By David Nilsen
We’ve just wrapped up our second full year of publishing this journal. We started in October 2014 with no readers and little clue what we were doing. We have quite a few more readers now, and a little more of an idea what we’re doing, though it still feels like we’re winging it most days. Our 2016 readership more than tripled 2015’s, so we must be doing something right.
I started writing in late grade school when my teacher assigned us to write several poems in a particularly inflexible format. I thought I would hate it and instead I loved it; the rigidity of the form kept the task from being overwhelming, and I could focus on just choosing the right words. From there, I graduated to adapting/plagiarizing poems from my sister’s high school diary, which similarly roped in where I could go with each piece and allowed me to make small decisions and adjustments without having to worry about building the entire piece from scratch. I didn’t start writing complete, original poems until tenth grade, and boy, did I write a lot of them then. They were all very bad, but they were so very important. They were also nearly completely secret; I let my sister and a couple friends read a few of them, but the majority stayed locked in a cabinet in my bedroom. I am a decent writer today because I got to be such a terrible writer in total privacy back then. Playing with words without any fear or consequence during those years was invaluable.
I knew nothing about publishing back then, and I assumed getting published was something that happened on its own if you were good enough, if you had the stuff. Getting a book deal someday would be like getting a Hogwarts letter: somehow, through no effort or communication on your part, they knew you were supposed to be in the club and would see to it you were invited. Any working writer will tell you that ain’t so. Making a career of writing takes a ton of time, hard work, and commitment.
At the beginning of February, I will be resigning from my job at Greenville Public Library, stepping down as the editor of Fourth & Sycamore, and devoting my time to writing. I spent my childhood bouncing from one dead end town to another while my dad, a preacher, looked for a church to take him in. I never finished college, I got married insanely young, and neither my faith nor that marriage survived my early adulthood. When I was a teenager, I had dreams of moving off to the big city and making money. Instead, I was the kid who stayed in town, and I’ve done everything from washing dishes to working on computers, from digging swimming pools to banking. Things have gone differently than I planned, and it wasn’t too long ago I realized I was never going to write shit if I didn’t actually give myself the chance to do it. I’m just going to keep getting older, and bills will always need to be payed, and the Authors Club is never going to send me a Hogwarts letter just because. I have to actually prioritize the work I care about, and that work is writing.
There is a picture hanging by my desk that shows a sad, middle-aged man working in a dingy office. Above him I’ve printed the words “No one will remember you for your potential.” If you want to be remembered, you have to do something. If you want your words read, you have to write them and get them out there. So that’s what I’m going to do. I do a lot of writing now, but soon, I’ll be doing much more. My time will be split between freelance writing in fields I care about, and working on a book.
I’ve enjoyed my time at GPL, and my time as the editor of Fourth & Sycamore. I’m proud of this journal, as small as it is. Very few public libraries run their own literary journals, and ours is quite good. It will continue to be good after I’m gone. Amanda Olson, our YA specialist, will be taking over as editor, and she’ll be introducing herself to our readers later on in January.
Fourth & Sycamore has published over one hundred writers from all around the country and around the world in our two years of existence. We’ve reviewed over two hundred books on a wide variety of topics, and championed books from marginalized voices and small, independent presses. We’ve doggedly promoted poetry, both by publishing original poets and by reviewing poetry collections. We’ve told overlooked local history stories, and highlighted local businesses that are making our present and future in this small town more interesting. And Fourth & Sycamore will keep doing all of that in my absence.
The next year will undoubtedly see changes in this journal as it shifts to match the personality of Amanda, its new editor. I’m excited to see what that means.
Here’s to a happy and exciting 2017 for all of us.