“Unspeakable” Confessions of a #Pitchwars Mentee

It’s finally happened. My amazing mentor Kelly Siskind has handed in my submission for the agent round of Pitchwars. After 55 days of multiple emails, instant messages, and two intense revisions, UNSPEAKABLE has come through on the other side of #Pitchwars, 5,000 words lighter, several scenes and chapters added and axed, and ultimately sexier as WITHOUT A WORD. Above all, it’s emerged a better book.

Regardless of what happens during the agent round, I am so extremely grateful for the #Pitchwars Mentee experience, and honestly it is impossible to quantify everything I have come away with (aside from Without a Word in its current form). Kelly’s guidance was beyond insightful and amazing. But here are the salient “take-aways” for me at the moment:

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  1. I’ve gained community.

Prior to entering #Pitchwars I had a few friends in the writing community in Calgary, but none in the same genre as me. Online, I had found one very knowledgeable critique partner, Kelly DeVos, whom I met through a Michelle4Laughs Query Blog Hop last year, and another in the most recent one. But you need a village in this industry, and I found it through Pitchwars.

Pitchwars has allowed me to connect with writers in the UK, US, Canada, and weirdly, TWO who live on my street. That’s correct, two other Pitchwars Mentees who were selected this year, LIVE ON MY STREET! As far as I know they are also the only two other Calgarians selected in Pitchwars, and we are 3 of 6 Canadians selected overall (as far as I’m aware). So, even if you suck at math, you probably grasping that half of the Canadians in Pitchwars live on the same street. (So, don’t roll your eyes next time someone asks you if you know another Canadian—crazy sh!% happens.) If that isn’t strange enough, we all submitted to several of the same mentors, and write the same genre.

But I digress. I’ve come away with friends, critique partners (many in my genre now, which I was lacking before), and hopefully a community of writers that will hopefully be able to continue to offer support to each other on our respective writing journeys for years to come.

As I write this, I received a notification from the Pitchwars Mentee Facebook page. Ashley Martin posted this, and I think she captures the experience perfectly:

Can I just say how incredible this group is? We come from all different walks of life, we live in different places (around the globe!), we’re all in different stages of our lives and writing careers. But we have this amazing connection: We all WROTE A BOOK. So many stories, with unique voices…funny, sad, romantic, courageous, broken, searching…
It’s seriously beautiful, you guys. And I’m so thankful I get to be part of it.

2. I have a new understanding of commas. 

Prior to this, I thought I understood the humble comma. But alas, I had much to learn. Overuse, underuse, misuse, before conjunctions, after them…bah! Mary Ann Marlow has a great post on the subject here.

3. You need to let go of your darlings.

Writers often quote this line from Stephen King’s On Writing for good reason. When you spend months imagining a pivotal scene and pivotal line, and write thousands of words in anticipation that everything you put your characters through will lead them to that moment, to that line, until you finally get to write it. It comes out better than you imagined, and you sit back in your chair and heave a sigh of satisfaction.

But then your mentor says, “Cut it”. You may say, “What?! But that line is amazeballs. It’s my favourite line in the book.”

Your mentor reminds you about character arc, etc. You have to reflect on your book as a whole. Kelly Siskind helped me see the forest beyond my pretty little trees, and some of those suckers had to be ground down to sawdust.

Sigh. Maybe I can find another project to use it in.

3. Sex is Good Great, don’t pass it up.

200-13I left a lot of the sexy moments to the readers’ imaginations in my previous version of UNSPEAKABLE/WITHOUT A WORD. Kelly reminded me to think about what the reader really wants, and how sex develops relationships. It’s undeniable. So I may have popped my sex scene cherry in rewrites. And I liked it.

These acts are (sometimes) UNSPEAKABLE at grandma’s dinner table. *winks at Kelly Siskind* ( See, Unspeakably sexy…) But as one fellow mentee said, “You have to write like your momma’s not going to read it.”

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Sometimes sex is “unspeakable” at grandma’s dinner table, but not if you’re Brighton Walsh

Kelly Siskind was beyond amazing as a mentor. I have taken away the above things and so much more. I am forever changed as a writer. I had said in our interview with Brenda Drake that that was what I was most excited for—that which I could take with me forever. And I got that in spades. An absolutely invaluable experience. So thank you to Brenda Drake, Kelly Siskind, and to the many fellow Pitchwars Mentees. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.

Big News!

This was in a recent email I opened. And it was the best, most exciting email I have received in a very long time.

Oh, yeah. This is going to be good.
Oh, yeah. This is going to be good.

Now, now, friends and blog followers. Before you go asking, “Did you get a book deal, JR?!” I want you to remember what I said about how these things don’t happen overnight. Before you can get the elusive book deal, several things need to happen:

(1) Write your novel (√)

(2) Revise and rewrite large parts of your novel (√)

(3) Edit (√)

(4) Repeat step 3 several times (√√√ etc.)

(5) Get feedback from beta readers and/or critique partners √

(5) Repeat steps 2 and 3.√

(6) Hire an editor. √ This is a step that is specific to me. I hired an editor because, despite the positive feedback I was receiving, I still felt that the manuscript could be better. I had concerns about pacing, character and story arc, etc. I needed someone in the writing and editing field to help me with it.

(7) Several rounds of edits later, the manuscript is deemed ready to query.

(8) Write query and repeat steps, 1 through 4. √

(9) Query agents. √

(10) Offer of representation. X

(11) Agent requests edits. X

(12) Repeat step 2.

(13) Agent submits proposal to publishers.X

(14) Book deal?

Are you picking up what I’m throwing down? I won’t be announcing a book deal anytime soon. Now that we have our expectations in line, I’m hoping that you’ll be excited to hear my news!

In a recent post I talked about how I  went into step 9, and after some feedback from some lovely agents, I’m back to step 2: Revise and rewrite.

Back to the Drawing Board

I need help with this manuscript to make it better. And I’ve been searching for    someone in the industry who knows the genre and understands what I’m trying to accomplish with Unspeakable.

Enter: #Pitchwars!

Pitchwars

What is #Pitchwars?

It’s an online contest where published or agented authors (or editors) pick one lucky writer to mentor. (The writer’s who enter can submit to five of the potential mentors). If selected, Mentors help the writer (Mentee) edit and polish their manuscript until it shines like Justin Beiber’s hair under the California sun. At the end of two months (yup, two months!) of mentoring and editing etc. there’s an agent round where several amazeballs agents can see the writer’s pitch and first chapter and possibly request further material – basically, this is an opportunity to get beyond the slush pile.

This contest is brilliant and amazing for so many reasons! If selected, you can end up working with a writer you respect and admire. A person who knows the industry and truly understands what editors, agents and readers want. It’s a swoon worthy opportunity.

Elmo Faints

Sadly, there were only 100 125 spots and about 1600 entries. So, basically 96% of the entries won’t get the opportunity to be mentored. But on the plus side, many of the mentors gave detailed feedback to several of the writers who submitted to them. And guess what?!?!

I got some great, detailed feedback.

Like really, really detailed. Like, go over my manuscript with the most insightful fine tooth comb feedback.

Because I was selected as a MENTEE!!!

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Yes, Kelly, I used two of your GIFs, because you are THAT good.

The AMAZING fellow Canuck, super hilarious and talented, Kelly Siskind is my PITCHWARS MENTOR (and yes, I am shouting).

Because this is a HUGE, GINORMOUS opportunity. I NEED this. I finally found the right person to steer my manuscript in the right direction, and better than that, I know I will learn so much about the craft of writing as a whole. I am beyond elated. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m ready!

SO, huge shout out and thanks to Brenda Drake who created Pitchwars, and to Kelly Siskind for selecting me. I hope I won’t disappoint.

Now, back to figuring out what a Beat Sheet is.