If, as a student, you read a famous essayist’s work, and it is immediately accessible and seems like something you might be able to write yourself, it’s galvanizing. Constraints are great for art. So are deadlines. But even better is to legitimately say to yourself, “Really? That’s a great essay? Well, shit, I can do that.”
This kind of writing is a tenuous process. You are working these small, independent bits that have occurred over months or years into a narrative that builds to the summative emotion or knowledge that inspired you to write the essay in the first place, while trying to stay grounded in the emotion you experienced when these events first transpired.
My to-do list is like that interior hallway from the novel House of Leaves: it grows, inexplicably and paradoxically, larger than the structure that’s supposed to hold it. Each time I think I’ve regained control of the list, it somehow expands into a deeper, darker abyss.
So what is it that gets the slush reader excited? What exactly are we looking for?
Most slush readers are writers themselves and therefore have moments of extreme guilt about rejections. This is especially true for me when the story is close to ready or when I recognize something of my own work in it, when I realize that a problem with a submitted story is one of my own writing habits or tics.
Whether you are just entering the writing and publishing game or have been around the block a few times, here’s a roundup of resources that have served this MFA student well and will maybe become your new writerly best friends, too