Why Pitch Wars?

If you follow me on twitter at all, or saw last week’s blog post, you’ll know that I’m a mentor in this year’s Pitch Wars. Don’t know Pitch Wars? It’s a contest where mentors pick a mentee and help them revise their manuscript.

In reality, it’s much more than this.

I see Pitch Wars as kind of the holy grail of writing contests. At the outset, there are about 130 writers/writer teams involved. These are authors who are agented, published, and/or editors. These are authors who have been through the trenches. We have knowledge and experience to pass on.

And we do.

Just take a look at the hashtag and you’ll see any number of mentors offering up advice. Check out all the bios, each mentor will have some tidbit to share.

I’ve mentioned this many times before, and I’ll mention it again: I’ve learned most of what I know about writing from contests.

Through contests I’ve gained valuable information. Through contests I’ve met my CPs. Almost all my writer friends I can trace back to a contest, directly or indirectly. Here’s a way to strengthen your writing and fine tune your skills.

Even if you don’t get in.

In 2014 I entered Pitch Wars for the first time. I didn’t get any requests. I wasn’t chosen. But I learned and made connections. In 2015 I entered again. I had a recently revised manuscript and I felt like something major was still wrong, but I had no clue what to do with it. Last year we could sub to five mentors, and I did. I got requests from four that totally made my day.

I didn’t get in.

I did, however, receive some very encouraging feedback. A few weeks later I landed my agent through the slush. Which means one big thing: I didn’t get in because I didn’t need it.

Now, I’m not patting myself on the back here. If I hadn’t done my revision yet? I might have needed that mentoring. But after the revision it was ready to go.

Keep this in mind, potential mentees. Some of you won’t get in simply because you are ready. Your story is ready. And a mentor can’t see how to take your amazing story to the next level, because it doesn’t need to be brought there.

Others will not get in for a variety of reasons, the main one being: we can each only pick one. I’m going to want a novel I can read over, and over, and over again. I’m going to want something that while I read, a little lightbulb goes off and I see how to bring that magic up a notch. I’m also going to want a writer who is ready to roll up his or her sleeves and do the work.

If you participate on the hashtag feed, if you listen to the mentors and make friends, you’ve already won. There’s so much information out there, but if you are not open minded enough to check yourself and learn how to change, you won’t get anywhere.

Writing is hard. It’s blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve killed parts of my story that I love, I’ve put a beloved project aside to collect dust. I’m also very willing to change and alter or remove parts. The first thing I always ask myself: does this change affect the overall plot? If the answer is no, bye-bye.

So take from this contest whatever you can. Last year I did. Last year I had no clue my writing life was about to change. I know there are potential mentees in the same boat. Be it through getting picked or not, many of you will look back a year from now and be amazed at how far you’ve come.

Need it spelled out more? Last year at this time I had one R&R I was working on, no other requests out. I had been collecting rejection after rejection. This year I have an agent and a publisher—not only a publisher, but a traditionally published book.

Where are you going to be next year?

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Learning From Cliché Avoidance

There’s a warning out there in Writer Land: avoid clichés at all cost. If one pops up in a manuscript, light the blowtorch and burn that sucker out of the story! Okay, so maybe it’s not that extreme. Forgive me, I’ve been preparing Superhero battles with my son.

The type of cliché I’m focusing on is the plot cliché, an occurrence found so often that it becomes cliché and loses that special spark in the process. I had one I hadn’t even realized: my main characters met at a bar. At the time I had read very few novels that began in this fashion, it was a honest and clueless mistake. I reworked the scene to avoid the real cliché part of the meeting: their eyes lock from across the room… Nope, done before, needs something to set this meeting apart from the pack.

This past week I was diving into a Work In Process, trying to find something to revise with a purpose, because I really do love what a revision can do. I’m plugging along, planting in new concepts, and came to an abrupt halt. My characters meet where? That’s right, a bar. So not only had I not been aware of this being a clichéd occurrence, I made it cliché in my own work.

I retreated into my warped little mind and played around with other scenarios that would work for my characters. What really spurred on this realization was a decision to make one of my characters not drink alcohol. But that still left me with a stressed out character looking for a release.

Hello ice cream. No longer do my characters meet at a bar, their eyes locking and… yeah. Now my female drops her ice cream cone down the front of my male’s shirt. And I’m saying a silent thanks to the Cliché Gods, as this small change revamps my entire opening and makes it stronger.

ice cream

Furthermore, a trail of ice cream, down a hot guy’s shirt. It just calls for licking, doesn’t it?

I Love Revisions—And You Should Too

I love revising. No, really, I do, no sarcasm implied. And at this point many authors are looking at their screens with funny expressions on their faces, or sending some not friendly words my way.

This isn’t to say revisions are easy, just that they are something I’ve found to be a very positive experience. Here’s why:

1) Revisions breathe new life into stories. By the time a revision comes into play a novel has been worked through, cleaned up, and read many times over. The words on the page have grown familiar, and comforting. A revision is a way of looking at all those words differently, a fresh point of view that can take what has grown stagnant into something better.

2) Revisions involve new discoveries of characters. There is always something new to learn about a character, and a revision can take on a different path and open up a character to new experiences, new pasts, or just a different take on life in general.

3) Revisions are a new journey. They mark a changing point for the novel. Regardless of the origin of the revision, a slate is wiped clean and new potential grows. A revision also marks a new journey inside the novel. Something new comes to the plot and the internal journey has a makeover.

Yes, I’m in the middle of a revision right now. And yes, I’m loving it. That’s not to say I haven’t spent a decent amount of time staring at my blinking curser trying to find my way.

But I’m loving the change in the story, the changes in my characters. I’m loving seeing little plot points grow stronger due to the changes, as if the changes were always meant to be there. And I’m loving the new life in the novel, the new excitement for a story grown comfortable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.

Trying to decide if you should begin a revision? Check out this blog post by my writer friend Kim for some excellent pointers!

eReader Editing

There are many different ways to edit. Some writers prefer to keep the document in their favorite word processing program (I’m usually in this camp), others prefer to print and break out a red pen. I’ve recently found a new editing method: eReader.

The eReader is a perfect option when editing is a struggle. Lately I’ve wanted to curl up with a book instead of working, and not have my laptop open. I’m a conservationist; so printing out my manuscript gives me a bit of the willies. That left me with my eReader. I knew I needed to get started on my next project and I didn’t want my personal funk to delay my writing. So I sent the document to my eReader and curled up under a few blankets.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve edited on my eReader. I’ve used it as a great tool to get work done while on vacation. I often use it as a near final read through to catch what I’ve missed. But up until now I’ve never used it for an earlier edit.

Let me tell you, I’m loving this process. I’ve been in a personal funk, tired and just wanting to put my laptop away and read. So I’ve been reading. As I read I make notes. Lots of notes, I’m fearful I’m going to hit that magic limit and my eReader is going to crash, taking all my notes into the great ole land where missing socks end up. And with over 300 notes this is a very real fear!

This novel had recently gone through a heavy revision, so I’m getting a good opportunity to see how the revision flows. And there is no editing pressure. If I see an issue I flag it for my future self. Current self just enjoys and points out the issues. If an inspiration pops up I type it into my notes. If not? No pressure at all.

Future self… well, she’s going to hate me. Like seriously hate me. Because I’ve left these types of gems in my notes: show this, expand, and awkward, fix this. And when future self sits down to work on those little gems, well, there’s gonna be hell to pay.

With any luck, I will no longer be feeling funky when I attempt to tackle these notes. I’ll be refreshed and ready to make magic out of those cryptic memos. If not, well, there’s always the next round to get it right.

So if you are in an editing funk, change things up. A different approach has a tendency to breathe new life into a novel.

The Sweet Side of Rejection

As a writer, rejection is both painful and helpful. It stings when our babies are not loved. The cuts can be deep and require copious amounts of ice cream and sulking for a few days to overcome. However, constructive feedback can change a story, make it better than previously imagined.

A few weeks back I was fortunate to receive a rare kind of feedback from an agent: a rejection coupled with a few lines letting me know where my story fell short, namely my opening needed a hook. I’m not going to lie, it stung. My heart dropped and I was about to begin a wallowing period when my muse jumped up, whacked me in the head, and yelled, “look closer.”

So I did. I looked closer at the constructive feedback, and as I read my muse whispered in my ear, “make Cam Deaf.”

Me: Whoa, we weren’t going to make a main character have a hearing loss, not yet. It’s something we’ll only be able to do a few times and we already have that story idea for a Hard of Hearing female.

Muse: But Cam should be Deaf. Think about it.

I thought about it. And even as I was still hesitant to make the leap, all the little details of the story shifted. Plot points became stronger. The character’s whole existence solidified in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

I did what any self-conscious writer does. I reached to my writer friends. Diversity is huge in the writing world right now and most were thrilled at the prospect of a Deaf male hero in a romance. A few others were leery, suggesting I make my female have a hearing loss instead.

Muse: No, no. She’s hearing. Cam is Deaf!

Or have him be Hard of Hearing, not Deaf.

Muse: Are you nuts? No! He’s Deaf!

I was starting to agree with my muse. I went back into my story, just to test the waters, and changed up my opening. I’ve since learned my opening was cliché: two characters meet across a bar, their eyes lock, magic! In making Cam Deaf my opening is still set at a bar, but now my female is staring at him, after already figuring out he couldn’t hear.

I shared my first page with my writer friends. The universal comment: Yes! It works! So I continued. This wasn’t a small change. This affected nearly every scene. Communication needed to be altered. Every time Cam heard something I had to remove it. Visual cues needed to be put in. And the amount of times my characters were speaking to one another without facing each other… (facepalm)

But… I’m in love. And I’m convinced; he was always supposed to be Deaf, not just his grandmother. The story is richer with the change, and I’m excited to put hearing loss front and center.

Now I wait for my readers to get back to me on the full revision. My fingers are crossed it works.

Since I already have my original first page hiding out on my blog, perhaps I’ll share my new first page:

I need to get laid, Nica thought as she stared into her amber cocktail. Deceitful little drink, really. It looked harmless, tasted fruity, and was packed full of potent alcohol. Potent enough that she lost her common sense halfway through the first glass.

She was now on her third, scanning the room for a man to prey on.

She sighed and pulled herself up from her gloom. The bar was packed for a Tuesday night. Waves of chatter encompassed her, creating a low hum in her ears. Across the narrow room, a young couple flirted close together, clanking glasses. He whispered in his date’s ear. She blushed then nodded. Must have been something dirty. The guy looked around the bar before asking the man next to him a question.

The second man turned, a sense of sorrow rolling off him. Hair the hue of rich caramel stuck out in different directions. He shook his head and pointed to his ear, before turning back to his drink.

One side of Nica’s mouth quirked and she bit her lip. Her fingers itched to smooth down his messy hair.

His broad shoulders stiffened and he turned. She tried to pull her gaze away before he caught her staring, except she didn’t move. Not an inch. Total disconnect from cranial activity to body movement. Damn fruity drinks. A pair of brown eyes locked with hers. Crap. She knew better than to be rude and stare. Quick, sign something, she willed her hands, anything.