Reflection on writing

One of the most difficult–and magical–things about writing is that nobody will ever read exactly what you write.

No matter how carefully you write, how much sweat and how many tears, you put into your writing, or how throughly you revise, how deeply you sink into the page to make your experiences and emotions are put on the page exactly the way you want them, the way you feel them, your reader will read something different.

No reader sees the same story or poem you wrote, nor have you ever read the same story or poem your favorite writers give to you.

When you write, you dive directly into the page, caressing each word and massaging each sentence. But when your readers read, they never stare into your page. Everything they read, they read reflected onto an image at the back of their own pinhole projector, reflected by their own experiences, their own knowledge, their own interests and understandings of each word’s multiple meanings.

This might sound discouraging. Why work so hard on something when even the reader who loves it most won’t read exactly what you wrote?

This is where writing meets math. Stories put the communal in communication. What each reader brings to your story adds to it and makes it bigger by giving it more meaning and making it something more than you could possibly ever create on your own.

What’s more, when a reader rereads a favorite book, they bring to it all the experiences they’ve gained since the last time, plus whatever mood they are in today, bringing a whole new reflection and creating a new story. This is why rereading is valuable.

Just don’t think that you don’t have to work as hard because you realize your readers won’t read the same story you write. You owe it to them and to yourself to do the best you can on your side of the equation, to give them an image that they can build upon in their own reflection.

300 Consecutive Days of Writing

On Tuesday, I hit a writing milestone I would have told you was impossible a year ago, or six months ago, or three months ago: I wrote for my 300th straight day.

I’ve always been mostly a weekend writer. I told myself I couldn’t write much during the week because my writing day job sapped my energy. But last June I joined a group that had just attended a conference, with the goal of writing every day until the next conference, 306 days not counting Sundays because several members of the group prefer not to write on Sundays.

I had a couple false starts before the streak really took hold, but once it did, it became harder not to write.

I’ve been asked how I managed to write so many days in a row, even with a family and a demanding job and other obligations. Today, I’ll tell you what works for me. It might not work for you to follow exactly this same plan.

Define “Writing”

The first thing is to decide what it means to have written on any day. This definition really depends on you and your writing life. For me, any of the following count as writing:

  • Writing (or revising) for at least 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be great writing. It just has to be writing. I find that, often, by 15 minutes I’m on a roll and it goes longer. But if I stop at 15 minutes, I’ve met my goal.
  • Critiquing. If I’m working with a critique partner, I can use my writing time to critique my partner’s work.
  • Coaching. I’ve had other writers asking me for advice or encouragement. If I spend my 15 minutes (at least) helping another writer get past an obstacle, I consider this writing time. This hasn’t happened a lot furing my streak, but there have been some days when I’ve used whatever time I had helping somebody else. For me, this counts.

It’s your definition, and there’s no wrong answer, as long as your definition helps you meet your goals as a writer. Researching your historical novel? Participating in regular community-building events? Count them, as long as you’re not really using those as an avoidance technique. Your goal, your rules.

Set Small Goals

If I had set out to write for 300 days, I would have failed in the first week. That goal is too big, and it’s unreasonable. I’ve managed it, but not on purpose.

When I started, I wanted to write one day, then three, then five, then a week, then ten days, and so on. I’m a big believer in small goals. The best way to lose 50 pounds, for example, is not to set out with the insurmountable goal of losing 50 pounds. It’s to lose three pounds, then another, then three more. 50 is impossible. Three is manageable. The same goes for writing.

In the past, it’s taken me years to write a novel. By keeping small goals, I wrote two in 2018. That shatters a lot of the things I’ve told myself about my limits. It’s still a struggle on a lot of days, but I know I can beat the struggle now, so I just do.

Be Accountable

It helps to have to report your progress. Several members of that group I mentioned earlier report our progress every Saturday.

I also use a habit app. Habit apps are designed to help you create (or break) a habit by reporting your success every day. The one I use is called HabitBull, but there are others that you might like better. The concept is simple: Every day I mark off whether or not I wrote that day. The app keeps track of my streak.

There’ve been days when I haven’t felt like writing, but then I look at the app and I see how many days in a row I’ve written, and I have to decide whether today is the day I want to start over.

And, if you want to have a set day off every week, that’s OK too. Make that part of your goal, and take that day off. If it’s part of your goal, your streak doesn’t end because you don’t write on Sundays. Count your week as six days, enjoy the break, and continue your own streak on Monday. Your goal, your rules.

Give Yourself Permission to Stop–Tomorrow

For the whole 301 days now, I’ve given myself permission to stop–tomorrow.

I know the streak’s going to end. I’ve known it from the first week. Just not today.

If higher priorities stop me from writing tomorrow, or even if I’m just too tired, I won’t feel bad about it. Writing’s a priority, but it’s not THE priority. It’s been a long time since I’ve passed the point where I’d feel like I failed if my streak ended. It’s going to end. Maybe it will end tomorrow. I’m fine with that. I’m going to write today, though, then we’ll see what happens.

In fact, this blog means I’ve written today. That’s 302 days. I might not make 303. But I made 302, and I feel good about that.

Organize Your Writing Project With OneNote


If you use  Microsoft Office, you don’t need to look any further for software that will help you organize a writing project. OneNote is a great tool for keeping track of your research materials and notes, and even works great for writing those early drafts.

For example, the following sample notebook, named Writing Project, contains sections where I can track my research, plan the book, work on submission materials like a query and synopsis, keep notes, and write scenes.

For this example I’m using the OneNote app in Windows. Your screen will look a little different if you’re using the Office 365 version:

Back to the app. I’ve opened my notebook I call Writing Project. Down the left side, you see the sections I’ve created. If I open the Notes section, for example, I see the pages and subpages I created for that section:

You can, of course, set up your notebook to match your working style.

If you do a lot of your research online, your Research section will likely contain web pages you’ve found. It’s easy to put a web page into OneNote. You can set up OneNotew as a printer and “print” into your notebook. Most current browsers also have add-ins or extensions, so you can also add the OneNote Clipper extension and clip full or partial pages with a couple clicks.

Once your page is OneNote, you can highlight the relevant passages, like this one for my current project:

Highlighting is especially easy if you have a touchscreen and a pen (or finger).

OneNote can store just about anything: text, images, drawings (including things you draw in OneNote with your pen or finger on that touch screen).

This is a picture of a page in a book, which I took with my phone, saved to OneNote, then marked up in my notebook.

I even link to my manuscript file from inside OneNote, and to my submission tracking spreadsheet. I often keep a OneNote page pinned to my Word file for making notes as I write or revise.

OneNote is the most flexible and versatile tool I’ve found yet for managing a writing project. I can set it up how ever I need it for my work habits and the needs of a particular project. Everything I do in OneNote is saved to the cloud, so it’s available on any of my computers or mobile devices whenever I need it, wherever I am.

A Word About–Wait For It–Waiting

Waiting is hard.

For those of us who participate in Pitch Wars and similar pitch contests, the waits of several weeks seem endless. We wait for requests from mentors and wait to see if are works are chosen. Again, this is only the beginning of the waiting.

Even those of us who are not prone to high anxiety become anxious. All this waiting is nothing but torture, even though the wait is one of the shorter ones we’re likely to experience on our road to publication.

Waiting tends to raise anxiety. Self-doubts are more likely to creep in while we wait, and time seems to pass more slowly when it’s empty.  Whole articles have been written about the psychology of waiting.

For writers, though, waiting is a way of life, whether we like it or not. The length of time it takes to write a story or book, plus the even longer time it can take to revise, means we have to long a time between the start of our projects and their ends.

But when we finish, the real waiting begins. It can take weeks, even months, to get a response from the agents we query, if they respond at all. I recently got a response to a query I sent two years ago. The wait for validation that our hard work is loved by someone else is endless and excruciating. And it’s a wait we might put ourselves through dozens of times, maybe even a hundred or more, before we find an agent. IF we find an agent.

Then, even when we get our agent, there’s more waiting. We wait for an edit letter. We wait for a response to our edits. We wait for our agent to prepare her submission package for us. When our book is out on sub, we wait for editor responses.

If we are lucky enough to find a publisher. There’s more waiting. More revising, followed by more waiting. If a writer were to sign a book deal today–September 22, 2018–that book probably won’t come out until well into 2020.

There’s no way around it. We have to wait. All the time.

The best way to wait is to fill the time. Empty time feels like it passes more slowly than filled time. There are many ways to productively fill our waiting times:

  • Take some time off for self-care.
    Take a vacation or do something fun that takes your mind off the wait.
  • Start a new project. Participate #WriteTheWait activities.
    If you can get your mind on a new project, you’ll think less about the one you’re waiting for.
  • Research agents.
    Prepare a list of potential agents for this project, or for another one you’ve written.
  • Read. A lot.
    Reading is an essential activity for writers, one that tends to get neglected while we’re writing. Research your next project. Read for fun. Work through that TBR pile next to your bed. Just read.
  • Participate in writing communities.
    Twitter, Facebook, web forums, and local writing communities can help you get through your wait. They can help you learn your craft, help you find new books to read, lead you to new critique partners, and help you find friends.
  • Critique the work of others.
    When you’re waiting, it’s a good time to exchange manuscripts with critique partners and help each other develop your skills.
  • Take a class.
    You might take a writing class, or learn about something else you’re interested in. The class could be through a local school or library, an online service, or it might be one you design yourself from books and websites.

There are many more ways to spend your wait in a productive way that helps build you up as a writer and a person.

The one way you shouldn’t spend your wait is as a helpless ball of anxiety. If you let your anxieties take over, you’re more likely to develop doubts and negative feelings about yourself and your work. You might even start to post negative comments on Twitter feeds and other public places where the people who can help you in your career might see them and become less likely to work with you.

People in the publishing world, including potential crit partners,  want to work with writers who are positive and professional. If they get the impression that you might be hard to work with, they’ll find others to work with who are more pleasant to be around. They’re probably dealing with their own writing-related anxieties, and prefer not to add yours to their own piles of troubling thoughts.

I wish I could say there was some other way, but the fact is, we have to learn how to live with waiting. The best thing to do is to make the wait work for you.

Whatever you do, don’t let the inevitable pain of waiting kill your dreams. Stay positive, and have fun.

Trim the Flab in Your Writing

We all want our writing to carry some weight. We hope our ideas have some heft. But we want the good muscle weight, not flab.

I found an online tool this week that helps spot the flab so we can cut down on some common sources of extra flab. The Writer’s Diet helps by pointing out these sources of extra rolls around the middle:

  • “Be” verbs, such as be, were, was, and is.
  • Abstract nouns and nouns formed from verbs
  • Excessive prepositions
  • Too many adjectives and adverbs
  • It, this, that, and there

There’s nothing wrong with having these kinds of words in our manuscript–just like there’s nothing wrong with the occasional slab o’ cheesecake– but the Writer’s Diet highlights them so you can see if you rely on them too much.

The way it works is you paste a sample of your writing, up to 1000 words, into a text box and click a button, and a few seconds later your text is highlighted with a bunch of colors. Here’s what it looks like when I paste in part of something I’m working on:

Overall, it’s not too bad, but I need to go in and replace as many of those be verbs as I can with stronger verbs. That change alone will greatly improve this opening.

Also, even though it says my prepositions are healthy, I see more than I want, especially when there are strings of two or more prepositions, or the same one appears too often close together.

I’m finding this site so useful that I now want to go out and buy the book the site promotes. But even if you don’t want the book, if you’re a writer you’ll find the site useful.


Books I Read in 2017

It’s time once again to reveal the list of books I finished over the past year. It turns out is was a record-setting year, even though I was way off the pace at the beginning of November. But, surgeries in November and December gave me more time to read, and so I did. My goal for the year was 60 books, and I ended up reading 78, edging out the 77 I read in 2015. According to the count on Goodreads, that was 19,669 pages. My previous high was 18,275 in 2015.

Without further ado, here are the books I read:

  1. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
  2. The Dain Curse, Dashiell Hammett
  3. Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution, Rebecca Stott
  4. The King Must Die, Mary Renault
  5. On Teaching and Writing Fiction, Wallace Stegner
  6. The Whisper (The Riverman Trilogy, #2), Aaron Starmer
  7. King Solomon’s Mines, H. Rider Haggard
  8. A Yorkshire tragedy, Unknown (Shakespeare apocrypha)
  9. The 13 Clocks, James Thurber
  10. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, Wallace Stegner
  11. The Nest, Kenneth Oppel
  12. Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman
  13. Sir Thomas More, Anthony Munday (Shakespeare apocrypha)
  14. The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander
  15. Conflict and Suspense, James Scott Bell
  16. The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, Adam Gidwitz
  17. Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, Roald Dahl (Editor)
  18. Half Magic, Edward Eager
  19. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Laura Shovan
  20. Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author, Chuck Sambuchino
  21. The Complete Old English Poems, Craig Williamson (translator)
  22. Toilet Train Your Cat, Plain and Simple: An Incredible, Practical, Foolproof Guide to #1 and #2, Clifford Brooks
  23. Fair Em, Unknown (Shakespeare apocrypha)
  24. Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse
  25. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
  26. The Aeneid, Virgil (Robert Fagles, translator)
  27. Hunting for Hidden Gold (Hardy Boys, #5), Franklin W. Dixon
  28. Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19; City Watch, #3), Terry Pratchett
  29. Afterland, Mai Der Vang
  30. The Evil Wizard Smallbone,  Delia Sherman
  31. Ein ganzes Leben, Robert Seethaler
  32. Collected Stories, Robert Stegner
  33. Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander
  34. A Most Pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the Kings Sonne of Valentia and Amadine the Kings Daughter of Arragon, with the Merie Conceites of Mouse, Etc., Unknown (Shakespeare apocrypha)
  35. Fat for Fuel: A Revolutionary Diet to Combat Cancer, Boost Brain Power, and Increase Your Energy, Joseph Mercola
  36. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
  37. Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, Donal Maass
  38. Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, Anonymous
  39. Magic by the Lake, Edward Eager
  40. Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya, William Carlsen
  41. The High King, Lloyd Alexander
  42. A Tale Dark & Grimm, Adam Gidwitz
  43. The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Unknown (Shakespeare apocrypha)
  44. The Storyteller (The Riverman Trilogy, #3), Aaron Starmer
  45. The Gravedigger’s Son, Patrick Moody
  46. The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, James Shapiro
  47. Midnight Without a Moon (Rose Lee Carter #1), Linda Williams Jackson
  48. Treasure at Lure Lake, Shari L. Schwarz
  49. The Inferno (The Divine Comedy, #1), Dante Alighieri (John Ciardi, translator)
  50. Worthy of Song and Story (Stian the Viking, #1), Neal Chase
  51. Bob Dylan: Forever Young, LIFE Magazine
  52. The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturlasson (Jesse Byock, translator)
  53. A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story, Linda Sue Park
  54. Lloyd Alexander, Jill P. May
  55. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
  56. Splendors and Glooms, Laura Amy Schlitz
  57. The Night Gardener, Jonathan Auxier
  58. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
  59. The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1), Jonathan Stroud
  60. The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow, Scott Baker
  61. Falstaff: Give Me Life, Harold Bloom
  62. Henry IV, Part 1, William Shakespeare
  63. The Bulletproof Writer: How To Overcome Constant Rejection To Become An Unstoppable Author, Michael Alvear
  64. Henry IV, Part 2, William Shakespeare
  65. Henry V, William Shakespeare
  66. EngiNerds, Jarrett Lerner
  67. Christian Science, Mark Twain
  68. The Lost Celt, A.E. Conran
  69. The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil, Al Ridenour
  70. Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Words You Use, Bill Brohaugh
  71. The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year, Linda Raedisch
  72. Dragon Professional Individual For Dummies, Stephanie Diamond
  73. Delphi Christmas Collection III, Various
  74. The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, Wade Albert White
  75. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, Unknown (J.R.R. Tolkien, translator)
  76. The BFG, Roald Dahl
  77. Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-eyed Susans, or, Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop, David Lee
  78. The Lost Tribes, C. Taylor-Butler

My Personal Pitch Wars History

This is my fourth Pitch Wars. I thought it might be fun to summarize my experiences each year. I considered doing it Pitch Wars style–in a tweet thread–but decided against it.


I heard about Pitch Wars a couple days before I submitted. The submission window might have already been open. I don’t remember for sure.

I had two manuscripts to choose from, a YA and a MG. I had another YA in the works, but it wasn’t ready yet. I chose the MG because I wasn’t sure what I thought of it myself. I hoped for some feedback on whether it was any good at all.

The #pitchwars feed was fun, so I followed it, participating some. I lurked far more than I posted, though.

Because I joined late, I didn’t take much time to research mentors. I quickly skimmed some of the mentor bios and found four I thought might be interested. I ended up getting brief feedback from three of them. Each of these mentors said basically the same thing: The story is good, but at only 28k words it’s much too short.

This gave me the confidence to keep working on this story. Maybe it was OK after all.

2015 – My Big Year

I returned to Pitch Wars in 2015 with the same book, only this time it was about 30% longer. While adding to the book, I discovered an important new character. I also discovered some important things about my main character, especially about his relationships with his parents and other characters. And I changed to 1st-person POV. In other words, I did a lot of work.

I spent a little more time researching mentors, at least enough to read through all the bios. I didn’t do anything before the submission window opened, so I still didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.

I only remember getting one request (could have been more), but I learned that manuscripts were shared behind the scenes and that the number of requests doesn’t really tell you how many people are looking at your work.

I got into the feeds more the second year. I felt more relaxed and confident, and participated more. I had fun.

When it was over, I wasn’t chosen. I did get a very nice note from one of the mentors, however, saying that she loved my story but didn’t feel it needed enough work to need her as a mentor. She generously offered to coach me through the query process and even recommended me to her agent. She’s still helpful a couple years later, a real writing friend. I’m still querying this work, and am getting nibbles of various sizes, but nobody has bitten yet.

One of my favorite things that happened that second year was that I was introduced to #mglitchat, a weekly Twitter confab of MG writers. This chat greatly expanded my circle of writer friends, introduced me to a bunch of great books, and made me feel part of the greater community of MG writers. I can’t overstate how much the #mglitchat has meant to me and how I feel as a writer.


Last year, I entered the YA that was still in progress in 2014. I had pretty much given up on my other YA, the one I nearly entered the first year. Something just didn’t feel right about that first YA. And, although I felt like I was part of the MG community, thanks to #mglitchat, I didn’t want to enter the same MS a third time.

I started reading the mentor blogs as soon as they were available, making lists and being more careful about my choices. A couple of them felt like excellent fits for my manuscript, and I was feeling pretty good about it myself, although I still struggled with a few parts of the story. I was pretty sure nobody would say this one was too polished to need a mentor.

I participated even more fully in the Twitter feeds, and even pimped my bio. The third time’s the charm, and my experience the previous year was so amazing that I expected something similar this time. I mean, I even joined the Pitch Wars dance parties.

And I got very little response. It was practically crickets.

There was, however, an agent who during the waiting period offered hopefuls a chance to pitch, and liked my pitch enough to request a query and pages. That was a win, even though she ultimately rejected the query, because it gave me confidence in the premise.

Participating in Pitch Wars was still a positive experience, but it was hard to compete with the rush of success I felt after 2015. I planned to participate again in 2017, but I hoped I wouldn’t need to. I was in the midst of a Master’s degree, didn’t have a lot of writing time, and my latest WIP had stalled. So I pinned all my hopes on that MG I was querying and moved on.


Which brings me to this year. With my shiny new Master’s degree, and a pile of new ideas, I was writing again, but I still hadn’t sold my 2014/2015 MG book.

I briefly considering entering the YA book again. I’ve done some pretty significant revising. But I really wanted to stay within the MG group. I’d had great Pitch Wars experiences in MG. More importantly, participating in #mglitchat had made me feel like part of the MG community. I have also read a lot more MG. I feel like an MG writer.

But what should I enter? My only complete MG manuscript was the one I’d entered twice and been told was too polished to need mentoring. Of course, that was only one mentor’s opinion. Maybe another would help me figure out why it’s not landing with an agent.

Then there was the YA I almost entered the first time. A couple people had told me it felt more like a middle grade book back in the day, but I had kind of written it off as a tween book, and those weren’t doing so great so I’d shelved it. I pulled it out for another look. It had a lot of problems. But, because I had read so much MG lately, I saw where the people were coming from when they said it felt more like MG.

I decided in June that, if I could get it ready in time, I’d enter that one in the MG category. If not, I’d try the other one for a third time. It needed a ton of work. It was too long for MG, had some technical issues, and the POV didn’t feel real to me. So I dug in, doubtful that I could finish it in time.

This year, I got involved in Pitch Wars earlier than I ever had before, while I was still buried in revisions. I discussed what I was doing, and when the mentor blog hop opened, I read the bios carefully and corresponded with nearly every mentor who might be interested in the book.

I still wasn’t positive that I’d be ready with this manuscript until a week or two before the sub window opened, but I really wanted to sub that one. It looked like more mentors might be interested in it than the other one, based on wish lists, so I kept working on that one.

And felt ready, just in time.

For my fourth Pitch Wars, I feel more relaxed, much less stressed. I’m enjoying the community and having fun. I hope to be picked, of course, but if I’m not, I’m still getting encouraging responses to my other MG and I don’t believe Pitch Wars is my only path to success.

Of course, it’s too early to know whether I’ll get any response or feedback on this new/old manuscript. But I’ve learned that, for me anyway, Pitch Wars is more about the people that the manuscripts. I believe I’ve made some good connections–friends, even–through interacting with mentors and other hopefuls, so I feel like I’ve already won.

And, once again, I’m already looking forward to next year, while hoping I won’t be eligible to enter in 2018.

How to Choose Your Prospective PitchWars Mentors

If you’re new to PitchWars, you might be wondering how to choose your prospective mentors. The contest lets you submit your work to four mentors, six if you make a $20 donation or win one of the extra mentor giveaways that take place in the lead-up to the competition.

The PitchWars mentors are all generous volunteers and awesome writers, so chances are that narrowing your list to four (or six) won’t be easy.

There are several ways to make sure you pick the mentors you’d most like to work with if you’re chosen, and who’d be most interested in helping you improve your manuscript.

1. Mentor Wish Lists

The mentor blog hop has been open for several days now. In the blog hop, all mentors posts information about themselves, including the kinds of books they like and dislike. The blog posts also help you get an idea of their personalities.

If you use no other resource, use this one. You want to make sure you submit to the people who are most likely to be interested in your work. Choosing a mentor who doesn’t like SciFi for your space opera is a wasted opportunity. Although they might make an exception, they are highly unlikely to do so.

When I first participated in PitchWars, I only heard about it a few days before the contest began, and was unaware that the blog hop was out. I ended up scrambling to choose mentors while filling out the entry form, which didn’t give me much time.

Spend as much time as you can with the blog posts and make a list of all who are looking for what you have to offer. Eliminate any who don’t like your genre. If nobody specifically lists something like your work on their wishlists, don’t assume they’re not interested. Unlike with most agents, you’ll have the opportunity to ask around to find out who is most interested. (See below.)

Just as you would take the time to research agents before you send your queries to make sure your work is right for them, research your potential mentors. One of the things they’re looking for is professionalism, and the pros do their homework.

2. Interact on Twitter

Stalking is an important element of PitchWars. Not the creepy, personal kind, but the kind that happens online within the parameters of the contest. Most mentors are open and responsive when people ask them questions.

Proper PitchWars etiquette is to @ the mentor or ask questions in the #askmentors feed. Don’t DM (direct message) or email potential mentors unless they expressly tell you to in their bio blog.

Even if you don’t ask questions, you can watch feeds like #PitchWars, #askmentors, and #mentorhints–as well as category-specific feeds like #PitchWarsMG and #PitchWarsYASFF–to get a feel for what mentors like and what they are like.

Of course, it’s best not to ask questions that can easily be answered by reading the blogs. While they’re likely not going to remember you did it, they might not be as responsive. But if you want to know which mentors are most likely to be interested in your YA SciFi retelling of The Frog Prince set in the 90th Century after the Great Reptile Revolt, ask.

Keep in mind that many excellent mentors aren’t as active on Twitter as others. Although they’ll probably answer your questions, they might not post a bunch of stuff on their own. So, choosing a mentor solely on their Twitter activity might mean that you ignore the mentor who’d be perfect for you.

It is, however, fair to make choices based on responsiveness. If you repeatedly ask a mentor questions and never get an answer (just don’t be obnoxious about it), it’s understandable if you quietly move that mentor down your list behind the people who do respond.

One note about Twitter: Some mentors have a policy of not following back if potential mentees follow them, until after PitchWars is over. There are many reasons for this, but one is that hopefuls sometimes take being followed by a mentor as a sign that they are going to get picked, which can increase disappointment if they aren’t. So if you follow and are not immediately followed back, don’t take that to mean anything about your chances, good or bad.

3. Use the Forum

Beginning this year (2017), PitchWars offers a forum where hopefuls can receive input on their queries and pages from other hopefuls and sometimes from mentors. Many mentors have opened discussions where hopefuls can ask them questions directly.

Especially if you’re not a Twitter fan, this gives you another place to find out more about the mentors on your list. Whether you ask questions yourself or just read their answers to others, these discussions can help you narrow your list.

4. Check Out Their Books

You can learn a lot about any potential mentors by looking at their books. You don’t have to buy and read their books (although you are welcome to do that, even encouraged). Titles and genre info will tell you a lot about their interests. Sites like Amazon also offer samples of many books, so you can get a sense of their style.

Several of the mentors are waiting for their first books to come out, so this won’t work for every mentor.

5. Recommendations

Sometimes, a mentor’s previous mentees post information about how the mentor was to work with. The recommendations are always positive and might not provide a lot of information. But, you can ask those former mentees questions about their experience, and the mentor’s style.


Use as many methods as you can. The better informed you are, the better your chances of not wasting those precious mentor spots by choosing somebody who is not looking for what you have to offer. You can go into the submission form with confidence, ready to pick the mentors you believe are your best choices.

As always, the primary rules of PitchWars apply: be kind and respectful in all your PitchWars interactions, whether with mentors or other hopefuls. The mentors are watching, and although their main interest is in the pages submitted to them, they also want to choose a mentee who is easy to work with, so negativity and meanness could help them make their choice.


Like many writers, I have an obsession with notebooks.

One of my favorite things about summer, in fact, is that the stores have “school” supplies for great prices. They might become cheaper as we get closer to the start of school, but they are still irresistible right now.

This morning, I needed to run to Target for drinks and dog food. I ended up also getting these:

It doesn’t matter that I already have several unused notebooks. When comp books are 50 cents, leaving the store without at least six is not possible. Not for me.

Comp books are my favorite.

I have many favorites.

If comp books are great, how great are those little mini comp books? Great enough to be my favorite.

My favorite notebook is next to the mini comp book. It’s a slightly larger notebook with a fabric cover. And it lies flat when opened.

Sometimes at work meetings, they pass out these great notebooks. Those are my favorite!

And then there’s the great notebook I got for my birthday. It even has a pocket. No wonder it’s my favorite.

My favorite notebooks are made just for writers. How can any writer not love these?

And can a desk really be a desk without one or more yellow pads? They may be simple, but they are a workspace essential. And that’s why they’re my favorite.

Then, of course, there’s the sticky note. Maybe not technically a notebook, but they’re beautiful, and easy to color code, and you can put them anywhere, and they’re my favorite.

I have other notebooks. There are few places I can go in my home where I don’t have a notebook nearby. It might come as no surprise, but whichever one I’m using is my favorite.

Now I’m thinking about buying another one. I think a dot-ruled notebook would definitely be my favorite.

Different sizes, shapes, styles–each helps me in a different way. The only notebook that is not my favorite is one that can’t hold up to being used, a cheapie that falls apart or where the ink bleeds through too much.

What to expect from your first PitchWars

The preliminaries to PitchWars are heating up. Several people have tweeted that they are entering for the first time. I remember being somewhat confused during my first PitchWars. I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences so first-timers will know what to expect and will get the most out of the contest.

Note: This post is based entirely on my experiences and impressions. Nothing here should be considered official. Make sure you read the information on the official PitchWars website for rules and schedules.


The contest has not opened yet, but already the #PitchWars hashtag on Twitter is heating up. There are even several genre-specific hashtags, such as #PitchWarsSFF and #PitchWarsMG.

There are a few things you can do before the contest begins to enhance your experience:

  • Polish your manuscript and your query
    Although your work doesn’t need to be perfect (in fact, being too good can actually keep you from being chosen by a mentor, because mentors want to help you improve your manuscript), you want to show that it has potential, and that you write in a professional manner.
  • Pimp your bio
    The PimpMyBio contestant blog hop is a great place to share information about you and your work, and to meet other writers. Although the mentors all say their decisions are based solely on your work and that writing a bio makes no difference, it does make the contest more fun when you know something about the other contestants.
  • Participate on Twitter
    Following the hash tag is a great way to get to know some of the mentors and other contestants, to get a feel for the contest, to ask questions, to find critique partners, and all kinds of useful things. Most of the communication after the contest begins happens on Twitter, so participating, or even lurking, helps you see how the contest works.

Mentor Blog Hop

The Mentor blog hop is scheduled to begin on July 19. (This is from memory, and schedules can change, so check the official site.) This is the first really important part of the contest.

When you enter the contest, you’ll submit to four mentors. Six, if you make an optional donation. The blog hop introduces you to the mentors and their interests. Just like when you query agents, your chances are better when you submit your work to people who are looking for your genre and age group, and are interested in your type of story. Querying mentors who are not looking for your genre guarantees that your work won’t be chosen, and may even be ignored.

Choosing your potential mentors is not something to be rushed. I always have trouble paring down the list. The mentors are great. You’ll want them all to be your friends. But you can only query four (or six). Read the bios and wishlists, then hop out to the web to find out more so you can narrow it down.

Don’t sub to somebody you like in the wrong category, thinking maybe since you’re friendly online or because they like your kind of story, just for the wrong age group, they’ll consider you anyway. The mentors are locked into their categories. They can’t make exceptions.


When the contest officially opens, you’ll enter it on the submissions page on the official site. Your entry consists of:

  • Query letter
  • First chapter
  • Selected mentors

Although you don’t need them to enter, you should have your complete manuscript (or a subset), a synopsis, and a 35-word pitch ready when you enter. If any of your mentors want to see more, they will ask for at least one of these items.

Each year I’ve participated, there have been a bunch of questions in Twitter about whether entries were made correctly. Pay close attention to the entry page. Your confirmation will likely appear at the bottom of the page, or at least it has in the past. Read the entry page carefully for information about how entries will be confirmed this year.


The time between your entry and the official announcement of the chosen mentees feels even longer than it is. A lot can happen in those three weeks. This is when mentors will ask for additional information for any entries that interest them.

This is the most frustrating part for many contestants. It’s completely normal that your nerves will be on edge from the second you complete your submission. Entering your writing in any contest is a huge step, and it’s a difficult one. Emotions go all over the place. You’ll second guess everything from your query to why you entered in the first place. You’ll fret that you did something wrong when you entered. You’ll discover a typo on the second page of your manuscript and figure you blew the whole thing.

Don’t worry about any of this. I say this knowing you will. And I will, even though I’ve done this a few times. But try not to. Have fun. Think about the good stuff. Work out your nervous energy by playing in the Twitter feed.

Many of the mentors drop hints on Twitter (tagged with #PWTeaser). While these are fun, they can also be torture when your nerves are shot. Sometimes you’ll swear somebody is tweeting about your manuscript, only to realize it’s not one of your chosen mentors and may not even be in your genre or age group.

Every year, some people express frustration and disappointment, even anger, if they have not gotten any nibbles from mentors. This is understandable. Again, entering this contest is a difficult step, and it’s natural to believe your work is too good to be ignored. You are almost certainly right.

Keep in mind that the mentors have to have a love connection with a submission to consider it. There are many more entries than mentors, and most mentors (there are occasional exceptions–watch the feed) can only choose one mentee. Try to stay positive in your Twitter posts and in your life. If your manuscript is not chosen, it might mean it’s not ready. It could mean it’s too polished to need help. Most likely, it just means the mentors felt they could help with another manuscript more than they could with yours. It’s not personal.

It’s also possible that while you’re feeling frustrated about a lack of response, your manuscript is sitting in a mentor’s “maybe” pile. You don’t want to influence the mentor’s decision by sounding like a Negative Nelly. Contributing to positive, encouraging discussions will help you stay positive yourself. Look for the upside and you’ll find it.

Every year, some manuscripts that are not chosen end up being agented before the chosen manuscripts find a home. There are many ways to win besides being chosen.

To get the most out of the waiting period:

  • Follow the Twitter feed
    There’s constantly something going on Twitter, everything from sharing info about your work to Q&A with mentors. Announcements, sometimes of special offers, are made there. Lots of GIFs are shared for many reasons and on many themes. Last year, a couple agents even offered critiques or a bump to the top of their slush.
  • Connect with other writers
  • Work on your next project
  • Research the agents in the PitchWars agent list and note the ones you might want to query

You’re going to be nervous. You’re going to be jealous of writers who get more requests or get chosen, especially if you know them. You’re going to feel all the feels, good and bad. There’s no avoiding that. PitchWars is not easy. They key is to stay positive and have fun.

The Announcement

As you’d expect, Announcement Night is difficult. All the nerves of the evaluation period come to a head. Even if you haven’t heard anything and have given up, you’re likely to have a sudden burst of hope.

Information about how to find the list of winners will be shared on Twitter. There is also a live online announcement party, which some people enjoy and others don’t. You don’t have to watch if you don’t want to.


If some of your new writer connections are chosen, congratulate them. Commiserate with others who don’t make the cut. Feel what you need to feel. Try to keep your Twitter reactions positive, though. Every year, some people express their disappointment and bitterness on Twitter. While this is understandable and even expected, it’s not very useful, and can be counter-productive. Remember, the next agent you query could be lurking, looking for professionals.


If you’re chosen (I guess–hasn’t happened to me yet), you’ll get instructions from your mentor. Congratulations! Celebrate. Your hard work is about to begin.

If, like the vast majority of hopefuls, you are not chosen, you might receive feedback from your chosen mentors. Or you might not. Not all mentors give feedback to everybody, and some who say they will never get around to it. Most of the feedback I’ve received has been useful, but brief, sometimes not more than a few lines. A couple mentors have given me more. In one case, much more.

Remember that mentors receive several dozen queries, even into the hundreds. They are volunteers who receive nothing for their work, and they hate that they can’t choose everybody. Be respectful of their decision, even if you are disappointed and bitter. Act professionally. You never know how contacts you’ve made can make a difference down the road.

Most importantly, take what you’ve learned, even if it’s just the pain of rejection, and turn it into resolve to persevere in a difficult, competitive business. Don’t self-label in destructive ways. No, you’re not a failure because four mentors chose other works. Works that don’t make the cut get published, often quickly. Some that are chosen don’t ever find an agent. This is just one contest.

Keep working. Keep going. It might be helpful to take a little time off to recover from the pressures of PitchWars–it can be exhausting–but don’t let the disappointment of not being chosen derail your dreams. Take the query you put together for PitchWars and start sending it to agents. You could be one of those who find representation while the mentees and mentors are still scrubbing.

PitchWars is nerve-wracking. It’s everything about the publishing world condensed into a few weeks, the good and the bad, the difficult and the fun. By taking the huge step to enter, you’ve already moved a step closer to your dream, no matter what happens in the contest. That’s a big freakin’ deal. It really is. Enjoy the contest, learn from it, and come back next year if you haven’t found an agent yet. It’s even more fun the second time.


If I didn’t answer questions you might have, feel free to ask in the comments. Or come over to the #PitchWars Twitter feed and benefit from more than one guy’s experiences. You’ll find the group to be extraordinarily supportive.