Everywhere I look online, there is a writer/editor divide.  Writers and Editors are enemy creatures:  They have different blogs, different advice, and different career paths.  One creates; the other destroys.

But we’re young; we don’t have careers, and that means we don’t have to compartmentalize quite so fiercely.  What I loved (and hated) about high school was that there were so few opportunities for writers that we could take advantage of all of them—including those that involved editing.

This post is a celebration of the act of editing, of the writer brave enough to cross the divide.  As editor of my high school literary arts magazine, I was able to see writing in another light and to take that perspective back to my own work.  So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 Reasons You Should Join a Literary Magazine.

1.    It gets you involved in the writing community. I joined my school’s literary arts magazine, Northern Lights, in its second year without school funding, and the budget had just dried up.  All we had left was whereabouts of $80—not even enough to print a single colored page.  So we harassed a local bookstore owner for a list of area book clubs and launched a pity campaign.

The results were incredible:  We received over $500 in donations from local clubs and individuals (an impressive feat given the budget of most book clubs).  Not only could we publish a magazine with several full-length covered pages, but we had enough money to give next year’s magazine a running start.  And it was a great opportunity to get our work out into the community.

(Insider tip:  Write thank you’s.) 

2.    You enter a state of flow.  Have you ever worked on something for what seemed like thirty minutes, only to discover, when you finally look up, that several hours have passed?  That’s flow, a psychological term coined by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi.  It’s roughly equivalent to that sports movie classic, going with the flow.  And it’s almost guaranteed to happen when you’re working on a lit mag.

Literary magazines involve fairly substantial investments of time.  They’re big tasks, after all.  Once the submissions are in and the basic idea of the magazine is laid out, you’ll be sitting in front of the computer for hours at a time, experimenting with different layouts and font sizes and should-this-picture-be-in-color-or-black-and-white?  As with writing, little will be accomplished unless it’s done in big, unbroken chunks of time—it’s jut too much to chew in little pieces.

It’s a good lesson, I think, in the limits of time management.  Sometimes you just have to sit down and push through.

And it’s rewarding.  In the midst of school projects and menial homework assignments, it’s nice to have a Big, Grand Project to sink your teeth into.  A labor of love.

 3.    You see connections between the arts.  Not all schools have literary arts magazines.  But they should. 

The best part about putting a lit mag together, I found, is arranging pages and spreads that combine visual art and creative writing.  The connections are astounding, especially given that submissions are wide open—no themes.  There are the literal connections, like a full-length watercolor of a grandfather across from a prose poem titled ”Grandfather.”  But there are also the less tangible connections, ones based on mood and tone.  An abstract scrawl whose whimsical lines pair perfectly with a childhood memoir piece.  Those astound me the most.

No art is separate from any other.

 4.    You bring people together.  Whether your school has 300 people or 30,000, chances are it’s not a cohesive unit of school spirit and artistic community.  Even if your cafeteria isn’t divided Mean Girls-style, groups are inevitable.  And yet, what I found putting Northern Lights together is that art is (relatively) universal.  People are always scribbling poems or doodling or snapping pictures.  And you get to be the collecting ground for those bits and pieces. 

The final edition of Northern Lights was a real melting pot of work from all types of people—all levels of experience, all grade levels, all genres.  While we didn’t have a release party, many magazines do, giving everyone the opportunity to mingle.  To belong.  (Informal gatherings can have this effect as well:  My most distinct memory is of a gaggle of freshman flipping through an edition, squealing when they found their work in print.)

5.    You learn to believe in miracles.  As a writer, you spend most of your creative time buried in a notebook or a computer screen.  When you get stuck, you reread your previous sentences until they’ve blurred into an incoherent mess and you’re convinced their meaning is lost entirely.  (I’ve spent hours arranging and rearranging single sentences—only to cut them entirely later.)

But editing forces you to look at writing more objectively, more holistically.  Most importantly, you learn to see what works in each piece of writing, what keeps it moving forward, rather than what doesn’t.

It’s like Einstein said:

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

When you edit, you start to see everything as a creative miracle.  You understand how well intuitive leaps—those moments that feel so out of control, so irrelevant when you’re the writer staring at the page—can serve a story or a poem.  You can recognize twists or details you never would have thought of.  And when you return to your own work, you can see these miracles through all the noise.

Other Tips and Tricks

  • If your school doesn’t have a literary magazine or you’re looking for higher quality writing, try Polyphony H.S., a lit mag written and edited by high school student.
  • Enter your school’s lit mag in NCTE competitions.
  • Pester your principal or dean to put the lit mag front and center in a Main Office.  People love to flip through them—it’s insta-advertising.
  • Adobe InDesign is king, once you get the hang of it.  (Harass the school newspaper for a copy.)
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