I used to write music.
I went to a Composer's Camp for children every year for three years. It wasn't as big of a deal as it is now. Now the camp is huge and get decent breakfasts. Back then, we got handed a Honey Bun from one of our professors and told "When you get to Heaven, they give you Honey Buns. That's how you know you've made it to the right place."
That professor was dead when I went back to visit for our ten-year reunion.
I used to play music. My mom started me on the piano when I was five, because her mom had started her on the piano when she was four. It was a rainy Wednesday in March and I was in kindergarten. I hopped out of the Taurus and rushed through the puddles to get to the house of the old lady who would later watch the Reagan funeral over my head while I played my scales for her.
I used to sing. In high school, that's what everyone thought I was going to do, go sing and be famous on Broadway. I got the leads, I got the solos, and I got into the National Choir in Los Angeles. But I didn't go, because I was contracted as a choir girl in the city Opera and they said they'd never hire me again if I went. So I stayed in the Opera, my choir teacher hated me for it, and I didn't get another solo.
It didn't matter anyway. The only way I could get through an art song is if I put a story behind the four pages of notes. I would act out the heartbreak of Sally the Runaway when Mr. SuchnSuch would make me sing Shennandoah, and I would definitely need to understand the characters of Carmen and Dido to get an aria to mean anything. Without the story, I didn't care about the song.
I used to compose. I used to play. I used to sing. Now I don't do any of these things; I mean, I'm currently working on imitations of every Disney heroine for a YouTube video I will never record. But other than that, music and I are the two best friends who went our separate ways but miss each other very much.
But I loved writing more. I write every day, and I had to learn how to write better. Opera stars have a passion deep down in the center of their hearts for music. For me, the music was always about the story, not the notes. Music was a way to get the writing across. And so music and I have found a new way to love each other.
I was thinking about all of this as I sat down for my revisions of my book this weekend. For my birthday, I got fifteen bucks to spend at the iTunes store, so I carefully picked out music that sounded like my characters. Playlists have always been a huge thing that I do in order to plot their arcs. In college, my best friend and I used to make playlists for each others' projects, like our books had movie soundtracks. Somehow it was easier for me to work out the kinks in my story through songs than sitting down and staring at the words.
I decided on The Giver score for this project. It was a small choice, but when I went into the writing, it wasn't just words I was struggling with and had been struggling with for a month now. No, it was alive. I saw them all standing around on this airship, realizing they were going to have to say goodbye to each other. The war is over, and if they return home, they'll lose this family they've woven together.
Run. We have to run.
I used to be a musician. I think I still am. If I wasn't, I don't think I could be a writer. Just like if I wasn't a writer, I wouldn't have been a musician.
For those of you who don't know about the rabbit hole called #PitchWars, let me give you a real quick rundown. Brenda Drake (you can check her site out here) created an online competition to give writers faster access to agents. All summer, people got ready for the grand Pitch that happened on August 19th. Over 1200 applicants applied, putting in their query letters and first chapters to four "mentors." The 75 mentors then each picked one mentee and one alternate to work with to get ready for the Agent Round in November, when more pitching and wishing will happen.
Funny story. I didn't know about this contest until I was aimlessly wandering around my twitter feed and found it about a week before my query would be due. So not wanting to miss an opportunity, I worked my butt off for a week, getting everything ready, and submitted.
I didn't really know how big of a deal this was, or how I would actually be asked for more pages. But two days later, I was asked for twenty-five more pages. Then fifty. Then a full. The absolute fear of handing over your entire manuscript to a possible mentor is something I've never experienced before. I may be a published author with editing credentials and a fourth of an MFA and teaching Creative Writing under my belt, but this was a whole new ballpark that for some reason, I hadn't run into before.
So I submitted. I stayed up in a Nyquil-sick stupor in a pile of Kleenexes while Alex played "Under Pressure" by Queen over the speakers as the mentee/alternate list was thrown out into the world.
HostGator won all the prizes in its site crash.
But five minutes later, I saw my story listed as an alternate for Sarah Guillory.
It's a weird thing, getting validation as a writer. We're taught not to want it, and we sign on to not expect it. But such a small thing like being chosen for PitchWars --- a small thing like more than one mentor cheering you on in cryptic tweets --- it adds that little drop of magic into your story, doesn't it? "I can't stop reading your beautiful words," another mentor wrote on her twitter at the same moment she sent me a request for a full. And someone saying I had beautiful words made my year.
My little manuscript, which I see so brightly in my own head, was beautiful to someone else.
Sometimes we lose some, but sometimes ... sometimes we actually win some.
So what did I learn from PitchWars? What didn't I learn from PitchWars? I learned how to write a query, much to the chagrin of my writing group and the four hours I held them hostage to help me. I learned how to communicate with "agents." I learned what a partial and what a full is. And above learning, I am so grateful for the experience. Everyone was so kind, so supportive of each other. Everyone wanted the best for each other, because we all know what it's like. We're all writers, and although there are only so many slots for so many people, we all get it. We all are loners who don't want to be alone, and there's something wonderful and empathetic in that. Writers rock. That's what I'm trying to say.
Now we get onto the second part of this blog post, which is what can we do when we get sick? This is still one that I'm trying to figure out. A few years ago, I got really sick. Like really sick. A procedure didn't go as planned. In the middle of a routine checkup, they found a tumor. Not only did that tumor throw a wrench into everyone's plans, but it also gave the doctors cause to just chuck as much anesthesia they could find at my IV drip. I had to be completely out in order for them to try to remove the sucker, and that meant a split-second decision to pump me to sleep.
I'd never recovered from surgery before, and lemme tell you, it's not like how it is in the Disney movies. You don't just flutter awake and go, "Oh my, did it go well?" and then go home and everything is peachy keen. It took a good month and a half for me to feel normal again. And that's not even talking about the lifestyle changes I had to make in order to keep myself cancer-free.
Did I write during that time? No. Do I wish I had? Yes.
I always think about that lost month and a half when I get sick now. Now when I say get sick now, I mean when I get an awful cold and can't go outside for a day or so. When you feel like crud, what can you do? This morning I woke up, and my sinuses pressed up against the back of my eye, and I couldn't even see the words on my laptop screen. This is a frustrating experience. But I grabbed some gauze, taped it to my bad eye, and kept typing. Because sometimes you just have to be Patchy the Pirate to do what you need to do.
But what can you do? Anything you can do. Audiobooks. Music playlists. Mental planning. Phone calls. Notebooks. Drawing. Or hell, writing. Walt Disney plotted out a good amount of his revisions to Disney World's blueprints from his deathbed. They say he "drew it on the hospital ceiling." I don't think he literally did this, because the man was dying and did not have Stretch Armstrong arms, but you get the gist. If you are a writer, you need to write.
If you want to be a published writer, you need to submit your work.
Keep going. Keep fighting. Keep writing.
And come November, check out the #PitchWars Alternate Showcase. I'll see you there. (I Write For Apples hosts this year)
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Dawson is a writer. This is her blog. In it, you shall read about reading. And writing. And cheeseburgers. Sometimes there are tangents. Huzzah.