Speed Dating with Editors, by Hannah Grieco

Editor Speed Dating is why most of us get revved up for Conversations and Connections. We know we’ll learn a great deal from the panels and breakout sessions, and yet…one of those editors might love our piece. She might take it right then and there. Sirens will go off, and balloons and confetti will fly through the air. It’ll be like The Voice, only for sweaty, nervous writers.

That didn’t happen to me.

But something pretty magical did happen during that hour. Though that magic actually began a couple of hours earlier with the first panel of the day.

“What we mean when talk about literary patience” was the last session I wanted to attend. It was also the one session I knew I had to go to. I’m not a patient person in any area of my life, but I fell in love with writing even faster and more impulsively than usual. I wanted to get married and have babies with everything literary RIGHT AWAY.

I write quickly, sometimes thousands of words in a day. Lots of them end up being terrible, but some end up pretty great, and then I want to do a quick revision and send those words out. That’s what feeds my need, not only for publishing but for playing the Submittable game. I love that hope that lingers for weeks, then months. It feels good to actively immerse yourself in the literary world. To submit your heart out. It feels like you’re not just alone at your kitchen table pounding on a keyboard. It also feels like you’re writing even when you’re not.

The panel, moderated by Barrelhouse Editor Christopher Gonzales, featured several writers and editors that I respect tremendously. And, of course, they told me (and a hundred or so other writers) to settle down. To take my time with the process, to sit on my work before revising. All the things I knew I should do, like daily exercise and eating spinach instead of Doritos, and yet I had no interest in doing.

I walked out of that panel better-informed and hopeful I would eventually have the self-restraint to follow such a patient, rational path. But not that day. That day I was heading to the line outside the editor speed dating, three tickets in hand, and two decently-edited pieces at the ready.

Both of these pieces were “In-Progress” at multiple literary journals already. I’d also received several positive rejections for each, and I thought that either they weren’t quite a match for those publications or maybe they just needed a tweak here or there. I’d revised and edited both a few times. I’d also submitted earlier drafts, with form rejections, to other journals. Because, again, I’m really impatient.

But positive rejections meant I was close! Editor speed-dating was my big chance!

So there I stood, waiting in line for speed dating. I saw the coolest, most experienced writers wiping their palms down the sides of their pants. Some of us stood silently, rereading our pieces and gasping at the obvious mistakes we never noticed before. Others compulsively talked to the strangers around us, forcing them to absorb our nervousness. (I’ll just raise my hand and apologize to all of you now.) More than a few writers made the decision to go get lunch instead. To hit the restrooms or just take the time to write in a corner somewhere. And who could blame them? It’s an extremely vulnerable experience to get a live critique from an editor at a literary journal you follow on Twitter, from a writer you admire and long to emulate.

The line moved quickly. More quickly than I was ready for, to be honest. But as we entered the large room, Barrelhouse editor Dave Housley checked in with each of us about genre, then pointed us toward a smiling face.

It was simple and far less nerve-wracking then it seemed back in the hallway. Upon reflection, waiting in line was the most intimidating part of the whole day!

Dave paired me with Monica Prince from the Santa Fe Writers Project on my first round. I handed her my flash fiction story and pretended I wasn’t staring as she read the piece. Of course, I was watching for every raised eyebrow, every confused pursing of the lips. She finished reading and I could tell immediately that she liked it, but that it wasn’t done. It wasn’t ready.

“I have some questions,” she said.

Then we began to dissect the piece. What felt rushed. What needed more explanation. What hit home and really made her think. We discussed the piece being close, but needing a little more time.

Everything she said made sense. Every suggestion she offered would have also been noticeable if I had put the piece away for a little while, then come back to it for another revision session. UGH! Literary patience!

Monica’s wonderful, warm manner kept me from feeling judged or frustrated, though. She is a professor and a writer. She knows what this process is all about. She gave me tangible tools for moving the piece forward. This wasn’t what I expected, but it was exactly what I needed.

I took the piece to Barrelhouse editor Erin Fitzgerald in another round, where she gave similarly sincere and helpful feedback. A lot of the same suggestions, and others that gave me much-needed perspective about different editors’ perceptions. She also thought it was close but in need of some time and love.

In between those rounds, I took a different piece to Mark Drew from Gettysburg Review. He had a very different method to critiquing and offered many strong suggestions for changes. Yet still, there was no sense of judgement, no literary snobbery in the face of a not-quite-ready piece. Once again, he gave me clear, usable suggestions for making the story better.

It’s never easy to hear that your piece isn’t ready. It isn’t the balloons-and-confetti experience that you’re hoping for. It’s also what almost all of us go through at editor speed dating. I walked out of the room and saw my friends and peers waiting nervously in line for their own turns.

A few called out, “How did it go???”

I waved my story above my head and answered, “It went well! But I need to pull this piece off Submittable.”

“Oooh,” one kind soul groaned.

But I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact, I was eager to dive back into both pieces. For $5 a round, I’d gotten unparalleled feedback from the very types of editors that I planned to submit to. I knew where both pieces were going. And I somewhat proudly wrote, “Submitted too soon. Sorry about this! Just needs a little more work,” as I withdrew the pieces.

Because I was proud – of myself and of how these stories would eventually shine.