Monday, August 22, 2016

Pitch Wars and the Olympics

Did you watch the Rio Games? For the past two weeks I was caught up in the Olympic television coverage, from swimming to gymnastics, to track and field. I loved everything about the Olympics-- the coming together of nations for peaceful competition, the patriotism, the opening and closing ceremonies. But the thing I liked best? Watching athletes deliver a message I strongly believe in: Hard work can pay off. In the words of women's freestyle swimming gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who broke her own world record to win the first swimming gold medal in Rio, "What you put in is what you get out."
 
And that, my friends, got me thinking about writing.

This year, I am lucky to again serve as a mentor in the Pitch Wars writing contest. As a mentor, I have the impossible task of selecting one manuscript out of piles of submissions. It's heart-wrenching to think I can only pick one. Writers have written an entire novel and trusted me with their words. My heart breaks when I know I'm not connecting with a manuscript enough to say yes. It kills me to realize I'm going to have to pass, simply because I've fallen "more in love" with another novel.
 
My advice to Pitch Wars hopefuls who aren't selected? Follow Olympian Katie Ledecky's advice: Put in the hard work. Keep writing every day. Find beta readers. Attend conferences. Or maybe it's time to outline a brand new novel, like I did last fall:
Writing isn't for the faint-hearted. I've entered umpteen writing contests, and I haven't "won" anything more than a full manuscript request. But I have won other, perhaps more important things: Helpful critique, a closer connection with the writing community, and a chance to realize that the manuscript I thought was "the one" hadn't even been written yet.
 
Mastery of craft, like mastery of swimming or gymnastics, doesn't come overnight. Katie Ledecky started swimming at age 6. I wrote my first manuscript at age 40. We all have different timetables, but without putting in the work, mastery won't magically appear at any age.
 
So contest or no contest, my advice is to devote time to craft.

Print out your manuscript. Read it aloud. Flag troublesome scenes. Swap chapters with trusted beta readers. Read a ton. Write and re-write, a zillion times. Put in the work every single day and work harder than you ever thought possible.
 
I can't guarantee you'll find an Olympic medal hanging around your neck. But your writing? I bet it will shine.

 






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