Pitch Wars Retrospective

I feel like this is a long time coming, but also it’s difficult to write because I still haven’t left Pitch Wars behind. Actually, I’m not sure I ever will. The revision period was slated between September-November, but here it is, April of the following year, and I’m still revising.

If you’re reading this as you try to decide whether or not you should enter Pitch Wars (or Author Mentor Match, or Teen Pit, etc.), my advice, for whatever it’s worth, is to go for it.

I entered Pitch Wars with no expectations. I submitted a YA contemporary manuscript that was near and dear to my heart, but that I knew was riddled with problems. But the moment had come: no matter how much I stared at the document, knowing there were some things that really needed fixing, I couldn’t figure out what those things were. I knew going in that the biggest win in even entering Pitch Wars was the community, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I got requests from mentors I was pleased, but shocked. I walked around telling myself, “This doesn’t mean anything, the mentors each got 100+ submissions, don’t get ahead of yourself.” But already I was glad I had entered, because it meant that even though my manuscript was far from done, I was on the right track.

[Note: This isn’t to say if you don’t get requests you’re on the wrong track. Contests like these are difficult because mentors choose projects based on what they’re drawn to and what they know they can help fix. Some entries are already in great shape! Some need more help than the time frame allows for. And some weren’t picked just because a mentor could only choose one project. This is a game of chance, friends. Keep trying.]

When mentor picks were finally announced, I was visiting my parents. I refreshed the page while sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch. I saw my name in a neat little box and promptly flipped out. My heart raced, I couldn’t stop smiling, and when my mom and I got to the grocery store, I found myself frantically pacing up and down the milk aisle, trying not to scream or dance. Twitter flooded with notifications of who else had been chosen and it was so easy to be happy for all of my mentee class but I felt for those that hadn’t been picked. I spent the rest of my visit home excited and ready to work.

Then I got my edit letter and had to go back to my day job, where I was working from 8:30am – 8:30pm. My commute was terrible. I had no free time to myself and on the weekends I was mentally and physically exhausted. There were other things at play, too–my living situation, my mental health–and I didn’t know how to cope. My mentor had sent me a wonderful, thoughtful, encouraging edit letter and I froze.

I tried to write and revise. I made a gameplan and figured out how much I needed to revise by day to stay on track. I deleted and re-wrote and outlined and even when I sent the revisions to my mentor I knew they weren’t enough. We talked through the changes that still needed to be made and I agreed with all of them but all of the other aspects of my life were catching up to me; suddenly there were too many balls in the air and I never learned how to juggle.

I was adamant that I would participate in the agent round. I swore I would have my revisions done by the time my month-long extension was up. And then the agent round went live and… I didn’t get any requests. It was a little disheartening, but I also felt relief.

Suddenly, there wasn’t a time constraint on my shoulders. I could focus on the billion ways I needed to get my personal life together, and enjoy the Christmas vacation I’d be taking from work. I left the job that was making me miserable and let myself breathe and found the joy in revising without the pendulum of deadlines swinging overhead, inching ever closer.

Feedback from beta readers in the 2017 mentee class just hit my inbox. They’re brilliant, insightful notes that I’m incorporating. While waiting for feedback I happily drafed a new project. The waiting was good; it forced me to slow down, get perspective, and collect my thoughts. It gave me time to update my agent spreadsheet, and work on my query. It gave me time to breathe.

Throughout the Pitch Wars process I found the writing community I’d been searching for. They are such a wonderful, creative, supportive group and I’m lucky to be among the 2017 mentees.

I don’t have any regrets about entering Pitch Wars. I wish my personal life had been a bit more cooperative and that I’d had a better support system in place outside of the PW community. I’m not sure I really anticipated (or could have) just how beneficial that would be.

But with time and perspective, I’ve gotten a better understanding of my writing process, of revisions, of craft. I better understand what works and what doesn’t. I can see more clearly what my flaws are (what do you mean I can’t just rely on plot and character, I need actual conflict?) and as I draft, I can see how my writing’s grown.

All of the roadblocks and challenges that cropped up in my personal life also helped give me perspective on what I’ll have to work around when there are actual, contracted publishing deadlines looming overhead. I’ve gotten better at predicting how long I need for certain parts of the revision process, at anticipating my needs.

Pitch Wars was challenging in ways I never expected, but so was my life. I’ve come out the other side stronger–as a person, yes, but especially as a writer. I know better what I need, how I operate, and I understand how much having a support system, an entire community, at my back can help. I’m constantly in awe of how talented my peers are, and grateful for their support.

Maybe my Pitch Wars manuscript won’t be the one that gets me an agent, or lands me my first book deal. But I’ll always love it for showing me I’m on the right path.

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What’s Up, Wednesday? //10\\

Welcome back to WHAT’S UP WEDNESDAY,hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. To learn more about it, you should really visit their respective pages. I use it to keep me writing, to make myself think about writing, and to force myself to think positive and find things to look forward to.

What I’m Reading

Well, let’s see. As predicted, I cried my way through the last 50 pages of Code Name Verity. It was agonizingly beautiful and I already picked up Rose Under Fire from the library.

I’m almost done with Adverbs by Daniel Handler. I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events by Handler (written as Lemony Snicket) and I didn’t expect Adverbs to be the same, it’s an adult book after all. But I don’t love it the way I wanted to. The vignettes are all woven together with a common cast of characters, but none of them feel compelling. None of them feel fleshed out nor the world well-developed enough for me to really be hooked.

The Great Harry Potter re-read is still underway, and I’m currently working my way through Order of the Phoenix. I expect to sprint through the first four hundred pages and have to force myself to finish it. I’m not ready for that kind of emotional pain.

What I’m Writing

That Golf Story – I’m making some serious progress! Just about three chapters to go if all of my plotting and pacing in my outline is accurate. Everything’s coming together and it’s equally exciting and nerve-wracking because I’m not ready to let go of these characters yet. But only one more golf match to write (thankfully – you can only make them so interesting) and there are relationship developments happening between the main characters. It’s all coming together.

Delia – I’m trying to use the weekends to revise, but *insert panicked laughter here* oh boy is that difficult to dive into. So I’m still just trying to jigsaw the plot of the first half together, re-tooling character introductions and meet-cutes alike.

What Works for Me

Bribes. I’m not even kidding. Once, I put off writing a kissing scene for literally weeks until Kate bribed me with a bottle of wine to finish it. And now it’s not been explicitly stated or anything, but I really revel in it when Bailey and Kate send me positive feedback and general exclamation points as they read new chapters. It gets me excited to keep writing and to think of how they’ll react to what’s to come.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I heard back from grad schools! I got in! The relief and joy have now taken a back-burner to my frantic list-making. I have a spreadsheet of pros and cons and costs and benefits for the two programs I’m seriously considering, so that’s been my main focus.