Friday, February 17, 2017

What the Heck Was I Thinking? by Betsy Ashton

A bit of background before I get into how I shot myself in the foot. Which I did last year. When I volunteered for a monumental task.

For the past four years, I've been the president of a state-wide writers club. I was term-limited when I stepped down last November. I shed massive amounts of crocodile tears. I was free of the responsibility for moving the club ahead. I looked forward to spending more time and gray cells on my books. I promised to support the new president. And then she asked if I'd head up the centennial planning and celebration. I said yes.

What was I thinking?

For any organization to turn 100 is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated far and wide, well, at least state-wide. That means special speakers. That means special events. That means -- wait for it. AN ANTHOLOGY.

I not only built the plan for the centennial, I'm knee deep in executing it. I have a lot of help from volunteers throughout the club. I ask for volunteers for a specific event or task. I haven't asked people to sit on the committee full-time. We're writers, for heaven's sake. If we have "full-time," it's for writing, not for meetings.

Last year I put out a call for submissions in three categories: poetry, short stories, and essays. I gave everyone three months to submit "their best work" in any category. I didn't set parameters for topics, for example, although I did have limits on the number of contributions each writer could submit.

The stack, printed out with two pages per sheet, is three inches tall. You read that right. Three inches tall. I have two editors for each section reading for selection purposes. I have also read each entry and made my suggestions. As the executive editor, I have the final say, although I can be bribed. Think triple-black Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet.

I can't believe how many of our members write at a professional level. Since I encouraged selections from previously published works, I have so many that are outstanding. Make that Out.Stand.Ing. The selection process is going to be difficult. Sometime in the next few weeks, I will have to tell some writers they didn't make it. And I'll have to tell some that they did. Those that don't make it deserve to know why.

Some are easy to pass up, namely those with crazy ideas of verb tense that would require more time than I have to edit into an acceptable format. Four stories and one essay are "almost there." If these make the cut, I'll ask for the author to edit them with suggestions for where the work should be changed. I'm less certain about the poems, but two poets who have published widely themselves read the entries and made the first cuts.

We agreed at the board of governors meeting when we started this process that the Chicago Manual of Style would have the final word. It lives on my desk. Some prose writers may not like it, but if they don't use the SERIAL COMMA, either they accept my edits or I thank them very much and drop them.

And once the anthology is done and at the printers, I have a 300-item task list of things I have to do this year to bring the centennial to life.

So, what was I thinking? If you see me raise my hand for ANYTHING, please feel free to put me in a straight jacket.


Betsy Ashton is the author of the Mad Max mystery series, Mad Max Unintended Consequences and Uncharted Territory. Her work has appeared in several anthologies including Reflections  on Smith Mountain Lake, Voices from Smith Mountain Lake, and Candles of Hope. Some of her essays have been featured on NPR.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Whew! I'm exhausted just reading your to-do list. Best of luck. Just think of the memories you'll make! That's it's own reward. Plus, you can eventually get back to writing -- right?

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

What color do you want your straight jacket in? She-did-it-again-puce or Blooming-Idiot-Indigo? Because, before all this is over, you just might need one. Ohhhh myyyy!

Jannine Gallant said...

Does the phrase glutton for punishment mean anything to you? LOL Good luck. Think how much stronger your organizational skills will be after this.

Rolynn Anderson said...

I'm thinking hard, here, Betsy...about a list of benefits for you as a writer. 1. Oftentimes critiquing the work of others moves you to to write better yourself. 2. Your own piece HAS to be in that anthology, which is good for your promo 3. If all the writing is so good, your work will shine brighter juxtaposed with theirs. 4. Lots of writers will be exposed to your work...and buy your backlist. Your writing group is lucky to have you. Best of luck with the celebration and the anthology

Diane Burton said...

Yes, Betsy, what were you thinking? LOL Your group is lucky to have you. I don't envy you telling writers why their piece didn't make the cut. But that's good practice for them when they submit to editors or agents. Good luck with all the work you have ahead of you. Keep us posted.

Leah St. James said...

As a fellow sufferer of What-Was-I-Thinking-Itis, I feel your pain! Sounds like the group has a fabulous leader of its celebration, and like Rolynn said, there have to be bonuses in all that work for you...somewhere (although it might take some decompression time for you to figure them out!). Please do let us know how it goes.

Alicia Dean said...

I totally feel your pain. I have that volunteer gene as well. It's easy to get overwhelmed. I'm sure you'll do a fabulous job.