I decided to come to UCF two weeks after I received a phone call from MFA program director/badass poet Terry Thaxton in which she invited me to move to Orlando for the second year in a row (my application journey was a long and memorable one—a blog post for a different time). The offer was scrumptious from the beginning, but I had other offers and, of course, big decisions. I called Terry for a follow-up conversation to discuss more about the program, which is when she mentioned internship opportunities, particularly one with The Florida Review. Though my professional goals focus on writing and teaching, I wanted to join a program with a highly regarded lit mag to gain valuable experience that would not only make me a more viable job applicant post-MFA, but provide an insider’s look at publication. I am beyond grateful to have received such a generous offer from UCF and for the opportunity to work with the program’s amazing faculty, but it was the internship that solidified my decision.
So here I am. One semester down. And let me tell you, it was a doozy. Though I’d previously been through the graduate school and instructor-of-record grinds, combining the two while also allotting time to write was about as taxing as trying to understand how Trump is faring so well in the polls. Oh…and there’s the internship—the supposed topic of this blog post. I think I can speak for everyone involved with The Florida Review this semester when I label it stressful, consuming, draining, and disheartening…and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. No sarcasm. Honestly.
I spent the majority of the semester reading 138 entries for the 2014 Editor’s Fiction Award. Though quite the gratifying experience, I’d like to focus on the mistakes I made, particularly with time management. Because of how many more manuscripts were rejected immediately rather than earning any editor deliberation, reading multiple entries sequentially was exhausting. I went into this process thinking I could undoubtedly read every manuscript in its entirety because…well…I’m a stubborn, stubborn man and think I have superhuman abilities. All kidding aside, my reasoning concerned my personal submission experience.
As a fiction writer and someone who regularly submits to literary magazines, I wanted to give writers—especially contest entrants paying moolah to have their work read—an equal chance. This simply cannot be done with such a limited staff if the goal is to publish biannually. I found myself feeling awful at times, reading the first two pages and closing down the file because of issues that may or may not have been alleviated in the story’s progressions. With that being said, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to reject certain stories without giving a hoot how they develop. A good short story captivates from the opening sentence and refuses to let go until its resolution; why should an editor make an exception for a story that doesn’t hook readers until page four?
This is exactly why the internship is vital: I’m learning how our submissions are read. In our workshops, we read and critique in order to cultivate growth. As an editor, however, while we should be rooting for writers, our job isn’t to help them. It’s expected that the work is the best representation of their craft and, when an entry falls short, the form rejection [hopefully] acts as a reminder to writers that our work needs to be flawless. Why would any magazine—let alone a forty year old university-affiliated magazine offering $1000 to contest winners—publish anything less than flawless?
Before coming into UCF’s MFA program, I was your typical young writer, hell-bent on immediate publication and throwing my stories in too many Submittable queues to count. The result: three publications—one I’m proud of and two I’d like do-overs on. It’s true that there are so many places for writers to get published, but that doesn’t mean all of them are worth submitting to. Truth be told: with enough time and money, anyone can start a regular publication. While the goal is to publish, we should make sure we’re putting our absolute best out there or else you may have a story in a magazine you’re embarrassed to have a free contributor’s copy of loitering on your bookshelf.
The goal is not to produce and publish, but to produce, perfect, then publish. I’ve always known and understood this; however, we, as people, like to bask in the fruits of our labor, and we, as Americans, are impatient. So while I didn’t learn the existence of this lesson through the internship, I was reminded that success in this field will require me to abide by said lesson. It doesn’t matter how interesting the characters and story are if readers have a reason to stop reading.
I recall a particular last-minute submission. In the opening two paragraphs, I was reading sentences no writer could ever be proud of—syntactical issues yielding a severe lack of clarity in an attempt at an “establishing shot.” As an editor, I felt a bit insulted that someone would pay a significant entry fee and not care about precision with his/her prose. Once this thought entered my head, I distinctly remember the next thought immediately following: “It’s no wonder I’ve piled up so many rejections; I’ve done the exact same thing.” Writing requires patience, compassion, and, forgive me for sounding melodramatic, love. We must love our work if we ever expect publishing gatekeepers to do the same.
Yes, we all want to be published. We all want to compile a CV that kicks more ass than a Kung Fu fight on a spaceship about to be devoured by a black hole. Those publications will come. Writing is a lifelong endurance battle; aim for perfection and substantial goals in order to have a sustainable and meritorious career. Quality always trumps quantity.
I’ll end with a plug: as mentioned before, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Florida Review. Lisa Roney—Editor in Chief and MFA faculty member—and everyone on staff is hard at work reading submissions and putting together this year’s issues. If you’d like to subscribe and/or submit (if your piece is ready), do so by visiting https://floridareview.cah.ucf.edu/. Though the website is going through some changes, all of the information you need to be part of this exciting milestone is available online. Also, don’t forget to order back issues as well. We released the Volume 39 double issue this past December which features 2014 contest winners as well as original work by many emerging and established writers. I encourage everyone to take a look at it to not only read the quality work we publish, but for a better understand of the opportunities UCF offers its writing community.
Brian Druckenmiller has been an award-winning karaoke-er, an almost award-winning head chef, and a professional wrestler. He earned his MA in Writing at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC, and taught first-year composition there for two years. Currently, he is a first-year MFA candidate and Dean’s Fellow at the University of Central Florida where he studies fiction, teaches creative writing, and serves as Assistant Fiction Editor for The Florida Review. His fiction has been published in Cleaver Magazine among others