Do you like how I rhymed the title? Total accident. I just sat and stared at the title bar for ten minutes or so, trying to accurately sum up my feelings about the past week in just a few words. It’s like Twitter, but worse. My original title was, “#SunvsSnow: How the best contest ever nearly drove me to madness until I figured out it was all in my own head.” But that seemed long. Perhaps I should back up.
My latest manuscript, a little story called ABOVE EDEN, has been in circulation for a few months now. I don’t want to give a lot of details, but I have entered a few contests with little success, and some Twitter pitch parties with more success. I met some of my best Twitter friends through these contests, as we anxiously awaited results, consoled and congratulated each other as needed. Still, by the end of December I had grown contest weary. Tired of formatting. Tired of waiting. Tired of disappointment. Keeping my mental health in mind, I decided to stick to traditional querying.
Then my CPs started talking about a contest called Sun vs Snow. It wasn’t like other contests. In this contest, two blog hosts would each pick 15 entries to post on their blogs. Then a team of amazing mentors would read each entry and offer critiques and suggestions. The authors would then get the opportunity to revise and resubmit for the agent round. What a cool idea! So, even though I was out of town the weekend of the contest, I holed up in a cold room with a slow internet connection and hit the send button.
I honestly didn’t fret about it after that. I had been through this process several times, and I really didn’t expect much. I watched the Twitter feed sporadically, and when Michelle tweeted about a dystopian she loved, I went right on to the next thing because my book is not labeled dystopian. I kept my expectations low, because at this point, it’s a defense mechanism I employ every time I hit that send button.
Then came reveal day. I was getting ready for work and decided to scroll through Amy and Michelle’s blogs just to see if anyone I knew had made it. Scrolly scrolly scrolly WHAT THE CRAP DOES THAT SAY ABOVE EDEN??? I’m sure my facial expression was hilarious. I clicked on it, read it through, closed it, then clicked back about a minute later to make sure it was still there. The overwhelming emotion was shock, but it was a happy shock.
The next few days were a blur. The mentors in this contest were FANTASTIC. More than once I read a comment and I was like AH-HA YES. And WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE SO MUCH SMARTER THAN ME? And then more comments came. And more. And it was wonderful and awful all at the same time.
Wait. What? Why?
Because all the advice was fabulous in its own way, but it was contradictory. Writing is SO SUBJECTIVE, you guys. What one person thinks is great might grate on someone else’s nerves. (Did you see what I did that? BOOM, WORDPLAYED!) I had to step back for a day and just let it all simmer.
As part of being in the contest, we were also required to comment on other people’s entries. There were so many great ones. So much talent out there. Then I found myself in the position of trying to help someone polish a query and first page in a way that kept their voice intact. It gave me even more respect for the mentors, because they left lengthy helpful feedback, and it’s not easy.
This is getting long. Please feel free to grab a snack. I’ll wait.
Okay. We good? Great.
I was finally ready to come back and tackle revisions. My query has always been my nemesis. I cringe when I think about the first batch of queries I sent out for Eden. They didn’t do her justice at all. In fact, my CP Tana told me that she basically expected my pages to be horrid the first time she read my query, and was pleasantly surprised. Thank goodness she didn’t run away after that! Most of the suggestions focused on the query, which still needed work. I punched and molded and cut and squeezed that query, and I was pretty happy with the results. The first page was less intensive surgery, but I made some tweaks here and there to tighten it, add a bit more tension, take out some superfluous information.
With a whirl and a twirl, I sent my shiny new entry to some people to look it over again. And then began the madness. More to fix. Maybe this is actually worse. I like how you did it the first time better. Add more. Say less. And the voices in my head started to take over. They bound and gagged my voice and threw her in a trunk, and I was left to figure out which combination of others’ voices to listen to. I went to bed feeling defeated, because it would NEVER be right.
After a sleep and an overfull day of work, I was back at it. I stared at the entry. And stared some more. And changed some things. And changed them back. What if I don’t follow this person’s suggestion? Will they be upset? Will they think I can’t take critique? Because I can totally take critique. Critique me senseless. (Already there.) What if this person is right? It doesn’t feel like me, but maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe I SHOULD do it that way.
That’s when my voice liberated herself and yelled at me. Why are you letting what everyone else thinks make you doubt what you know? she asked. Who knows your story? Who knows your characters? YOU DO.
And she was right. Everyone was being so helpful, and, being a people pleaser, I didn’t want to let any of their help go to waste, didn’t want to let them down. But in trying to make everyone happy, I lost my own voice. Lost my confidence in myself and my writing and my story. I made the updates I resonated with, and left the rest alone. Tonight I sent my new entry off.
It may get agent attention, it may not. Of course, I hope it does. Even if it doesn’t, I would do this all over again in a heartbeat. Not only did I learn valuable information about how others read my query and first pages, I learned valuable information about myself. I know it sounds trite to say “it’s subjective,” but it is! Nothing has been a more prime example than this experience. It’s good to go to others. Necessary, even. Writing is solitary…the revision/query/and so on process shouldn’t be. Fresh eyes are always helpful. They open the writer up to see their work in new ways, from different angles.
But in the end, I am still the author. It’s my name on the project, and I get the final say. If I’m not passionate about my story because I have reworked it to the specifications of others, how can I possibly expect agents, editors, or publishers to be passionate about it? It has to be my voice, through and through. And my voice deserves to out there.
So thank you to Michelle and Amy for such a fantastic contest. I ended up walking away with much more than I ever expected…and it’s not even over yet! Stay tuned…