Yes, Mechanics Matter (to me, anyway)


Roxane Gay at HTMLGIANT has an interesting piece on the issue of clean, mechanically-sound writing, especially in the creative world, and muses on whether or not the ease of publication online now has made it too easy to be sloppy. She writes:

“I’m a big advocate for Internet publishing and online submissions but I worry that the instant gratification of being able to submit, and in some circumstances have your work accepted and published within the same week, and once in a while, the same day, has led to a climate where we don’t put as much care as we could into our writing. We talk about how we had 70, 90, 120 stories and/or poems published in a year and I think, is that admirable? Were those 70, 90, 120 stories and/or poems memorable? We write and submit our work without taking the time for reflection, revision, or even reading our work to make sure it’s ready to be read by others. Why? Because we can. The system sustains these bad habits and, perhaps, encourages them.”

First of all, my mind reels at those numbers. I haven’t published close to 70 poems ever, much less that number in a year. I’m a slow writer, I suppose, but I can live with that.

I, too, am a big advocate for internet publication and online submissions, and I have gotten, in the past, reviews and such for The Rumpus that were, well, sloppy. At least that’s what I’d call it if one of my second-year undergrads turned in an essay that looked like this. They’re rare, I should also point out, and the people who send them to me don’t often send a second time. I do my best to catch typos and clean up awkward phrases before I put something online, though I’ve missed things as well, and had writers email me asking for a change even after I’ve published it. (That’s also a strength of online publishing–being able to fix an error.)

But Roxane’s worries are valid ones, I think, and they speak to the two-fold responsibilities we have both as writers and editors of others’ work. As writers, we shouldn’t send out something we don’t think is done just because we can. (A corollary is that at some point, we have to let a piece go.) And as editors, maybe we should be willing to simply stop reading a piece that has sloppy errors in it. Cull the herd, if you will. That’s why we took the job (paid or unpaid) right? To make these sorts of decisions?

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →