During the last couple of weeks, I participated in PitchSlam. I learned a ton, met a bunch of other writers, and in general had a great (albeit exhausting) time. Writing contests are interesting beasts, so I thought I’d post some reflections about my experience. In case you haven’t heard of it, in PitchSlam, writers submit a pitch and the first 250 words of their novel, and slush readers choose some of them to be on teams. The pitches/250 of team members go up on the captains’ blogs, and participating agents read them and can choose to request more of the manuscript. In October’s contest, there was a second level. Writers initially sent their pitches/250 and received feedback from the slush readers before sending final versions for the selection round. Phew! So here are some of the things I learned:
- Making a team is the goal, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. This isn’t like middle school kickball; it’s not devastating to be left off the team. I didn’t make one, and it turned out to be kind of a good thing. Reevaluating my writing life, I realized I’d allowed the contest to lure me away from my nearly-finished, nearly-ready-to-query project to work with one that’s probably, to be fair, not the right one to try to query right now. Obviously, that’s not true of all the writers who didn’t end up on a team. But yes or no, the value of contests isn’t necessarily in the answer we receive.
- The feedback is invaluable. Seriously. INVALUABLE. The feedback I received from the slush readers on my pitch and 250 was spot-on and specific. I can apply it to the whole novel and to my current project. Outside of the feedback, reading the pitches they did choose is another great insight into what a large group of writers (and agents, because we can see which ones receive requests) thinks works.
- Meeting other writers. Excuse me while I gush for a minute. The writing community is awesome. Outside of the organizers, team captains, and slush readers–who I’ll gush about in a minute–writers are cool. I’m sure there must be other communities who are like this, but it’s hard to think of any. Watching people who are “in competition” with each other bond, offer to help and critique, and generally provide moral support is super inspiring and I’m proud to be a part of it.
And, of course, the most obvious and best example is all the people who organized PitchSlam. Just contemplating the amount of time and energy that must have gone into making it happen sort of overwhelms me. I learned so much and took so much out of it. I’m so grateful there are writers out there who are willing to devote so much of their time to helping aspiring writers hone their skills and keep pushing forward.