by Nathanael "Ellipses" Buckman, Managing Editor
Whether for creative writing or academic writing, writing in another’s voice presents difficulties in voice representation, character design (physically and emotionally and psychologically), and a host of other dynamic aspects. Creating that authentic feel while maintaining honest character representations (I use character to mean both fictitious persons and persons in real life) introduces that quandary the writer faces.
Combating tendencies to stereotype is imperative if we are to represent the gamut of life.
I recently attended a reading by Roxane Gay at TU a few months ago. She discussed, among other things, her creation of World of Wakanda, a comic book series for Marvel Comics. Gay talked about how she represented these characters within the comics—how she wanted them to be real, with body types that represented authentic images (i.e., non-photoshopped / plastic surger(ied) / Botox(ed), etc.).
Gay’s approach points to an architectonic perspective—that is to say, our characters must arc beyond the de rigueur, the unimagined, the flat representations. As writers, we should have an acute consciousness when creating and representing characters. Our characters must achieve, and by default we must achieve, a new consciousness.
With this consciousness, we approach representations differently. Instead of relying on stereotypes, we create authentic characters through individual perspectives—characters who embody their aspirations, their fears, their flaws, their wholly realistic and wholly retainable selves.
In 2015, Viola Davis won an Emmy award for her acting in the legal drama How to Get Away with Murder. Her speech spoke to a new consciousness in writing and acting, in redefining what it means to be beautiful, what it means to be a character of color. Davis’s speech spoke of breaking a line—alluding to the racial divide that Harriet Tubman spoke of when she said: “In my mind I see a line, and over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.”
One of our jobs as writers is to be conscious of the lines weaving through our creations, and if we are honestly representing life, then, these lines are weaving through our society—our cultures—as well. We are social critics; we are advocates of positive change. We are line-breakers. Reform in writing leads to reform of consciousness—a reform to the way in which we engage a diverse cast of characters.
“The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” said Davis. I would add that one of the things that separates the underserved, the unprivileged, the en masse from those of the esoteric elite is opportunity. This opportunity can be bridged. Davis thanked a host of writers who broke that line, who bridged that divide between color and creed.
Writers, we are a literary bridge. We are a prism through which to see a diverse world. In our representations, we must extend beyond the trite, the stereotype, the unimagined. We must write our true selves.
by Liz "Actual Mary Berry" Stevens, Poetry Editor
Growing up, my parents told me to always follow my dreams. You know, the typical cliché of, “You can be anything you want! Be a ballerina if that’s what your little heart desires!” Now that the government classifies me as an adult, however, I know that my destiny is not to be a ballerina, or a princess, or any of the titles I used to dream of. At five, I spent maybe a hot second in ballet class before my short attention span caused me to fall over one too many times, and no matter how many genealogies I research, I’ve yet to find any royal ancestors.
Failure is not something we really prepare for as children, but it hounds us in our adult lives. Those of us who have chosen the path of writer are intimately familiar with failure. It haunts our nightmares any time we manage to catch all our courage and finally show anyone our work. When we decide that we really want to suffer, we submit our work to as many journals and magazines that we can find, and our fear of failure levels up to a fear of rejection.
Rejection hurts, and it hurts like a bitch. As a writer, I pour so much of myself into my poetry that sometimes it feels as if I’m slicing off little bits of myself and holding them up for others to judge. The temptation to hide everything I have to say somewhere so that no one else but me can see it is very strong. Sometimes, I lock my words away before they’ve had a chance to live on the page and even dream of rejection. In some ways, this is easier. Each step of the writing process involves courage and vulnerability. First, I have to acknowledge that what I’m feeling is too strong to contain within myself; then, I have to find words that are strong enough to contain them on the page. At times, this process feels violent to me. My feelings don’t want to be contained in words, they want to be locked up in a little box in my chest and stay there till I die. It feels like I have to pull them out with my teeth. So after I go through this harrowing process, it’s often tempting to stop there. However, even though my poems are violent, unruly children, I’m still ridiculously proud of them. I want other writers to realize how proud they should be, too. Our words deserve to live in the light, not suffocate in darkness.
Instead of being afraid of rejection, I’m teaching myself to be proud of it. I once had a teacher bring in a manila folder completely stuffed with all the rejections he’d received over his career. He picked out his favorites and read them to the class like he was reading a treasured birthday card. He taught me in that moment that rejection does not equal shame; it equals strength. Every time you submit your work somewhere, you have overcome so many obstacles just to get to that point. You should be proud that you had the courage to show your work to the world and say, “Look at this thing I made. I love it, even if you don’t.”
I have yet to unlock a magical twelve step process for healing from rejection. So far, I’ve sobbed into a lot of ice cream containers, but that only helps so much. All I can say is to keep trying. Make your own folder labeled “rejections” and fill it to bursting. Be proud of your failures, because they will lead you to succeed.
by Jessica "Namaste" Ricks, Art Editor and design team member
Working on the 2018 edition of Grub Street has been a journey, especially as an editor. At the beginning of the fall semester I was so excited when I was named the art editor and I was also extremely nervous. Nothing could have prepared me for hundreds of submissions that we had to make choices on, working with the entire class, settling disagreements, and taking charge to make the journal as a whole amazing.
Over the course of this journey, there are a lot of things that I've learned.
How to take charge.
I've never been the type of person to step up and take a leadership role before. It was this aspect that intimidated me the most about being the art editor, but it became the most valuable thing I learned from it.
How to make choices.
We got over a hundred art submissions this year and a lot of them were really good. Unfortunately we couldn't take everything and it was a long process to narrow down the selection to what we currently have in the journal. There were so many good ones that I wish we could have taken but we had to choose the best of the best.
How to make choices quickly.
There were times when it was really difficult to come to a consensus on some decisions and it was usually when we didn't have the time to waste. A dead,one would be right around the corner and we hadn't decided what to do yet. It was times like those that we had to make some hard decisions very fast and under pressure.
How to make sacrifices.
There were some things we accepted that later had to be rearranged or taken out, and that goes for more than just the art. In addition to having to sacrifice art pieces that I advocated for all semester, when our time putting together the journal started to narrow down we had pieces in all genres that as a class we had to decide whether to keep or let go.
How to communicate.
Throughout the semester there was a whole group of people who were depending on me for instructions and guidance on what they needed to do next. So it was up to me to communicate to them clearly the directions I got from our professor, editor-in-chief, and managing editors.
How to stay organized.
With so many submissions, the class had to find some way to keep them organized. In the end, we had about a million google docs for genre submissions, yes, no, and maybe selections, tables of contents, and more. It all came down to making sure everything was labeled clearly, color coded correctly, and shared with everyone who needed to see it. That was almost a full-time job in itself.
How to settle disagreements.
When you're working in a big group with a lot of different people with different ideas about how things should be run, it would be a miracle if disagreements didn't pop up at some point. As the art editor, I had to be the person to settle those disagreements. I'm usually the type of person who likes to avoid conflict at all costs so this was my least favorite part of the process but I became a stronger person for it.
by Jessica "Potoooooooo" Sexton, Managing Editor
I heard the legend of Lupe Vélez through Frasier. Vélez was a film star in the 1930s who lived a glamorous life. For several reasons, Vélez wanted to be remembered in her death. She had a night out with her closest friends, ate one of her favorite meals, dressed up in her best dress, laid down on her satin bed, took a large amount of sleeping pills, and gracefully awaited her picturesque death.
That is, until her final meal disagreed with the sleeping pills. Supposedly Vélez ran to her bathroom and slipped on her way to the toilet which caused her to fall headfirst into the toilet, causing her to drown. Vélez was remembered for her death, just not how she initially planned it.
When I first heard the story, I just took it as the parable that it was meant to be, but while we were making Grub Street, I always had that story in the back of my mind. No matter how it was planned, something was bound to go wrong; this world is not without fault. If I tried to make the journal perfect, it would end in disaster.
There were moments when the class was not collaborative with one another, and it made us suffer. We lost time because of our miscommunication, and we had to rush things that needed close attention. As the semesters continued, I learned that this journal would only grow with communication and cohesion.
Since we were working together more frequently, we made connections with each other. We made new friends. Since we were friends, we could be more honest with each other about submissions. We were less afraid of hurting each other’s feelings. When someone had rose colored goggles on about a piece that fell short, we had no fear in telling them. This helped Grub Street become even more amazing.
We also lost some of our favorite pieces. Submissions were accepted elsewhere and were withdrawn from Grub Street. There was a period of a few weeks where we kept losing many of the pieces we loved. We mourned together, then we moved on together. And we still produced an amazing literary journal despite the losses.
We frequently talked with our designer, and since we worked so closely with her, she was able to create what we could barely dictate to her. Essentially, a mind reader; potentially a wizard. She used her magic designing skills to produce our dream. Communication everything that we could to her is what made it possible.
If I had tried to do everything on my own, if I tried to make Grub Street mine instead of everyone’s, then it would have failed. And we would not have the amazing journal that we have today. As I am holding this book in my hands, I can say that I am truly proud of every single person who worked on it. Through our collaboration and communication, we published something that will never be published again.
Do not go through life trying to make things perfect, because they will never turn out. Work with others, do not dismiss their opinions, and your goals will turn out better than you ever expect them to.
by Morgan "Dark Horse" Middleton, Co-Director of marketing and Creative Nonfiction team member
When I first signed up for Grub Street for second semester, I didn't know what to expect. Would I fit in? Would I be good at selecting pieces from the slush pile? How would the process work? I had never been so intimidated by, and interested in, a single class. But I soon learned: Grub Street was more of a family than a class.
Taking it was a privilege. The privilege of reading amazing authors from all over the world, the privilege of hand picking each piece for the journal, and the privilege of meeting the staff of the journal.
As a writer, I’ve always struggled to fit into my group of friends. Nobody understood what I meant when I said things like “tone,” “structure,” or “CNF.” I could relate to my group, but they couldn’t relate to me—and I began to feel alone. Shortly after I joined Grub Street, I met my genre group for class. (To those of you who aren’t aware how the class works, our genre groups are how we divide and conquer our submissions in an organized fashion.) I chose to be on the Creative Nonfiction team, and it was the best decision I’ve made. My group was comprised of five talented individuals who I admire for how blissfully themselves they truly are.
I first joined Grub Street as only an English minor. I was scared of being an English major, because I was scared I wouldn’t be as good as everyone else in my classes, that I wouldn’t find a job after graduating, and that I was only average. My team taught me a new way to look at being a writer, and that we’re all in this struggle together; they helped me find my voice and my passion.
We all appreciate what writing is, and what writing can do for ourselves and for others. The pieces we’ve selected for this journal share personal struggles and achievements. The authors published in this volume have carefully reflected on themselves and their decisions. Writing sometimes is cathartic not only to its creator, but to readers who may be struggling with the same things, and are just too afraid to speak up. We all have a story to tell, and they all are vastly different. Being involved in this journal while also being a writer, I learned the importance of acceptance, and of taking a step back to reflect more deeply about others' experiences.
The team work, collaboration, dedication, and passion for this journal fuel the staff to create something amazing each year; I am so honored to hold this journal up and say, “I was a part of this.”
by Shayla "No Filter" Logan, Art team and social media team member
So you didn’t get your piece accepted into Grub Street or another journal you chose to submit to? What’s next on your agenda? How will you continue with your creations? Do you think that this will be the end of your career? Absolutely not. You have more knowledge to share. There are more words for the page and art to produce. There are many ways that you can move forward.
Realize that your feelings are valid. It’s okay to feel disheartened once you learn your piece was not accepted, just don’t wallow in your misery for too long. Turn that energy into something productive. Create more pieces and submit those. You’re bound to see the results you’re looking for in the future if you continue.
Move on unapologetically. In this literary world there are many other places that could cater to your content. Do the research on other journals and look at the pieces they’ve accepted. Find different places where you think you’ll fit in and turn your work in there. It’d be wonderful if you submitted to Grub Street, but the reality of submissions is that every time you submit there’s a fifty percent chance that your work will be published.
Submit often. Get your work out into the world. Realize that you fail if you never try. You must continue to try. Submit, and then submit it somewhere else. Your rejection should not end your creative processes and stop the world from benefitting from your work. There is a journal that will appreciate your submission and be more than happy to place it in their publication.
Try new things. If you’ve been waiting to try new techniques with your work do it. Trial and error can become your best friend. Figure out what does and doesn’t work for you. Meet new people. You can learn something from everyone and you never know who will have a major impact on your career. Networking is key. Find someone that can challenge you. They can become your mentor and promote production. Ask for feedback and ultimately trust yourself.
Give yourself a timeline. Go to your calendar and devise a plan when you need to get things done. Make lists of where you would submit to and how much time you have. Make yourself accountable. Pay attention to their deadlines and
Find inspiration. Got to your favorite place and remember what make it so special. Look at the world around you. Seek mentorship. Find someone who you aspire to be and see how they made it to their place of prominence. Listen to music. Allow yourself to feel different emotions and transfer those to your chosen medium.
Reassure yourself. Remind yourself why you wanted to submit that piece in the first place. Tell yourself why you believed in the art. Fall in love with it again. Search through every section and try to find something new within it. Take those ideas and find your inspiration. You must be your own biggest fan. The confidence in your work will be transferred into it and then it can speak for itself. Every word, stanza, paragraph, brush stroke, and visual component will come together and be a testament to your talent.
In the memorable words of Journey, “don’t stop believin’.”
by Nichole "What Happens in Vegas" Coster, Director of Social Media and Web Content Manager
It’s a pretty common occurrence: you’re class is assigned a major project, and you’re grouped into teams to complete it.
Then the complaining begins.
When I work in a group, I always end up doing more than my fair share. When I work in a group, it takes so much longer to complete the project. When I work in a group, I get so stressed out.
Conflict takes many forms in a group dynamic—dissent, irrationality, incivility, diverse backgrounds and cultures, burnout, and even past experiences can cause frustration as we attempt to work as a team to problem-solve or achieve a goal.
My team wants to accept submissions that I don’t like. Our journal sequence makes no sense to me. I don’t think the social media team does any work.
But, aren’t we on the same team? Shouldn’t we all just act like adults and avoid conflict?
No. A little conflict in a group helps produce the best possible outcomes. When equal consideration is given for the task at hand and the group participants, a true collaboration can occur. All members of the team support each other as they work towards a shared goal, and as a result, they are likely to accomplish something greater than any one of them could independently.
ENGL 414 & 415, Editing the Literary Magazine I & II, attracts students from different majors, interests, and goals. The diverse personalities and skillsets of students who work on this journal are an asset to the publication. Working through stress and conflict together over two semesters motivates and bonds staff members, and the experience becomes more than coursework. It’s not ENGL 414 & 415—it’s Grub Street.
Entire class periods spent pondering the ethos of Grub Street will inspire and motivate some students and utterly bore others. The prospect of publicizing the journal with class visits and social media posts will be the most important task to some and an afterthought to others. Eight hours of proofreading first pages of the journal will be a drop in the bucket for some and an unreasonable workload to others.
The lessons of Editing the Literary Magazine I & II go beyond those listed in the TU course catalogue descriptions. Our changing economy has given rise to flatter organizational communication, and students will graduate into a professional environment with more teams, less ridged hierarchical management, and more accountability. Those students who embrace team work, and really work on their interpersonal communication skills are likely to be rewarded with more professional successes, richer professional relationships, and leadership roles in their careers.
by Cat "Probably Adele" Wahl, Creative Nonfiction team and Poetry team member
I personally believe that there are no “bad writers.” No one can really be bad at putting words on a page or a screen or a napkin or your hand.
What does require skill is writing for an audience. Any audience will do. After hours of drowning in self-doubt, perfecting every sentence/word/syllable, tearing up and starting over for the thousandth time, nothing is more satisfying than for someone to understand what you have been so desperately trying to communicate. And sometimes they understand it, but understand it wrong, and that is still okay.
But some people may never be able to fully achieve this. To me, the value of a person’s writing isn’t determined by another’s comprehension of it. Writing does so much more than communicate.
Writing is the story you wrote in eighth grade that your teacher hated. Writing is the text you sent your fiend about the old man’s weird hat at the grocery store. Writing is that story of that horrible, awkward first date that you had that no one will believe. Writing is the little song you sing while you’re cleaning your room. Writing is that conversation you overheard in the restaurant booth next to yours. Writing is the scribbles you make on a page while you’re crying on the bathroom floor. Writing is all those angsty letters you wrote to yourself as a teenager. Writing is your memory of the dream you had last night.
Everyone can and should write, even if it’s something they keep to themselves.
Writing has helped me to understand myself. Through writing I can put myself on a page and read it over and over again, reminding myself of who I am, separating myself from everything and everyone because the only thing on that page is me.
So when I read “bad writing,” I don’t say that it’s bad because what I have read is a glimpse into a person. I’ll offer criticism that might improve the communication, the message, the rhythm, or the structure. All of this, may be bad, but this does not make that person a “bad writer.” When offering criticism in workshop, it is key to not just tear apart a person’s work. Being unnecessarily aggressive/negative shuts down a person’s ability to be receptive to what you’re saying.
So how do you get good at writing? I encourage everyone to keep a journal, to jot down all the thoughts they have throughout the day, no matter how serious or silly. There’s not enough space in our heads to hold all those thoughts. Often we clog our headspace with meaningless things. Often the brain is not very good at deciding what has meaning and what does not, so many of the serious/silly thoughts that you would like to remember, you forget, unless you write them down. Maybe one day, you’ll be better at twisting those thoughts into things that people can understand. Maybe not, but even if no one else knows you, at least you know you. And now you have a book of you. Leave a piece of yourself on every page, and by the end you’ll have your whole life story.
Journaling is a personal, almost spiritual experience. To come to understand oneself by flipping through the pages of a book gives a feeling that I can’t put into words. Whenever I’m looking for writing inspiration, I go to my journal. Nothing is more inspiring than life.
by Rachel "Straight Outta Portland" Villa
First step: Meet your fellow staff members. Be sociable, confident, and excited. You’ll be building a journal from scratch together, working on a collaborative art project that will become its own entity. Eat a cupcake that an editor baked for everyone.
Second step: Dream up a design concept. Something inviting, something warm and user-friendly. Let the journal take shape in your mind. Get excited about color palette; begin to care more about sans serif and serif fonts than you ever imagined you could.
Third step: Content. Lots of it. Enough to fill a respectable journal with poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and visual art. Try to get proportionate amounts of each. Argue with your genre team about craft levels, voice, originality, and clarity. Change your opinion a few times. Be decidedly stubborn a few more times. Read over a thousand submissions, select less than one hundred.
Fourth step: Rejoice! Eat a cupcake in celebration. You have the pieces that make up the journal. The hard part is over, right?
Fifth step: Sequencing. Try to identify common themes and link them together. Find art pieces that could pair with poetry or prose. Spend hours putting each piece in a particular place, then argue with the rest of the staff about what should go where. Consider throwing the entire journal down a flight of stairs and accepting the sequence as it falls. Gorge yourself on cupcakes. Breathe. Choose what should open the journal and what should close it. Work from there.
Sixth step: Have vital pieces withdrawn from the journal. Panic. Be told to “get it together!” Figure out how to rearrange the sequence without these pieces; end up with a better sequence than before. Smile. Assert that you knew all along that it would work out.
Seventh step: Editing. Editing, editing, editing. Editing.
Eighth step: Spend a quick moment lamenting the loss of your sleep schedule and social life. Consider how well you could be doing in your other classes if you had time to think about them. Snap out of it. Reprimand yourself for losing focus for five precious minutes.
Ninth step: More editing, with cupcakes.
Tenth step: Send pages back to the designer, confident in their editorial perfection.
Eleventh step: Receive second pages back from the designer. Notice nearly a mistake per page. Go through lots and lots of sticky notes marking each margin error, each incorrectly-styled ellipsis, and each misspelled word.
Twelfth step: Send final pages back to the designer, anticipate their arrival at the printer. Discuss the journal’s social media campaign, the launch party, and whether or not the journal will arrive in time for its official release date.
Thirteenth step: Receive the finished journal in all its glory. Touch the pages, crack the binding, trace over your name on the staff list with pride. Never be able to appreciate it for what it is because you’ve read every piece seven times. Treasur
James "Big Fan of Wind" Hancock, Creative Nonfiction editor
When I mention to someone that I write creative non-fiction, one of the most common responses I get is something along the lines of “I wish my life was interesting enough to write about” or “I don’t have anything exciting to talk about with my writing.” These responses are the result of a skewed belief on what makes good creative non-fiction: that you need to live an interesting or exciting life to be able to write amazing non-fiction.
We’ve all seen them: bookshelves in the non-fiction section of bookstores featuring the memoirs of famous doctors, chefs, or celebrities. They’re the bestsellers, the tales about beating cancer or learning how to live after reaching rapid success from playing the role in a blockbuster movie. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these books being bestsellers. Instead, the problem lies within the stigma that comes with these books being bestsellers. These are the books that lead writers to believe that they aren’t allowed to write about themselves unless they’ve experienced some form of traumatic event or conquered a great ordeal. Thankfully, that doesn’t need to be the case at all.
During my time as the creative non-fiction editor for Grub Street, I’ve read a lot of non-fiction submissions. Some of them were wonderful, some of them needed work, but almost all of them had something in common: they were never about the kinds of extraordinary things you saw in bookstores. Instead, plenty of them were about normal, everyday aspects of the authors’ lives. This is because creative non-fiction, like any kind of story, is all about how it’s told.
At first glance, telling a story about the day your 2nd grade pet died might seem relatively simple. But if you take a second to reflect, you might be surprised. Think about the ways that loss might have affected you, how it may have changed you in the future. The moment you start to tell your reader about the complex sort of emotions and thoughts that you experienced, you begin crafting a re-telling of something that was wholly unique to you, and nobody else. Sure, the loss of your pet hamster may sound less intriguing than the bestselling memoir about someone who was a prodigal musician from the age of three, but if you can tell your story effectively, then you could have a non-fiction piece that is equally as interesting.
Now for some, telling a life story in an interesting way also means bending the facts a little bit for the sake of telling a more fascinating tale. I’m here to try to encourage you not to do this. Sometimes, it’s tempting to alter even the slightest part of your memory to help spice things up, and it doesn’t help that your readers have no way of knowing what’s a lie and what isn’t. However, looking at your memories as a type of creative constraint, rather than a restrictive one, can completely change how you write about yourself for the better.
Our memories might not always be right (in fact, they can quite often be wrong), but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Sometimes, you can run into a situation where it would be far more artistic or profound to order your memories or portray an emotion in a way that didn’t happen, and it can be frustrating when you’re trying so hard to tell it how it is. Instead of looking at your memories as something that restricts you from being able to write, try looking at them as a challenge that forces you to be creative. Instead of lying about how sad you were when your pet hamster died, consider reflecting on why you weren’t that sad. If things didn’t happen the way you wanted them to, talk about that instead of pretending like they did. It might take some work but doing so might help you discover a new way of conveying a scene while still being totally honest with yourself and your readers.
Writing creative non-fiction can be a scary thing for some. I’ve read some very personal submissions for Grub Street, and it makes a lot of sense why some people are put off by this genre. But know this: your story, like anybody else’s, is important. Not because you climbed Mount Everest (because let’s be real, who has?), and not because you have millions of subscribers on YouTube. Your story is important because it happened to you. So please, if you or anyone you know has ever been too put off from creative non-fiction because you don’t think your lives are important enough to write about, just remember: both you and your stories matter. It’s just all in how you tell the tale.
Grub Street is Towson University's award-winning literary journal, run by undergraduates enrolled in "Editing the Literary Magazine."