It never even occurred to me that The Writer’s Voice contest mentioned in my previous post could be so all-consuming, but it really, really was… in the best possible way. Lord knows I try to keep up with all the fantastic writing blogs out there, particularly the YA-centric ones, but between my freelance work, writing my own stuff, and the full-time job that is hunting for a full-time job, checking in for more than the occasional cover comparison or interview gets challenging. And therein lies lesson #1: Twitter is a busy person’s best friend and worst nightmare.

I’ve been particularly lax about following writing-related blogs lately since they mostly just depressed me about the fact that I haven’t been making much headway with my own writing lately. Thankfully, I also follow the wonderful CupidsLC–one of the four coaches of The Writer’s Voice and an agented author with a secret identity who runs a blog for the magnanimous sole purpose of trying to pair aspiring authors with the agents capable of making their (okay, okay, our) dreams come true–on Twitter. Thus I learned about the contest, which required that A) all contestants have a blog to which they post their entries, and B) contestants be one of the first 75 to submit an entry (i.e. a query letter and first page of a finished manuscript) during a given window.

As it happened, I had a brand-spanking-new manuscript in hand just waiting for its final (haaaaa we’ll see about that) revision, and the query letter I’d written for it had already been tweaked and approved in the admittedly terrifying Query Letter Hell section of AbsoluteWrite. And so I spent the time until the contest revising like a fiend, dragged myself out of bed the morning of, and just barely made it in (70 out of 75–whew!). All thanks to Twitter!

And then my life completely disappeared, all thanks to Twitter.

Suddenly, #TheWritersVoice was THE place to be, whether to freak out about making it in, rant about not making it in, or just meet everybody else. The hashtag was relentless in all the best possible ways. When the top forty-four were chosen for teams, the madness only intensified. It was addictive, and it was also educational. It was also how I finally really and truly understood lesson #2: There is a seriously wonderful and suppportive community of writers out there.

I’m not knocking those who practice tough love. Lord knows there’s far more to be learned from criticism than from handholding. But during those first days before and even after the selection, was there anything better than getting an e-mail that yet another person had commented on your blog to wish you luck, or, even better, tell you how much they loved your entry? And that pales in comparison to the support and assistance during the contest itself. Every teammate was a cheerleader, even through extensive critique. Despite the competition aspect, other participants would still take the time to comment, answer questions, and even tweet others’ entries. How awesome is that?

Also time consuming? Reading everyone else’s entries in an effort to be similarly supportive, and learning lesson #3: There are some seriously amazing, creative, and talented writers out there, and no matter how good you think your manuscript is, someone in the same genre’s is better. I promise.

Is it the best feeling to read someone else’s entry and think “Oh God, I wish this was mine?” Not really. Is it exciting to know that talent is out there and this might be the future of my already overloaded bookshelf? Hell yes. I have no doubt that several of the entries will someday morph into finished books, including TWV’s first semi-success story (nothing semi about the success, of course, just that the awesome manuscript was picked up by an agent who was browsing, not participating, and already had the query in her inbox). The thought of having interacted with these people regularly whose names I know I’ll see on my shelves is nothing short of exhilarating.

And speaking of inevitable TWV success, when an entry gets votes from 7 out of 8 participating agents, you know it’s a winner, but there’s something far greater I learned from this one, and that’s lesson #4: The ability to revise may be just as important as the ability to write.

I was privileged to be on TeamCupid with this entry, and I watched it go from great to… well, to the kind of awesome that gets 7 requests! Yes, other people made suggestions, but it takes serious skill to incorporate those suggestions into your manuscript, especially while maintaining a unique voice and shifting around parts to which you’re obviously attached. Most of all, it takes skill to recognize which suggestions will improve your manuscript, and which will not. If there’s one thing that constantly gets hammered home by agents, it’s that writing is subjective, which brings me to lesson #5: You’re not always right about what’s best for your manuscript, but neither are other people.

Some of the suggestions made to me were excellent and definitely improved the manuscript. Others ended up leading me to make changes which were then critiqued the next time around and eventually removed. Everyone means well, and everything’s worth considering, but managing other people’s critiques is an important part of managing your own manuscript, especially when those critiques aren’t coming from your agent or editor. Ultimately, it’s your book–you’re the one who needs to feel good about what goes out there!

All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and I wish my fellow writers the very best of luck!