Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part I (my entire journey leading to Pitch Wars).
Pitch Wars: The Long Journey, Part II (specific to Pitch Wars)
So, You Want to Enter a Mentorship, Part I: The Programs
A brief reminder… This is just MY journey, and other mentee experiences may vary. I do not speak for every mentee, mentor, Pitch Wars, or their board. If you have no idea what Pitch Wars is, I just you check out one of my previous posts. A basic recap of those posts is that I was chosen by Laura E. Weymouth as her Pitch Wars 2021 Mentee and in November 2021, was waiting for my edit letter. This post will cover the time period from getting my first edit letter to submitting both halves of my first revision. While it does cover my journey, I’ve also included writing tips for writing mentorship hopefuls (be they Pitch Wars or other similar programs) sprinkled throughout.
Mentee Tip # 1: DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER MENTEES
First off, the edit letter isn’t really a letter, at least in the traditional sense, something I had to explain to my husband who expressed disappointment the first week when it didn’t appear in the mail. In my case, it was an email with some general notes. From what I’ve gathered, they vary depending on the mentee/mentor and MS needs. They could be general notes like mine or line comments on the entire MS. Like I said, it depends. Also depending was the wait for it to arrive. Some mentors had their letters ready to go, other took the full week leading to the deadline. During that time, some assigned their mentees craft books to read, creating a reverse outline, or other tasks to help with their MS.
While waiting, I learned probably the most important lesson that has served me well during PW, which is, don’t compare yourself to other mentees. It can be disheartening to see mentees already chatting about their revisions less than 24 hours after announcements. BUT, it’s important to remember that not all MSs are equal. They vary in age range and word count. An edit letter for an MG Contemporary will be different than one for an Adult Fantasy. They also vary by revisions needed. Some MSs only need some light editing. Others, complete rewrites. Comparing yourself to other mentees who have different needs than you is exhausting and can lead to Imposter Syndrome, although the temptation begins early on.
So about that edit letter…
Mentee Tip #2: You Don’t Have to Accept Everything From the Edit Letter (Although you Should Give Everything Consideration)
I had roughly five things to work on. Some I had expected based on previous feedback. Some I did not. Some were easy fixes. Others required more thought. There were a few things that almost made me go ‘no’ outright because they would retcon established canon in my previous MS set in the same world.
Then I realized that saying ‘no’ because of canon that only existed in an unpublished MS was an absurd reason to turn the suggestion down. I spent quite a bit giving it serious thought, how it would play out in this MS and how I could pull it off in the other, should I ever go back to it. I did come up with a way to make it work in the previous MS, but ultimately felt that it’d create more issues in my current MS when I already had enough going on.
In my initial response, I explained all of that, including the background with my previous MS (probably more than I should’ve to be honest), and reasoning for accepting/not accepting her suggestions, which Laura was completely fine with. Ultimately, it’s my MS and my vision. Ideally, if you’re ever in a mentorship program (or have an agent) you do have a right to say no to suggestions. But, you should still give them some serious consideration. For all you know, that one crazy suggestion might be just what your MS needs.
On the flip side, just because you can say no, doesn’t mean you should say no to all of your mentor suggestions. If you think a mentorship is nothing but being patted on the back hearing ‘well done’ while maybe rearranging a few commas before snagging an agent, then mentorship is not for you. Mentors don’t only choose MSs they love– that is part of it– but also ones they have a vision for to help and which can be done within the allotted amount of time (in PW case, under three months). If your MS isn’t in need of some TLC, then it most likely won’t be chosen. If you go into any mentorship with the mindset that it’s perfect as is, dismissing every single suggestion or have issues taking critical feedback, then you’re wasting your mentor’s time and your own.
If you do have issues with the feedback and think it’s wrong, run it past your beta/CPs or fellow mentees. They’ll let you know whether it sounds sensible or if maybe the issue is actually that you and your mentor aren’t good fits. It’s generally a good idea to take a day or so to reflect on feedback– be or good or bad– before reacting to it. Sometimes things don’t seem as much of a big deal the day after as they did in the moment.
As I stated, there were things that I was blinded to, but were easy fixes. Others were just suggestions that I could take or not. The biggest though was a complete rewrite of the first half. The first five chapters would remain the same and I could still reuse some dialogue and scenes in certain parts, but based on Laura’s feedback, I was going to be working towards a brand new midpoint.
Mentee Tip #3: It’s YOUR Story
I don’t know if it was the case for all mentors, but generally, most mentees created a new outline based on their edit letter. I did the same, just focusing on the new chapters of the first half. I probably responded sooner than I should’ve (within a day of my initial response) but Laura’s suggestions really got my creative juices flowing and I wanted to get started on the revisions ASAP.
I actually sent two outlines. The first was more general, suggesting several different ways a situation could go to get the MC from Point A to Point B, with various pros/cons, and where the story could lead. Laura responded (and rightfully so) that ultimately it was my story and she couldn’t tell me what to do– although that’s what I really wanted in the moment. Because I couldn’t screw up my MS if she told me what options to go with, right?
Except that if I wrote what she told me, it wouldn’t be my story, it’d be hers. Mentors are supposed to guide you to the best writing path for you, not drag or push you reluctantly down it. Even while writing the first outline, I knew what options I was hoping she’d tell me were the ‘right’ ones. They felt like a better fit for the story and I was getting exciting imaging writing them. After her initial feedback, I sent her a new outline with no different scenarios, just everything laid out chapter by chapter. It was word vomit heavy in some places. Not just detailing the main action in the chapter, but giving some insight into certain character’s motivations/thoughts my MC couldn’t know at the time, but I should know. There was also room for improvising (which did end up happening). Laura approved my new outline, and I was ready to go.
Or so I thought.
Mentee Tip #4: Know Your Writing Style
Some writers can churn out several thousands words each day no sweat. Some need sprints to get them through. Some work best in coffee shops or book stores. Others in their secret writing nook. Some are early morning risers while others are night owls. There is no right way to write, all that matters is that you know what way works best for you.
In my case, I need deadlines. If it wasn’t for Author Mentor Match (AMM) or RevPit last spring, I never would have pushed through my first draft and revisions. I need some kind of goal to work towards, otherwise I’ll just float around editing the same chapter over and over again because I hate drafting new words. You’d think that the submission date for the showcase (January 28th) would be enough if a deadline, but it wasn’t in mid-November. That was over two months away. Plenty of time to do everything.
Too much time to do everything. So I gave myself an original deadline of December 7th. Laura said she supported me, but it’d be okay if I missed it, there was still plenty of time. I responded by basically stating deadlines help me concentrate and that I knew I’d probably need to adjust it and would let her know.
In the end, she was right. It did need adjusting. But not for a reason either of us could have guessed.
Pitch Wars Tip #5: It’s Okay to Take a Break
The first few chapters were light revisions, so I breezed through them. The next few chapters took a little longer because they were completely new material, but I got through them. It was the following chapters, which were also new, where I lost about a week. The night before Thanksgiving my dad got admitted to the hospital and was nearly there for a week. Being a major holiday (not to mention COVID crisis) they were running on a skeleton crew which meant waiting on tests and results. What was originally thought be gout, turned into a blood infection diagnosis, and finally a staph infection. During that time it was nearly impossible to manage his pain, he was having breathing attacks, and there were concerns about his other health issues. My mom, who sounded a little more exhausted with each phone call, called me every night with updates. And every night I expected the call to begin with, “You need to get here, NOW!” That’s how serious things were.
During that week, I tried writing, but at most I might have written a sentence a day. My mind was elsewhere. Maybe other writers could have pushed through. Maybe I would’ve made more progress if it was nothing but light revisions. But I couldn’t.
Thankfully Laura understood when I sent my weekly update, explaining what was going on. She wished my family the best and said since the revisions would take longer than expected (in the end, I didn’t send until Christmas Eve) she’d combine line edits into my first round of revisions.
Her understanding and compassion helped a lot during those days. Eventually they diagnosed my dad, found an antibiotic he responded to, and released him. Over a month later he’s doing better, having finished his antibiotics and doing physical therapy, and fingers crossed nothing changes.
Mentee Tip #6: You Won’t Be the Worst Mentee Ever
Once my dad was feeling better, I thought I’d easily get back to writing. i did get a few more new chapters written, but it felt like I wasn’t making any progress. Remember Mentee Tip #1, Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Mentees? Guess what I did during that time. And guess what reared it’s ugly head.
Imposter Syndrome struck hard. Other mentees would post updates on making it to their second revisions or through X amount of their MS, while I wasn’t even with the first half of the first revision. I did have fears of going down as the worst mentee ever, being unable to complete my first revision, and disappointing Laura. There were over 4,000 hopeful writers who submitted to Pitch Wars, and who knows how many applied to Laura. Any one of them would love to have my place. How dare I struggle with something any one of them could do. There were a lot of thoughts like that. Along with feelings of guilt over taking the opportunity from someone who could’ve done better than me.
What got me through it was sharing my feelings with Laura and the other mentees. Laura assured me there was still time to get everything done. The other mentees shared that some of them were feeling the same way. I wasn’t the only one who was struggling with my first revisions, or feeling unworthy of being in PW or guilt at the feelings I was having. Just knowing I wasn’t alone, made me realize I wasn’t the worst mentee ever and helped me push through those harder chapters.
Once I got to some of the later ones, things began to go more smoothly and I was able to send the first half on December 24th. I did take a few days off from writing, mostly after completing one big chunk to work on Christmas presents or baking. Part of me did feel bad for taking those days off, but I needed them to recharge. Just like the few days I took off in between revisions.
Mentee Tip #7: It doesn’t have to be Perfect
The second half went so much faster than the first as it was really just some light editing. I got through it just under a week, sending it on January 2nd, 2022 after beginning December 27th. Stats wise, I wrote approximately 31,000 new words (nearly a third of my MS) during my first revision, and 24,000 words (78%) were in the first half I struggled through.
Besides just struggling with writing new material, there was also the struggle not to constantly edit it. After spending the past year working in a somewhat polished MS, it was hard not to grimace at all the new material. There were crutch words, lack of descriptions, vague details, dates needing fixing, new chapter names chosen– so many things that made me squirm and not want to send it to Laura. It felt weak compared to the material I was keeping. But the thing about that kept material is that it’d been edited several times so of course it felt stronger. I had time, but not enough to spend a month tweaking the new words. That’s what my second pass was for. Accepting that those 31,000 new words wouldn’t be perfect was a mini-challenge, but once I did (and kept reminded myself) I felt more confident continuing my writing and sending it to Laura.
As of finishing this post, I have yet to hear back on my first revisions, but should within the next few days. The wait is on-par and maybe worse than that for the edit letter. This time I know she’s sending comments on every scene and line. Yeah she loved my outline, but what if she hates my execution? What if I made things worse, or didn’t live up to the new outline’s promise?
Realistically Laura has been great so far and I don’t seeing her being really harsh.