Joe Sullivan, An Editor’s Note
When I received my first guitar for Christmas in the mid-90s, the internet was just beginning to accumulate useful information for hobbyists. I could find tablature for most of my favorite Nirvana or Led Zeppelin songs, and even for some Black Flag anthems. However, I didn’t know how to properly tune my guitar, so I made approximations at what a tuned guitar might sound like, and arrived at a suitable quasi open tuning. Which eventually made it possible for me to emulate my favorite songs, in the crudest way imaginable.
I didn’t begin to speak the language of guitar players until I knew how to tune my guitar and how to recognize a dozen or so basic chords. A guitar class in high school helped this process along. Eventually, with enough practice I was able to tune my guitar to–and play chords and notes along with–other guitar players. We properly spoke the same language, however rudimentary it might have been.
By senior year my guitar teacher was also my music theory teacher and I was able to properly read and write music for multiple instruments. He was an extraordinary guitar player, and made a steady second income with a jazz band that played every weekend. When I came up short on a song I had written in my spare time, and brushed off his criticism along the lines of ‘Well, it’s really just a hobby, so no biggie if it sucks,’ he taught me a simple lesson about the difference in dedication and work ethic between a hobbyist and a pro. There is no proper difference between a hobbyist and a pro. They speak the same language. There was something I misunderstood about the language, and that I could improve the song, or I could toss the piece, but I shouldn’t be under the impression that I was fluent in the language and technique of ‘hobbyist musicians’ aka musicians.
In high school I was also interested in Greek philosophy. I figured I’d read enough Plato that I could tackle any of the problems of philosophy through the Socratic method. I was quickly disabused of this notion in my first few philosophy classes in college. In college you run into many philosophic dabblers. My best friend at the time wanted me to read his paper on ethics. He was an anthropology student, so he had a vague notion of particularism and really wanted to show the strength of cultural relativism when tasked with the questions that plagued 21st Century America. I plainly told him that we didn’t speak the same language and handed him a copy of G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica. He plainly told me that traditions don’t matter; that anyone could philosophize.
A few years later I was in my early 20s and still hadn’t learned the most basic of lessons. I was writing free form poetry without any notion of the traditions of poetry. I didn’t know what an iamb was at this point, and anyone who knew what a rondeau was would read the first two lines of something I’d written and walk away wide-eyed. No one wrote form poetry in 2003, so why would I bother studying it? But no one was reading what I’d written, so I studied the traditions, practiced forms, and eventually published poems within the contemporary aesthetic.
Maybe you’re still reading this because you’re a hobbyist/hobby-pro level author, and are curious if I’m going to make a point about writing, or publishing, because I’m an editor and we pay decent rates. You understand how easy it is to dismiss an acquaintance who sends you a piece with terrible grammar, no notion of the basic elements that constitute a story. My problem is that most pieces I receive are competent-to-excellent stories. We speak the same language.
I’m a hobbyist publisher looking to put out professional stories. I’d like to encourage writers on their path toward their first publication or their 50th. I love sci-fi, but don’t send me a story that you wrote for Analog that happens to have creepy elements because you’ll get a credit toward SFWA eligibility. Unnerving Magazine, Silver Shamrock, Vastarien, PseudoPod, NoSleep, Nightmare Mag are brands with their own sublanguages. If you truly want to level up from competent hobbyist to hobby-pro you have to write for each unique brand and each unique call. Yes, it’s time-intensive. I have a day job, too.