I will admit up front this is an extremely self-indulgent post, mainly to get the contents of my brain out onto the page. However, I hope my downfall can also inform your success.
For those of you who aren’t in the writing community, or aren’t really in the loop on Twitter, there is currently a contest under way called Pitch Wars. It’s run by Brenda Drake and her fabulous team. They start by compiling a huge group of mentors, made up of people in the know – writers, publishing and agent interns, etc. It all kicks off with a blog hop, where the generous mentors (they volunteer their time) detail their wish lists – age group, genre, themes, subplots, and so on. The contest then opens for submissions, allowing writing hopefuls the chance of scoring an intense, one-on-one mentorship to work on their manuscript and query letter. Each mentor or mentorship team chooses at least one mentee (sometimes more) and helps them whip their story into the best possible shape over two months. At the end of that time, their finished products are published on the blog for what’s called the agent round – something which every writer dreams of! Instead of contacting literary agents individually, they turn up en masse and peruse the works posted there, with the intent of finding new authors to represent. *cue angelic choir music*
I have detailed the contest process for two reasons: to introduce others to the wonderousness of Pitch Wars and to help you understand the framework which is currently fuelling my neuroses! That’s right, interwebs, I have entered Pitch Wars this year.
Entering the contest is a big damn deal in itself, as it means you not only have a completed manuscript, but one which has been polished enough to warrant other people reading it. You must also have a query letter (think cover letter for a job application, but for a book) and a synopsis of your story prepared. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the right place in my process with WEAVER in 2016 to enter, so I was stoked to have my material ready this time around.
But what exactly is “enough”? What are you measuring? How do you even determine that? Well, asking rhetorical questions like those has already landed me in hot water with my submission.
Like the rest of my generation, I’ve grown up with my eyes glued to screens for a significant chunk of time, and that includes watching countless blockbuster movie trailers. Somehow, their propensity to ask huge, stake-identifying rhetorical questions has managed to sneak its way into my own work. It has been said, and I agree, that it’s a cheater’s approach to conveying information to your readers. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t read widely enough prior to submission to come across the viewpoint before I hit send. I have outed myself as a newbie by including those questions in my query, which I am, but I’m not nearly as bad as that faux pas would lead one to believe. At least I don’t think so! In this case, my research into my craft fell short of the mark, but it’s not to say it didn’t happen.
My first draft, as any writer will tell you, was an absolute stinking heap of crap! But it was my baby and it was somewhere to start. Problem was, I didn’t know what to do with it next! After way too many hours spent staring at my Scrivener screen with the words shining back, taunting me, I knew it was time for help. Sure, I studied AP English in high school and Honours English in college, but understanding literature and writing papers about classics is an entirely different skill set. I decided to dive into the wonders of the World Wide Web and see what my fiction forebears had to offer. Wrong question to ask. I should have considered what they didn’t have to offer!
There are writing blogs which cover everything from character arcs and world-building to grammar and story structure. I read endlessly, bought books, scribbled notes, and brainstormed how I would apply the advice to my own story. I composed a hit-list of edits and slogged my way through, page by page, chopping, polishing, and tweaking my manuscript. When I reached the end, I rinsed and repeated. Back to the interwebs and into the overwhelming torrent of instruction for another round of tips to institute. I sought advice from friends who are writers, I asked for constructive criticism from readers and critique partners, and I went back to the drawing board yet again. Despite this, I still missed the memo about rhetorical questions.
The tale ultimately brings me to my take home message, one which I still need to internalize. You will never, ever, EVER know everything there is to know about a subject. If you think you do, then you’re wrong. I accepted this in medicine very early on, but for some reason, I keep forgetting the concept when it comes to writing. It seems obvious, in such a subjective field, but for an organiser, planner, and over-all Type A control freak, it’s absolute torment to admit limitation. It’s even more unpleasant when you’re made aware of it, yet again, in an extremely public forum. However, the lessons which sting the most tend to be learned the best – maybe this time it will stick!
The Pitch Wars mentors have all said, and I believe them, that they aren’t looking for perfect, they’re looking for potential and for writing which they can fix. The problem is, that’s based entirely on opinion! A level of quality which is more than enough for one will be abysmal for another. Don’t let those differences get under your skin, because they will always be there. Instead, take the feedback on board and use it! I will now and forevermore swear off of including rhetorical questions in my query letters. And I won’t let the doubt about whether or not I know enough prevent me from moving forward. I believe in striving to be enough, we are.