Monthly Archive: January 2014

My PitchWars Experience

Here we are, on the eve of PitchWars! For those of us who participated, it’s kind of like Christmas Eve, with even more excitement and definitely more nerves.

I can’t believe how fast this month has gone by… and I’m pretty sure I have never said that about January before, because here in Canada, the abundance of show usually makes January intolerable. But because most of my free time has been devoted to everything PitchWars– doing revisions, crafting pitches, corresponding with mentors– the time just flew.

I went into PitchWars really hoping for somebody to come in and pick apart my manuscript and suggest changes to make the MS stronger as a whole. I definitely got that and a whole lot more! When I first heard about the contest and checked out all of the mentors, I was overwhelmed with the number of amazing people I could submit my work to. The hardest part was narrowing it down to four! But two mentors really stood out from the start– Lori Goldstein and Evelyn Ehrlich. Their wish lists aligned the best with what I had written, and I got a sense of their personalities and thought we would be a good match.

Unlike many other hopeful mentees, I didn’t have the chance to scroll obsessively through the pre-PitchWars Twitter feed because I had laser eye surgery done that week. I had to stay away from my computer and phone for a full twenty-four hours, and I was instructed to avoid staring at devices for the first few days afterwards (torture, right?). Lori and Evelyn both emailed me to ask for more chapters and a synopsis, so I used my spurts on the computer wisely. Looking back, I’m kind of glad I couldn’t stalk the Twitter feed, because I think staying away helped me keep my sanity.

Imagine all of our surprise when the mentors’ picks were announced early on Brenda Drake’s blog. THAT day I couldn’t stay off the Twitter feed. I was happy– and shocked!– to see my name twice under the mentors’ choices. I was chosen as Lori’s mentee and Evelyn’s first alternate. I felt like I had won the mentor lottery (a feeling that was validated many times afterward)!

Lori and Evelyn both helped me so much with my manuscript, which went into the contest with the title FAST GIRL and is now called FIRSTS (one of the many things my mentors guided me on). Lori read the full MS and her level of feedback absolutely blew me away. She was so detailed and thorough, and best of all, she really understood where I wanted to go with the MS. All of the changes she proposed were things I knew would strengthen the MS, and did. She taught me to consider every word choice and to always make sure I was always saying something in the most effective way. She let me know where I needed more emotion to make my main character more relatable. She pointed out my filter words (“look” was seriously overused!). Lori and Evelyn both helped me craft a more effective query letter, and they worked with me to create a pitch to use in the agent round. They worked incredibly hard for me!

I honestly can’t thank my mentors enough. I have learned so much from them, and I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for the world. I’m so glad I got to know Lori and Evelyn over the past couple of months. They’re wonderful people and amazingly talented writers. I can’t wait to buy all their books. I’m also grateful that I got to know the other mentees. I will keep my fingers crossed that everybody gets lots of requests, and I can’t wait to hear about the good things that will happen for all of you!

PitchWars isn’t for writers who don’t like critiques. PitchWars is for writers who are open to making changes, to ripping their MS apart to put it back together as something better. If you’re willing to work hard, you’ll reap the rewards. I got everything I hoped for out of PitchWars, plus a lot more. Thanks to my mentors, I’m more conscientious of my own writing and will apply the skills I learned to future WIPs as well. So if you’re a writer on the fence about applying, DO IT! You won’t regret it.

And of course, PitchWars wouldn’t be possible without Brenda Drake, the contest mastermind and all-around positive person in the writing community. Thank you, Brenda, for bringing so many writers together and forging a sense of community. We are all very appreciative!

Good luck to everyone tomorrow… I’ll be cheering for all of you!

(My lovely mentor Lori’s great post about what she looked for in a mentee!)

On Character Names

What comes first: the character or the name?

I think it’s different for everyone, just like some writers are plotters and some are pantsers. I’m working hard on revisions for FIRSTS at the moment, but I have several WIP ideas circulating in my head. That’s all they are– ideas, no plot– but one thing they have in common is that I have named the main characters.

I have heard writers say they aren’t attached at all to their characters’ names, that they could switch one and put a new one in without thinking twice. But for some of us, the thought of changing a name would be a huge deal. For me, the name is usually a starting point, and a font of inspiration. Once I name a main character, I feel like I’m on the way to giving the story legs. The name is the one thing I know I have figured out.

This might account for some of my struggles writing WAITRESS. I didn’t have a name for my main character for most of the book. I toyed with a couple different ones, but none felt quite right, until I settled on Bethany. I kept throwing different names at the story, and they just didn’t work. I would think, “I don’t know who she is, but she’s definitely not a ______.” In the end, Bethany was the only one that felt like the character for me. I even switched up secondary character names because I wasn’t happy with them. Most of the supporting cast started the book with one name and ended with a different one.

For DAMSELS, I knew the main characters’ names before I knew anything else about the book. I knew Briar and Savannah would be the best friends at the story’s core, and I knew Carson was the only name that would fit the guy they both fall in love with. I never once questioned any of the names I came up with. And this time, the characters felt more like real people– people I could fully visualize in my head, like they were people I knew instead of characters on paper. (Which is good, considering I spent more time with those people in my head than people in real life.) When I finished writing the book, I missed them like real people too.

In FIRSTS, the main character’s name is Mercedes. I loved the name because it worked perfectly with the story. I didn’t have the other characters in my head when the story started, but as soon as one of them would pop up on the page, I would find myself typing a name that fit. And this might be my favorite thing about writing: if you have faith in yourself as a writer, everything will fall into place.

I’m excited to start on my next project. With the main character’s name in my head, I feel like I’m already getting to know her, forming a picture of her, waiting to give her a story. Writing is a solitary profession, but I feel like I always have company.

Happy writing, everyone!

— Laurie

On 2013: The Learning Year

The tail end of 2012 and all of 2013 was a whirlwind.

I went to Africa. I got engaged. I moved. I made lots of paintings. I got married. I  finished and queried one book (WAITRESS) and wrote another (DAMSELS)– both New Adult contemporaries. I got several requests for partials and fulls– and also my share of rejections. I got great feedback that I will never forget. I accepted that it’s okay if your first book isn’t “the one,” or even your second or third or tenth, as long as you keep writing. Then, on a whim, I wrote a third book (FIRSTS), a Young Adult contemporary. An idea popped into my head and the book pretty much wrote itself. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that could happen all of the time?) I completed it in approximately three weeks.

2013 was a year of learning for me. I learned how I write best, how to write faster, how to use my time more efficiently. I learned to be less critical of my writing, and I learned that putting ideas on paper is the only way to ensure they become something other than an idea. I used to be almost afraid to write because I thought I was bound to disappoint myself– nothing could live up to the expectations I set in my head. But now I realize that NOT writing would be the only way to do that. Because to get anything remotely resembling a novel, you have to start with words.

I found out last year that I’m a full-fledged pantser. When I wrote WAITRESS, I tried plotting and felt completely stifled. I made outlines and didn’t follow them, and found my characters getting up to things I didn’t plan. I got frustrated that I wasn’t following my own formula. So when an idea came to me for DAMSELS, I decided to just fly with it and not outline at all. I let the characters dictate what happened next. And it was a hell of a lot more fun for me. I didn’t always feel in control– and I liked it. I thought DAMSELS would be a possible trilogy or series, but I haven’t written the sequel yet– mostly because of FIRSTS and the urgency with which it infiltrated my mind.

I also read a lot last year. I read New Adult, Young Adult, thrillers, classics, non-fiction. I have always been a voracious reader, but last year I read with a purpose. I read critically, and I sought out those “it” factors that made me interested in a book. I thought a lot about what makes a book readable, and what it came down to for me wasn’t necessarily genre or style or voice (although voice is an undeniably huge factor). But what makes a book a great book, for me, is that I just can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’s the suspense, the tension, the stakes, the hook.

This year, I have several ideas that are practically beating against the inside of my brain. I used to worry about not being able to generate ideas for books, and I wondered how authors could keep coming up with fresh material time and time again. But I’m learning that it’s about going with your instinct and writing the story that only you can write.

So going into 2014, I set some goals for myself to build on what I learned in 2013. I’m going to research and query with the hopes of finding an agent, but I won’t make the mistake of waiting for something to happen without working on another project. I always want to feel excited by a project and my ability to grow, and I think part of that is always working on something besides what you’re querying. Mostly, I want to always remind myself exactly how much I love writing. I’m going to keep creating characters and their stories, because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

This blog is another goal for 2014. One of the best things I did last year was join the online writing community. I met some awesome writers on Agent Query Connect, which is a terrific resource for aspiring writers. I also created a Twitter account and met more great people there. Twitter exposed me to the world of contests, which was both overwhelming and rewarding. I learned the art of creating pitches for my books in 140 characters or less– and if there’s one thing harder than writing a book, it’s writing a pitch. I submitted FIRSTS (previously titled FAST GIRL) to Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars last month and was lucky enough to be chosen as Lori Goldstein‘s  mentee and Evelyn Ehrlich‘s first alternate. Working with these talented ladies has been a truly wonderful experience, and FIRSTS– and my writing in general– has improved as a result.

I put off starting a blog because I questioned whether I had anything interesting or original to say, but 2014 is also going to be the year I put myself out there a bit more. I want to connect with even more amazing people in the writing community, and I want to support other writers. I want to make this a space where I share my thoughts and things that inspire me.

Happy 2014, and happy writing! If you have stumbled upon my site, I hope you come again.

— Laurie

%d bloggers like this: