The Other Kind of Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different kinds of writing that I want to do. Not just in my career (although that, too), but day-to-day. Mostly, I’m trying to decide if I want to get back into journaling. I say ‘get back into’ like I was ever dedicated or consistent. My journal never looked like the ones you see on Instagram, pretty and adorned, full of perfect lettering, bursting with color, and filled with pictures both pasted and drawn. My journal was just a hardbound book filled with flowing black ink and imperfect cursive and I’m kind of terrified to open it again.

I have three old journals, actually. Two of them scare the crap out of me. One, my favorite, is a hokey little book that was gifted to me by a friend of my mom’s and I covered it with an old book cover—the elastic kind you begged your parents to buy for your textbooks so you didn’t have to cover them with brown paper bags—and it looks silly. It’s filled with dreams. Not aspirations, but actual things that I dreamed at night. It stretches back to 2007 and has hundreds of dated entries. Once, I even made an index. That book hasn’t been updated recently, but I do have an ongoing note on my phone filled with dreams so I’m sure one day I’ll sit down and add to it even if it will never be complete.

The other two journals, they’re the real ones. They’re what you think of when you hear the word journal. Books of thoughts and feelings. Mine are from 2009-2015, roughly my college years and spanning into grad school. As much as I want to revisit my past self, to see what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I felt needed documenting, I don’t know if I ever will. I have no clue of the specifics, but I know they’ll be full of the pain, and confusion, and depression. They’ll be full of sentences like “I’m sad but I don’t know why” and I don’t know that I’m ready to face that.

Because I’m moving soon, I’m parting ways with my therapist. Recently, I’ve noticed that I don’t really know what to say when I go into our appointments. I’ll prattle on about my life, but I can no longer see the Big Issues that I need to address. There is no doubt in my mind that I still have those Big Issues, they’re just not as obvious to me as they were a year ago when I started therapy. I have more tools under my belt, and a fancy name for my depression (dysthymia—basically instead of going through bouts of Major Depression, I am low-key depressed all the time. To be diagnosed you have to have the symptoms basically daily for two years. Once I had a name for it and knew the symptoms more intimately, I realized I’d been dealing with this since I was 16). So all of those years of journals, those are from the time that I was depressed but didn’t know it for what it was and I don’t know if I’m ready to see just how much it affected my life.

I wonder if I’ll miss anything by not opening the journals again. Are there happy moments I’ve otherwise forgotten that would be nice to revisit? But I don’t think that’s the case. I only ever remember opening them up and pouring my soul into them like I was Ginny Weasley baring herself to Tom Riddle, when all of the feelings rumbling about inside of me were going to erupt and I needed a way to let them out that wasn’t (just) crying into my pillow or on the phone to my mom (or both. Usually both).

Those journals were my therapy before I was willing to go out and find an actual therapist.

Maybe I won’t open them, after all, I’ll just continue to tote them around every time I move, like the rest of the baggage I carry around with me every day. But they aren’t just baggage—they’re evidence of my perseverance and my growth. No matter what, I don’t think I’m ready to throw them out .

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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.