Deciding To Be A Writer
When I was a little girl, I liked to write stories. They were usually short, mysterious, and creepy. They often came to an abrupt end. I enjoy finding them when digging through bins in the basement.
In college, I had a crisis over what I wanted to major in, and ended up going the route of Creative Writing, then going back to get my Masters in Education. I wrote a lot of short stories in college. Most of them were terrible. (Many apologies to my writing college professors for my early works). But… I worked hard to implement the feedback from my teachers and my classmates with each and every story.
And I got better. I could see it happening. I could see my professor’s face react differently when she read my first short story of my last semester in undergrad. The feedback changed. I was making progress. And I really enjoyed both writing and seeing my growth.
Fast forward to life… I taught a few years, had some babies, and all the while the idea that I wanted to write a novel bounced around inside my head. Sometimes it was a whisper, others, it was louder. I sat for a couple of years with about 25,000 words of a story that didn’t go anywhere, but wouldn’t quite let me go either.
Enter 2017. I had just given birth to our third, and was staying home on extended leave.
My husband was like “Why don’t you finish that novel you started?”
And I was like “Why yes! I think I will!” I realized if I didn’t start taking concrete, actionable steps to my goal, I was going to live my whole life saying that ‘someday I’d write a novel.’ And I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to look back on my life and say I did it.
I had no idea what I was doing, so I pulled out one of my old college books on writing and gave myself a refresher course. Then added onto those 25,000 words that had been sitting still for such a long time.
(Note: I do not recommend taking a short story you wrote in college and using that as the first chapter for a novel. It may work for some people, but it would have helped me a lot more to learn about the structure of novels and such things before doing what I did.)
And… in the words of Kelly Clarkson… Oops, I fell in love. With writing, with words, with making my words better, painting pictures with them, weaving worlds. There was no going back.
Pitch Wars 2017
Enter Twitter: I think in spring 2017 I had about 60 followers, and by some miracle I found out about the writing community on Twitter and also Pitch Wars, and other pitch contests. I got so excited about the prospect of having a mentor through Pitch Wars. Someone guiding me who was a bit further down the path than I was, who could help me learn and grow my story into all it was meant to be!
I submitted my manuscript, and stalked (in an interested way, not a creepy way) the hashtag for teasers. Checked my email for requests. And then… I got one! I got one full request from a lovely mentor. And then… nothing else for the rest of the waiting period.
The day of announcements came, and I had a hunch about which way this would go.
And reader… I did not get in. Even though I knew the odds had been slim, I still was very disappointed. I wondered what was wrong with my book, or why it didn’t stand out enough from the crowd. Why I didn’t snag the support of a mentor who had fallen in love with my story and wanted to help me every step along the way.
Looking back, I now know my story was not ready for Pitch Wars. It would have been a complete rewrite of an 80k + book in too short amount of time, and I had too much to learn in addition to the rewrite to finish and have anything ready for the agent round. My story was an interesting concept and a mess of execution.
I could have done a lot of things at that point. I could have angrily sent out a million queries to agents, sure that the mentors just had missed seeing my story’s brilliance. I could have quit overall. I could have self-published. Or… I could have taken the feedback that mentor gave me and got to work getting better, so next time an opportunity came my way, I would be ready for it. I had hardly given traditional publishing a try, and I wanted to put in the work it would take to have a chance.
So I tore apart my story, connected with CP’s, read books on craft, and put my story back together in a new, better way over the next several months. I knew it was better. Again, I saw myself improving.
Putting Myself Out There
And… I kept applying to contests! I did PitMad, and RevPit, and AMM, and more. I got full requests from some agents I had queried, and from some mentors who I had subbed to. I got hearts in PitMad, just a few, but enough to let me know my concept was solid.
Time went on and still, no offers of rep. And no official mentor to help me see what was wrong.
But, don’t fear! Because all those no’s were also really, really important. I got some feedback from agents who requested my full. I ended up only sending out about 30 queries on that story before shelving it, and got 7 full requests. The feedback helped me see that maybe my manuscript needed more work. People were liking it, but not loving it. The language was probably too formal. I had made some plot choices that were divisive in reaction. I had to cut a POV.
And after all that, I didn’t know how to fix it anymore on my own. I had given that manuscript my best at the time. It was closer than it once was. But it was not quite there.
SIDE NOTE AND VERY IMPORTANT TIP (I do not write in all caps very often, so make sure to pay attention): If a mentor in any program offers you feedback on your story, SAY THANK YOU. I can’t tell you how sad it is to see that mentors have spent time sending feedback to hopefuls who didn’t get chosen, and who never hear a word of thanks. That’s time they spent on your story that they couldn’t spend on their own work, and it is important to be thankful for that help, even if you disagree with the feedback.
I think in part because of my positive reception and gratitude for feedback, I gained some extra people in my corner who are further along the path than I am have ended up being invaluable sources of advice and support as I continue towards my goal. That Pitch Wars mentor who had requested my full? We stay in touch. An AMM mentor who had requested my, by then, much improved full? We also stay in touch. I’ve emailed to ask questions, and advice, and they’ve even read pages of my work for me since the contests. I can’t stress this enough. Every thank you you send won’t land you a CP or writer pal, but it is the polite thing to do, and sometimes you’ll click with someone and you’ll have more support for the path ahead.
Did I get sad sometimes at all these rejections? Yes. Did I wonder why no one was falling in love with my story that I worked so hard on? Yes. But was I going to quit? Heck no.
Catching A Story
I realized in early summer 2018, that I could continue to spend time querying my first manuscript, which I didn’t know how to make any better but probably still had flaws, or I could shelve it and channel all I’d learned into a new story. Even though I had only sent about 30 queries, I decided to move on for now. I knew I could do better from the outset this time around… I just had to catch a story.
I also began thinking more deeply about the kind of stories I want to write. I became a lifelong reader during the middle grade years (8-12 or so). The stories I read back then stuck with me, and I thought it would be amazing to write a story that could be that for a child someday. I paid close attention to my own children, who are on the younger side, but who have amazing imaginations. I let my own imagination run wild.
Then my daughter mentioned this weird idea she had for a story where a dream crossed over into real life. And that was it. My own brain grabbed hold of that small seed, and it grew into something totally its own but also connected to that original seed.
In July 2018, I outlined and wrote the first draft of REVERIE, at around 43,000 words, in sixteen days. During the month before we moved to a new house.
That sounds so crazy to write, but the story and the world popped into my head so vividly, I just wrote in every spare minute. At some point toward the middle to end of July, I knew I might have something to submit for the next round of Pitch Wars, and that became my new goal.
I definitely do not recommend sending first drafts in to Pitch Wars. I worked hard over the next several weeks trying to polish as best I could, and sending it to 2 Critique Partners (CP’s) who read quickly and got me feedback.
I felt like I had a better chance this time, even if just by the fact that I had worked so hard over the past year to get better, and had poured all that new learning into this manuscript. But the odds of getting into Pitch Wars are brutal, and I knew I wouldn’t be forever doomed to failure if this wasn’t the next opportunity that would open to me.
Still, I had hope.
Pitch Wars 2018
Picking only 4 mentor/ mentor teams was hard. I had a short list that was definitely longer than the 4 allotted spots. I read wish lists multiple times. I narrowed. I followed people on Twitter and checked out the mentor Twitter chats, as well as the AMA threads on the forum. I almost didn’t sub to Juliana and Lacee because I worried REVERIE was too much of a portal fantasy for them. So I clarified on the AMA thread that to make sure how my world worked wouldn’t be an automatic no. Because I kept going back to their wish list, and thinking that so much of my story matched what kind of manuscript they hoped to find.
I was gonna be super chill and wait until the submission window had been open a bit before sending in my materials. But they opened the window early, and, as it turns out, I do not have chill, so I submitted that night.
I was thrilled to see some people I know get early requests, and to see mentors posting about making requests quickly, and every time I checked my email, I hoped I’d see something there.
And then… nothing. A few days went by (I literally thought it was a few weeks and checked the dates on the emails to verify and it was only a few days… bahaha… such is time whilst waiting) and I didn’t get a single request.
I thought, perhaps, that the lack of requests was because my manuscript was ready to query??? Maybe??? *Laughs into eternity* (Ahem… that was not the case.)
And then… one night, after successfully completing an Escape Room with seven seconds to spare, I got an email from a mentor team, the one I almost didn’t sub to. Juliana and Lacee wanted to read a partial!
Oh, man was I excited. But not too excited. I had gotten requests before, followed by radio silence. This was a good sign, but it was not a promise. I sent my materials in quickly, answered the questions they had asked, and waited to see what came next.
A little less than a week later, I got the request for my full. Again- mega excitement! But not too much. We had been down this road before.
And then… a little over a week later I got another email from Juliana and Lacee! They had read my whole manuscript and had some further questions for me about the type of revisions I’d be up for and my ability to commit to the time it would take to complete them during Pitch Wars. They told me to take my time with the answers, so, like the very patient person I am, I waited an entire 4 hours before sending back my response. I did read through my answers several times to make sure it wasn’t nonsense, but I knew without a doubt that I was all in and up for whatever revisions would be required as a mentee.
But the thought still stuck in my mind… I had one request. I knew I had gotten closer than before with the follow up email. They had read my whole manuscript and they clearly had some ideas on how it could be made better.
Then Juliana and Lacee started posting excited tweets about the manuscript they had chosen. They were excited about the edit letter they were writing, and were antsy to get to work with their mentee.
Again, me, being the super chill person that I am, maintained the utmost poise during this time of the unknown.
And so… we waited. I don’t post much if anything about how difficult waiting is on public forums while the actual waiting is going on, but I definitely think it’s important to acknowledge that the waiting muscles are like any other muscle. They must be practiced and stretched and strengthened. I don’t think waiting is ever easy, but I do think we can get better at it over time. Even in the short while I’ve been going at this, I can tell I’m getting better at both waiting and in managing disappointment. Practice leads to improvement.
The Moment of Truth
JP and I were trying to watch the latest episode of Survivor online when Pitch Wars Twitter started hinting at an early announcement. Which was great for me because I struggle to stay up past 10pm these days. So I’m sitting on the couch, half watching Survivor, and half waiting for the list to pop up.
And then… it did. The list had posted. The announcement had been made.
Heart pounding, I clicked on the mentee list, scrolled down to middle grade, scanned the mentees, and… I didn’t see my name.
“It’s a no.” I said to my husband, who immediately headed my way to comfort me, which was very sweet. I mentally started preparing myself to go forward with revisions on my own, and scrolled back up the list to find Juliana and Lacee’s name on the mentor side, to find out who they had chosen.
And… my name was there.
Friends, I had scanned the list so quickly the first time, I missed my own name!
So… that happened, and then things get a little bit fuzzy in my memory. I stared at my name, JP was super excited. At some point I danced around our family room. I tried to keep up with the incoming Twitter notifications. We opened a bottle of sparkling wine, which was room temperature because I had been too nervous to actually chill it beforehand. I smiled for days. Heck, I’m still smiling every time I think that a mentor team read my story, and fell in love with it, and wanted to help me make it better.
I had one request.
And it got me into Pitch Wars.
The Pitch Wars Experience
This experience has changed so much for me. I am learning a ton. I’m working really hard on my manuscript, which was definitely not ready to query, but will be soon. I have some amazing mentors on my side.
I am going to share more about the actual experience of being a mentee in the near future, because that really deserves its own post. It’s an experience unlike any other.
But, to wrap up this part of my journey, I’ll say this:
A combination of factors led me to this place.
1- I worked really, really hard on my craft on my own for a year and half before submitting REVERIE. I took feedback seriously, and pressed on in the face of rejection.
2- I wrote a second manuscript that showcased my growth to that point.
3- I chose the right mentors to submit to. My story matched their wish list and I even clarified that my concept would fit within the realm of stories that would be appealing to them to read.
4- The mentors I submitted to not only enjoyed my story, but also had a clear vision for how it could be made stronger, and had a clearer vision for my story than they had for any of the others that had subbed to them. This part was totally out of my hands. I couldn’t control what they connected with or knew how to fix. That was a bit of luck.
5- I demonstrated in my communication with them that I was ready to work intensely on my story. I told the truth in this, and was very much willing to undertake an extensive revision on a tight timeline.
And… that’s it. Here we are, just over a month away from the agent round. It’s been an amazing adventure, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.