Friday, May 21, 2021

Six Questions for Daniel and Elinor Clark, Editors, Briefly Write

Briefly Write publishes a micro zine of poetry 16 lines or less and fiction between 6 and 600 words. “Briefly Zine is a literary journal seeking bold, succinct writing.” Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Briefly Write: The aim of Briefly Zine is to publish quality, meaningful writing. We are obsessive readers and devour a huge variety of novels, novellas, short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction and (especially) poems. Our choice to focus on micro poetry and prose is influenced by the falling modern attention span and a deep-rooted respect for the power of words. We want to celebrate careful, well-crafted writing, purposeful and subtle poetry, insightful and incisive stories.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

BW: We don’t have specific criteria that we tick off. One essential requirement is that the writing is “brief”, which to us means concise and focused. Constructing a tiny story makes you value every word. This may sound like a cliché, but it’s not: in our first ten-word story competition some pieces missed out on the shortlist because of a single superfluous or clumsy word.


Three things we love to see:

  1. Innovative use of language. You have 16 lines / 600 words to impress us. Make them all count. Be inventive.

  2. Subtlety. A message that isn’t too obvious. A poem that weaves the reader into a web without them realising. If it makes us laugh, that’s good, but we like humour that is subtle or ironic; this may take place entirely beneath the surface.

  3. Authenticity. We want to feel something genuine. We want unique and well-chosen images and descriptions that feel like they could only have been written by you. We don’t shy away from the grit and dirt of everyday life; harsh can be beautiful, or it can just be harsh and that’s also fine. We like well-worked, not over-worked.


SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

BW: We won’t consider anything hate-filled or discriminatory. Other than that, we don’t have specific no-go styles, themes or genres. We don’t shy away from serious themes, but we demand sensitive treatment of them.


A well-edited, typo-free submission which follows the submission guidelines and comes with a friendly greeting will make a good impression. We do still read work that doesn’t fully comply with our guidelines (unless it’s over 16 lines / 600 words – these limits are non-negotiable). We know that submitting can be a stressful process and everyone makes mistakes, so we like to give writers the benefit of the doubt. However, if you’ve sent your work as an attachment or submitted more than three pieces in a single submission, we know you haven’t been as patient and conscientious as other submitters. Therefore, in return, we may be less patient and conscientious when making our final judgement of your work.


For prose submissions, most pieces we turn down lack clarity and completeness. By completeness we don’t mean a happily-ever-after narrative that ties up all the loose ends; indeed, such an oversimplified airbrush of reality is unlikely to appeal to us. Our ideal piece tells a complete story (which may be a snapshot of a moment or half-moment or nearly moment), necessitates a second (third, fourth, fifth…) reading, and leaves a powerful image, thought or idea in the reader’s mind. Likewise, clarity does not mean everything needs to be fully transparent. We like subtle, fragmentary stories that leave the reader with work to do to piece things together.


For poetry, we consider formal or free verse (or something in between). We recommend you wait a few days (or weeks or months) after writing your poem before you submit: we often read poetry that doesn’t quite feel ready, work that could have been vastly improved with a little more time and care. Check line breaks, word choice, rhythm. Speak your poem out loud to make sure it sounds how it does in your head – this is good practice anyway because if we choose your poem we’ll ask for a voice recording!

SQF: What do you look for in the opening paragraph(s)/stanza(s) of a submission?

BW: The opening paragraph of a prose piece is always crucial and even more so for flash and micro fiction. Quirky first lines stand out, but it’s authenticity that shines through in the end. If a unique voice is established quickly that is a big plus, as is an intrigue or emotional hook that makes us feel invested from the start. We are unlikely to be gripped by a clichéd opening (waking up, looking in the mirror, vague descriptions of the weather, etc.), but if it becomes clear you were using this for deliberate effect you might win us round. An untidy, needlessly drawn-out start won’t thrill us either: if it feels like it needs a good edit, it probably won’t appeal to our “brief” radar.


In poetry, the opening stanza is important in setting the tone and style. An opening line that feels fresh and unique can have a powerful impact. Build a moment, a memory, an emotion, a place – or destroy one.


Often with poems, however, it’s not the opening line or stanza that lets a piece down but the final one. We’ve read many pieces we’ve been rooting for until the final lines. It’s very tempting to hammer home the key points at the end but doing so usually results in a sense of over-writing.


SQF: You also provide book reviews and challenges. What would you like readers to know about these aspects of Briefly Write?

BW: The Zine is the heart of Briefly and where most of our energies go, but we are also passionate about the Competitions and Reading sections of our site.


We love reviewing poetry, especially independent, small-press chapbooks, collections and zines. Likewise, we enjoy working on reading lists and challenges; these aim to encourage a wider and more purposeful reading experience. Briefly Read is definitely an aspect of the site which we aim to expand in the future.


In terms of competitions, the Briefly Write Poetry Prize will open for entries in May 2021. We will also be running the second edition of Write 10, Win 10 in December 2021. In future, we hope to increase this offering if we are able to raise more funds. We are committed to accessibility and will always strive to keep competition (and Zine) submissions free.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

BW: Maybe: “What does Briefly mean?”


The OED defines ‘briefly’ as ‘For a short time; fleetingly. Using few words; concisely.’ We define Briefly as ‘good writing’.


The image must be fleeting because you only have a short time to paint it in your reader’s mind. Yet it should endure beyond the seconds or minutes it takes to read. The words must be well-chosen because you don’t have time to waste any. In many ways, writing briefly is akin to translation: in both cases, the writer picks minutely over every syllable and sentence to ensure each word is performing its assigned role.


Of course, we know there are many intuitive, seat-of-your-pants writers and we know a word often “just feels right” even if it’s not clear why. As we said earlier, we want well-worked not over-worked.


Finally, “brief writing” isn’t synonymous with “short writing”. We impose a word limit of 600 to encourage writers to work closely in tight limits. The short format exacerbates the need for precision, but brief writing isn’t unique to micro fiction: a 3,000-word flash can be more concise than a 30-word micro. Indeed, we intend one day to publish a special issue that showcases brief writing in longer pieces.

Thank you, Daniel and Elinor. We all appreciate your taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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