Today has been strangely normal for me. I don’t know why I thought being selected as a FicFest mentee would change any of my day-to-day things, but deep down I did. Because this? Winning or going on to the next round? This is completely new. Last year I entered ALL THE CONTESTS. All of them, and didn’t get a single line of feedback. It was heartbreaking, and I thought maybe I wasn’t good enough to do this.
That’s right friends. Two months ago, I was on the verge of quitting.
Nothing seemed to be going right. I had queried my YA historical fantasy for over a year before it got a full request (before that? Just form rejections and crickets.), I’d shelved two previous manuscripts (a starter one that will hopefully never see the light of day, and the MS that was just selected for FicFest. More on that in a minute), and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Was my writing so terrible? Was my MS a trope from cover to cover with a bunch of cliches strung together? Why wasn’t my MS gaining attention? What was I going to do if this dream never came true?
I started to feel guilty. I have four kids and a husband that’s almost never around, and here I was spending EVERY spare second writing books no one wanted to look at. Was I wasting my time? How much time was I WILLING to spend chasing this impossible dream? I asked for a sign. In desperation, I begged for something, anything to show me what to do next.
Then my laptop broke. Yep, a hard drive fail right in the middle of a massive overhaul of aforementioned YA historical fantasy, and I thought, “That’s one heck of a sign.” Guess I’m done. And I cried, and I tried to tell all the characters living inside me to go away. And I read even more than usual and tried not to let the beautiful words inspire me to try again.
Three weeks later, my laptop was returned. My husband happened to be home and put as many of my word documents back onto my computer as he could. He’d backed it up sometime before, and while all my new things were gone, those two previously shelved manuscripts remained.
Finally the characters boiling under my skin won, and I decided I needed to keep trying. Even though I had no real reason to believe I would succeed, I sat down and got back to work. I couldn’t deal with my fantasy. (It’s something I believe in, but just can’t face right now.) I didn’t know what to do except to pull out my NA Contemporary Romance, the second MS I had shelved, and try to revise it. I cut thousands of words. ( I won’t even tell you how many because that thing was embarrassingly long.) I restructured the story line. Made each of the characters’ voices as different as possible. For weeks, I bled into this revision, the way I’d bled into the story when I wrote it the first time, and I was in love with it again.
Then that something I asked for a sign came back to me and said, “Hey look. FicFest opens this weekend. Enter.” And I told the something it was stupid. It had given me a BLATANT sign that I was to quit and I do what I want. And the something was like, “No. I wanted you to stop that story and pick back up the other. It’s the right time, and you have the right tools to tell it now. Enter.”
So I did. My CP (Hey Cindy!) helped me pull together a query and a synopsis, I finished my crazy rewrites and entered. I thought maybe I’ll get some feedback. Maybe it’ll be like all the other contests and I’ll come up empty handed. But I had to try.
Imagine my muppet flailing when I got a request for a partial from one mentor, then a request for a full a few days later, from a different mentor. I still tried not to get my hopes up. And yes, I know there were only 35 entries in the NA category, so my math brain kept shouting, “That’s a one in four chance of getting picked! One in three if you count the alternates!” And I told math brain to shut up. I didn’t want to be hurt again.
Then something wonderful happened. The amazing Vanessa Rodriguez selected me as her mentee, and my hands went numb, and I cried. The something came back and said, “I told you so. Follow your gut. Work hard. You’ll get there.”
This is just one part of my writing journey. But it’s the first part that feels like success. I wanted to share it with you, because I KNOW how hard it is when you come out of the other side of a contest empty handed and not selected. I know that tears are shed, and questions are asked, and you feel like packing it all in and never writing again. But you can’t stop. And you shouldn’t! If I had quit two months ago, I wouldn’t be here, selected and on my way to an agent round. It’s not even a sure thing that I will land an agent out of this, but I never would have known how much interest this MS could generate, if I had let my disappointments stop me.
So from me to you, writer to writer, friend to friend- DON’T QUIT. You can do it. Just keep going and you will get there. If your stories live in your skin like they do mine, then you have to push on until you get your chance to share them with the world.
Write on, friends.