Lessons From a Late-Night E-mail

Last year during 2019’s NaNoWriMo (https://nanowrimo.org) I penned an entire medical sci-fi/ecofiction manuscript—Entheóphage—in thirty-seven days. In the months following, and with the help of many wonderful medical experts and beta readers, I honed the manuscript into a complete, focused tale. In mid-August of this year, I decided to submit the most recent draft to Pitch Wars. That last-minute decision meant scrunched schedules, gnashing of teeth, and a few sleepless nights. Finally, in late September, I sent my application to four mentors in the Pitch Wars program.

I know from past experience, though, that waiting is the hardest part of writing. For me, starting a new project is the best way to stay distracted so I don’t angst over every day that passes without a response. Thus I started the next Big Project—After a blow to the head, a 75-year-old woman begins hearing voices that take her life down a very different path from the one she had planned. Plotting and researching filled most of a week as notes came together into a clearer direction for the new project.

The morning after the Pitch Wars submission window closed, I woke to find an e-mail on my phone: one of my mentor picks had already requested a full manuscript. It took me a few minutes to get my breath, but I dropped everything and sent it to her immediately. Still, the mentee pics were more than a month away. I decided to keep working on my new story. I even entered it as this year’s NaNoWriMo project. The work kept me busy. Focused. Distracted.

On November 6, the day before the mentee picks were to be announced, I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the new project at all. I set a midnight alarm on my phone to remind me to check the PW site, then sat down with the Hubenstein to watch Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix. About halfway through, I checked my e-mail. Just in case. It was about 10:45, but I’ve heard people say the Pitch Wars folks sometimes make these announcements early.

There. It. Was. The Announcement. My hands trembled as I scrolled down to the list of mentees.

First on the list was Anna Kaling, one of my selected mentors (my first choice).

Her mentee pick?

Me. ME!

I think I gasped. I might have held my breath so long Bobby had to tell me to breathe. I couldn’t believe it. I kept checking to see if I was mistaken. But no. It was pretty clear. Movie? What movie?

The next hour was a blur of social media congrats and thank-yous, and shouting from the rooftops. And while I did manage to sleep some—with liquid assistance from a nearby Romana bottle—I was awake bright and early the next morning and unable to stop thinking about this amazing opportunity to work all the way through my manuscript with a mentor who is as excited about it as I am.

So. Even before I receive my first homework assignment from Anna, the Pitch Wars experience has already taught me a few things.

  1. Rejection is a teacher. The fantasy manuscript I entered in PW two years ago was not chosen and has been rejected so many times since I’ve lost count. I loved that 2018 entry, and hope it will one day see print. But here’s the thing: Writing isn’t about putting your work out into the universe and then waiting for it to be accepted. It’s about putting it out there, and then moving on to the next thing. Because we learn most about how to be a good writer by writing. Seeing what works and what doesn’t. Then writing more stories. And after that, writing even more. With every draft of every project, we hone our craft. Writing—even if the words never see the light of day—is never a waste of time.
  2. Don’t self-reject. I happen to love Entheóphage. I love its characters, its plot, its message, its twist at the end. But I honestly didn’t think it would be good enough. I’m keenly aware that my pacing, as well as some of the character development—one (Luk) in particular—needs work. I’ve published a number of short stories, but I’d become so accustomed to that “no” (see #1 above), that’s what I expected. Self-doubt may be a normal thing, especially among writers. But if I hadn’t pushed past mine to enter Pitch Wars 2020, I would not have been given this opportunity.
  3. The Pitch Wars experience isn’t just about polishing a single manuscript. It’s also about learning to advocate for myself, for my characters and their stories, because once Pitch Wars is done, agents and/or publishing houses may also suggest changes to that same work. It’s my responsibility to decide what changes will help bring it to its full potential, and which suggestions will nudge it too far off target from my vision.
  4. Pace yourself. I’ve heard from mentors and mentees alike that the months between November and early February are incredibly demanding. I intend to take advantage of every moment I’m not embedded in edits to rest and wind down.

Competition for a mentee-ship in Pitch Wars is fierce. There are tons of submissions and only a limited number of mentors. Of the dozens (or even hundreds) of applications each mentor receives for consideration, they might request twenty or thirty fulls. Of those, they must pick one. I can’t even imagine how difficult that choice would be. My hat is off to them for their dedication, and the generous gift of their time.

I know that change is hard. I haven’t yet seen Anna’s suggestions for Entheóphage, but she has already warned me they’re big. I admit to trepidation. But I also acknowledge that Anna knows more about the industry than do I, and that she has my story’s best interests at heart. I’m sincerely looking forward to working with her and seeing what we can do together as a team.

The next few months will be filled with hard work and probably a few more sleepless nights, but I’m okay with that. Because on the other side I’ll have a better understanding of what makes a successful manuscript, a lot more experience in targeted deep edits, a bunch of new contacts in the writing community, and a shiny manuscript that will (hopefully) win the attention and love of an agent.

Wish me luck.

E-mail image thanks to Torsten.
Trash bin image thanks to Steve Johnson.
All photos courtesy of Pexels — www.pexels.com

2 Replies to “Lessons From a Late-Night E-mail”

  1. Congratulations on your mentorship! Your advice about moving on, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and honing the craft is just what I needed to hear right now. Thank you for sharing your experience with this nail-biting competition!

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