By Giancarlo Riccobon, Vivien Song, Zoha Arif, Jessica Sidrak, and Maya Nalawade
While it would be nice to think of us editors as fearless knights of literature, willing to delve into everything and anything writing, for a lot of us editors, our journeys with Polyphony Lit began with fear. From behind a computer screen, it’s easy to forget that most editors at Polyphony Lit began with that new editor’s workshop from Billy, a sample piece, mistakes (plenty of them), the title of First Reader, and, most prominently, fears (of all shapes and sizes). Here, Giancarlo, Zoha, Jessica, Maya, and Vivien reflect on some of the fears they held when first joining Polyphony Lit.
My biggest fear was that I was joining Polyphony too late in the game. When I first signed up, I was already halfway through my senior year of high school. I had been hoping to join Polyphony since my junior year, but my school schedule hadn’t left me with enough time to apply. Finally, with less than six months left of high school, I took the plunge. Despite my late start, I had the opportunity to act on fifty subs, and I even spent some time working as a Crunch Time Editor. Billy let me continue to read subs over the summer. Near the end of my time at Polyphony, a fellow editor recommended that I be promoted to Second Reader, even though I had only been there for half a year. I may not have been around as long as some of the veterans here at Polyphony, but I still loved every minute of it.
Poetry, two years ago, was like a bowl of spicy ramen noodles to me. Untouchable, complicated, impossible, something to run away from. My limited exposure in English class to poetry had always been frustrating because of how multi-layered and complicated the poems were -- how much time they took to dissect and understand for simple meanings. To say the least, I feared the foreignness of poetry and its seemingly complicated nature most when I first joined Polyphony Lit.
Ironically, in my first two months at Polyphony Lit, Billy only forwarded me poetry. I remember staring at the sample piece for a few moments and not knowing what to write or how to even begin. Somewhere, a part of me wanted to bail; if it weren’t for a stronger part of me that reached forward and said that this is going to help me become a better writer, I would have bailed. I was blind and lost in those days. It took me long late-night hours to put together commentary for poems because of how much research I had to do on matters such as what is good poetry, what are the do’s and don’ts of poetry, what makes good poetry, what is poetry supposed to feel like, what is enjambment and other poetry lingo.
It was difficult, but I am content with my decision to stay. The exposure to poetry has allowed me to grow. The opportunity gave me the foresight I needed to understand poetry, to appreciate the rhythms and gentle whispers of the genre, to realize that poetry isn’t easy because every word is supposed to have meaning, supposed to matter. I learned how to pay attention to the small details, to think about the value of each line, and this has, altogether, given me a wider perspective for literature.
Before I joined Polyphony, I didn't think that I'd be good enough at editing, that somehow, the feedback I'd give would end up derailing the piece. After all, I didn't have any experience or qualifications, unless you counted doing moderately well on English essays and peer editing some of my friends'. Then, Billy sent me a sample submission, asking me to give editing a try, and I found that it wasn't as intimidating as I’d thought it’d be. Characterization, dialogue, pacing, word choice, line breaks, imagery--I realized that ultimately, how all of these furthered the piece would depend on my own interpretation. Acting on more and more submissions as a First Reader during my first year taught me that in writing, there is no right or wrong. Only in math is there a world of crisp theorems, clean-cut postulates, and nice, easy answers. Writing offers its own sort of beauty, its interpretation-based nature being able to transport me onto the cliffside of a faraway bay, the gulls drifting in the air, and the wind carding my hair. When I edit, feedback ranges from comments on misplaced commas to phrases that move the soul; however, in the end, I recognize that my feedback is just an attempt to help the writer improve their piece as much as I know how, and it doesn’t always need to be anything more.
With great power comes great responsibility—it’s an aphorism that has been hammered into our minds everywhere from pop culture to entertainment to philosophy. The thought that the advice I give to authors who submit their work may impact not just the approach they take on a certain piece, but the approach they take towards their writing style, was terrifying. I remember being a “rookie” writer (and, in some respects, I still am): one is impressionable. At that stage, a support system that doesn’t ask you to change your style, but rather to better it, is absolutely necessary. That was the kind of person I knew I needed to be for prospective Polyphony authors, and I’ll admit: when I first received the lengthy First Reader manual that comes with the practice example, I was intimidated. So much so that I decided to take time off to delve myself further into literature to get a better understanding of the qualities of good (dare I say memorable?) writing. I invested myself deeply into the duties of a First Reader because I know that the First Readers that responded to my work when I was a prospective author had done the same. That is the beauty of the Polyphony community of writers; we might not know each other, but that fundamental love for writing is what unites us, and that is enough.
When I first started, I was terrified that I didn’t know anything! I felt like I didn’t know the skills to adjudicate someone properly. However, through the editorial process guidelines and practice, Polyphony helps you learn the editing process and gets you comfortable with it. I was also scared about being too harsh on other people and hurting their feelings. What can I say? I’m a textbook Pisces. However, through practice, you realize how to use a proper tone to provide constructive feedback, and still be a supportive peer. I’d say the best part about editing for this magazine is that not only are you helping others, but your writing improves as well. With each submission, you learn more about how to find and fix writing errors. You grow along with your job.
And there you have it! We hope this Q&A helped subdue any of your fears about Polyphony Lit and the editing process. Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, you don’t have to wait for another Voices article: the Polyphony staff is always an email away!
Giancarlo Riccobon is a Second Reader at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.
Zoha Arif is a Second Reader at Polyphony Lit and the Managing Editor for Voices.
Vivien Song is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and a Content Editor at Voices.
Jessica Sidrak is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.
Maya Nalawade is a First Reader at Polyphony Lit and a blogger at Voices.