Friday, March 15, 2019

Tobi Alfier - Organization

Organization – Anything is Better than Nothing

On the scale of keeping submissions organized, I am probably a five on a scale of one to ten. Some people have Excel spreadsheets of everything you could possibly imagine you could sort by, and maybe if I were starting now, I’d do that too. But I started submitting poetry in 2005. I have a 334-page Word document and I’m not going to change now.

For my more common than not rejections, my entries look like this:

            Lily 5/30/05 – all declined

                        9am to Noon
                        The Recognition
                        Morning Sounds
                        Para Marco

For my thank you God acceptances, my entries look like this:

            Cholla Needles Magazine 7-31-18

                        A Close Look – published October 2018 #22
                        A Wish for Air Empty of Summer – published October 2018 #22
                        Amuse-Bouches – published October 2018 #22
                        In the Hospital in Tucson – published #23
                        Missing Him – published #23
I know the date I did the submissions, what I sent, and the downfalls, I mean results.

I keep this minimized on my computer at all times, except when some darned update gets done in the middle of the night and restarts my computer. Lesson #1 – Save your file religiously! I don’t care if Word is supposed to save every five minutes. I don’t believe it.

photo by ag ku
I know sometimes time gets away from me. Jeff might ask me “Have you ever submitted to _________ Journal?” and I may say “They hate me. I’ve always been rejected”. Then I go back and search my document (Control F). It turns out that yes, I did submit three times, and yes, I was rejected, but it was back in 2009, 2010 and 2012!

If this is a University journal, the advisor may still be there, but seven years later—the staff is all different. They will be the first ones to tell you that they try to keep to the general aesthetic of the journal, but they probably have different tastes. It’s time to try them again!

You know how there’s always one poem you forget about? It’s a good poem. You like it. You respect it. You’ve submitted it, but somehow it got replaced by newer ones in your submissions? You can scroll up the pages, see what you’ve been submitting, and that poor little lost poem will jump out at you. How did that happen?  The excitement of the new work? I don’t know. Lesson #2 – scroll up and recapture your forgotten poems!

I use this document in a few other ways as well. When I was featuring a lot, I’d list the feature (where and when), and the poems I planned to read. This was in case I was ever asked to feature again—I didn’t want to duplicate what I read.

I also have the names and dates of the poems I’ve written since “Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where”, and “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” were accepted for publication. If/when I decide to do another book, I will be able to tell the poems that definitely have not yet been published in a book. I bring this list forward from year-to-year; now it is hanging out on January 1, 2019. Whenever I write a new poem, I write the title and date on this list. Lesson #3 – get multiple uses out of your organizational process, whatever it is!

Besides this giant submission report, the poems have to live somewhere. I have a “Poetry” file on my computer. It has separate folders for the journals I’ve submitted to. Each folder may only contain a cover letter if it was a submission by mail, the email sent if it was a submission by email, or the receipts if it was a submission through Submittable. I also save the PayPal receipts if there was a submission fee. One time I had to send the receipt to a journal to prove I paid. Once was enough. They accepted a poem. I think of these folders as place holders for when I get either the rejection or acceptance, and for the publication agreement, if there is one. Everything gets filed (I have 1,400 messages in Outlook. Everything I can save somewhere else is a bonus).

Each poem I write is saved in the same computer file after the folders. When I have a poem accepted, I save it as XYZ poem (accepted), and I write the name and publication date at the bottom of the actual (accepted) poem. I do this for several reasons:

  1. By saving it as a new, (accepted) poem, it retains the original date written. I like knowing that a poem I wrote in 2014 was accepted in 2019. If you just open the poem, put the acceptance info on the bottom and save it, it will save with the current date. You have now lost when it was originally written. You might not care about this, but I do.

  1. If/when you make a book, you will have the information for the “Acknowledgments Page” easily available (because it will be at the bottom of the poem).
When I first started seriously writing, I used to print out the poems, 3-hole punch them, and put them in a notebook. In alphabetical order. If you plan to write for any length of time, and I hope you do, that will get old fast! Your notebook will fill up. You will waste tons of ink and paper for no reason. Your hole punch will punch something crooked and drive you nuts. It’s not worth it. Lesson #4 – do as much as you can electronically!

Back up to that first submission for a second. Every one of those poems was subsequently accepted. Some took longer than others. I only did one more submission to that journal. It was declined, but all of those poems were subsequently accepted. Lesson #5 – don’t let the decision of one journal make you question your ability as a writer, and keep trying!

Para Marco

Was I mistaken about
the many times I think I caught
your glance—always serious, brooding.
I was shy to smile, I would turn my back,
peek in the mirror sometimes.
Even then you were turned my way.  Like
a blind man facing toward the light,
not seeing anything but shadows.

As the flight approaches Goose Bay
I have such sadness that you
will never know my name.
I regret that I never touched
your hand, smelled your neck,
the hard work mingled with smoke.
I never said “You must be so tired”,
or “Please, let me soothe your strong shoulders”.
We will not share café con leche
in the peaceful hours.  I will not
hear you whisper deep words
to open my heart like a sun
of thousands of flowers exploding
upon the paling night.

500 miles per hour is not quick
enough to speed me to forget.
I don’t even close my eyes
to see you before me. 
It is 70 degrees at my destination,
yet cold.  I have traveled twenty hours
with more to go.  Haze and cloud layer
the sky bleached apricot and white-blue that
has no name, a christening robe upon
the land below, but my watch
tells me your night has already begun—
your sky a charcoal wash, pen and ink
across a full moon we both will share.

I fly over cities you can’t pronounce, the turbulence
grounding my thoughts, while I know you forget me already.
My soul breaks—please help me.
Please help me.

While the marketing we talked about last week is a necessary requirement to get your name on the world’s radar, organization of your work isn’t, but it sure is helpful down the line. There’s no right or wrong way, there’s just the best way for you. Lesson #6 – by date or by title, Word, Excel or paper taped to the wall, black and white, or red, green or rainbow…whatever works for you, do it. Keep it up, and hopefully you’ll be doing it for a long, long time!

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Slices Of Alice. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.


  1. Always love your blogs! Can't believe anyone ever rejects your poems. I love them so.

    1. Oh Sukie, bless your kind heart. Of COURSE I get rejected!! A lot!! On the bright side (?) it inspires me to try and write better. But thank you so much. You made my evening. xo

      (p.s. I know who this is, so I can say I love your poems too!! I have learned a lot about the joy and freedom of writing even difficult things from reading yours!!!)

  2. I agree with Sukie. Your writing makes me like humanity again. (well almost). (-; Your poem is so haunting.

    1. Thank you so much. I swear, there are some kind, kind people out there. I appreciate anything I can do to help make you feel that way. Bless you!!

  3. UnknownMarch 16, 2019 at 7:51 PM
    I agree with Sukie. Your writing makes me like humanity again. (well almost). (-; Your poem is so haunting.

    1. I answered your comment above. Thank you again.

  4. I love Para Marco and I love you.


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