Courage and Comfort Found in Good Company

Remember back in August when I blogged about Pitch Wars? How excited I was?

Yeah. I knew the odds were against me at the time I applied. Nearly 3,500 mentee hopefuls mobbed the volunteer mentors with juicy manuscripts. It stood to reason that 99.999% of us would be eating chocolate and drinking red wine (or other comfort indulgence of choice) the evening of Mentee Announcements. I was one of them. (Sambuca was my drink, in case you were wondering.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m absolutely not complaining. The Pitch Wars Mentors are all awesome, beautiful souls for taking on this work and I appreciate their dedication. I also know Pitch Wars is only one of many paths toward publication. But at the moment, a lot of questions are circling like vultures in my head, and based on some of the Twitter posts I’ve seen from other mentee hopefuls who didn’t get selected, I’m in good company on that score. It might sound like I’m whining here. I’m not. I know reading others’ stories always helps me, so I want to share my frustrations, questions, and doubts about my own work so that others in a similar boat will know they aren’t alone.

The problem—as many other writers will know—lies partly in the fact that I don’t know what other paths are out there. Other than the routes I’ve already tried, and which did not work, I’ve got no compass, no direction, no idea where to even begin to look. How do you Google something for which you have no name or definition? (Hint: “free writing mentorship programs” gave a limited scope on returns.)

I need to find a way to name that nebulosity, because trying to “fix” a first novel manuscript without any roadmap is almost like tasting a soup that’s not quite ready to eat. You’ve put all the right stuff in, yet it still needs something. You just don’t know quite what.

That’s why I wanted a mentor for assistance with The Founder’s Seed. As far as I can tell, and from what my beta readers and critiquers have said (and not just friends and family), it’s a damn good story. Yet I can’t seem to garner any interest that might aid in publication. Therefore, it must be lacking, but I require experienced assistance to determine precisely where and how. I’m not sure whether:

• I have the genre wrong (I don’t think so; pitched/intended for fantasy/sci-fi)

• TFS is more suited to YA than adult market (I pitched/intended it for adults)

• It’s too tropish (I don’t think so, but even if it is, tropes sell, right? As long as it’s told in a new way, it should work.)

• It’s something more foundational: i.e. character development, plot flow, pacing, etc. (I’ve taken classes and read craft books and tried my best to follow the advice of these professionals, but not on a one-on-one basis.)

• It’s total bunk that needs to be trunked so I can start the next project (I don’t think this is the case, but without experienced guidance, how would I know? Even assuming it needs to be trunked, if I can’t identify what’s wrong with this one, how will I get my next novel right? And what if I’m only one step away from success, but I give up too soon?)

The point is that without input from someone who knows the answer to some of these questions, I sometimes feel like I’m trying to assemble a mechanical device with no diagram on what goes where and only a vague notion of what it should look like when it’s complete. I don’t even know if I have all the right parts. It’s darn frustrating.

So what do I do now? That’s the million-dollar question right there. I know my writing gets better with practice. I’ve gotten a lot of that over the last few years, both in shorts and in revisions of TFS, which is so much better now than it was a couple of drafts ago thanks to the invaluable input I’ve garnered thus far from beta readers and critique classes. I did pay for an editor twice, in very early drafts. It was expensive (worth it, no doubt), and if I could afford it, I’d do it again. Since I can’t, I’m not sure where to go from here.

But isn’t that an unavoidable part of the writer’s life? Despite the creative flow of this art, it is also a craft which requires constant honing and improvement. The publishing world is in constant flux. Markets come and go, and even those that stick around long-term must evolve to meet the demand of their buyers. The writer who can’t keep up falls behind, so it’s a race. Every day.

And if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that challenge is part of the appeal of this life. Because even if we are going in circles, we know that every attempt, every draft brings us closer to the Center, and our ultimate goal of publication.

So yeah. I consoled myself with a shot (or two). And then I got back up and moved on to the Next Thing. And once you finish your glass of red (or white) over your similar miss, you should do the same.

Thoughts? Comments? Stories you’d like to share? Talk back!

See ya next week.

Larry King Quote graphic by QuoteFancy

Man on Macbook by Tim Gouw
Man in Maze by John T
Photos courtesy of Unsplash