Pitch Wars Takeaways
The revision period is over. My submission is in. It's time to sit back and relax (and panic as the agent showcase approaches). And it's time to reflect.
Pitch Wars . . . was a doozy. I can easily say I’ve never worked harder in my life. In three months, I re-brainstormed my entire book, using resources such as Francesca Lia Block’s 12 Questions, The Nutshell Technique, and Save the Cat to get a new sense of my story. I clarified what the heart of the book is and then changed most everything else. I went through two heavy rounds of revisions. I took days off work to give myself the time I needed to get everything done. I ricocheted from the deepest despair of imposter syndrome to the highest heights of delusional grandeur and swung through every emotion on the spectrum between.
I also learned more about the writing process and craft during the three months of Pitch Wars than I did in the past five years since I started writing. Pitch Wars is bootcamp. It is merciless. It is the best thing that could have happened to my writing career.
I’m sure that I’ll have more to add here as I continue to process this experience. But for now, here are my key takeaways:
The Writing Process
Receiving an Edit Letter
The best thing to do after receiving an edit letter is to read it and then step away. Give your subconscious time to process the feedback before attempting to act on it. I literally went through the stages of grief with each round of feedback. Numbness at first, as my mind couldn’t process all of the changes being asked of the story. Pain in the form of imposter syndrome—I’m simply not good enough to make these changes. Anger at my mentor, because how dare she critique this perfect story. Anger at my workplace, for taking away time that could be spent on the story. Depression.
Even though it felt like I was wasting time, even as I judged myself for letting days slip by without any action on the story, I had to give myself that time to process these emotions. Because when I came back, it was with a clear head and the ability to quickly find solutions to the problems my mentor pointed out. While my conscious mind was having this emotional experience, my subconscious was taking care of things for me. Trust that that will be the case. Which leads me to . . .
Taking breaks (whether it’s after receiving an edit letter or in the middle of a round of revisions) is an absolutely crucial part of the process. Time spent away from writing is time well spent. Living my life gives me the experiences I can draw upon for inspiration. It fills the well. It’s the breath of fresh air after being submerged. Don’t let anyone shame you into feeling you need to be writing every day.
Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is simply getting myself in front of the page. This might not work for everyone or even for me every time, but I found that the act of writing itself spurs creativity. After writing the first few paragraphs, the first thirty minutes, I’m reenergized, and inspiration flows.
Especially for a first edit letter, it helps to have most of the feedback come in the form of questions: questions about every aspect of the world, each of the different characters. My mentor Olivia certainly gave specific suggestions on areas that were particularly problematic. But she mostly asked questions. This allowed me to take charge of brainstorming the story anew. On the second round of revisions, Olivia gave much more specific comments and focused on pacing and areas that could be tightened or cut. It was the perfect time for that sort of feedback.
This experience is a reminder to me to be clear about the sort of feedback I’m looking for from beta readers and critique partners. It’s also a reminder for when I am asked to read someone else’s work—the type of feedback that is most helpful changes depending on the stage the story is in.
The Writing Craft
World-building can be character development. The details that characters notice reveals so much about them—what they choose to focus on, what matters to them. Dialogue can be character development, relationship-building, and world-building, even as it furthers the plot. The point is: have scenes accomplish many things at once. This tightens the pacing and makes for a more compelling story.
Olivia is the goddess of concision. She went through my entire manuscript and put in red all of the sentences/sections that could be cut or tightened. Folks, there were whole chapters in red! While it was incredibly daunting to look at it all, I am so grateful she did it. As painful as it was to cut certain sections, after they were gone, they weren't missed. They simply hadn't been necessary. The point is: no matter how pretty the language is, if a paragraph is rehashing information that’s already been given, it can be cut. I can trust that readers will understand and pick up on key parts of the story.
Let Readers Fill in the Gaps
In my book, several weeks pass between some of the chapters. While my early drafts involved me trying to show every step of a relationship in progress, or of a character's individual arc, I can trust readers to understand that things are happening “off-screen.” Readers can fill in the gaps themselves, and I’m free to keep the book’s forward momentum.
Short Chapters Are Liberating
Short chapters (10 pages or less) speed up the pacing a LOT. They also make writing and editing more fun, because knocking out a chapter takes so much less time. Writing short chapters also forces me to consider whether or not my scenes are multitasking—if they aren’t, how can I take the important bits of multiple scenes and combine them into one snappy scene that accomplishes several goals at once?
The Director’s Test
This is an amazing screenwriting tip that Olivia gave me. Imagine that your book is the script for a play or a movie. In each scene, what would a director have the actors doing? If an actor is just standing around, it makes for a boring play. So, give the character he or she is playing something to do.
This was a great tip for me, because my characters ponder and muse and introspect a LOT. They are prize winners in introspection, musing fiends. Which—fine—thinking is good, but I can have them think while taking action or interacting with other characters.
And that's it for now! For anyone considering applying to Pitch Wars in the future, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. Prepare to work harder than you've ever worked before. And prepare to have your mind blown.
My next post will be sharing my Pitch Wars submission when it goes live on the website. Stay tuned!