The best part of being an editor at a literary journal like Bluestem is reading all of your wonderful submissions. Honestly. It’s time-consuming, and tough, but it beats the hell out of worrying about the monetary nuts and bolts of running a magazine.

At the end of the day, I’m a little amazed at the sheer number of people who write, who spend the time and energy to tell stories, and I’m convinced story-telling points to some precious gem of human nature, something we should harness and use to end all wars. Or at least use to keep Joe Buck from ever calling another sports event, ever.

The most difficult part of my job is reading a piece that I know is going to be awesome—when it’s finished. It has unique characters, a great plot, strong overall writing, but the ending falls apart, or the unique characters fail to develop meaningfully, or the piece is just plain confusing. Whatever it is, the piece isn’t done.

That’s the worst. Really. Because we as editors are praying to the writing gods for the piece’s success. We want to run a great magazine, and we can’t run a great magazine without great stories and poems. So, knowing a piece is going to be great when it’s done, but it’s not done, is brutal.

I once read a story about a young writer visiting Tennessee Williams. Mr. Williams was working on a short-story that had already been published. When the young writer asked him why, Mr. Williams replied, “Because it’s not finished.”


I definitely struggle with knowing when a piece is done in my own writing. Usually, I feel like a piece is finished when I can’t possibly stomach looking at it any longer, when I can no longer tell if the piece is really good or absolutely terrible. I do think, in stories I’ve published, I got a certain feeling in my gut when reading it, like it all came together in some weird, twisted way that I didn’t totally understand, even though I wrote it.

Luckily, this is a common problem. The fine people at Lit Reactor have some helpful hints for knowing when a piece is finished (like reading it aloud, which everyone should be doing, all of the time). Another blog suggests letting the piece sit for a few days before going back to it.

Most importantly, have some friends who are strong readers. By strong readers, I mean a couple of different things, not just someone who reads carefully. A strong reader articulates exactly what is and is not working in a piece. They don’t want to crush your hopes and dreams, but they aren’t worried about hurting your feelings, either. They share with you, and with editors, a common goal—wanting to read great stories and poems.

–Sean Towey