This is not a Positivity Post

Querying is hard right now. And while I’m over the moon, it wasn’t long ago that I was ready to give up on the idea of ever getting anywhere with my writing. I’ve gone back and read a thread on discord and it’s painfully clear how broken I am about this idea. And I know that when you’ve written five books that have gone nowhere, seeing a “how I got my agent” post that says “Hey, it took me four books so don’t worry you can do it too” feels less reassuring than intended.

So I don’t want to use this space for that, but to try and give something that might be more practical, or at least that recognises that it is a quagmire out there right now.

Sometimes, it’s you:

While querying is a nightmare, it’s still important to check that your work is as good as you can make it. I think I struggled with the idea that it does only take one agent, because the person espousing it the loudest was convinced that this meant they didn’t have to push through dev edits, or commit to swapping manuscripts with CPs, or address the issues that kept coming up time and again. It was all subjective and then next query would be a yes, and if not that one, the next one, and so on. But if you ask any agent, the quality of work is only getting higher, and you need to make sure that you’re not presenting an easy rejection.

Most of the time, it’s really not:

There are fewer agents, fewer editors in imprints. More people writing, and more people writing well. It is hard to stand out. Books that might have got a request three, four years ago, are passed over by agents who might be swamped, burned out, or both. The request rates of the past are no longer such a strong guideline. And yet it can be very hard to accept this on social media, with people announcing their full requests, or surveys showing that most people who got agents have at least a ten if not twenty percent response. But the issue with social media is it presents a biased approach. People don’t post every rejection like they do every full. Surveys aren’t conducted with rigour and control. Many people keep this kind of information off social medial altogether.

All you can do is write the best book you can. Break that book down with critique. Build it back up with revision after revision. And then do it over, and over again.

So what might help?

Have a support group. It really helps not to do this alone. And it really helps to have people who understand you’re in pain, can watch over you, and let you cry on their shoulders, physically or metaphorically. I poured my pain all over a couple of discord groups. I’d have given up entirely if it wasn’t for them, (and even then it was close).

Decide how open you want to be about querying. When I wrote my #pitchwars book, I announced every rejection in my support groups. It felt good to have it acknowledged, like digging into a big bowl of icecream, except the icecream was gifs or pics. With Logan and Pie, I kept the rejections to myself. It was easier this time around to not list them out, see them one by one. Go with what works for you, and don’t be afraid to change it.

Write what you love. You’re going to be reading it again and again, so you might as well make it something you enjoy. When Becca mentioned a particular speech in her email, I immediately went into the manuscript to read it myself, and got caught up in the whole scene. (I’m weak to hurt / comfort moments, even in my own work). With everything being as it is, writing to the market, or trends, or whims of twitter purity demands isn’t necessarily going to give you a book that satisfies you, and isn’t going to necessarily have any more change of getting you an agent or a publisher. So write what you want to write. Write messy. Write diverse. Write to spite. Write for you.

I want to tell you to keep believing, but that wouldn’t have worked for me. So instead, I’ll tell you to seek the joy in your work. I wrote Til Death do us Bard for me, shamelessly. It’s everything I love in a book, and it makes me happy. Grumpy / Sunshine dynamics, necromancy, badass grandmothers, indulgent descriptions of unicorns. I don’t know if any of this this shining through was a factor in what attracted her to the book. But I know it didn’t hurt.

How to Use Styles to Format your Manuscript

Setting up your manuscript right helps everyone. Many agents will read on a tablet or e-reader, and formatting like tabs, returns etc, can affect how it displays, which makes it harder for them to read. Using styles has the added benefit of being making life very easy for you too. Once done, you need to only click one of two buttons and 90% of your manuscript will be set out correctly.

This guide is for Microsoft Word, and the screenshots are taken from Word 365, though I don’t think things are too different in earlier versions. I suspect it will be fairly similar to set up in open office and other applications, and if anyone has a guide they want me to link to, drop a comment below and I’ll add it to the post.

What are styles? Let’s start at the beginning. Styles are instructions to tell Word how to lay out the text on the page, until you tell it otherwise. It includes font, size, line spacing, and so on. I use two styles, one for the majority of the text, and one for chapter headings. You may well want one or more for a title page, but there’s more flexibility there.

The Manuscript Style: (You can call it whatever you like, as long as you know what it’s for. You don’t have to give boring, descriptive names.) First, locate the styles box at top of the document.

Then click on the arrow at the bottom left of the box, and a second menu will pop out. Click on the A with a plus, to create a new style:

For the main text, you’re going to want to set the font, size, line spacing, justification, and indentation. When you click the button, you get this window:

Give your style a name, leave the next two fields as they are, and make sure the style for following paragraph is set to your new style, otherwise it will change every time you press return. Industry standard is a font like Times New Roman, 12 point, double spaced, and left justified. At the bottom, click new documents based on this template, to make sure you always have access to the styles. The click on the format button and select paragraph from the menu.

This window will pop up. Change Special to First Line, and By to 1.27 cm. Make sure line spacing is set to double. Then click OK. Click OK on the style window below it and your style is saved. Then go ahead and click the new style button again, and give your new style a name. We’ll use this one for chapter headings, and setting up page breaks between chapters.

The Chapter Heading Style: For the chapter heading, you want to make sure that the style for following paragraph is set to your new manuscript style. This means you write your chapter heading, press enter, and bang, the next line is all ready for you to type, no need to change anything. You’ll probably want your chapters centred rather than left justified, and you may want the the font slightly bigger. To make the chapter headings all capitals, click on the format button, and select font this time.

Put the tick in all caps. You can also set it to bold if you wanted. Press okay, and then format and paragraph. You’ll want single spacing here, and nothing in special. Change the spacing after to something like 36pt, to give yourself a bit of a gap between the chapter heading and the start of the new chapter. Then click on the line and page breaks tab at the top of the formatting window:

Widow and orphan control prevents words being split over lines with a hyphen, so that is a good one to leave on. (It should be there by default). The important one is page break before. This means that when you finish your previous chapter, press return, then press the Chapter Title style, word will automatically put in a page break, starting your new chapter on a nice new clean page.

Saving the Template: There’s one last thing you’ll want to do, and that’s set up a template, so when you go to open a new document for writing, it will open with your industry standards all set.

Click on file on the top left of the document, then save as. Give your template a name, then click on the drop down underneath. Select Word Template (*.dotx). Word will automatically change the location for you. Now when you open up word, that template will be available for you to click rather than blank document.

Getting Ready for #Pitchwars

The last month or so before Pitchwars is always stressful. Putting the time in to make sure your work is a polished as you can, so your story shines through and grips your dream mentor by the throat heart. But once you’ve done that, there are more things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of the event.

Make sure you’ve covered the basics – three months is not a long time. Trust me on this. If you’ve got major rewrites, adding or removing a POV, aging up or down, changing tense etc, you don’t want to be also dealing with the minor things. If a mentor thinks you might have too much to do, they might pass you over – no one wants to break their poor mentee.

  • Filtering – look for words like felt, saw, heard etc in relation to your MC. Most of the time these distance the reader from the events and can be cut.
  • Crutch words – that, just, look etc. Anything that’s overused and the text loses nothing if removed.
  • Consistency – if you have invented words, are they always spelled the same, do they always have a capital or not

Get your Submission Ready – you don’t want to be learning to write a query or synopsis on the day before submissions close. Get the practice in now, as both take a while to get your head around. Take advantage of the offers for query swaps from other mentee hopefuls, or critiques from mentors and past mentees.

Get to Know the Mentors – wishlists won’t be out for a while, but it’s good to get to know the mentors to find someone who will be a good fit for you in advance. Read their books, blog posts, tweets etc. You’re going to be working closely together so you want someone who clicks with your personality as much as possible. When the wishlists come out, pay attention to the do not want as much as the want. That can be a good way for narrowing down your selection.

Find CPs – whatever happens with the actual contest, you can always come out ahead with new CPs and friends. If you don’t have any yet, this is the ideal time. Swap a chapter or two with people who write the same as you, find someone whose work you get, and who gets yours. It can take time to find the right people, but it’s always worth it in the end.

Find a Writing Group – this one is a little different to CPs. With those, you generally want someone who writes close to what you do. They’ll know the ins and outs of your genre, and help you push your work to its best. A writing group doesn’t need to be all the same genre. In a way, it’s better not to be, because you can learn things from other styles of writing that you can apply in different ways to your own works. The point of a writing group is to build each other up, get invested in each others works as readers, to hold hands in the hard times and scream with joy in the good. These people can end up being your biggest fans, your loudest supporters, even if they’re largely based in another genre or age group.

I’m a #Pitchwars Failure – And Here’s Why I Think You Should do it Anyway

Before I start, failure is my term. It’s never been pushed on me by anyone in Pitchwars and I suspect I’ll get a few pokes from people saying oi, no after reading this. But it is how I feel. Let’s be honest, we push ourselves because we want to achieve. We want to get that agent, that book deal. Everyone tells you Pitchwas isn’t a guarantee, it’s not about the showcase or the agents, or the book deals. Deep down though, we all wish it was.

So, if you’re not one of the people who has agents battling for their manuscript; if it isn’t you going into auction at major houses; what’s in for you?

A List of What I Got out of Pitchwars and Am Thankful for

  • The knowledge I can still do it. I came into Pitchwars after four years of not writing. Four years of pushing myself and struggling and never getting anywhere. And yet in April 2020 I started a writing a new project. In August 2020, I finished the first draft. And in September 2020 Ian selected it for Pitchwars.
  • A much better book. Seriously. It’s a much, much better book now, even if it’s not getting any traction with agents or publishers. It’s deeper, it’s smoother, it’s better paced. It shows a mastery of using the blank line.
  • Industry knowledge. It had been years since I’d queried, so getting support in not just my submission package but knowledge of agents, who was a good match for querying and so forth was a massive help. When I go back in again, that knowledge will help with the next book.
  • A friend in Ian. We might not be discussing krakens and just how big to make giant spiders, but’s still good to know he’s there to reach out to.
  • The 2020 Pitchwars cohort. These people are amazing. Some of them have achieved incredible things already, but everyone has always been kind, helpful and thoughtful at all stages.
  • And understanding of pressure. Those are three tough months. For many of us, there was a huge amount to do in a very short space of time. Nothing teaches you like leaping in the deep end!
  • Another book. Pitchwars was stressful, my book was serious and emotionally draining. So I wrote something light and fluffy. The experience definitely gave me the drive to write it.
  • The knowledge that I don’t need to give up. I was that close at points this year, but being around a large number of people who have very varied experiences helped me to see where I fit in, what options I had open to me, and why the dismal failure of my pitchwars book shouldn’t be seen as the inevitable fate of anything I write.

Real talk, Pitchwars is tough. It’s heart-breaking to not get in. It’s gruelling to get in. It can be crushing if you’re not one of the ones who succeeds. And it’s very easy to dwell on the things that haven’t happened. But it has brought amazing results to a great many people, and even for those who haven’t got there yet, the sense of community, the combined experience, the shared pain is a massive boost to any writer.

If you’re thinking about entering this year, feel free to hit me for any information about my experience.

What I Learned from #PitchWars – Part 2

This post is mostly aimed at those looking to enter #PitchWars in the future. I’ve mentioned things that struck me on an earlier post, which covered a variety of aspects, but in this one, I want to focus on emotions, feelings, and mental health. I’ll start by saying the experience was amazing, and if you took me back to 2020 knowing what I know, I’d dive straight back in. I have a much stronger manuscript, great friends, a better network. But I’d be more prepared.

Edit Letters Hurt

It’s the morning after the announcements, your notifications are going mad, you’re buzzing. And then the edit letter comes in and it’s pages and pages of things that need changing. Work that needs doing. You thought your manuscript was great and reader, it is not.

That’s not true, of course. It is great; you were selected. But in that moment, the doubts come rushing in. Why did they pick it? Can I do all of this? Ian was very sweet and specifically asked how soon I wanted my edits, and also told me I was allowed to hate him in the notes. Being excited and eager, I wanted it now, and only gave myself a day of celebration. I think if I went back, I’d give myself the weekend to enjoy and prepare myself.

Stopping Really Hurts

I finished my second revision around Christmas. I had the week off after Christmas. No revisions, no work, a time to relax, maybe get some new words down. And my mental health crashed. Seriously, dangerously, crashed. I couldn’t do anything but lie on the couch. The intrusive thoughts were loud. Dark thoughts that had been banished for years resurfaced. It was only later, speaking to someone familiar with academic students and similar experiences when dissertations are finished that I realised how much stopping something you’ve devoted yourself to for months can affect you.

I’m sure it doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to enough. Be aware of it it. Make sure you have trusted people who are aware it could happen. It was not something I’d ever considered, but knowing it happens and being prepared helped massively so that when I finished the line edits and stopped again, the impact was not nearly so bad.

The Showcase Can Really, Really Hurt

If you write in a category that doesn’t tend to do well in the showcase, there comes a point where lots of twitter threads and blog posts go up saying what it’s like, how the showcase doesn’t really change anything, how cold querying is how most people got their agents anyway. If you’re like me, you’ll read them, digest them, believe them. Tell yourself you’re prepared.

Reader, I was not prepared.

The first few days of the showcase were, frankly miserable. No matter what anyone says, it’s hard not to compare your work to others, to say, why does this agent like that one and not mine? And at the same time, you’re feeling happy for those celebrating (hopefully you’ve made friends and are desperate to see their books succeed because they sound amazing), and those positive emotions can really highlight the negative ones.

There are lots of rational, positive, “this is not the end of the world” posts out there. I want to take a slightly different track.

Feel your feelings. All of them. Cry, scream, despair. Your feelings are valid, and all the rational words won’t take them away for most of you. Sorry.

Find your people who are also suffering. You won’t be the only one. During our year, several of us with low requests got together for zoom chats. It was a safe place to vent our frustrations, without feeling we were stepping on other’s cheer, or having someone accidentally say something that pushed our misery further.

Know it gets better. I cried every day Wednesday to Saturday. By Sunday, I was calm. I was ready to read those calm, rational, “it’s not the end of the world” posts again. To work out who I was going to cold query. It might take longer for you. But you’ll get there.

Overall, the experience was amazing. I’d definitely recommend it, but go into it with your eyes open. It is A LOT. It is one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. It is not the only the road. Make sure you’re prepared. I’m always happy to discuss my experience so feel free to drop a comment or a message on twitter.

#PitchWars Stats Post

Yesterday at around 10pm I finished the last of my line edits. That’s two rounds of dev edits and one of lines edits down since I got into to #Pitchwars. So, to celebrate, here’s a selection of stats about my manuscript and the event itself.

Original word count: 81511

Final new word count: 87938

Number of revisions between versions: 2886

Words deleted: 15591

Words added: 21256

Commas removed: 446

Number of revision version documents: 12

Percentage of manuscript changed: 24%

Characters killed off: one

Characters brought back: one (though he’s a dick and Serena will almost certainly “accidentally” leave him on a desert island)

Days worked on: 61 (Pretty much every day since first Monday after the announcements, minus a week off at Christmas)

Hours spent: I didn’t track this, but it was generally about 2-3 hours a day, and about 4 days of 6-8 hours when I had time off.

Emails sent between me and Ian: 84

Gifs sent to me on Twitter by Ian: 21

Requests for pictures of his cats when stressed: 1 (I did not take advantage of this as I should)

Verbal slaps for doubting myself: 3

Time my slack group started screaming at me on announcement day: 5am

Easter eggs added for my slack group: 8

Music listened to must frequently: Two Steps From Hell

The stats are mostly just for fun, but it should also give you an idea of the work involved in #Pitchwars. And I know there are many mentees out there who have made far bigger changes than I have done. This experience has been amazing (and it’s not over yet) but it is also hard work and commitment. I’m eternally grateful for Ian Barnes not just for believing in THE AMETHYST CITY, but for all the work he’s done with me to turn this tale of dysfunctional, grieving sailors and make it something I can be really proud of.

I’m also incredibly grateful to my writing group, the Pit Squirrels for all their help, their support, and their belief. I wouldn’t have made it this far without them picking me up and putting me back on my feet every time my confidence crashed. Finding my fellow writers has been the best thing for my writing. And now I get to add a whole lot of wonderful #Pitchwars people to that list as well.

What I’ve Learned from #Pitchwars (…so far)

At the beginning of November to my Slack writing group going wild and found out I’d been selected as a #Pitchwars mentee. (If you’re not familiar with Pitchwars, check out the site here: pitchwars.org) It’s been about three weeks now and I’ve finished my first revision, so here’s a few thoughts on what I’ve learned so far.

I Can Still Do It:

This blog has been neglected for a few years now, as I struggled to get back into writing after the birth of my son. Anti-depressants saved my life, but killed my creativity. For ages, I struggled to write anything longer than about 10k. Stories just petered out, never went anywhere. I tried different genres, tried to plot, tried all sorts. But nothing clicked until earlier this year, when I got the idea for a story about a grieving airship captain who finds a new lease of life when he rescues a child. The story didn’t quite keep that shape, but this time the words kept coming, and coming, and coming.

Knowing I can still produce a full length novel means the world to me. Knowing mentors read and enjoyed it is an incredible bonus on the top of that.

Edit Letters are A Whole New Thing

I’ve worked with many CPs over the years, and I’m used to getting a manuscript covered in comments. But getting my edit letter from my mentor, Ian Barnes, was a new experience. With inline comments, you can approach that bit, address that issue, but it’s easy to get caught up with the details, and forget the bigger picture.

The edit letter forced me to consider the novel as a whole, and drew out the weaknesses in the world building and plot. It took a couple of days to process everything, plan, and work out where to start making the big changes.

Keep on Going

With so much going on, it was inevitable that some of the changes was going to get pushed out of my mind. Chapter six needed a rewrite of the opening, fore example, but when it came to that point, my mind went blank and refused to even contemplate the necessary work. I could have forced it, but decided that rather than slow things down and risk getting stuck or stressed, I’d move on and come back to it in the next round. I’ll need to address them eventually, but not piling on the pressure of myself helped make the first lot of revisions go smoothly.

Onwards to round two!

#RevMyBio

A little bit about me (shamelessly stolen from my #Pitchwars bio). I’m a new mum with a six month baby, who is known online as #littlemonster.

I live in the beautiful city of Bath, in the UK. Being British means I was able to queue about the time I learned to walk and was fluent in sarcasm by the time I went to school. Yes, I do drink tea, especially while writing, but it’s usual green tea. I have about two dozen types in the house at any one time. I’m dyslexic, which in writing means I tend to leave words out, or spell them in a mixed up manner. I love spellcheck with all my heart.

I met my partner at university. He’s my first boyfriend, my only love (beyond cheese), and we’re still together fifteen years later. I believe in the power of love.

I changed my name by deed poll, mostly because everyone kept spelling my original name wrong.

By day, I work in IT. Be aware, printers are powered by demons and will do everything in their power to mess with you. Never tell one you have a deadline. I’m still one of two women in the office, and I’m the one making the “that’s what she said” jokes. (I think I was fluent in innuendo by the time I hit secondary school). I can speak a bit of Japanese, less French and say take the first road on the left in German. I can sign the alphabet in BSL and sign the suspicious banana is on the table. I have yet to find a use for this talent.

A man once offered my mother two camels and half a bar for me in Cyprus. She said no. True story.

I like cheese more than chocolate, and being a west country girl my favourite drink is cider. (I’m missing it terribly at the moment!)  I’m partial to rum as well; Kraken is my preference.

I collect plushie animals. My latest addition is a whaleshark. My amazing partner finally found a plushie pangolin, my favourite animal for me. This is my collection (as of last year. I’ll try and update the photo):

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I’ve been writing since I was five. I’ve been writing well for the last five or six years. Apparently I’m good at torturing my characters.  I write fantasy and horror, usually featuring m/m romance. While I love a decent scary story in any medium, I’m a terrible coward and suck at any kind of horror computer game. I write because I love my characters (even the ones I hurt) and I want others to love them too. Getting fan-art would make my life complete.

My #RevPit entry is an adult fantasy novel, triggered by my partner saying he wanted to read Guy Richie-esque mockey adventures, set in a high fantasy world. It didn’t end up quite being that, but it gives you a feel for the flavour of it. It features a sarcastic, self-depreciating bi protagonist, his were-kitten best friend, an unlicenced wizard with a weak constitution, and Finn, his dashingly handsome romantic interest, who turned up rather suddenly and very naked.

Here’s a small snippet:

I allowed Darius to pull me back against the wall. Lights danced behind my eyes as if someone had lit chandeliers in my skull. The floor swayed beneath my feet and the air felt hot and stagnant. I leant heavily on Darius’s shoulder, trying to force myself to breathe normally.

“Are you all right? Don’t you faint on me.”

“I don’t faint,” I said, going for indignant but only managing to pull off slurred.

“What happened? Is he hurt?”

I looked up sharply at the sound of Finn’s voice, which set of an explosion of colours in my head, each one accompanied by a spike of pain. I’d never been assaulted by the colour orange before.

“Byran?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and his peacock-blue jacket filled my vision. I tried to say something witty, lowered my aim to something coherent, then gave up and focused on not throwing up on his shoes. He put my arm round his shoulders.

“We’re leaving,” Finn said.

All the colour was running out of the world like ink running off a page. Finn’s jacket turned a dull grey, the edges fuzzy and indistinct. Buzzing that might have been words or angry wasps mugged my ears and I gave up trying to hold on, letting unconsciousness and strong arms carry me away.

Find more lovely #Revpit writers here:
http://blog.halon-chronicles.com/revpit-2016-revmybio/

Half-Finished Mummy

This post is a bit different to my usual ones. This is mostly for me, to help me come to terms with recent events.

By the third trimester, I couldn’t wait to meet my son. Partly, it was the lack of sleep, constant aches, needing to pee every time I stood up. Mostly, it was wanting to finally hold the life that had been wiggling inside me for what felt like a lifetime already. He was always kicking (unless someone else put their hands on me to feel him, little troll), and I longed for the point where he’d be big enough to show when he kicked on my belly. That felt like the magical precursor; the sign he was almost ready.

I wasn’t very big when pregnant. Each time I’d get measured, they’d tell me I was too small and send me for a growth scan, and each time I was told ‘the baby is fine, don’t worry about it.’ My blood pressure had gone up, but that was being controlled by drugs, and my feet were so swollen even my partner’s socks didn’t fit, but I wasn’t worried. I went to the antenatal classes and kept checking my bump for a chance to see his fists or feet through my skin.

I never did get to see it. Instead, I ended up in A&E, a month before my due date, hooked to a ECG, suffering terrible tight pain across my chest. It scared me, because I’d never felt anything like that before, but at least it didn’t seem to be anything connected to my pregnancy. At around 4am, after various tests showed nothing amiss, they sent me down to the birthing suit to get that side checked out. The midwife told my partner it was likely nothing serious and to get some sleep, they’d call him with an update. They put the foetal monitor on me, and that’s when I knew something was wrong.

It was written all over the midwife’s face. She called in her colleagues and within minutes I heard the phrase ‘We need to get the baby out, now.’ It terrified me, because he wasn’t ready yet. He was only thirty-six weeks. But I didn’t have time to panic as they rushed me into theatre and stuck a needle in my spine.

A caesarean feels like this – someone doing washing up in your abdominal cavity. .it’s the single most uncomfortable experience I have ever had. There’s no pain, but you can feel everything else. And you can’t see anything, because there’s a screen in the way. When they wheeled the baby round, I didn’t have any real way to be sure he was mine. I couldn’t  hold him, couldn’t even see him very well without glasses. Then they took him away.

I sleepwalked through the first few days. I didn’t realise it at the time, but reading my notes I was in pretty bad shape – at one point, my kidneys weren’t working well, I had two out of three red flags for liver failure and my platelet count dropped from over 150 to 30. Physically, I recovered quite quickly. Mentally, it was a much harder trek.

I was caught in limbo. On the one hand, I knew I had a baby, even if I could only see him briefly each day. On the other, I still looked pregnant, I still felt pregnant. There were times I’d swear I’d feel the baby kick. I’d built up childbirth so much that not going through it meant I couldn’t feel like a mummy yet. Like my son, I wasn’t done yet. I was mum and I wasn’t. I was an unfinished mummy.

It didn’t help listening to other babies nearby, or hearing other mummies make jokes about poopy nappies when I’d only held my baby twice, let alone changed him. and then there was the guilt, every time I looked at my son in the incubator, knowing it was my failing body that put him there.

It’s been a month, but I can’t shift that guilt. My son is so small. He’s beautiful, but so small. He should have spent the moments after his birth in his parents’ arms, not being rushed into an incubator. He should have been born, not ripped out of me. And I know there was nothing I could have done, but it doesn’t make the guilt fade any.

Things are getting better now he’s home, though. I feel like I thought I would – a little stressed, tired, filled with wonder, showered by more bodily fluids than I should be comfortable with. I hold my son and he’s perfect, even when he’s screaming at me for having the audacity to change his nappy or give him a bath. I don’t feel complete yet, but I do know that slowly, he’ll fill in the missing pieces.

 

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#Pitchwars 2.0

I’m doing #Pitchwars again time right now, and let me tell you, it’s so much easier the second time round. Not the actually getting selected, given the numbers and the tweets about quality, plus what I’ve seen when critiquing others, it’s tough this year. I don’t envy the mentors having to select their one. But from a mentee point of view, it’s much easier to stay calm the second time. Last year, I desperately wanted to be selected. I haunted the feed, stalked the teasers, eventually got despondent and wrote myself off. I didn’t get in; I was incredibly disappointed.

But I also grew immeasurably as a writer. I learned a hell of a lot. I read every blog post by mentors,  followed links to articles. I bought books on writing and recommended fiction. I absorbed all I could and then I processed it. And finally, I applied it like a scalpel to my work.

Crutch words were annihilated, plot was tightened, voice was amplified. I think my last year’s manuscript was the first where I learned to hear every character’s voice in my head and to use this to make them come across in my word choice. I also met some amazing CPs, and joined some facebook groups. They didn’t just help my writing, but helped me as a writer, from having someone to rant to when things weren’t working, to sharing their experience and individual knowledge.

As a writer, I was more connected than I’d ever been before.

And it didn’t matter that I wasn’t chosen. Maybe, with the right mentor, I’d have improved faster and got an agent by now, and maybe I would be in the same place I am now. Nothing’s certain, so why dwell on what might have been? For me, this year, getting a mentor is a small part of the importance of #pitchwars. Of course, I want to be chosen. It would be foolish to enter something and risk taking a place from someone who did if I wasn’t interested. But it’s not the main thing. If I’m not selected, it changes very little of my plans. I still get to learn from interacting and reading; I still get the company and the camaraderie; I’ll still get CPs to help me polish if I don’t get a mentor.

What trying to say is don’t panic. That’s easier said than done, I know. I was there. But whatever happens, it’s only the end of the road if you let it. Maybe being pregnant helps the perspective – having a living creature growing and wiggling inside you changes your outlook. But it’s not a solution for everyone 🙂

My advice:

If you haven’t had requests, don’t write yourself off. Still plenty of time. Even if you don’t get any, don’t try and second guess. You don’t know if your voice sucks or your first chapter is too slow. Chances are they’re fine, better than fine, really good actually, but it’s all a matter of numbers. If a mentor gets 100 entries and requests 20 per cent, that still leaves 80 writers who sadly they won’t get the time to read more from. That’s not a reflection on you, or them, simply the cruel nature of the passage of time. And mentors are human. None of them want to hurt feeling or leave people crushed with disappointment. They want to support and celebrate.

If your mentor can give you feedback after, then hopefully you’ll get a better idea, but be prepared for it to simply be “I just didn’t connect with it as much as others.” Be happy with that – someone else will connect. If it’s something more definite, sit on it first before you go making any big changes, no matter how tempting it is.

Have a plan. Know what your next step is, whether finding CPs or betas, moving to querying, taking a break and learning how to windsurf. As long as you have a plan, you’ll be okay. It’s when you’re floundering that the doubts get loudest.

Most importantly: enjoy the experience. The feed is fun. Chat with people about non-writing things. Interact with mentors you haven’t subbed to. Play the games and post lines from your work. Don’t be shy about celebrating it. You have to love your book first, before anyone else can, so love it as loud as you can.