Girls Go to Jupiter … To Kick Ass and Take Names

I spent the last week obsessing over a Twitter event called Pitch Wars. It’s a mentorship contest where writers team up with writers and editors to workshop a full manuscript, then parade the selected winners in front of literary agents later this year.

The whole thing is a fascinating study in community and identity. Brenda Drake is the queen bee for the event, having started it a few years ago. I don’t know her, but kudos to her spirit to help others. Sure, it promotes her own work. Why shouldn’t it? The same is true of her colleagues who help.

Pitch Wars, and other events she organizes, is by writers, for writers. They just went out on social media and did it, demonstrating many times over how the Internet empowers people. The mentors volunteer a huge amount of effort and time. Judging from the blog posts and especially the Twitter posts, writers get swept up with enthusiasm and camaraderie.

The community is mostly women. Most participants are in Young Adult or Middle Grade fiction. Romance comprises a huge majority. Science Fiction and Fantasy are widely represented and celebrated. My manuscript is an adult international thriller, which absolutely is part of the contest, just in the minority overall.

It’s the kind of exercise my skeptical, cynical brain can’t figure out. Hell with it, I thought. Why not! So, I participated this year. I submitted my query and first chapter to three mentors (one is a tag-team duo). My expectations for response were low given the descriptions of what mentors said they wanted. 

That’s not meant as criticism. I’m wading into dangerous waters here. Pitch Wars and all its participants are doing a good thing. It’s worth celebrating. If I’m criticizing anything, I’m criticizing myself and possibly others like me — especially other men.

I’ve spent the last couple years attending various writers groups, workshops, and conferences. The women outnumber the men at these events by a huge margin. Several times, I’ve been the only guy in the room. This isn’t by design to exclude men. It’s just the tendencies of who participates. That’s not very surprising. Besides, we men could use a little dose of experiencing the minority position to better understand things in general.

What is surprising to me is the spirit these women engender. The feeling is one of open-armed, de facto sisterhood (who also welcome men, I should note). They are enthusiastic and emotional in a way many men usually aren’t. They make what appear to be sincere and strong relationships in ways the men I know don’t. They organize and support one another, leveraging their strength as a group.

Men, by contrast, seem to stand against the crowd. I observe a kind of individualism among male writers I know. They’re not withdrawn misanthropes. But each tends to be making a name for himself, without anywhere near the level of mutualism I observe in women writers.

When a guy like me wanders in, doubt wanders in too. Am I too off the mark for their interests? Does my writing have a shot? Maybe it’s not fair or right to think that way, but I think it’s honest.

I’m speaking in generalities here. Of course there are many healthy exceptions. And, of course men participate in Pitch Wars. Of course there are more individualistic women and more community-minded, more emotive men.

But, on the whole, the difference to me seems significant. Many men are working just as hard with — anecdotally — less success and support. Some become bitter, and they think that proves their point. It’s a lousy reaction, but I understand the frustration in that.

Remember that skeptical, cynical brain of mine? I suspect there’s more behind-the-scenes drama among the women (and the men, for that matter) than I realize. The cynic in me sees all the congratulatory enthusiasm and the dreamy, hyper-referential animated GIFs and it just feels … off. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, a gender thing, a social media thing, or whatever else. It’s not my “scene” or sense of humor. There’s no harm in that. I’m not asking the tribe to change for me. That’s on me to adapt or be the change. And they’ve done nothing but welcome anyone willing to participate. Still, I keep wandering the wilds for my tribe.

Without a doubt, finding writing partners has been the hardest, most frustrating reality for my writing path. I think that’s mostly from my cynical nature. I’m awful at making new friends and fitting into social circles, though I’m no misfit either. I’ve got a strong individualist nature that resists community, all while knowing I’d benefit from a bunch of fellow creatives.

It’s not that have I none. I’m in two local writer’s groups, and I’ve started working with a good friend on a “guy’s fiction” (as in: action thrillers) cooperative that I’m hoping takes off.

So, here’s to hoping communities like Pitch Wars thrive. It’s a fantastic event. I sincerely hope it helps many writers — of all kinds — achieve their dreams.

4 thoughts on “Girls Go to Jupiter … To Kick Ass and Take Names”

  1. I enjoyed your take on #Pitchwars, and it struck me as I read your post that, holy shit, there ARE mostly women involved in this thing.
    But what I also realized, is that we – guys, I’m talking – are also still individuals, writers, still learning and improving our craft.
    And while I might be one of the rare guys caught up in the twitter writing community, that’s okay. Because it’s a realistic way for me to grow, and learn, and improve my writing craft that fits my schedule.

    As I’m relatively new to writing, (started in 2011) I scrapped and searched for every bit of learning and support I could find. The writing thing was new to me.
    I joined SCBWI. A good start.
    Then I found twitter. SWEET!
    Then I found Brenda Drake. SWEETER! (I actually met her IRL when she was at a conference in Vegas and I was on a poker/writing trip with my brother. She’s as wonderful and genuine as you see on twitter.)

    I’d already had a successful professional career in education, then owned and operated my own tree care business, and was now a SAHD of 7. (My wife’s a busy and successful OB/GYN)

    Anyway, I’m one of those few guys who’s comfortable with this group of women (who I see more as writers than women) chatting and gifing up twitter and supporting the writing community.

    I did enter my MG contemporary into pitchwars, but it probably won’t get picked as “mentorable”. And that’s ok. It’s rough. It’s only my second manuscript ever, and it needs too much work to get ready for the agent round. But, I’m serious enough about improving my skills as a writer that I’ll risk the entry in the hopes I’ll continue to meet other dedicated writers.
    Like you.
    Rob Polk

    1. Hi Rob. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      You’re exactly right. It is a good way to improve our craft.

      I don’t want to give too much of the wrong impression that I’m not comfortable in the Pitch Wars community. I’m just new to it, and recording my observations. I don’t believe, for example, that men are somehow getting trodden upon by the women or it’s reverse sexism or any such nonsense. I do see comments to that effect from time to time.

      Hey, I share GIFs sometimes too. I’m glad to see people doing it and enjoying themselves. My sense of humor differs a little, but I chalk that up as much to me being (I think — I’m 41) a little older than a lot of, say, the YA writers.

      Another thing I love about the community is that people from different genres and different age groups are interacting. All my online presence seems to indicate I’m a hard core thriller guy. My book is a realistic, modern day spy thriller. I do love that genre. But I’m also huge Science Fiction and Fantasy fan. That probably doesn’t show in my manuscript, for example.

      Let me know if you ever want me to take a look at a chapter or want to trade advice.

      Thanks again!
      -Matt

  2. I’m female, but not in my 20s anymore. So, it took me a little bit to get on board with the GIFs and stuff.

    But, I’m always happy to be supportive and encourage other people. (Even if I not-so-secretly wish my YA fantasy is better than THEIR YA fantasy…).

    Good luck with your writing! And if I were you, I’d start an Adult Thrillers FB group so you can a) support each other b)hopefully still find each other again when you need a CP.

  3. This post nails it. As a male who’s been entering these sorts of contests for a few years now, I can’t tell you how it is, but I can tell you how I feel:

    As a male, I feel that I’m already at a disadvantage entering these things. I feel that a lot of the bad stuff that happens in the media works against me even though I have nothing to do with it. I’ve entered my best work and have received little to no interest each and every contest. This makes me extremely frustrated as a writer, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt as low as I do at this very moment. A few years ago, I had all the confidence in the world, but these contests always seem to knock me down instead of pick me up. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but the last contest I entered (#FicFest) had something like 55-65 winners, and only a handful were men. It’s very discouraging.

    Anyway, you’ve got my interest with the “guy’s fiction” group. I’d love to be a part of that, because I’ve also written an action thriller. Is this something you’re heavily considering? If so, sign me up.

    -M

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