Tuesday, August 23, 2016

It's Okay to Suck

Here we are, just a couple of days before the Pitch Wars picks announcement, and I feel like I can safely assume that a lot of people out there are beginning to freak out a little. There has also been a lot of talk about "what happens if I don't get in?" For the vast majority, this isn't a "what if?" With almost two thousand entries this year, more than 90% of hopeful mentees won't see their names on the list come announcement time.

The simple, often repeated fact is that there are simply not enough spots for all the great entries. Not getting picked does not necessarily reflect on the quality of your writing or your story. And that's 112% true.

"But," you ask (or that persistent, doubting voice inside you asks), "what if it does? What if my manuscript sucks?"

Well, that's okay too. Because—and I know this isn't an easy concept to come to terms with—it's okay to suck sometimes.

I'll say it again: It's okay to suck sometimes.

Story: Many years ago, I took a writing class with a Hugo– and Nebula–award-winning author. (Granted, when I began her class, I didn't know what either or those were, but when I did figure it out, I was suitably impressed.) She did one of the best things I think a successful writer could have possibly done for their students: she shared an early story of hers. And I don't mean "early" like she was still in college when she wrote it. As I recall, and best I could figure, she had written it circa age 30, well into adulthood and her career (which was not, at the time, professional writer).

It was... well, it wasn't good. Even the newer students could see that. It wasn't bad—there were clear hints of the writer she would become—but I've seen dozens of stories like it since. Decently written, interesting idea, not executed quite well enough. A piece doomed to earn polite rejections.

Okay, so it didn't suck, per se, but my point is that craft is a marathon, not a sprint. If you write for any length of time, it's almost guaranteed that you will have that piece that you will look back at and cringe. Because writing is more about persistence than raw talent, and persistence leads to skill refinement, which leads to better and better stories and writing. That manuscript you are so proud of right now might be the thing you look back at in a year and suddenly pick apart, having learned to recognize new ways of improvement.

I was so damned proud of my first finished novel manuscript. I loved it. I still do. But when I queried it, I got only a single request. ONE, out of fifty or so queries. One which, unsurprisingly, led to a rejection. I recently went back to that manuscript, and yup, there was some cringing. Slow pacing, scenes that dragged out, too much exposition, a lack of tension—problems, as far as the eye could see. Problems that decent writing, plot, and fun characters couldn't shore up.

It was my second finished manuscript that got me my agent. (Finished, mind you. I don't even remember how many unfinished drafts I've got going.) Even then it took almost a year of querying, many material requests and Twitter pitch parties, and getting picked for two online contests—including Pitch Wars. And no, I didn't get my agent via Pitch Wars.

So, back to sucking. It's okay if this is not THE project. It's okay if this isn't THE time. It's okay to fail, call it a failure, and revel in the epic failness.

Every writer churns out unsuccessful material, every writer gets rejected.

Not every writer persists.

And this is where the separation happens. I will never forget how my aforementioned teacher responded when someone asked her what made for a successful writer. Paraphrased, she said that she had seen great writers never get published because they didn't keep trying, and mediocre writers become successful because they never gave up.

That's what it comes down to. Persistence. 

If you don't make it into Pitch Wars, it's okay to be upset. To wallow for a while in chocolate or wine or Netflix binges, or however you handle such things. It's even okay to think your manuscript sucks, so long as you don't give up. Write the next thing, and the next. The road may be longer than you want, but I can't think of a single writer I've ever met who hasn't improved with time and persistence.

One more time—say it with me—it's okay to suck. You can suck today and still reach your goals tomorrow, so long as you simply refuse to give up.

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