Sometimes we set our mind to something lofty. A goal larger than life. I find I have a habit of setting New-Years-resolution-level goals for myself every other week. It’s nuts! I know. And hear me, I’m 100% human. I don’t have magic. I’ve checked. So I only meet those goals 10% of the time. This is #normal for me. But like a hard-headed two-year-old, I set another crazy goal and reach for it days later. #BecauseCrazy
On occasion though…a magical mix of diligence, talent, perseverance, sleeplessness, with a dash of prayer makes something AMAZING happen. My fingers have grazed the surface of the stars and guys– I’m not letting go. I reached and worked and failed. Then reached some more. And y’all…
I officially signed with a literary agent!
Now before I dive into the WHO & WHY, I’d love to tell you a bit about the HOW. Again, there are no genies involved. The wand I purchased from Harry Potter world failed me. So this here was old-fashioned hard work. I’m sure some of you are reading this because you’re writing and wondering what the query trenches are like. Is it as awful as people say? No. It’s worse. You may be scrolling through this post because you’re in the query trenches and have lost all hope. You may just be nosey, LOL, and that’s okay. I get it. 🙂 Whatever your reason for visiting I’d like to drive home three things:
- Dreaming makes you vulnerable, but it’s necessary.
- Doubting doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you’re normal.
- Doing is what makes the difference. Don’t stop doing.
My writing journey started years before my querying journey. I didn’t have sights set on actually publishing a book. I just wanted to get the story stealing my sleep out of my head. After 3 years of writing off and on, throwing away thousands of words and exasperating myself on all the ‘wasted time’ writing and rewriting, I decided to just burn it all. I closed the word document half done at 42k words and vowed to never look at it again.
That was the beginning of my writing journey.
At the time I didn’t understand the writing process. I didn’t know the words on the page didn’t need to be perfect, they simply needed to exist. Now I understand the first draft is complete trash. Necessary trash. You can’t skip it. I’ll say that again for those of you as stubborn as I am — YOU CAN’T SKIP IT.
Respect the process.
So I dug through my computer’s ‘recently deleted files’ and thankfully found scraps of a half-written story. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I was determined to find out. After a few days of Googling and blowing up Meg at iWriterly with questions, I quickly learned that community was what I was missing.
It’s a lot easier for me to not skip the gym when my work-out buddy is holding me accountable. Writing works the same way. I needed a tribe. I set up a Twitter account in June 2018 and began voraciously sifting through things called hashtags. I started digging, reading and connecting.
Before I knew it, I found an entire community of people also burning their words and throwing them away. LOL. I knew I’d found my people. (@WFGHeadquarters was the first group I connected to. If you’re looking for a way to connect to writers, start with them. They’re welcoming and insanely productive every day! It’s contagious.)
Finally connected with fellow crazies with the same love-hate relationship for drafting, I set some goals. I heard about a thing called Pitch Wars, a mentoring program for writers without agents. Me! Sure I had a half-written story and all of zero odds at getting in but hey, why not dream?
Crazy dreams sometimes come true. But not in the way you might think! Dare to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in you, how can you expect someone else to? Dream. Let your heart and mind go there. Then churn that boundless hope into motivation.
I jumped into Twitter head first and starting offering to read fellow writer’s work and provide my general thoughts/feedback. If you’ve never been a beta reader or had a beta reader you’re missing out. There’s no cost or anything! It’s simply supporting fellow writers by giving each other feedback. I was also writing furiously with consistency, a little each day, with the goal of submitting my story to Pitch Wars late August. Draft 1 was done by July 4 and those were the best fireworks a girl could ask for.
After 3.5 years a) I could finally sleep and; b) I did it. I wrote a book.
PitchWars was coming! Now I had a complete draft (of trash…but that’s beside the point). I started editing and revising. My dear friend Clem (a fabulous writer I highly suggest you follow) told me editing is like finding little clumps of sand that you can turn into sandcastles. You’ll see little spots in your story where you can hone in and shape something really masterful. So I began sandcastle building, incorporating beta feedback, and editing my heart out. Fast forward 6 weeks and the PW submission window opened. I’d slept a total of 4 hours in that those 6 weeks, I’m pretty sure, but I took a deep breath and submitted.
Then doubt took over.
If you’re a writer you know what it’s like to constantly wonder if you’re good enough. Self-rejecting is something we’re good at! We are and will always be our worst critics. There’s definitely some value to not wearing rose-colored glasses in this business. It won’t help you grow. However, constant self-rejecting won’t either. Be honest with yourself. Don’t be overly precious about your work. Take feedback and digest it. But realize you did a thing. YOU WROTE A BOOK. That alone is something to be hugely proud of.
When doubt creeps in, know that we all feel that way. You’re normal. That’s a part of writing. Unfortunately. But it’s what you do next that matters.
You dreamed. You are doubting. Now do.
Get moving. Maybe you have piles of feedback from betas you’ve been avoiding. Or is it that your email inbox is a sea of silence since those queries went out? Or perhaps it’s that you sent your story off to a beta reader and they haven’t said a word. They’re not busy! They must legit hate your story and don’t know how to tell you. STOP. Just stop. You can have 1-minute to whine, be upset and worry.
Go ahead. I’ll wait…
ANNNNND we’re done with that. Now you decide to grow, learn, and keep pushing or stay stagnant. Some take years to get an agent and several more to publish. For some it’s not their 1st or 2nd book that gets published, it’s their 10th!
It’s a marathon. Not a sprint. So instead of wasted energy doubting… DO SOMETHING.
- Take steps toward improving your understanding of the craft.
- Read more in the genre you want to write. Books are too expensive. Yep. True. Library. Free books on Amazon. End the excuses and get to work.
- Open up that feedback you’re dreading and look for trends. Have other betas said similar things? Are there parts you agree with 100% but have been putting off fixing? Start brainstorming how to fix. Don’t know how? GOOGLE!!!!!! LOL.
I’m being light-hearted but I realize what I’m saying is near and dear to many of our hearts. I get it. I felt the same way! I swear. But listen — I didn’t get an agent because I’m a unicorn that shits glitter. No. I’m a normal person with normal dreams. I love to write and read. I try. I fail. I likely fail again several more times. But I push.
So push. What’s next? What can you do to take steps toward your dream and slap your doubt in the face?
Okay I’ll shut up with the pep talk. If you’re still reading I applaud you. You are either really sweet or nosey as hell. LOL. On with it: I subbed Pitch Wars and couldn’t stop obsessing about whether or not I’d get in. All this advice I just beat you over the head with I duly ignored. LOL. (What? I’m all about transparency. I’m keeping it 100. I’m just as stubborn and good at doubting as you are.)
I received two full requests from Pitch Wars mentors and OMG that made the waiting even harder. How could I do anything besides click refresh on my inbox and Twitter feed every 90 seconds? (Oh how I wish I was joking.) After the first 7 days of going CRAZY waiting, I stubbornly decided to write a new story during the wait.
How could I ever fall in love with something else as much as that story? How could it be right?! But I did. I went back to the drawing board and let myself dream. I dreamed of a girl from my hood. Fearless and unapologetic. She would have a chip on her shoulder but a heart of gold. I named her Rue because it reminds me of her pain. And yet… her middle name, Jelani reminds me of her strength.
And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more. 35 days later, I’d forgotten about Pitch Wars entirely and had a 1st draft of a story I wanted to share with the world. And it was a bit cleaner than my first story. It showed growth.
I didn’t get in to Pitch Wars, but days after the picks were announced I entered #DVPit with a stronger, better written story.
Remember when I said my writing journey STARTED when I tried to throw away my first story? It was in that moment I realized “FAILING” or “MESSING UP” or “HATING MY STORY” is part of the growing process.
Letting yourself spill all over the page in that crazy convoluted plotless mess that is the first draft is cathartic. Do it. Give yourself freedom to create. Explore your character, get to know their voice. Don’t write for perfection because it won’t work. Sure, be careful with your commas and have a general idea where you’re going. Goals in each scene would be nice. HA HA. But, in my very unprofessional non-expert opinion:
Allow yourself to make “a mess” and find joy in tidying up.
If you’re studying the craft, each story you write will show progress. Each will be a bit cleaner and refined. It’ll still be a first draft, LOL, but you’ll be blown away by how much you writing grows. Every pitch contest you enter will make you that much better at what types of pitches work. Querying and getting rejections will help you write a better query. You’ll start seeing what works.
So Pitch Wars wasn’t my path. DVPit was.
Bright an early at 5am PST on Oct 16 I logged on and posted. My pitch stayed at the top of the #DVPit search results all… damn… day. I was utterly shocked and spent most of the day crying with my CPs on speed dial. My pitch received 200+ likes and 100+ retweets. Shortly after, I queried my list of top 40 agents, received multiple offers, and signed with Bradford Literary, represented by my birthday twin, Natalie Lakosil.
The querying process was a whirlwind of emotions. I strongly recommend having a support group JUST to navigate that, LOL.
How was the offer call?
You know, moms joke about hiding in the closet from their kids. But like real talk, I had this conversation in my closet hoping the 3-year-old wouldn’t find me.
And I told Natalie that as soon as I said hello, LOL, because that’s just me.
Natalie dove right into discussing revision ideas for my story, and I loved every single one of them. She was honest, straight-up, yet kind. She didn’t sugarcoat the work ahead of me, and I had mad respect for that. She also told me how much she loved Rue. Hearing her talk about why she loved Rue with such specificity legit soaked my eyelashes. I knew she was the one the moment we hung up.
So GO DREAM. I dare you!
And when doubt creeps in: check the normal box. Then get off your ass and DO SOMETHING to reach for those stars that are far, far closer than you think.
Drop a comment below. I’d love to hear from you! Tell me a bit about what goals you have for 2019. I’d love to connect and encourage you to keep reaching.
A few fun links…
Special shout out to authors: Brittney Kelley, Sarah Janian, Alechia Dow, Ryan La Sala, Fallon DeMornay, Brittany Morris, Olivia Cole, Tasha, Jessica Froberg, Michelle Hauck, and the very, very sweet Nic Stone who have held my hand with such patience through all this.