25 Writing Tips From a Submission Reader
Back before PANK Magazine moved to SubmishMash (which is an excellent site, by the way), we had to go in through the sausage machine of the old submission manager. Roxane would assign me five or ten submissions to read at a time, always giving me the numbers that correlated to the submissions. I would root around in the long list of submissions for a few minutes, looking for the stories I was supposed to read. Then I’d write my comments in a word document, later copying-and-pasting those comments into an email to Roxane.
If that sounds obnoxious and a little complicated, that’s because it was. SubmishMash definitely clears things up in that realm. But the upswing of that whole mess is that I have a twenty-some page document filled up with comments about stories and poems that I read during the Sausage Machine era of PANK.
Sometimes I return to these comments if I’m particularly distressed about my own writing. What kinds of things irk me from others? Am I doing those things? Is that why I’m distressed? I often return to the comments about stories that I liked, too. What did they do well? Why did I like the story so much?
Of course, sometimes I look through them to have a little laugh, as I am quite funny, you know. Most of the time I don’t remember the stories attached to the disgruntled, confused, or angry comments, so they’re quite pleasing to look through. I thought maybe it would be helpful for us writers to read some of what I had to say, and apply these little nuggets of wisdom to our writing today. Here are the top 25 comments I’ve pulled from the document.
# Some graceful moments, but a truly awkward mix of archaic words and contemporary words. (Yea verily! Meets “Google me”)
# Really strange word choices. I feel like this was written for an SAT vocabulary assignment.
# Slow goings. Too much tell, not enough show.
# Typographical/grammatical errors all over the place. Sort of is two words. The narrator is not likable at all, and not in the Alex-from-A-Clockwork-Orange way that makes me want to keep reading to see what he’s going to do or say.
# Some nice moments and a good command of some pretty rich vocabulary. On the other hand, a lot of abstractions and some murky moments. In [redacted], some weird punctuation decisions.
# Seems contrived. When people talk in a story, I don’t want them to “retort” or “begin” or “reply” I just want them to say it. And I don’t need to be told what a play on words is.
# Lay/lie mixup. Too much explanation in the end. I wanted it to happen, not be told to me.
# Some interesting observations/images. Its/it’s problems. The phrase “shattered memories” feels trite—a little too familiar rhetoric.
# Funny. Good dialogue, a nice little snapshot for us. Doesn’t tell too much, doesn’t wrap it up too nicely. Just enough to make me like it.
# Parts of this story are really great. But in the beginning especially, there are lots of “he replied” “I proclaimed” and things the reader doesn’t need to be told during dialogue. The quotation marks will do it, maybe a good “he said” or “she said” every once in a while. “Replied” and “proclaimed” is like saying “I’m having sex with you” while you’re having sex with me. Ma’am is spelled wrong.
# Chuck Palahniuk is spelled wrong. I found this story pretentious.
# A little overwhelming with the rhetorical questions. Questions in writing should serve a direct purpose—I feel like these ones could be condensed, as this story seems to be comprised of mainly questions, which becomes exhausting.
# On p2 in the first subset of text, dog should be plural. Who/whom mixup. Innovative and original, an alright story. I felt the ending was a little too “moral of the story is…”
# I genuinely value the characters in this story. A lot doesn’t happen on the surface of the story, but the story talks with its body language in a refreshing way.
# Passive voice in the first & second paragraphs is offputting. Page 2, closed should read close. Wordy. What kept me reading on was waiting for the girl to die, and I was disappointed when she didn’t.
# I feel terrible saying that I don’t have anything nice to say about this.
# Quotation mark mishap on page 3. The last sentence of the first full paragraph on page 4 doesn’t really make sense. Disliked abstract sentences like “The pain. Everything.” The story was okay.
# This story has a really rich nonchalance that I like. The story strolls; the story happens with me—I feel in it. The beginning has a few moments where I feel too informed (locations/miles away from the city, etc.) but all in all I really enjoyed the feel of this one.
# I cried at the end of this story, it was so good. When I opened it and saw it was 17 pages, I was wary. But I couldn’t stop reading; so beautiful and tragic. I want to keep reading this one over and over.
# The dialogue in here is good, but mostly I just feel like I’m reading a page out of a college girl’s journal.
# Some great phrases and sounds in these poems, but I didn’t feel any momentum.
# Inconsistent with quotations/no quotations for thoughts and dialogue format. Sentence fragment: “She the cookie.” A really strange thing that’s written here. I think [redacted] may have been stoned when he wrote this.
# Says “their” when it should say “his” or “its.” With short pieces, economy of words is truly important. You have to mean every word you say, and the reader should feel you selected every word on purpose.
# There are really beautiful parts of this. It’s intriguing and it threads together in a way that begins to add up.
# The fart thing made me laugh. Really good parts in here, though I wonder about the last line.