the importance of community

The 2015 Pitch Wars agent round began yesterday. We mentees are quite active behind the scenes, whooping and hollering and jumping around whenever someone gets a request and supporting those who still have none. (The “Zero Requests Club” keeps shrinking!)

I’m not going to lie about the stress of these three days, but that further emphasizes the need for writers to be part of a community. To have fellow writers at different stages of their writing careers around to offer advice, to encourage, to be a listening ear, and to remind you of the facts when your anxiety threatens to blow every little thing out of proportion.

One of the best parts of Pitch Wars is gaining a mentor. Julie has been my rock solid anchor throughout this contest–corresponding a little before the picks, actually choosing me, and then whipping my MS into a far better version of itself–and she’s keeping me sane now. I know I can go to her for anything, big or small, and I’ll feel better as a result.

And chances are, if you’re talking to someone ahead of you on their writing journey, they’ve faced many of the same fears/concerns/questions you have right now. Don’t be afraid to ask.

revising vs. editing

I’ve mentioned the joy of revisions before, but I didn’t take the time in that post to differentiate between revising and editing.

edit, verb. To prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.

revise, verb. To implement a change or a set of changes that corrects or improves something.

At first glance, they don’t look that different. However, when it comes to writing fiction, they describe two different worlds.

When you edit, you’re fixing sentence structure, improving word choice, changing or updating punctuation, and a myriad of other issues that come up when you’re trying to follow, say, the Chicago Manual of Style. You’re fine-tuning a fairly solid product, like washing or waxing a car.

When you revise, you’re getting under the hood. You might do something as small as replacing an air filter or undertake a massive project like replacing the entire engine. But you’re looking at story elements far more than how you’re using grammar and punctuation rules to tell that story. You’re hunting for character motivations, plot holes, POV (in)consistencies, details large and small that are integral to the reader’s perception of the individual scene or the story as a whole.

Sometimes revising breaks more than it fixes. Like you need to replace the heater core, but to get to it you have to take out the entire dashboard, and then putting that back together breaks other things.

Or you find a hose just about to burst by fiddling with the radiator. (I could make car analogies all day.)

The key thing to understand is that revising is hard, greasy, dirty, frustrating, sweaty, sometimes even bloody work. You might injure yourself along the way (figuratively speaking). You’ll step back during the revision process and wonder if you’ll ever get the damn thing back together in any sort of running shape. This is fine. This is normal.

Keep a pre-revision version of your MS handy. Get in there and fix what needs to be fixed. Step back and let it sit for a few hours or days (or weeks if you can). If you find a spot that’s being stubborn, that doesn’t want to be fixed, leave yourself some notes and come back to it later.

Pace yourself. Give yourself breaks. Enjoy a glass of wine or a run or a movie or something else that distracts you from your revisions. Don’t expect to revise everything overnight. Create a checklist, a to-do list, or a priority list, something that highlights the most important things to revise and the ones that aren’t so important. Reward yourself for getting items checked off those lists.

When you finally get that engine running again, it’ll purr, and you’ll realize the entire process was worth it. And you’ll become a better writer for it.

formatting thoughts

I thought I was picky in my formatting, in my approach to the appearance of my manuscripts, but my awesome mentor out-formats me like none other.

And I like it.

I’m going to share a few manuscript formatting tips here, gathered from my Pitch Wars experience and from combing the corners of the internet for advice. Your query letter is super important, your story and writing and style and voice are key, but having a professional-looking manuscript to send when you’re asked for a partial or a full won’t hurt your chances, either!

Giving credit where credit’s due

I’m ashamed to admit I can’t remember who tweeted about this–and it’s ironic given the sub-header I gave this section–but an agent (I think) mentioned on Twitter that you should always put your name in your manuscript. Not in the header, in the manuscript itself (probably on the first page, which should be a title page depending on who you ask), just in case he/she happens to read it on a Kindle or other device. You want your agent reader to know who you are!

Chapters

  • Make chapter titles the same font and size as the rest of your manuscript (I think bold is okay, but that’s it–no underlining or italics or other fancy-ness).
  • Treat a chapter title like a book title and capitalize words appropriately (which I didn’t do because I thought it looked cool . . . but it’s WRONG so it has to go).
  • Insert a page break between chapters (so that each chapter starts on a new page).

Punctuation

When it comes to dashes, em dashes without spaces are the way to go. Stuff like “He spun—with the grace of a swan but the weight of an elephant—and inevitably slammed into the door.” Technically I could get away with “He – and I quote – actually said that” but I’d rather go with what’s more commonly accepted.

Ellipses are weird. Annoying. (And I use too many of them.) In a sentence, you’re supposed to use them like “He said . . . that I was skinny.” SO MUCH SPACE. And Word counts those as words and breaks your word count. Good times. Now, if it’s the end of a sentence or line, like if someone’s trailing off, you add a FOURTH dot: “I don’t know about that. . . .”

Really.

Scene breaks

You’re not done with your chapter yet, but you’re changing the scene or the POV or something. I’ve seen asterisks and dashes and extra lines and other things used to highlight scene breaks, but I learned that there’s a preferred format: a single centered # or three centered * * * (separated by spaces as shown). That’s it. A manuscript looks a little extra spiffy once you use those, in my opinion.

One space

One of my biggest pet peeves when reading a Word document is finding two spaces between sentences. One. Use one. Just one space. It looks better. It reads better. It’s better. Really.

Other page stuff

  • Times New Roman 12-point font.
  • One-inch margins.
  • Half-inch indents for each paragraph.
  • Align left, not justified (translation: the left side needs to be straight, the right side can go any which way it wants). (That wasn’t meant to be innuendo, but I’ll take it.)

Unsure whether or not to believe me?

This post talks about similar points (and much more). And formatting guidelines can get even pickier.

I wouldn’t hold it against you if you decided to follow some of these and completely ignore others. But, whatever you choose to do, be consistent! The point here is you want your potential agent to dive into your words. Help them out by formatting your manuscript well!

breathing room

I needed some breathing room so badly today.

An acquaintance committed suicide the week before National Suicide Prevention Week. I’m unable to go to a wedding thanks to work responsibilities. My house is still a mess from moving; the boxes are hidden in closets and behind doors, but I know they’re there. I no longer have a secluded writing space. My weekend was absorbed by fun yet time-consuming activities. And today a professor was killed in his office, an event that hits a little too close to home. (That’s quite a range of things, I know, yet they all bother me in different ways.)

My confidence in my writing has suffered alongside all of this. “But Lynn, you’re in PITCH WARS! How could you possibly be suffering from insecurity?!”

Uh, news flash: every writer suffers from this no matter where they are on their writing journey. From querying to submission to sales, WORRYING and INSECURITY lurk–and sometimes scream–over your shoulders.

We Pitch Warriors are no different. Thankfully we have a place we can gather and vent our worries and frustrations and doubts and fears. We have a place to be lifted up and to lift others up.

Spending a little time there today took a weight off my shoulders. It’ll return some other day, but for now, I needed that space, that room to breathe, that chance to feel normal and human and battered yet unbroken.

If you’re one of those in Pitch Wars who knows that space I speak of, I appreciate you SO much.

If you’re not in Pitch Wars, I hope you’ve found a community of writers and CPs and beta readers to go to during the tough times, on the dark days, in the querying trenches. If you haven’t, seek one out. It’ll do you a world of good.

As so many better writers have said before me, you don’t have to write alone. It’s your book, your words, your thoughts and ideas and sculpted characters, but you don’t have to go through the process alone. You shouldn’t go through the process alone. And if there’s ever anything I can do for you, give me a shout!

that Pitch Wars thing

Six days later, I’ve regained some of my coherence.

The event that turned my world upside down in the best possible way occurred last Tuesday, when the mentor choices for Pitch Wars were announced one day early. My name was on the list. I got to hear my name and my novel’s title read aloud on Whiskey, Wine, and Writing.

I was one of 125 chosen mentees out of a possible 1,591. I squealed, I cried, I blubbered in shock and awe.

My mentor, Julie Sondra Decker, is amazing. She has TWO agents, one for fiction and one for non-fiction. Her writing is gorgeous (check out her short story, “Her Mother’s Child“) AND she has a web comic!

Also, I love the fact that she enjoyed my reaction to being picked.

I’m overwhelmed and honored to be mentored by her and to be a part of the 2015 class of Pitch Wars mentees. I’m loving this community and this camaraderie, and I’m finally gaining some much needed confidence as a writer. (Though some of it will slip through my fingertips at a second’s notice; one step forward, two steps back and all that.) I know there’s a lot of work ahead, many darlings to kill and many bad habits to break, but I’m so glad I’m going through it with this group of people. Even if it does feel a little like the first week of college, as another mentee perfectly described it. I don’t know everyone yet, but I’m rooting for each of us to get some agent love less than two months from now!

Whether or not you’re in Pitch Wars this year, join us on our revising journey! That link takes you to a number of mentees who will chronicle life on this crazy, wild ride.

(I apologize for the lack of GIFs in this post. I’m still not much of a GIF user despite participating in Pitch Wars!)

still in shock

This is not the IWSG post I expected to write. I thought I’d be talking about writer communities and the joy of waiting with others for contests and the inevitable I-didn’t-get-picked-but-I’ll-keep-trying sentiment.

The Pitch Wars picks were announced early, Tuesday night instead of Wednesday.

I was picked.

I WAS PICKED.

And not just that. I entered the manuscript I thought would never find a home, one I’ve discussed previously. One that got some amazing feedback because I didn’t get into a different contest.

I’m tearing up again. Happy tears. I don’t know where this manuscript will go, but I have the best mentor who believes in it and in me and yeah tears. Such happy tears.

All you insecure writers out there, KEEP TRYING. You have a story you need to tell. Find your people. Find your support. Find your CPs, your betas, your cheerleaders.

I found a home I never expected on Twitter. I found friendship and advice and positive thinking and constructive criticism thanks to people there and IWSG. I found friends I never would’ve met otherwise. I found MY PEOPLE.

And now those people have cheered me into a contest I never thought I’d make it into.

THANK YOU.