Beams and Struts launched a year ago. Here's what I've gotten out of the experience.
The Joys of Being Edited
Beams and Struts is run by seven core contributors. We don't have an editor-in-chief. We're a collective without a leader. Each person has final say on what he publishes. But we've made it a standard part of our process to send any article or essay we're working on to at least two other contributors for feedback - which the writer is free to incorporate or ignore. Practically every piece I've sent out has been returned with copious notes. My instinctual reaction: "fuck you!!" I let that pass, and then chew on the notes. I'll almost always revise the piece with the notes in mind, send it back out, and marvel at how much better the second version is. Then I pity the alternate universe version of myself who published the original, inferior version, with no idea of how much better that idea could have been handled with the help of a little collective intelligence.
Adding Points of View
My girlfriend has teased me about seven dudes launching a site called "Beams and Struts." I denied that we'd intentionally set it up as a guys project. But where are the women's voices? Where's the diversity? We had our first female contributor publish an essay in November 2010, and have had five other guest articles by women since. More are on the way. We had an interview with a Filipino guy. We've had an article by a black guy. Another by a bisexual woman. We've even had a piece by a painter. Each of these contributions has expanded the scope of the site (and bumped up our readership). If Beams is an experiment in collective intelligence, we benefit from that collective being diverse. It might have taken six months for us to figure that out, but we did. So let the diversity continue. We like having guests, and will keep presenting their work to help flesh out the topics and points of view presented on the site.
The Joys of Editing the Site
We've changed our site design several times since launching (some of us refer to the site's current iteration as "Beams 3.0"). Originally the site seemed perfect to us. No changes necessary. Then we got feedback. And listened as alternatives were suggested. We lapsed on our self-imposed deadlines for new material. We noticed which pieces were getting the hits. We put our heads together and implemented changes. Now the site's perfect! More feedback. More changes. And so on. We've learned to be flexible. See what's working. Adjust. Revise. Parry the impulse to dogmatically hold on to a conception of how the site should work. Be open to change. We now expect more of it. There will be no final version of the site.
The Benefits of Having an Assignment
Thirteen years ago I was part of a theatre group that presented any number of new playlets - short, independent scenes - every weekend as part of an ongoing show with rotating content. With a venue in mind, ideas started coming to me regularly. I wrote new stuff every week. The gig ended, and I got busy with other projects. New ideas I came up with for playlets withered and disappeared. Now Beams gives me the assignment to work my ideas into expository prose. So I do. And I benefit from the actual writing. It's easy to put it off. I don't feel inspired. I don't have a good enough handle on the subject. I'm full of shit. Shut up. Sit down. Write. Setting down whatever I can cobble together forces me to translate my thoughts into sentences and paragraphs. I'll start turning them around, looking at them from different angles. Try different words and phrases. Put the paragraphs in a different order. See if you can come up with a better example for that point. See what you can remove. I'll spot the gaps in my knowledge and go do the research I need. Which gets me copying out sections of my various references, making me that much more familiar with them. By the time I've published a piece I know far more about the subject than when I'd just been playing with it as an interesting thought. Would I have devoted the time to developing these ideas and crafting their expression without the assignment? Shit, no.
Musician Ry Cooder once said that he's learned 90% of what he knows on the job site. So thank you Beams - all of our contributors and readers - for giving me a perpetually challenging and enriching job site.
What you have liked about Beams & Struts? What have you not liked? What would you like to see more or less of? Which articles have you found most interesting? Which topics would you like to see covered more? Or less? As a reader of the site (if you're this far into this article, you qualify as a reader of the site) your suggestions are valuable to us. Feel free to voice them.