The new Transfer issue two students solicit you to purchase at a folding table on the first floor of the Humanities building every semester? That was the result of roughly twenty undergrad Creative Writing students with varying literary tastes and writing styles coming together in CW 640 to read, analyze, discuss and debate over numerous submissions, helping a small team of student editors select stories and poems to represent SFSU’s writers in a single volume. By taking CW 640 you’ll not only get the inside scoop on the competition and what the editors are looking for, you’ll also experience the publication process first-hand, develop editorial skills such as copy-editing, and get that much closer to learning how to refine your work for established literary magazines everywhere!
Most courses in the Creative Writing program encourage students to consider a peer’s work as unfinished and discuss craft in order to improve the piece in the future. In these courses, a student’s work is considered as a draft, so evaluative remarks are often unhelpful. Plus, the writer is present, it’s not like you can offer a thumbs up/thumbs down assessment without inflating or wounding the writer’s ego. But CW 640 offers a different experience
Although you still analyze student writing in terms of craft in CW 640, you also consider whether or not the writing is developed enough, accessible enough and engaging enough for publication. The writers are anonymous, unknown to all except the Editor in Chief who is sworn to secrecy, and the skill-level of writing is varied: it’s truth-time, it’s no holds barred, Simon Cowell-style–now wait a minute, before attempting evaluative criticism, you must first consider each piece on its own terms, beyond personal, knee-jerk reactions. What this involves is writing responses to each piece the editors select for the long list, roughly half of all submissions, in which you analyze its ambitions and intentions, and based on that, its strengths and weaknesses.
But before all this happens, the class is split into two teams, poetry and fiction (so you don’t have to read and respond to everything–that would be impossible in the time given–and besides, the analysis of poetry is a totally different planet than fiction), and Nona Caspers lectures and assigns readings to prepare you for this new kind of reading, to get beyond personal literary tastes and into deep craft-based analysis. These responses are not only great exercises in craft but also help the editors narrow down the long list to a short list of strong pieces for in-class discussions.
Three weeks are devoted to these frequently intense symposiums. Sparks fly, rapiers are busted out, opposing factions comparable to Capulets and Montagues, Republicans and Democrats, wage wars over submissions (okay, I’m exaggerating). But much more often, students share incredible insights about themes and craft in student work. The editors guide the discussions, looking for helpful observations regarding a piece’s publishability but also what to work on with writers to refine selected pieces for the magazine. Through this process, it really becomes clear that many kinds of styles and subject matter in literature are worthwhile, that pieces break down not between “good” and “bad” but underdeveloped and developed.
After discussions, it’s up to the editors to make final selections and meet with the writers to refine the selected pieces before publication. During that time, the class will read established literary magazines and explore their editorial sensibilities. In the final weeks of class, students give enthralling presentations–involving anything from fire-breathing to surfing lessons, Tarot card-reading to roller skating (not exaggerating this time)–to share their unique relationships to literature and writing, deepening their sense of identity as a reader and writer, answering the question: what kind of writer are you and why?
Of course, the question that got you clicking onto this blog post in the first place was: what does it take to get published? Well, literary magazines certainly differ on that point, and Transfer publishes student work that is often less-than-perfect, but if you want a glimpse of the other side of the looking glass, as the submittee instead of the submitter, joining Transfer‘s editorial staff will not only give you that but also an enriching experience in applying craft with real practical results: at the end of it all, you get a physical product, a book with your name in it, featuring the pieces you helped polish into published gems.