As I sit here today, I am one of ten finalists in the Harlequin 2013 So You Think You Can Write Contest! It’s a surreal moment for me. Between now and November 25 the public can vote for their favorite author or manuscript. The author with the most votes wins a contract to write for Harlequin, the world’s leading publisher of romantic fiction. Every once in a while, I still pinch myself!
How did I get so lucky as to land in the top 2% of all SYTYCW2013 entrants and get this fabulous opportunity?
I finished the manuscript!
Yep. It’s that easy…and that HARD. And I couldn’t have done it without #WriteClub.
Let me back up a little.
When I entered the contest in September, I had only completed about 65% of the manuscript for my entry COUNSELOR UNDONE. For initial consideration, the contest required only the first chapter and a 100-word pitch be submitted. Harlequin editors narrowed 650+ first chapter entries from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa down to the Top 50 semifinalists.
I am proud to say, I was amongst the initial Top 50 notified by email on Wednesday, October 16. Here’s the thing. In order to officially be posted online as a Top 50 semifinalist, authors had to submit a full manuscript by 5:00 p.m. EST on Monday, October 21. Any author unable to submit a completed manuscript by deadline lost their spot to an alternate contestant.
So, there I was, excited beyond belief to have been selected for the Top 50, but simultaneously anxious. I had approximately five days to finish a manuscript I felt needed substantial additional work to the last four chapters. I had two key chapters with no content except for notes about what was supposed to happen there. I dumped most of the contents of two other chapters because key elements of the story had changed as the story progressed.* I thought it would be easier to rewrite the content rather than try to edit it. I kept thinking that until about thirty-six hours from deadline when I began to doubt myself.
As the deadline approached, I wondered how I could possibly write the amount of words needed to complete the story plus edit and proof the manuscript. Panic threatened to rise. It got worse as I began to see tweets from authors bowing out of the competition because they felt they couldn’t meet the deadline. I was determined that wouldn’t be me.
I’d set two primary goals for SYTYCW2013: (1) make the Top 50 (required writing a first chapter that would receive high marks in content, style and voice) and (2) finish a manuscript worthy of publication. To make the Top 50, I had to finish my manuscript on time—no manuscript, no Top 50. So, I kept working.
By midnight the night before deadline, frustration set in because the end goal seemed overwhelming. Then it hit me. I knew I could write at least 1200 words per thirty minutes. I’d done it several times during Friday night #WriteClub sessions led on Twitter by the crew behind @FriNightWrites (they rock, by the way). #WriteClub is a twelve-hour writing marathon composed of thirty-minute sprints with ten-minute breaks in between.
Each week, the quality of my #WriteClub writing got better and better. Eventually, I noticed that what I wrote during my #WriteClub sprints was good draft material. I’d learned to turn off my inner critic and simply write the scene. I knew what I needed to write to finish COUNSELOR UNDONE, where and how I wanted the story to end. I simply needed to get the story out of my head and onto paper.
So, I went into #WriteClub mode….
Picture the getting ready for the fight scene in every Rocky movie you’ve ever seen. That was me, all night long: doing one-handed pushups (more like two-handed keystrokes), lifting logs over my head (or strong black tea in a twenty-ounce travel mug), and running up hundreds of stairs (or recharging during short breaks by jamming the song Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke repeatedly through headphones to keep from waking my tween and teen who both had school in the morning).
No surprise endings here—it was a TKO. I got my manuscript done and submitted it with thirteen whole minutes to spare. Whew! And because I finished: (1) my name went on the official Top 50 list posted on the SYTYCW web site (goal one—check) and (2) Harlequin editors had something of mine to read when selecting the Top 10 submissions to move forward into the final voting round. Mine made the cut, which means they thought it good enough to possibly win a Harlequin contract (goal two—check). Yippee!
*Does happy dance*
Now, I’m not saying the manuscript I turned in doesn’t need editing and polishing. It does. But, now I get to do it under the mentorship of Harlequin Senior Editor extraordinaire Stacy Boyd and USA Today bestselling author Maureen Child! How cool is that?
Many thanks to #WriteClub and my Friday night Write Club tweeps. I wouldn’t have finished without you. Being a SYTYCW2013 Top 10 finalist will totally change the trajectory of my writing career. I can feel it!
#WriteClub, it’s like weightlifting for writers. If you’re determined to flex your creative muscles, stop by and join us some Friday night to keep them in shape.
[Update: The voting period is over so the “Vote Now” button has been disabled. While I did not place in the Top 3, I had a blast participating in the contest.]
* Luckily, I had taken Cherry Adair’s plotting course at the Romantic Times 2013 Booklovers’ Convention in Kansas City so I was able to strip out subplots in an efficient manner. I’ll have to tell you about that in another post.
As always, thanks for stopping by.
Copyright © 2013 Lisa Rayne, All Rights Reserved