I’ve been watching these male harlequin ducks all summer, and they’ve finally come into their breeding plumage. I was lucky enough to catch a shot of them before they dove down to forage. Also, I hear there’s a pod of orcas heading this way.
Hi there, fellow writers. Are you writing romance? Getting ready to query, or not sure about the query you’re sending out? Would you like a little feedback?
If the answer to any of them is yes, here’s a query critique giveaway for you. It’s open until October 22. If you have any questions, ask away.
I remember writing a book outline where I had a beginning and ending. You know what words sat between those two things?
Then the magic happens.
Yeah. I know. But it’s true. As creators and writers we reach this point where we are or have become our characters, at least to the point that the person looking out through our eyes is colored by the personality of the character. It’s writing as method acting. It’s inhabiting the character so much that their thoughts are either first or rivaling ours for first. This phase can last for months. Years. A lifetime. Writers are tricky that way.
I’d fallen out of this lovely phase for a while, but now I think I have it back. The magic is ready to happen again. I can feel it in my face, the tips of my fingers, the expressions I make.
This is the part of writing that’s about giving up control and letting the people living in my brain have their turn in the spotlight. This might be what industry professionals mean when they talk about voice and how it’s so difficult to define.
That’s because it’s magic, and there are no words in our language to define what can’t be explained. I’m ready to rock & roll.
…every time I see this.
This post has nothing to do with entering contests. Many of them are wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences with them.
Today, I’m here to talk about competitiveness, not competition. There’s a difference. We can all enter writing competitions. I did and have and will again. The writing adrenaline junkie in me loves to get the feedback, to see how I did, to see who wins and why. Writing contests are a great way to receive input on our stories from people who’ve never read our work. Of course the feedback is subjective; of course it’s varied. That’s a good thing, because when our works are published and out there in the world, the reading audience will be varied and subjective. Fasten that suit of armor! Get used to it.
Competitiveness in writing is a whole separate beast. It’s my firmly-held belief that writing is not a competitive sport. Say that with me one more time: writing is not a competitive sport. We don’t write to finish faster or with more words in ten minutes than our sprint partners. We don’t write because it’s a race to the end. We write because we have stories to tell–full stop. Stories inside our heads that we want to put out on the page, worlds to build, people to invent. These unique creations are ours and ours alone. No one else can write the stories I imagine, nor can I write the stories you imagine.
So why are we so competitive as writers? We sprint (“how many words did you get?”). We query (“how many full requests did you get? How many partials?”). We attract an agent’s interest (“how many offers did you get? How many did you have to turn down?”). On and on it goes, as if comparing our successes and failures will make us better at writing.
The only person I want to compete with on this writing journey is myself. I can set word count goals and if they’re too low, challenge myself to write more. I can set reading goals (Goodreads practically forces us to do so). I can set editing goals…but I don’t want to compete with my fellow writers on these things. The truth as I see it is this: we can only do what we can do. Just because one of my writing buddies might have daily word counts in the 5k range and mine level out around 3k or their query netted a 20% positive response rate and mine sits at 14%, it doesn’t matter. I write because I have stories to tell. Unique, personal creations living in my brain that want out on the page, and in that there is no competition.
The excitement around Pitch Wars has been bubbling, and I’ve been helping out with #menteeshelpingmentees. It’s strange (and wonderful) to be in a position to help, which is what I like doing best when I’m not writing fiction. All of it has me thinking, though.
So many people see Pitch Wars as a direct path to getting an agent. From personal experience, I can tell everyone this isn’t necessarily the case. I’m proof of that: I had plenty of requests in the agent round, but I’m still unagented. I haven’t given up hope, but the truth of my particular situation seems to be pointing to the big sign that says yes, you can write, you can tell a good story, but that one you had in Pitch Wars might not be the right one.
I’ve shelved manuscripts before. It’s never something I take lightly, and I’m not ready to give up on my Pitch Wars manuscript yet either. I still have fulls and partials out there and I would never pull it when it’s under consideration. But I have reached a very important milestone in my quest for representation.
I’m at that Zen point where getting rejections doesn’t bother me. I don’t take them personally. I sit here with serene confidence in myself and my writing abilities, and know that if I’m persistent enough and keep writing, I will write the manuscript that’s picked up. It might not be this one, and that’s okay.
This sounds like a lie I tell myself, but it’s not. Getting to this point has been a hard-fought battle, with plenty of frustration and tears and anger and disappointment thrusting up like spikes right into the soles of my writing boots all along the way. But every battle has its tipping point, and success can be described in many different ways. Getting to the point where I can shrug off a rejection from someone I queried six or eight months ago hasn’t been easy…but I’m there now. It’s a relief.
Of course I want to hear back from the agents who’ve requested pages. Of course there’s still a tiny tinge of disappointment. But I’m wearing my big-girl pants now, and understand this is only business. Despite the reminders of how subjective a business this is and the reassurances that the right agent will love my work, it’s still a business. Rejection is nothing personal. It’s a hiring decision, and so far my fun breezy behind-the-scenes rock & roll romance hasn’t applied for the right job.
In the meantime, I’ve written another book which is off being edited, and yesterday I started on a brand new one. That brings me to the second half of this post: why rock & roll?
I never set out to brand myself as a rock-&-roll-romance writer. The market is glutted with stories about hot tattooed bad-boy rock stars wishing for simpler quieter times with the shy but humble girl of their dreams.
I don’t write those.
Confession time, here’s what I’ve got: I used to roadie. I was lucky enough to see bits and pieces of this big beautiful industry from the inside out instead of the outside in. Did I go on the road with the Rolling Stones or anything like that? Hell no, ma’am or sir, but I worked with a variety of musicians in a variety of places, and did time with smaller bands. I worked everything from sound board to lighting console. I loaded and unloaded equipment. I climbed into cherry pickers to play with gels and lights. I stood security outside dressing rooms, kept fans from breaking into the backstage areas, cleared the front of house before and after shows… almost anything you can imagine. Met many famous people. Met many less famous people. I can’t say I never met a rock star I didn’t like, but I can say I never met a roadie who wasn’t secretly cool as f*ck.
The stories I write are the ones that take place behind the scenes. Honestly, how many people want to read a fictional version of a rock concert going smoothly? See, I didn’t think so. The small insights I had into life backstage were fascinating, though, and while I can’t write about rock & roll road life without everyone’s favorite tattooed super-rich bad boy rock star dreaming of simpler times (well, yes I can), I can focus on what makes all the people associated with this life into who they are. Focus on their drive, their passion, their skill, their abilities, and how it all blends together to make unique and unforgettable experiences once the lights go on and the show starts.
And as a bonus, I know just how much equipment and how many people can be crammed into an aging Ford Econoline van. (Note I didn’t say “safely.”)
That part of my life might be in the past, but my passion for it hasn’t diminished in the least. This is why I write what I write. I hope my love for it comes through on the page.
I’ll never get published, I hate my writing!
Oh, yeah, I love what I wrote.
I’m a fraud, people will find me out!
Damn, I’m incredibly competent.
I’m going to drop out of all social media!
Wow, look at this great conversation.
Nobody likes me.
I love you all!
This is what the inside of my brain looks like today. Which brings me to an important point about exclamation marks (seriously). Look at the list above. All the negative sentiments are emphasized with them, and none of the positive ones…until the last. Because that’s where I’ve ultimately ended up today.
Look, writing is a tough business. There’s precious little praise and entire dung heaps of rejection. It’s hurry up and wait. It’s biting our nails. It’s looking for validation anywhere we can find it. It’s the inevitable feelings of worthlessness, followed by the inevitable (but generally short-lived) feelings of competence. Like a good game of table tennis, we go back and forth, back and forth.
Last night I had to fill out a form detailing my occupation for the past ten years, and I left off writer. Why? Because in my brain–in that space I was in at the time–I decided I had no viable proof that I could call myself a writer. My published stories have gone out of print. I don’t write regularly on this blog any more. I’m not agented. I’m not even sure which of my works I’m going to pitch in the face-to-face sessions I have lined up. That old enemy of mine, self-doubt, made a roaring comeback.
It’s so easy to harp on all the bad things and forget the good ones.
But really, I am a writer and self-doubt will slink away like it always does, tail between its legs. Back into the darkness. Still, at times like this I am so appreciative of my friends and my writing community. Without you guys, I might fill with too much self-loathing and be one of those people who announces they’re quitting the writing world forever, see you on the other side. When I’m smart I remind myself it doesn’t matter what stage of our career we’re in–just starting, manuscript complete, querying, agented, on sub, published–we all have the same nagging doubts and fears.
So let me ward that off for you. When you sit there and ask yourself am I good enough? the answer is yes. When you wonder if you’ll ever be successful, the answer is yes. When you think you can’t possibly do this for one more day, the answer is you can.
Now all I have to do is remember that myself.