31 August 2015

"Win" or "Lose," Pitch Wars Might Change Your Life

When entering online writing contests like Pitch Wars, it's important to remember that, whether you make it to the next level or not, simply taking that step forward to bravely enter might be the catalyst that changes your life forever. 
 I've written about this subject many times before. Many times. Like here, here, here, and here. And here. I've talked about how I got my agent after NOT getting picked in a contest. And how my debut novel, TWELVE STEPS, was both inspired by a contest rejection AND how success in a contest ultimately led to publication.

You might think that I've already exhausted the subject, and I couldn't possibly have anything more to say. Unless, of course, you've ever met me. Because then you'll know that I'm constantly looking for new insights and lessons to learn from the trials I go through.

Three years ago at this time, I was a Pitch Wars hopeful, biting my nails to oblivion while I nervously waited for the mentor picks to be announced. In case you haven't read the blog posts I linked to above, I wasn't picked for the contest. And I was devastated. I wanted to give up on writing altogether.

But my amazing new writing friends ... all the people I met in the contest trenches ... wouldn't let me give up. So instead of packing away my story pencils, I wrote something new. (And that manuscript went on to become my debut novel.)

Last year, and the year before, I participated in Pitch Wars on the other side of the glass, as a mentor. And I got to meet a TON of amazing writers. My fellow mentors. My mentees. Writers who submitted their manuscripts to me, who I wanted to choose but couldn't. Writers who chatted with me on the Twitter #PitchWars hashtag. I've met my best writing friends in the contest trenches.

But you already knew all of that, didn't you? I've told these stories hundreds of times, so why bother writing yet another post to rehash the same old tales?

Because when I tell you that participating in  Pitch Wars might change your life, I'm not just talking about your writing career.

If you read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter, you probably know that last April, I was thrilled to hear that the Air Force was sending us back to Maryland, back "home," back to the area where the climate is best suited to help with my health issues. And you probably know that in May, I was devastated to discover that my home had been destroyed by water and mold. And you probably even saw one or both of the auctions that friends in the publishing community put together to help raise funds for the repairs, when the insurance company refused to pay.

You've probably seen my repeated posts, thanking people for their help and support, and counting the many, many blessings that have come from this particular trial. I honestly don't know I could get through each day without the support I see from my friends.

And here's the thing, folks: The majority of those people helping me and supporting me and carrying me through the trials when I literally can't walk another step on my own? Guess where we met? Yep. Through Pitch Wars and other, similar, online contests. Even the friend of a friend I mentioned last Friday ... the one who helped me find a temporary place to live so my family and I won't be homeless while we're trying to repair our house. You guessed it. The mutual friend connecting us was one of the writers I met in this amazing community.

When I say that Pitch Wars changed my life, I mean it. Yes, the experience made me a better writer. Yes, I credit much of my publishing success to the lessons I learned from both successes and failures in the contest trenches. But publishing success is only a part of what makes Pitch Wars great. The real value in these online contests is the connection you make with other writers. 

The friendships you forge here may be the relationships that carry you through when the stress of real life pushes you down. That's the true value of Pitch Wars.

For other perspectives on how Pitch Wars changes lives, check out the stories and advice in this blog hop with messages from last year's Pitch Wars mentees.

28 August 2015

Adventures in a Real-Life Hallmark Movie

You know that scene in all those Hallmark Channel movies, when the whole town comes together to save the main character from whatever drama she's facing? Yeah, I feel like I've been living in that scene for the past several months, as we struggle to get our home fixed. I've been living on the verge of a total meltdown every day, yet every time I hit that place where I simply can't do it anymore on my own, someone steps forward to carry my burden for me. Between the overwhelming auctions put together by so many amazing publishing people and the donations on our gofundme page, I spent a lot of this summer crying happy tears. I still can't believe how much support we're getting from all of you wonderful folks!

We've officially moved back to Maryland now, but we're still waiting for work to begin in restoring our house. We're facing what I think will be the last hurdle before we can get a loan to pay for the renovations, and I'm trying to stay positive, even though the silence is killing me with every day we wait. (We have to get an official appraisal saying what the house will be worth after repairs ... but so far we've had two appraisals scheduled, and though both were warned about the damage, they didn't take the warnings seriously. Both appraisers backed out as soon as they saw the true extent of the mold damage. If you're the praying type, please send up a prayer for us, as we have a third appraiser scheduled to go in today. If the appraisal comes back with a value high enough to justify the loan we need, we'll be able to get work started!)

Still, I'm a firm believer that every trial brings great blessings. And every challenge, no matter how devastating it may seem, is just another building block in the foundation of greatness.

This belief has certainly been strengthened since we arrived in Maryland.

We arrived with cheerful thoughts and high hopes a little over a week ago. We didn't know where we were going to live while waiting for our home to be fixed or how we were going to get through the next few weeks or months, but we were confident that it would all work out somehow. (I'd hoped, when I discovered the damage in May, that we'd be able to get the work completed over the summer and be ready to move in by the time we arrived. Sadly, that was not the case. Instead, we spent all summer trying to find a way to pay for the repairs.)

Turns out, finding affordable (or even super-expensive) temporary housing (a place that doesn't require a long-term lease) for six people and two cats isn't as easy as you might think. We found several apartments that offered short-term leases and welcomed our two cats ... but they had a four person limit. Then, we found one place that would allow all six of us, but only one of our cats. And one place that had room for all of us (cats included), but wouldn't be available until mid-October! Each possibility we explored started with a surge of hopefulness, leading to total despair when my hopes were crushed. When we reached the end of the list (after calling or visiting every apartment complex we could find in the area, and even begging a local realtor for leads) with no results, I sat in my car and cried. My only options were to give up one or more of my family members in exchange for a place to live ... or to remain homeless for a couple of months. None of those options were acceptable, but I didn't know what else to do.

So I went online and sent out a call for help to all of my friends in the area. Minutes later, a friend of a friend saw my plea. And she had a friend who was getting ready to put her home up for rent at the beginning of September. A friend who was willing to speed up the process so we could move in right away. A friend who had room for our whole family AND our cats. ... And her friend has become, in only a few short days, not only my landlord but someone I can truly call a friend as well.

I'm still hovering on the edge of tears every single day, and I feel like I'm walking an unmarked path through woods so dark I can't see farther than my next step at any given moment. But I will keep walking, keep moving forward. Because though the journey is difficult and sometimes truly terrifying, there are so many wonderful blessings to be found along the way. And I have discovered the best traveling companions to get me through. Thank you all for being a part of my journey! I love and appreciate you more than words can possibly express.