Story #42- PitchWars Part THREE

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The journey of being a writer never truly ends…

For anyone worrying that I would blog about Pitch Wars for the rest of my days, I am happy to assure you that this will be the third and final entry specifically about Pitch Wars. I knew I would write about what it felt like to finally get in, then pick up again in the midst of my editing struggles. But it was a real challenge deciding when to end things.

After all, my pitch doesn’t go up for agents to see until the end of this week, and I won’t be sending any queries or requested material out until the end of next week. And between you and me–lean in close–my manuscript won’t be completely finished with its polishing stage until around the 7th or 8th of November.

So why am I posting my third blog entry now?

I’ve given a lot of thought to what “the end” of Pitch Wars means to me. Interestingly enough, this contest seems far more filled with beginnings than endings. Here are some of my beginnings:

I am beginning some incredible relationships with my mentors and fellow mentees that I hope will last a lifetime.

I am beginning a round of queries for my manuscript.

I am beginning a new job at Book People (remember my poem from a few posts ago? I got the job!) as a bookseller in the children’s literature department.

I am beginning to pick up some of my other projects in fiction.

I (finally!) am beginning to step back into my love of writing academic papers on children’s literature.

There is a lot ahead on the path, and with so many dazzling opportunities and open windows, it can feel like I’m only getting started. But my time as an active Pitch Wars mentee has been like no other period in my writing life, and it would be wrong to gloss over this time as mere preparation for what is to come. I just went through a writing boot camp, and I’ve arrived at the end. That’s what I want to talk about now.

Today, as Halloween draws in, I am celebrating finishing four distinct rounds of revising, including rewriting my book, restructuring the plot in two separate rounds, and line editing. By November 10th, I will have finished my fifth and final round of polishing.

Soon pieces of my manuscript will be posted on the internet, and more pieces will be sent along with query letters to agents I respect and admire. But what happens after that is out of my hands. I cannot control what others will think of my book. In this tiny moment, my words and I are holding each other like dear friends about to say their goodbyes. Our time of revision, rethinking, reoutlining, restructuring, is done. I used to be afraid to say that, but now I’m not. I know I have poured every part of myself into this manuscript. It gets to fly or fall, but either way, no outcome can diminish my experience. I am drawing the line here. This is my ending of Pitch Wars and I have loved every second of it.

It’s time to continue my writing journey by beginning somewhere new.

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Story #41- PitchWars Part Two

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Wow.

I’m here. I actually made it.

I told myself I would wait to post again on the blog until I finished round one of revisions on my manuscript.

Here’s how I thought that would go:

(September 16th, early evening) HEYYY GUYYSSS!!!! I DID IT!!! I DID IT!!! I’M ON TRACK AND I JUST TURNED IN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF WRITING EVER!!! TIME FOR A BRISK VICTORY LAP AS I BASK IN GLORY!!!

If you haven’t caught on yet, this post is not going to go in that direction. In fact, many times over the past four (FOUR! I cringe) weeks I wondered if I would ever get to this place. I pictured myself falling down a black hole where lazy and incompetent writers go to die. This hole has been after me for years, of course. It sneers whenever I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It opens its jaws every so slightly.

“Come on in,” it says. “We have Netflix, and junk food, and a job that will suck out your soul but pay you lots of money so you’ll think your purpose in life is fulfilled.”

“Never!” say I, knowing full well I get to have small amounts of junk food and Netflix on my side of the universe. And of course, also knowing that nothing else in life will make me feel fulfilled apart from writing. I’d rather write terrible words every day, crawling inch by inch towards improvement, than have my mediocre words gilded and hung up on someone’s refrigerator.

I’m starting the black hole talk again. Let’s segway into another topic, in a non sequitur that’s nearly as abrupt and poor as the transitions between my manuscript’s current chapters! Hahahaha… heh heh.

I’ll give a few facts and figures to how this revision went, for anyone interested. Then I’d actually like to discuss the dark side of moving up in the writing business. Disclaimer: the dark side is actually crucial for anyone wanting to write. It’s just… surprising.

Facts: In the TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS of this revision…

The first FIVE DAYS were spent researching, taking notes, and re-outlining the book. My mentors provided me with amazing sources, and it took a full two days’ worth of work to sort through them all and copy down diligent notes for applying to my manuscript later on. I also attended an all-day SCBWI conference during this time, which contributed to helping me reshape the manuscript as well.

The following ELEVEN (yes eleven, I am cringing so hard at myself) DAYS were spent not writing. They were spent on an extensive road trip for my brother’s wedding. This trip included the preparations and packing (two days), the several day journey out (two days), the several day wedding extravaganza (three days), the several day journey in (two days), and the resettling/unpacking (two days). I also got into a huge tiff with one of my best friends during the resettling period, which was a major distraction for the time I did set aside for writing. To be clear, of course I don’t regret being a part of my brother’s wedding. It was an incredibly special event and I was wholly honored to be a part of it as well as spend time with my relatives. Was I surprised at my inability to simultaneously be a writing machine during this time? …Yeah, I was.

The next FOUR DAYS were spent constructing and deleting and reconstructing and redeleting the first three chapters of the manuscript. A lot of tears were shed during these days. I decided on numerous occasions that oh well, I would never be an author, black pit here I come. But then about ten minutes into my Netflix episode I would throw my bucket of popcorn down and stomp back over to my computer. Finally on the fourth day I sent in my stupid horrible three chapters to my mentors, who patted my head and told me they were in fact just fine and to keep writing the actual rest of the book.

The last EIGHT DAYS were spent writing the remaining twenty-two chapters of the book. And yes, I do mean writing. My outline entailed major plot changes, and ultimately about ninety-five percent of the narrative needed to be rehashed to make everything work.

Typing out this timeline certainly gives me a little laugh, a manic writer’s laugh of course, because looking at the process of this revision is not at all like basking in glory. It’s more of a study in my limitations and strengths as a writer. When I’m down to the wire I know how to produce. But when I’m certain that my book is terrible and I’ll never hack it in the writing world? That slows my process down to a grinding halt.

I’ve gone through these spirals before, of course. But the difference this time was that I had people to disappoint if I didn’t follow through. In the past, I might have thrown down the pen (or more likely closed the Word document) and decided to simply take a break from writing.

Writing is supposed to be fun, not stressful, I might have thought. I would find a handful of reasons to validate my decision and then go and hide in other pockets of my life until writing would eventually come sniffing out a few weeks or months later and find me again.

But that was so NOT going to happen this time. This time, I had people counting on me. I had three official Pitch Wars writing mentors, plenty of unofficial writing mentors, writer friends in Pitch Wars, writer friends outside of Pitch Wars, two active CPs rooting for me, and then the usual crowd of friends and family. I had professional deadlines. I had an agent round to get to, darn it!

When I think about this scenario from a distance, it feels like I should have been invigorated by the crowd of supporters. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this responsibility didn’t lift me up out of my couch and fly me over to the computer to get straight to work.

But it didn’t.

Instead it crushed me down like giant barbells on my shoulders. The pressure to not screw up, to keep up with the other mentees, was debilitating. I felt nauseous daily. I consoled myself alone, and when that didn’t work I reached out to my support team and received plenty of love and support. But it still didn’t console me like I had hoped. Up until the moment I hit “send” on the email entitled “DOPPELGANGER- Revision round 1,” I honestly wasn’t sure if I would get through it.

Every new chapter was a new set of anguish. Was I making the story worse? Did I lose some important themes or motifs along the way? Did I ever have any motifs to begin with? Was my earlier version always this bad and I had been stuck wearing rose-colored glasses for five months??

A pretty well-known idiom states that “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” And I see that. I attest to it. But I’d like to add a saying of my own:

“The harder they fall, the greater they come back.”

Shortly before I found out that I was accepted into Pitch Wars, my husband and I decided to take an eighteen mile hike up and down the mountains behind our house. I remember setting off in much the same way I started out these revisions. I was energetic, cocky, and looking forward to celebrating our grand success by telling everyone. Fast forward nine hours later and we’re shuffling the last mile back to our car. I’m bawling, barely moving, and at this point I’m one hundred percent certain that one toe is broken and seventy percent sure another toe is broken as well (I turn out to be correct about both.) We get to the trail end and I don’t feel like boasting, I don’t feel like celebrating. I’m embarrassed and still crying and I don’t think my husband has even seen me deteriorate like this. He steals glances at me as we practically crawl across the parking lot to our car. I wonder if he’s regretting this entire marriage decision he made two years ago.

“Sorry I’m such a wimp,” I sob as I turn on the ignition.

“Wimp?!” he says. “I just watched you claw and fight and push yourself beyond your limit.”

“But you didn’t hit your limit,” I say (still sobbing). “It was easier for you.”

“Yes,” my husband says. “So I didn’t work as hard as you. You just grew today. You’re a survivor. Look how strong you are. Now you’re an even better hiker than you were this morning.”

My husband is asleep in the next room right now, but I imagine that if he were awake, he would give me this same kind of motivational speech.

I just got through my first round of Pitch Wars revisions. No, it was not easy. Yes, it took a lot more time than I expected it to. No, the manuscript isn’t perfect. Actually it’s currently in very rough form, because I have to make sure the story and plot are working before I go in and edit smaller patches. I don’t feel cocky. I don’t feel proud. I don’t feel much like celebrating.

But I got through it. I pushed myself beyond my limits as a writer. I’m learning what it’s like to write being watched. I’m learning what it’s like to turn and gawk at other writers sprinting out ahead of me while my mentors gently tap my shoulder and say “it’s not a race, it’s not a race.”

And it’s not a race, of course. No one is racing me to finish writing my book. It’s my book, not anyone else’s. And it will keep pushing me to be a better writer in the long run.

Okay, * takes deep breath.*

… Time for round two.

Story #40- PitchWars PART ONE

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Hello friends!

There will not be any short fictional stories on this blog for awhile. That is because there will be one heck of a long saga about a TRUE story, the story of me and an amazing writing contest called Pitch Wars.

For those who do not know about Pitch Wars, it’s a contest hosted by Brenda Drake. Brenda is a successful published author, who started Pitch Wars to help build connections between writers at all stages in their publishing journeys.

The way it works is: In May of each year, Brenda releases information about the mentors, or the agented authors who have volunteered their time, love, and energy to mentor a writer with a completed manuscript. Applicants to the contest then have June and part of July to hob nob over Twitter, get their manuscripts into shape, and possibly post a mentee bio. (Which I did this year- HERE)

In late July, the mentors post wishlists, or the kinds of books they are hoping to see in their inbox once the submission period opens. Applicants should recognize this kind of list from agent pages. It helps make sure submissions aren’t wasted for mentors or potential mentees.

In early  August, applicants can submit their query and first chapter to 4-6 mentors. The next few weeks are an agonizing wait, and mentors announce their mentee picks near the end of August. That seems like a lot of things happening already, but the truth is, the end of August is when the contest really begins.

The chosen mentees work with their mentors on revisions throughout September and October. Over this time they overhaul their manuscripts, possibly making large cuts or adding large chunks, killing characters, combining characters, etc. Then, in November mentees post their pitch and first page to the “Agent round” where agents get a chance to request and read the shiny new manuscripts. If you want more information about how Pitch Wars works you can check out this article or even better go straight to Brenda’s description on her site.

Here are the main two things I want to point out about Pitch Wars:

  1. The chosen mentees get treated like real authors, with thorough edit letters and detailed line notes and ALL THE DEADLINES.
  2. Agents understand that writers who have been through Pitch Wars know how to revise and how to work under pressure.

Okay, explanation over. Story time.

I’m going to actually rewind and start in July of 2015. Here was me:

  • Trying to work on this blog
  • Editing a manuscript without a vision
  • Receiving helpful but painful feedback from agents

To give a little background, I had started querying a manuscript I worked on for ages, called THE KALEIDOSCOPE, back in March 2015. It had about a 50% request rate, which was wonderful, but I found myself feeling not quite right about the story. While my husband encouraged and cheered for me, I became entrenched in the eventual realization that this manuscript would not be THE ONE we writers all hope for. And in June and July of 2015, the rejections trickled in and my fears were realized.

I made a big mistake a year ago. Here I was, sitting on a manuscript that had done well but wasn’t seeing results, when I learned about Pitch Wars. The whole point of Pitch Wars is to attract manuscripts with great potential but in need of help! Anyway, I’m getting off track. What I should have done last year was submit the exact manuscript I queried to the contest. It was polished and had many redeeming elements.

But I didn’t submit that manuscript.

Instead I rewrote a new version of that manuscript in two weeks and sent that one- the one that was rough and jagged around the edges and hadn’t seen any readers- that’s the one I sent to Pitch Wars.

Spoiler alert: I did not get in that year.

Rejection stings, there’s no question about it. But it’s important to pick yourself back up again. I wrote a silly little blog post about a Pity Party and then decided to move on. One of the mentors hosted a critique partner match-up event in mid September and I was ready to get some allies on my writing team. I was fortunate enough to pair with two CPs, and meet another person who would later become an extremely important CP to another manuscript.

I worked on revising KALEIDOSCOPE, which ultimately did not turn out as I had wanted it to. I finished that draft in April and it’s currently shelved for the time being. Meanwhile, I was leading a seminar for high school seniors entitled: Writing a Novel. The idea was simple but wildly appealing. I would lead a group of seniors as they wrote at least 40,000 words of their novels over a four week period. And, just to have something to do during the writing sprints, I would write along with them.

That was how DOPPELGANGER was born.

58,000 words came in four weeks, which I then edited to 56,000 words, then edited down to 52,000 words in July. I realized I loved the narrative more than any other story I had written in my life. There were issues, of course, but the core of it felt good. I loved my protagonist and I loved the basic plot.

By this time May of 2016 was upon us, which meant Brenda was once again releasing the names of the mentors for the next Pitch Wars season. Now armed with critique partners, I set to work. I sent the DOPPELGANGER manuscript to anyone who would look at it. I put out calls over Twitter. I contacted the writer I had met in the fall as a beta reader and she quickly joined my team of critique partners. I took suggestions, implemented them, polished, sent out again.

In July, I donated to a few organizations and won a slew of query and first chapter critiques from some top notch authors. They all had great suggestions and changes to make. But they were also cheering. Each one said: “This is great! Don’t give up on this!” I needed this kind of encouragement to keep revising, keep trying. Finally, the clock counted down to August 2nd and I gave my manuscript one last hug before sending it out into the mentor void.

I’m going to list the stats of that manuscript right now.

I sent a query and first chapter to six mentors. Five mentors requested fulls. One of those requests started off as a first fifty pages and became a full. Four of the five requests also wanted a synopsis. Three of the five had questions to ask about the manuscript’s query history and my ambitions as a writer. It’s difficult to not let this kind of activity bloat into hope and rise straight to your head. By the time the announcement date came, I had basically shackled myself to a tree just to keep my feet on the ground. It hurts to want something so badly. It hurts to know it’s not a certainty. On the evening of the selection announcement, I had realized I wanted to get into this contest more than I even wanted an agent at that moment. I wanted to be a part of the organization that had reshaped my writing career over the past year.

Guys.

I got in.

I have three (THREE!) amazing mentors who tell me that they love this book and also because they love it and me they want to tear it to the ground and build it back up again. They sent me a real editorial letter that breaks my book down into plot, theme, character arcs, opening, climax, ending, etc. They see the things I care about most in this book and they want to help make them better. They want to see my book on the shelf, in a real bookstore, or a real library.

The picture at the top of this post is of the shirt I just bought. I want it to be here now, so I can wear it proudly every day. Here’s what it looks like on the back:

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Revision WARRIORS!

 

The truth is, last year was not the right time for me to get into Pitch Wars. I was starting a new full-time teaching job that turned out to be very consuming (in a wonderful way!) I also didn’t have the manuscript I loved in my hands.

But this year… this year was right. It was the time. I took this year to pursue writing and this contest is going to make me pursue writing like a true professional, whether I’m eventually picked up by an agent at the end of it or not.

I know this was a very long post, but it is only part one, friends. What lies ahead is a true adventure, much like Bilbo’s journey to Smog and back again. Much like Coraline’s journey into the clutches of her other mother. Much like the journey to the Metropolitan Museum that Claudia and Jamie take when they run away from home. Much like the journey Tami Small takes when she is mistaken for an identical stranger. You haven’t heard of that last story yet, but you will.

Oh trust me, you will.

Story #39- Book People

I have recently moved to Austin, TX and find myself searching for new ways to explore children’s literature, this time outside of teaching. I am looking into positions in after school programs, cafes, and of course, bookstores! One bookstore I am applying to, named Book People, asks their applicants to be creative with their cover letters. I decided to write a poem.

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Book People.

-A poem

Book people do not float, buoyant.

They sink deep, diving into reefs of words and worlds,

Trying on a pair of shoes and goggles for a day or two.

Book people do not float, aimless.

They’re out to explore, out to soar, twisting through time and space,

Peeking into black holes, succumbing to magnetic pulls.

Book people do not float, empty.

They are layered, checkered, dressed and decked with thoughts and ideas,

Spinning from fairy tale but grounded, planted, in our real world realms.

Book people do not float, away.

They live to share, lay their pages to bare for hearts and minds

Reaching, wanting a friend, a treasure, a beginning, an end.

Book people do not float, alone.

They build a story, find themselves unfolding in a cast of characters.

Creating an incident, a door, a change to who they were before.

Book people do not float.

They move. They think quick, pin their hearts wide, cast a net over their tomes and add, add, add all the time. They listen, reach for others on a road, gentle, hopeful. They watch over thousands of children, see them comfortably to the shelves, then giddily into new hands. Book people love and risk and care.

I am Book people. I belong here.

Story #38- Sci-Fi Shorts

I have once again received a challenge. What glory!!!

A nameless contributor has sent a message which reads:

“The task: tell a sci-fi story. The catch: you get six words. Go!”

I had forgotten how fun this is. Here we go…

Story #1:

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Black scales absorbed the forgotten planet.

Story #2:

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The goblin removed her porcelain skin.

Story #3:

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Dripping with venom, he fell forever.

Story #4:

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Lava spilled into her empty grave.

Story #5:

chess one against many

She snarled at the last enemy.

Story #6:

May Day June 12 1922 Forest spirits (full res)

The forest spirits leapt, finally free.

THE END

Ok, maybe I’m not the best with sci-fi versus fantasy shorts, but I’m working on it.

Comment with a six-word story of your own!

Story #37- Goldilocks RETOLD

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ANOTHER BRILLIANT GUEST POST

By my awesome niece.

(Accompanied by her brilliant artwork)

To Aunty Rosewater,

Once upon a time there were three bears and they had oatmeal.

Goldilocks broke baby bear’s chair. And eat baby bear’s oatmeal. I know!

A moose came running up to Goldilocks and said, “I want to play with you!”

Goldilocks said, “Be nice to Grandma!”

Then the moose ate the three bears!

Brinley sang, “Fighting crime, trying to save the world. Here they come just in time, the Powderpuff girls!”

The river and the fish came and Goldilocks said, “You can play!”

And they looked and there was a spider hanging off a hook! It was a scary, scary, scary Halloween spider!

And the river and Goldilocks and the fish and the spider and the moose live in Ashland!

The End.

Love, Brinley.

Story #36- The Park Potion

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Dear Brinley,

I am sitting in Lithia Park as I write this, and I have a secret.

Lithia Park is in Ashland, Oregon, by the way, which is not so far from you! I am here at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a whole week, watching plays in the afternoons and evenings, and taking walks in the mornings.

Today when I went to the park, I decided to do a little writing instead of walking. I sat on a nice bench and took out my favorite notebook. The leaves flashed yellow and orange and the brightest pink you’ve ever seen. I started doing some regular writing, but then a group of bandits crossed my path.

They were disguised as small children, not too much older than you. They hailed from the southern playground, and came running with their stick swords held high in the air.

“Yaa!” they yelled.

I pretended to be busy writing, so they would not suspect that I had seen them.

They charged right on past my bench, then turned right at a small path in the park, and crept behind me. Not right behind me, of course. Or else I would have been scared. They walked back into the bushes where a large, grey boulder sat. If you ask me, I think someone brought the boulder in from outside the park. It looks unnatural.

And maybe even a little magical.

The bandits laid their swords down, then crouched behind the boulder.

“Did you bring it?” one of them whispered.

“Yeah, where’s the potion?” the others hissed.

I heard one of the boys fiddling with something in the leaves. Then I heard liquid swooshing around and around. I couldn’t turn around though, or else the bandits would know I was onto them. So I looked right ahead, pretending to write normal things like group-ups do. But really my hand just wriggled back and forth. My brain wasn’t on the page before me, though. It was in my ears, listening.

Where is your brain right now, Brinley? Is it in your ears too? Or maybe it’s in your eyes, looking around you. Or it just might be in your nose, if you smell something particularly interesting…

Well right around this time, I started to smell something particularly interesting… At first it smelled only of rotten eggs. But then I smelled flowers and minerals, and things I could not name.

“Should we drink it?” the one boy asked. “Is that what the potion is for?”

The others did not answer. I slowly began to turn my head back toward them. Each young bandit boy had a hand on the magic boulder. A plastic bottle of liquid sat on top.

And Brinley, let me tell you, that liquid looked an awful lot like potion. It glowed in a way that have the bandits pause.

“Time to leave!” a teacher voice called.

The boys ran back past me, leaving the potion behind them. And guess what I did then? The secret I now keep…

(I drank it!)

To be continued.

Love you always, Auntie Rosewater