Dear Pitchwars 2015 Mentees,
So you’ve made it. You’re on the other side of the fence. Your writing life is about to change dramatically. Almost all of these ways are amazing and exciting. But I know I found a few thorns in my PitchWars bouquet of blessings. They were small, but because I wasn’t expecting them, they really stung. So I’m going to tell you a few of the surprising PitchWars impacts, and why it’s worth it all.
Your Relationship to Your Writing Friends May Change
Usually, by the time you get into PitchWars, you’ve already made many friends on the journey. These people may have hid with you in the trenches of Query Kombat, or re-tweeted your #SFFpit pitches at 1am while feeding their newborn. They may be a part of your daily life and such a close friend that you’re sure nothing will ever change that.
But PitchWars may. Writing is a frustrating, bananas business and, try though we may, we all compare the success of others to our own. For some of your friends who don’t get in, being your friend might just be too hard, at least for a while. Many people in our group reported suddenly losing their longtime critique partners, or at least strained relationships that left no one happy. Now, just as many had friends who supported them 100%. But know that, if this does happen to you, it’s not your fault and you’re not imagining things. And it will likely pass. Just try to be compassionate, because…
Yeah, You’re Still Going to Judge Yourself Based on the Success of Others
We all do it. Every last one of us. And it’s going to get harder once all your PitchWars friends — and whoa Nelly, you’re going to make them, and they’re going to become your best friends — start experiencing rapid and major successes, while you’re still querying. And once you’ve gone through PitchWars, your goals seem unbearably close. To have others reach them before you is maddening, even when you love them. And trust me, you will. You will love them and want them to succeed and your heart will soar with pride when they move on to agents and book deals and all the awesome things that go with it. Then, YES, it is going to slump over like a sad panda.
Now, I have a name for this. I call it the Teodora syndrome. You are not even going to guess why, so here you go: Teodora is the best friend character in the movie Nadia. For the unitiated, this is an 80’s classic about the rise and fall and re-rise of gymnast Nadia Comaneci (which, OMG, you can watch in full on YouTube.) A highly-talented gymnast in her own right, Teodora spends much of the movie struggling with the long tail of Nadia’s deepening shadow. She doesn’t cope so well, but you can. Because these people are your friends, and you need to keep it that way.
What helps me deal with this problem to this day is the Vent Binge. If I can’t shake my blues, I set a timer, grab a willing victim, and bitch/moan/whine/ventmybile for five minutes. The timer goes off, I’m done. And I go back to being a good person who supports and celebrates the amazing people who support and celebrate her. The key to this is I never ever ever rain on someone else’s parade. Your writing friends have worked their asses off and earned everything they’ve gotten. They deserve to feel the rewards of their achievement without worry about your green eyes. So keep the comments supportive and kind. If you have to fake it, do it. But for God’s sake, if you’re feeling too downhearted by your progress to be the friend your buddies deserve, put the keyboard down! Step away. Never say something you can’t take back, because these relationships are precious.
You Will Rip Your Manuscript Apart and Discover You Know Jack-All about Writing Craft
So you’ve been writing for a while. You’ve been in some contests, got a coupla manuscripts under your belt. Maybe you’ve had a few things published. You’ve got this, no sweat. Your mentor’ll find a few small errors, you’ll fix ’em right-quick, then you’ll spend the next few months having pleasant chats and gossip with your mentor.
I thought my manuscript was excellent. And then my mentor read it and I realized I had a main character with no motive and a crazy-train of a plot bound for nowhere. Meanwhile, all my new Pitch Wars friends were chattering about Beat Sheets and 1st plot points and the scene/sequel sequence and I was embarrassed because I suddenly realized I knew bumpkis about writing craft. So I studied and plotted (You can read more about how I learned here). I rewrote the whole damn thing, word for word. And it was the best thing I ever did. Because now I know a little bit about the writing craft. And in this instance, a little bit of knowledge goes a long, long way (see the “You Will Astonish Yourself” section below.)
WHY DO IT????
So this PitchWars thing sounds pretty awful, right? Well, not really. I’m sure you’ve already decided that all the obvious benefits like an improved manuscript and exposure to agents far outweigh some fights with old friends and a few days as a sad panda. But Pitch Wars had a few unexpected rewards whose value far surpassed any requests I got.
You Will Meet People that You Cannot Live Without
I’m sure by now you’re like “Yeah, yeah lady. It’s all about the community. La-di-da.” I know I was right around now in PitchWars. Because, lets be honest, you didn’t sub to PitchWars for the community. You subbed to get an agent and a book deal. But you’re going to get something so much better than that. You are going to get friends. Wonderful friends. Friends who understand you, who will call you when you can’t take it anymore, who will send you feathers for inspiration or cookies for a late-night writing binge. Friends who will make you be a better writer, whether you want to or not.
I had no idea when I entered PitchWars that a year later I’d have a large group of people that I talk to several times a day, every single day. And that these people would be — hands-down — the BEST thing to come out of Pitch Wars. I couldn’t make it an hour without these gifted writers. And I was stupid enough when I started that I almost didn’t join the Facebook group the amazing Nikki Roberti made for us.
Lean in to this. Make friends. Real friends. They’ll still be there long after the agents have made their last requests.
You Will Astonish Yourself
So yeah, after I sent my last round of queries on my PitchWars novel, I started something new. Since it worked so well for me the first time, I decided to learn a new craft method and plot out my next novel at the same time as an instructional piece. I sure learned a lot about writing, and I was certain I’d write the 1st draft lickety split. Just follow the outline and *poof* one and done. (Well, not really, but you get it).
So I wrote. Weird words came out. I said “Umm kay” but decided to roll with it. More weird words came out. More. Almost none had anything to do with what I’d planned. I was beyond trepidatious when I reached the 10k mark and forced myself to look back. I read my story with half-closed eyes. My eyes popped open. I read again. My jaw dropped. It was weird. It wasn’t what I planned. But I wrote something…amazing. Gorgeous images. Vivid, crisp words. And because I knew a little more about structure, the plot was taking a shape that wouldn’t require six months of pruning to reveal. If I didn’t know better, I’da sworn a published author wrote it. I was absolutely flabbergasted.
So that’s PitchWars for you. A chance to learn, grow, trowel through your work and see it anew. Try to embrace the unexpected flowers you find in the weeds: they certainly bloomed the brightest for me. And if you nip yourself with the garden shears, well, grab a band-aid and message one of your new best-friends to tell ’em all about it. Then use it in a scene. ;
You can read more PitchWars on-the-ground/in-the-trenches/dreams-come-true/hopes-crash-and-burn-and-rise-again experiences (we got it all, folks) from these other members of the PitchWars 2014 class:
And you might enjoy some of these other posts about my contest experiences:
How to Survive the Night Before a Contest Announcement
A Pantser’s Guide to PitchWars
A Cringing Misfit’s Guide to Online Writing Cons and Contests