It’s no secret I’m a huge Pitch Wars fan and was lucky enough to land a mentee spot in 2018. It was, without a doubt, the most challenging, and rewarding, process in my writing career to date.

So when this PW Advice Blog Hop thing came up – I jumped at it! The idea of PW prep and survival is near and dear to my heart as year after year I’ve seen the stresses take their toll.

It’s understandable. It makes sense.

But it’s something that can be minimized. Sort of. Buckle up, this post is gonna be long. But I try to be funny. Sort of. And there are gifs – sorry, not sorry. I used to be a hater. Not anymore.

We’re a week away from mentee announcements. Woot! You’ve (hopefully) read some craft books (if you haven’t, check out here for a whole page on that). You’ve polished your manuscript until it’s as shiny as you can make it.
The wait is almost over (for now).

By the way, most of the following stuff applies whether or not you “get in”.

My biggest advice?

(more…)

No sooner had I started blogging again, getting back in the habit of regular posts then…

I got into Pitch Wars!!!

Y’all! This is a huge step for me. I’ve entered PW twice before and gotten great feedback, but never got in. But… it has also been an ungodly amount of hard work. And worth every bit of blood, sweat, and tears.

Now that it’s winding down… some fellow 2018 mentees and I have some plans (see the news). The PW Agent Showcase is coming up in early February, so this leg of the journey is almost over.

People say publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And while that’s partially true, they forget to tell you that it’s an Iron Man Marathon – where each leg of the journey is a marathon in and of itself. And then you go on to the next.

There’s been a lot of coffee consumed…

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dep8hqfvyaaww7gLast week, I wrote about revising an old, retired manuscript…

Except this isn’t just revision. This is full-on rewriting. At this point, I don’t know how much of the original text and story will remain. I have a suspicion. Quite a bit of the bad guy will be hanging around. He’s sexy and scary, and terrific and terrible. The supporting characters, especially the main male character, are interesting and likely to remain largely unchanged – at least in personality.

That MC, though? She’s gotta go. She’s a pain in the ass and flat out awful. Not in the unlikable, but I still want to read about her way, either. More like in the I wanna smack her head into a wall, or throw this book across the room way. Not good. She’s due for a major overhaul.

And the plot? Holy slowpokes Batman! Let’s get this shit in gear, huh? I get that literary can be slower, but this is fucking molasses on a winter morning.

So, if it’s so much work, and such a pain in the ass, why am I doing this? After all, this was a story that got rejection after rejection, and finally got shelved in favor of a stronger piece.

Why make the choice to revise an old manuscript rather than write something new?

Oh, lots of reasons… But two really stand out…

At its core, it’s a good concept, and there are some really compelling bits in there (the bad guy in particular) that just won’t let me go.

It’s a story that is clearly pointing in a particular direction—now that I’m able to see it. Unlike the new piece rattling around in my head that is wavering between domestic thriller and romantic suspense.

After tearing the piece apart last week, I got to the even harder work of rebuilding the framework. It’s just an outline at the moment, a bare sketch with a few scenes (all the bad guy’s) left virtually untouched. But there is a foundation, a direction, a rough plot…

And it’s very different than before.

The pace is faster (thankfully), the steamy romance replaced with simmering chemistry and tension (damn it, I like my kissing books, but I think the tension better serves this story), and the main character has undergone a personality reboot—she’s still in the fledgling stages, but this woman is a vast improvement over her previous incarnation.

So now it begins… the work of digging into characters, finding their voices, and building their worlds, and then gleefully throwing havoc in their paths.

c5r6mc9umaa1pjxShelving a project you love is never fun, but…

My first PitchWars was (mumble, grumble, looks at calendar, gives up) more than a few years ago. I entered my then barely completed (and nowhere near ready) MS that I inexpertly described as an edgy romantic suspense.

I didn’t get in, but gained so much from the contest. The CPs, query help, and community were so amazing. I revised the ever living crap out of that piece (it became a literary thriller). Still, after several rounds of queries and only a few partial and full requests, I got nowhere.

Regretfully, I shelved it and moved on.

Two completed books later, having landed and then broken up with an agent… with countless (who am I kidding, I’ve counted) rejection letters, pages upon pages of feedback, and a completely different perspective about genre and writing… I’ve found myself in an interesting place.

My work straddles the line between romance (romantic suspense to be more precise) and domestic or literary thriller.

That’s a hard fucking sell.

I’ve been spinning my wheels on a new piece, unable to really move forward—should I write it more romance? Should I go more thriller?

My now-former agent’s advice on that question was: What do you want to write?

My answer was simple and complex and naive: Both, but I want to write what will sell.

Yesterday, I made a choice. I dusted off that old MS… and I proceeded to rip it apart, down to bare bones. Now? Now comes the scary part.

Putting it back together.

And it appears to be taking a whole new dimension, leaning toward straight up thriller, or even psychological thriller.

Let’s see where this ride goes, yeah?

… is never done.

Let’s skip all the “how did you get here” fun… because to be honest it wasn’t fun. Though it was kinda cool. After many misadventures and a few side trips, I finally landed a literary agent. Yay! One step closer to my goal of traditional publishing.

Writing the book is the easy part. Then comes the querying for an agent. And the waiting. And the rejections. And … and … and … Patience and perseverance are required. A whole lotta both.

And the waiting wasn’t over. There was more waiting for contracts to be done. Then waiting for her edit and revision notes…

Which is the point of this post.

You think you’re done when you type “The End”? Or when you’ve done all your proofreading and revisions and had critique partners and beta readers, and…? Nope and nope.

I just completed the edits my agent suggested. There weren’t that many, and they weren’t that bad. And many of them made me bang my head into my desk wondering why I didn’t catch that stuff myself.

Next up? Putting together the whole submission package (with help from said agent). Then comes submitting to publishers. Dun-dun-DUN! The nice part about that is… I don’t have to do it! I just have to bite my nails and WAIT. Oh great. More patience.

And y’know what? When a publisher buys the book? (note I said “when” and not “if” – there’s that perseverance thing) There’s going to be more work. More revisions and edits. More tweaking and more waiting. And waiting. And then promoting. And saying “hey go buy my book!”

All while writing the next book… or editing the next book… or… Because a writer’s work is never done.

 

It’s a question that plagues most writers at some point – where do I start this story?

Don’t start with waking up. Start in the middle of the action. Don’t start with an info dump or backstory. Open with a hook. Do this. Don’t do that. The advice on how to craft the opening scenes of your novel is wildly varied, and often contradictory.

So which advice do you heed? The answer is simple, and horrible. You do what is right for your story.

Oh ugh! Really? Did I just write that? Yep. I did. Because it’s true.

I recently put the finishing touches on a new romantic suspense, and (writer angst about being a total hack aside) I’m pretty pleased with the story. I set out to write a tale that stayed firmly within a genre. It was my first real attempt at plotting before I started writing. It was a challenge and a learning experience for me, and I’ve got to say I’m damn happy with the results.

Then I got to the point in the process that’s hardest for me. Turning the story over to beta readers and critique partners. There is always a moment of abject fear: What if they hate it? What if it’s terrible? What if… What if… What if…

The responses come in, and… they’re not terrible. That thing I was debating deleting? Yep. Ditch it. That other scene I wasn’t sure about? Everyone loves. Oh, huh, glad someone caught that; don’t I feel silly for that mistake.

But… the starting point… One suggests an earlier start (something I had done but deleted – more on that in a moment). Another suggests a later start. Still another thinks it’s perfect just as it is. And… and… and…

If there was some sort of agreement, or unified voice, I’d have no doubts. But this? I can’t even tell if the story really does start in the wrong spot, or if it’s just that particular writer’s approach to story telling.

Back to that earlier start thing… I had, in early stages, started the story much earlier. In fact, right where someone suggested. When I finished and looked at the whole story, I realized that was the wrong starting point. A couple of trusted brainstorming partners agreed – for the genre, it slowed it down too much. Sure, it was an action-packed scene, filled with tension and emotion, but it was not the right starting point for the story I wanted to tell.

So, what am I gonna do?

This is where that simple and horrible answer comes in. I’m going to take an honest and dispassionate look at the story. I’m going to go back to those trusted brainstorming partners. I’m going to pick apart everything until I’m reasonably certain that I’m starting in the right spot… for my story. A different writer might start this tale in a different place.

And y’know what? That’s totally OK.

Scene 1:

At an inner-city self-storage facility, I’m the only person in the lot when a nondescript panel van pulls in. I’m busy unloading the now empty bins of holiday decor, set to go back into storage, when a guy climbs out of the panel van. Nothing strange here, right? We’re at a storage facility after all.

Then dude strips off his sweater and shirt (it’s 40 frickin’ degrees outside) and tears into a plastic bag. He pulls out a brand new disposable coverall – the kind of thing painters use. And he puts this on. So… seriously? A disposable coverall?

Now… I’m sitting there thinking, do I really want to go into a deserted storage facility with some dude who just dressed up like Dexter? Maybe I should just, oh… wait out here, in the parking lot where there are cameras, and a casino parking lot across the street.

Of course, instead, I hurry inside, cursing my overactive writer’s imagination. Because, y’know… I did just finish reading a serial killer novel. And I am in the process of researching a new thriller. And I did just finish writing another thriller – that features a creepy dude stalking a woman. And I am doing final edits on a very creepy thriller with a serial rapist.

Yeah. Not like my brain is predisposed to think creepy things, instead of… hey, maybe dude is hauling a bunch of dirty stuff and doesn’t want to get his clothes yucky.

Scene 2:

On the way home from said storage facility, I’m driving up the street and see a big, burly, scary looking dude walking along dressed in full camo gear and acting a little strange. No big deal. This is the city. There are strange folks around.

Except this dude has a gigantic Bowie knife strapped to one hip. And he’s marching along, stopping every now and then to make angry-looking gestures.

And of course, when I pull up to park, dude is coming up the street right behind me. Do I get out of my car? With angry-looking, knife-wearing camo-dude right there?

Once again, cursing my writer’s imagination, I get out of the car. Camo-dude ignored me as he continued up the sidewalk.

Scene 3:

Back home… you can damn well bet both of these scenes were noted, jotted down, and filed away for future possible use, because… well, damn, I couldn’t make that kinda shit up.

plottervpantserThere are generally two types of writers… those who plot and those who do not. Okay, obviously, there are hybrids… folks who do a bit of both, and the world is never quite as extreme black and white as all that, but… for the sake of this post, let’s go with it, m’kay? (cue the warnings of impending hyperbole, sarcasm, and other shit)

Plotters maintain that the only way to draft a novel is through meticulous planning. They make lists, detailed notes, outlines, and spreadsheets. There are countless plotting methods and everyone has their favorite(s).

Pantsers, on the other hand, basically sit down to write with some vague idea in their heads and not much else going on. They start throwing words out willy nilly in the hopes that they won’t write themselves into a corner.

Yeah, fine… over simplification, a little ridiculous, and not nice to either. I warned you, right? (If you really want to know more – check out this Goodreads post)

Personally, I’ve always been more of a pantser. I start writing with an idea, a question really – what would happen if… I write linearly – in other words, I write start to finish. I don’t write the end scene, then go back and write the scenes that lead up to it.

Over time, I evolved into a primarily pantser hybrid – sort of sketching out a rough idea of the general story arc and leaving the rest to chance.

I recently decided to try an experiment. After a bunch of genre-blurring work I decided to attempt something that sat firmly in one genre. Gasp!

My favorite genre question has always been: what shelf/section would your work be on in the book store? My answer has usually been: ummm… multiple? (Aside from a horror novella, everything else has been kinda hard to define… which also means kinda hard to market. Whoopsie.)

Back to my point… I decided to write a piece that had a clear genre – one that I was at least already passingly familiar with. Then I did my research – got a better grasp of the genre, read several of the genre’s current top sellers, and a few of the rotten apples as well. Looked at agents and publishing houses that deal with the genre and at their lists – what were they looking for, what do they consider marketable, etc, etc, etc.

Shit. Here I am treating my writing as a business. Dammit. This is supposed to be fun. Oh. Wait. It is. I am having fun.

Ahem…

And so… after doing all of this and coming up with my “what would happen if…” question, I realized that I needed to do some planning. My habit, my experience as a writer would not necessarily take this novel in the direction I wanted to go. So… it was time to learn to plot.

Dun-dun-duhhhhn!

Like the geeky person I am and pretend not to be, I researched different methods and discovered most of them drive me ape-shit-bonkers. Seriously. Bonkers. As in pull-my-hair-out, pound-my-head-into-my-desk. And I love spreadsheets.

After much digging, I finally found an approach that didn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with a splintery wooden spoon and gave it a shot.

It took a few tries, but I was pretty happy with the result… then I started writing. Pacing is not normally a problem for me. Word count is not normally a problem for me… Yep, suddenly I was struggling to keep the pacing tight, and to actually get enough words on the page. Grrrr…

Still… I kept going. It took three months. Three freaking months… okay, wait… that’s not that bad. In fact, all things considered, that’s not that bad at all.

The results? Well… I accomplished my goal. I wrote a novel that sits firmly within a genre, and I think it’s a pretty damn good story. Whether agents and/or publishers agree… well… that remains to be seen. I hope so. Because I kinda like this piece. In fact, I like it a lot.

Does this mean I’m a reformed pantser? Meh. I dunno. What I do know is that I’ve got some ideas for the next novel… and I’m going to try this method again and see where it leads me and get some more words on the page.

And that is all any of us can ever do… continue honing our craft and our approach to find what works for us. Pantser, plotter, or somewhere in between… it doesn’t matter. What matters is words on the page.

So, this morning I woke up to drama.

Not a big deal, really. These things happen. People disagree, and thanks to the nature of internet communications, miscommunication about those disagreements happen.

The issue was handled and no one seems the worse for wear… but any time something like this happens, it makes me examine my own communication and word choices.

A reader took exception to the tone of one of my posts, and a particular phrase I used to preface that tone. The phrase was “mom mode”, meant to be a humorous jab at myself because the post that followed was part cheerleader, part kick in the ass to fellow writers involved with a particular contest. The post came about after several conversations I had with others regarding public negative and unprofessional behavior on the part of some participants.

Perhaps it would have come across better had I prefaced the piece with my curriculum vitae and explained my credentials (I won’t go into details, but you can get an idea here). Perhaps it would have been better to call it “blunt mode”, or “ass kicking mode”.

But I chose “mom mode”. Why?

Because I am, by nature, a teacher and encourager. And because, in my world, “mom” is the person who loves you, wants the best for you, and is willing to say the sometimes hard things to help you be your best. And because I was being silly… Because I am a peer to fellow participants. I am not their teacher. I am neither their manager nor their mentor. But I do have relevant experience.

While I will happily apologize if I unintentionally offend someone (and I did), I will not engage in public arguments. Polite discourse, courteous discussion of disagreements – perfectly fine. There is no way to please all of the people all of the time, or to 100% guarantee that you never offend anyone.

So… if anything I write makes you wonder who the fuck I think I am… Or pushes the wrong buttons… Or causes you to stop listening/reading because of the way I said something… I’d like to know. Politely and preferably privately (I am damn easy to contact). Because I welcome an intelligent and thoughtful conversation on the subject. Maybe you’ll change my mind, and maybe I’ll change yours – or maybe neither…

Either way, doing so privately avoids potential misunderstandings and social media explosions. And really, I prefer to restrict my explosions to movies and fireworks.

Technically, this post is aimed at Pitch Wars participants, but really, it applies to any writer—whether participating in a contest, querying, or what.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the process, to focus on your own journey and experience—especially in a contest like Pitch Wars. Which means it’s also easy to forget that you are not alone, and you do not live in a vacuum.

Which means what, exactly?

Ready for some tough love? Well, it’s coming. Don’t worry, my usual peppy cheerleader stuff will replace Mom-Mode later. Sometimes, you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.

Your “job” as a writer is not over when you type “the end” at the bottom of your manuscript. Nope. Not even close. You’ve got a long way to go baby, and while there are people who will help you along that way, a lot of the work is on you.

Yes, you.

You are going to have to research agents, and write query letters, and jump through hoops, and say please and thank you. Eventually, you’re going to have to revise and rework, and deal with other people’s opinions on your writing—and find a way to mesh them together with your vision.

You have work to do. You have a role to play.

And it doesn’t involve passively sitting back and asking others to do it for you.

Y’know how it’s best to avoid passive voice in your writing? Well, you need to avoid being passive in your journey as a writer as well.

Have I pissed you off just a little bit? Or a lot a bit? Are you feeling indignant?

That was not my intention, and if you are feeling that way, I suggest it’s likely because you’ve been guilty of being just a little bit passive.

Now that you’re choking on the bitter, here comes the sweet.

You’ve done something awesome!

You finished a novel. You took a risk and shared that work with a stranger. You put yourself out there. You brought characters and places and events to life—you created something from nothing.

How awesome is that?

Celebrate it! Jump up and down, shout “woohoo!” Have a drink. Whatever it takes to mark the occasion.

Now don’t stop there.

Do you have another story in you? Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep working on your craft. Read, then read some more. Write and share with other writers—people who are not close friends or family. Tell another story.

Because that’s what writers do. We tell stories.

And if you don’t get in? If you sub to agents and get rejections?

Chin up. It happens. Go back and read the last couple of paragraphs.

This business is full of negatives—waiting, and not knowing, and hearing no-no-no. It’s full of uncertainty and things that make you question your skill and your purpose.

So what?

If you want your novel to see the light of day, these are things you’re going to have to deal with. Not everyone will love your story. And that’s OK.

Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep working on your craft… you get the idea.

Now, some Pitch Wars specific advice that you can pretty much apply to almost anything in life:

  • Remember mentors are human. They are people, with jobs and lives just like you. They’re stressed about deadlines, and finding the ONE manuscript they’re going to love for the next two months. They’re also volunteering their time. Please be courteous, kind, and appreciative of their efforts.
  • Hold up your end of the rope. Remember, you have a job to do. Take responsibility for your own participation and progress. Get involved with the community, double check those spam/junk folders, respond promptly to any emails you may receive, and keep an open mind. Be ready to work, and work hard.
  • Keep it positive. Y’know, stay classy. Stay professional. However you want to put it. Commiserate with close friends or critique partners—privately. Complain all you want—privately. Think of your public presence as a brand—because that’s exactly what it is.

And now for the hardest, most difficult piece of advice: HAVE FUN!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled happy, perky, pep-talking friendly neighborhood cheerleader and fellow Pitch Wars hopeful.