Y’all, I will not be buying a #PitchWars Mentee t-shirt. My PitchWars moment has ended. My mentors said some really lovely things about my writing and my story. And y’all, it’s query time for me. Off I go.
With distance comes relief. Creating on a deadline is an important skill to acquire, but it is also stressful. It doesn’t mean that this last weekend I have not felt foolish, or disappointed, or like a big carb-eating-baby. I may have made five dozen muffins today, plus four dozen cookies. And my phone may have broken, and the only documentation is a blurry pic from my emergency dinosaur phone that I uploaded to IG anway.
I’ve been quietly pursuing creative writing since I was 18. I’ve critiqued and been critiqued lots. But there was this one time when I was working on a story that was emotionally autobiographical, and the CP wrote in the margins, “I’m not connecting here. I don’t see this appealing to a larger audience. Maybe this is just for you.”
And it stung. Genre + Audience are two of the most important lessons I have learned as a writer seeking tradition publishing. If you don’t know who your story is for, you’re toast.
And um, I’m pretty sure that little, lonely me is not a big enough audience to snag an agent or a book deal. And I also know that when I got this feedback I felt like I’d been slapped in the face and cut down to paper-doll-size. (BTW. This isn’t good critique. Good critique would be more along the lines of, ‘I’m not connecting, and I think it is because I’m feeling alienated by MC’s drama. How could you make it more accessible? Have you considered x,y,z.’ Good critique works with the assumption that with revision you can make it work. Good critique is pro-author.”)
So can you feel my panic that my big PitchWars MS was passed over by all four mentors/teams that requested the full? Maybe even more since mentors shared my MS with other mentors. Moon and stars, what if I wrote 87K words that mattered only to me in the end?
Jumping forward. I was talking to a certain storyteller in my family. I asked him about audience. And he said without any embarrassment, “It’s me. I’m making it for me.”
He explained that commercial value is secondary. He wanted to create art that satisfied his vision as a storyteller. He wanted to be proud of his own work, and to love it personally. He told me, “I trust myself. If I like it, I know other people will too.”
The epiphany angels sang.
At some point it must be “just for you.” Because no one is going to say, “Darling, you are brilliant, talented, clever, and the world needs your book! You must write. You must write on napkins. You must write in pretty journals. You must write in Word or in Google Docs. You must never stop. Because you will be the next Agatha. The next Shannon. The next Jane.”
Even if someone said that. Even if everyone said that. It isn’t enough. You wouldn’t believe them.
There comes a weekend, when your root-canaled-tooth is bugging you, and no mentor loved your PitchWars MS the way you wanted them too, and you’re tired, and it is still 104 degrees outside, and you feel sick because you ate way too many muffins followed by the not-quite-antidote of too many cookies. AND when this weekend comes, the only reason you could possibly have for writing is because it is just for you. The only reason to get your tush in the chair is because playing make believe with your imaginary friends makes your heart happy. And arranging conversations, and piecing together images and bits of hard-earned wisdom from your own life feels good. And layering in imagery and character and feeling the words take off even though you worried they wouldn’t come feels right.
I made some delightful friends from my PitchWars moment. I’m proud of their hard work and their success. I’m floored by their grace, talent, and kindness, and look forward to reading their bookies. Special shout out to my friend and CP, Catherine Bakewell (on twitter @catbakewell) who surprised me with these pretty collages inspired by THE STORYTELLER. Thank you, Cat!