by Ellen "The Supreme" Vallonga, Editor-in-Chief
Group project – a term capable of evoking eye rolls and sighs from every student in a classroom. Much to college students’ dismay, professors love group projects because they teach us many important life skills: how to divide work among multiple people, how to delegate tasks, how to organize and convey lots of ideas, and—most importantly—how to get along with people.
People – another term that can evoke eye rolls and sighs. Nevertheless, the sooner we can learn to get along with other people, the better off we will be in our careers (and lives).
Working on the Grub Street staff this year has taught me a lot about teamwork. I’d participated (against my will) in many group projects before signing on as the editor-in-chief this year, so I figured I had a pretty good idea about how to work well with people on a task.
Oh boy, did I have a lot to learn.
First, Grub Street isn’t your typical, semester-long group project—it’s a yearlong group project. Many people who take ENGL 415 in the fall take ENGL 415 in the spring, so if you join the Grub Street staff, you’ll end up working with a lot of the same people for about nine months.
Second, this is a project that (hopefully) everyone in the class cares about. Let’s face it—we’ve all participated in group projects we didn’t actually care all that much about. In contrast, most students working on the Grub Street staff are passionate about literature and the journal. We want to produce an issue of the journal that we can be proud of, and this requires no less than 110% from everyone on staff. Our successes and failures influence more than just our final grade: they influence the journal itself. If the Grub Street staff fails to work together as a team, the quality of the journal will suffer as a result.
With these two aspects of this project in mind, I decided to compile a list of do’s and don’ts to help the future staff members of Grub Street. Feel free to take them or leave them—these suggestions are based on my personal experience. However, I’m confident that they can apply to any staff working on the journal.
So, here we go:
DO pull your weight. If you sign up for a task, complete it to the best of your ability. This is especially true for those who volunteer to serve as the genre editors. Your team and the entire staff trusts and relies on you to take care of your responsibilities. Do yourself and them a favor and complete your tasks well and on time.
DO recognize that you don’t know everything, and that’s okay. Everyone on staff this year learned a lot about editing, publication, team work, and even about ourselves. Don’t be afraid to admit that you need help or that you don’t know what you’re doing. I guarantee you that when you first join staff, you won’t know everything you need to know. Personally, I felt like I knew nothing when I joined staff, but I learned a lot from our faculty advisor and my fellow staff members, and we all worked together to apply the knowledge and skills we learned in order to make our issue of Grub Street the best it can be.
DO learn to laugh at yourself. Like any group project, working on Grub Street gets super stressful at times. The easier it is for you to laugh at yourself when you make a little mistake or feel overwhelmed, the better. Your other options are (a) cry, or (b) scream. I strongly urge you to choose laughter.
DO give yourself enough time to accomplish everything. At some point, the staff needs to discuss its timeline of events and deadlines. The scariest deadline is the day on which the journal gets sent to the printer. Before this happens, you will undergo a few rounds of proofreading. The more time you can give yourself to meet these deadlines, the better. Work hard so that you can accomplish each task on time. Otherwise, you’ll have to rush at the last minute, and mistakes will definitely be made (and missed).
DO take care of your fellow staff members. Ask them how they’re doing. Get them coffee. Bake them cupcakes (this year, someone brought cupcakes every Tuesday and it was amazing). Thank them for their hard work. Apologize to them if you upset them. Laugh with them, cry with them, offer to help them. Share life with them. This is so important. These people are your rocks, and you need them. Trust me.
DON’T try to please everyone perfectly. It just isn’t possible. Instead, learn to compromise. This year the staff had to compromise pretty often on which pieces to take, certain design elements, the paper color we wanted, how many copies of the journal we wanted to print, and so on. In the end, we are all incredibly happy with our issue of the journal, even though none of us got exactly what we wanted.
DON’T get stuck in perpetual decision-making. Sometimes big (and small) decisions are complicated and the right choice might not be obvious, but eventually you and your team just need to make a decision and go for it. One “bad” decision probably will not ruin the entire journal. Just do your best, think it through, and go for it.
DON’T try to take over a task that isn’t yours. By all means, share your thoughts with your team members—especially if you have a legit concern—but don’t try to undo another person’s hard work or undermine a team’s decisions regarding artwork, pieces, or design. This happened during my year on staff, and it led to a few weeks of mistrust, anxiety, and hurt feelings. Trust your team—they’re more competent than you think.
DON’T sign up for more tasks than you can handle. We’re all incredibly busy college students. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The journal will suffer as a result, but more importantly, you will suffer. Be honest with yourself about your capabilities and ask for help when you need it. Your fellow staff members will happily extend a helping hand if you let them.
DON’T go behind one another’s backs. If you’re upset with a staff member, speak with them directly. If you’re worried about a piece of art, speak with the art editor before you remove the piece from the list. And so on. We’re all mature(ish) adults, and we know that talking about people behind their backs only leads to mistrust and hurt feelings. Confront people when problems arise, work through those problems efficiently, and move on.
This list is obviously not exhaustive—I could go on and on. The most important thing, I think, is to be polite, work hard, and keep an open mind.
Grub Street is a yearlong, exhausting, intense group project—but it is also the best group project out there for anyone who loves literature, creativity, and feeling rewarded after a job well done.
Grub Street is Towson University's award-winning literary journal, run by undergraduates enrolled in "Editing the Literary Magazine."