Temperatures are climbing in our hometown of Fairfax, Virginia, and the drone of our local brood of 17-year cicadas is so loud that we can hear it inside, fan running, windows closed. We’ve held our final staff meeting of the year and are officially on summer break.
Why, may you ask, does a literary journal take a summer break?
It’s a good question. Many wonderful lit journals around the country go on hiatus between May and August each year. While we know you’re itching to submit your stuff, we have good reasons for closing up shop for a few months.
First, phoebe is staffed entirely by students of George Mason University’s Creative Writing MFA program. The journal is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In fact, phoebe predates the MFA program by 10 years. As full-time students, our readers, editors, and designers are on well-earned summer breaks between May and August.
Second, phoebe staff are working writers themselves. You may have seen some of their work on our blog, but most of our staff members are actively writing and publishing their own creative work in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Many of them use the summer months to do their own drafting, revising, and preparation for submission and publication, and to work on their required thesis projects for the MFA. A good number have earned writing and research fellowships that allow them the freedom and flexibility to write during their summers off. Others teach composition, literature, and creative writing during the academic year, and many use the summer to plan their courses.
Just because phoebe is on summer break doesn’t mean we aren’t working on next year’s issues. We spend the summer planning, drafting, building, and laying out priorities for the fall. We onboard new editors and give outgoing staff the chance to share their insights with those they leave in charge of the journal. We work on reading submissions from our Incarcerated Writer’s Project. We do a lot of re-reading of our spring contest issue, because we just can’t get enough of our writers’ wonderful work.
Don’t get us wrong. We’re all for summer vacations, too. Sun, sand, water, slow days, taco nights, fireflies, beach reads, camping, catching up on overdue sleep…all of that factors in, too. We think that kind of restorative time is critically important for artists and writers (and, well, all other humans, too). To that end, here are a few reasons we think you should consider shaking up your schedule and taking a summer break yourself, whether it’s a total hiatus from your routine or just a new way of thinking about the writing time outside your day job:
- Read, read, read.
If you’re anything like our team, you have a stack of books you’ve been eager to dig into. Summer is the perfect time for getting through your reading list. Pick a sunny day, pack a snack and your water bottle, and head out to your favorite spot with a good book. You won’t regret it (unless you forget to put your sunscreen on first). And: if you’re not sure where to start your summer reading, why not take a look at phoebe 50.2?
- Let work you’ve just finished sit for a month or two before revision and submission.
Every writer works differently, but many of the writers on our staff find that letting new work “rest” for a little while often yields startlingly better results for the revision phase. If you haven’t tried it before, why not consider letting your ‘finished’ work sit until at least July, then pull it back out with fresh eyes? You may find, like many of us do, that next year’s submission season will show the fruits of such patience. In the meantime, you can research journals for submission, focus on generating new work, or just give yourself a chance to relax.
- Give new ideas time and space to percolate.
It’s true. Some masterpieces come together in a heady rush of energy. But others need time to take shape and breathe. Thinking is an important – and often rushed – component of the writing process, and summer is a great time to give yourself space to think. Longer days and quiet evenings can provide the perfect opportunity to try to clear your mind, to think through difficult knots in stories you’re trying to finish, to let a new idea really sink in and become the best version of itself. We suggest slowing down and intentionally creating artistic space for thinking, not just active writing.
We’ve talked about it on the blog several times this year, but we’ll say it again here: we’ve all had a rough ride since the spring of 2020. While vaccination rates are on the rise and it feels like the world is starting to open up again, many of us are still burdened by the experiences we’ve endured over the past year and a half. We know you don’t need permission from your favorite lit journal to take some time out, but we want you to know that it’s okay to do it. We have fifty years of experience that show you won’t regret investing in yourself. To breathe. To be still. To meditate. To daydream. To write. To paint. To play. To create.