social Media Editor, is available for publication panels, social events, and weddings, though he has been busy with some things lately.