Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

No time to write… or just making excuses? June 4, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:21 pm
Tags: , ,

I’ve decided to let up the pace a bit on the writing this month. I have a hellish month coming up workwise, with some close-to-impossibly tight deadlines to meet, and I’m massively stressed about it. Putting prressure on myself about writing was making me so stressed I couldn’t write at all. I am hoping that by taking the pressure off, paradoxically, I’ll end up getting more written. I’m going to read lots, but not put myself under any word count pressure. I’m not giving up, I’m just lightening up.

I have a firm goal of submitting at least one partial this year, hopefully two, and actually I will have written the whole story before I submit, because I need to do the whole first draft before I really know what the story is going to be. Ideally, I want to get writing fast once this current rush at the day job is over, as I hope that by mid-July things will have eased up at work. I’m considering leaving once I have this big job done, but that would be insane, to stay while things are tough and leave just when things are easing up! But I just had an appraisal which criticised me for being too energetic and enthusaistic- the very things I see as my best qualities. Maybe I can turn into Ms Glum-Just-Doing-the-Bare-Minimum at work, and save the energy for the wriitng- it’s the other way around right now- not helping me achive my dreams, at all.

My ultimate goal is to have something ready to submit by the end of September, then to submit another partial by the end of December. I need to do a lot of simmering of plot and character soup now, so I can just write when I have time. I have so many stories and story people swirling around in my head! I will probably end up having most of November off with vacation I haven’t been able to take due to workload, so I will hopefully be able to spend all my time writing!

Or am I just making excuses? So many writers manage it in five and ten minutes bursts, while caring for young children, when snatching time between patients (not an option in my job, and my damned work ethic is too hard for me to try to arrange things so it is!), or in wriitng on the bus. I read this blog entry by Trish Wylie today. No excuses!


12 Responses to “No time to write… or just making excuses?”

  1. Lori Says:

    Hi! This comment is actually in response to something that you wrote on the Dear Author website yesterday. Since I’m a bit late to the party I didn’t know if you would see it over there, so I figured I would leave it here instead. It’s about the issue of writing a character who is an adoptee.

    My experience as an adoptee who has known quite a few other adoptees is that there are (at least) two distinct camps in our tribe. One camp sees adoption as a central aspect of their lives. This is often accompanied by a very strong need to find and connect with their birth families. The other camp thinks of adoption as a fact of life, but not one that drives many of their decisions or interactions. I think it may be difficult to write a book that feels “real” to both groups. This is especially true because, IME, members of the two groups sometimes feel very judged by each other.

    Doing research is really tricky because the second type of adoptee tends to be pretty much invisible to everyone but family and friends. To the best of my knowledge there is no “We’re adopted and it’s no big deal” group or webiste. If an adoptee writes a memoir and barely mentions the adoption because s/he doesn’t consider it a major issue then you’re not likely to find that book when searching for info about adoptees. My advice is to ask around your group of friends. There are a lot of adoptees in this country and you’re almost certainly no more than 2 degrees of separation from one of the “invisible” ones. (Or, you could email me if you would like.)

    I don’t say this to in any way discourage writing about the topic. I think my point is more that you have to write the story you want to write rather than attempting to please some adoptee, real or hypothetical. Like every other book in the world, the finished project won’t work for everyone but as long as you’re respectful I think that’s all anyone has a right to expect.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Oh, I just don’t believe this! I am so sorry Lori! I have spent over an hour writing extensive and considered responses to your comment, and twice I have somehow managed to lose it by clicking on the wrong part of the page and the bloody thing just disappears!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to vist and to comment. Your perceptive comment got me thinking in depth about a lot of issues, which sadly won’t be reflected in my reply due to the mysterious disappearing comments issue!

    As you say, there is no “typical” way that adoptees respond to the experience of being adopted. For some it is central, for some it’s not such a big deal. There are so many variables. I’m wondering if what Jane meant when she talked of “trivialising the emotional experience” , wasn’t so much the way that writers show their characters affected by being adopted, but in the way they then go on to resolve any emotional issues resulting from this. In a romance, what it’s really all about is how the central characters overcome their relationship blocks so they can have a mature and satisfying relationship, IMO. If my character whose experience as an adoptee has left her without a clear sense of who she is and where she belongs, a hunger and a conflicting fear to know about her “real” family, and a difficulty in trusting and forming close relationships (not unique to adoptees- I had all this and I grew up in my birth family!), how realistic is it that all she needs to do is meet her birth mother to be able to feel good about herself, let go into her relationship, have great sex, and live happily ever after? Nah, not likely! That’s really trivialising the effect her adoption has had on her, by giving facile solutions, that would rarely work so easily in real life. This is what I need to avoid in Cassie’s story. Meeting her birth mother may help, but it won’t solve anything. That’s interesting, because the Editor part of my mind has been saying that it should be part of the resolution, that it should happen at the end; while the Creative part of my brain has said all along that it belongs in the middle of the story, that it is only one layer of her relationship blocks.

    I was fat in my 20’s and blamed my low self esteem and relationship problems on that. I had this fantasy that if a fairy godmother waved her wand and magically made me slim everything would be wonderful. My fat friends had the same fantasy. It wouldn’t have worked like that of course. I would have been a slim girl with low self-esteem and relationship problems, and in an even worse state because the security and protection of my fat was gone. Meeting a fabulous fat girl who oozed confidence and sex appeal and had men going wild for her, yet who weighed a good 40 pounds more than me at my fattest taught me that. Losing weight taught me that. A story that showed a fat girl miraculously finding her Happy Ever After by simply losing weight would be trivialising too. If I read it now I’d throw it at the wall. But if I’d read it in my 20’s when I still shared that fantasy, I might have adored the story.

    Part of the problem with series romance, and what I’m finding makes them so hard to write, is the word limit constraint. It’s so easy for lazy or inexperienced writers to slip into using sterotypes as a form of shorthand, and to give magic wand type solutions to relationship problems, only one step better than a Deus et Machina. It’s also what makes series romance so wonderful when it is done well, that intensely compressed emotional journey. I hope i can learn to write well enough to avoid trivialising, but still produce the magic!

    This has been usch a useful discussion, because it’s really challenged me on the nature of resolutions and solutions to character’s problems. Romance isn’t real, it’s fantasy, but it has to stay emotionally real and believable.

  3. Lori Says:

    It sounds like you have a really good take on the issue (I know all about the fat thing too) and I’m sure your book will turn out well. Good luck with it!

  4. sylvrilyn Says:

    In terms of writing in 5-10 minute bursts, Toni Morrison had this to say:

    “We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that.”

    I’ve always taken that to mean we should value our creativity more than that, and avoid taking the Swiss-cheese approach if at all possible. I suppose for people who can do it, writing in tiny bursts like that is better than nothing, but I find that it just scatters me to the point where I can’t write at all. I don’t think that’s making excuses. It’s just the way my mind works.

    At any rate, it sounds like letting up on the pressure is a good idea for you right now — and you’ve got company, ’cause it’s where I’m at, too.


  5. waitingforthecall Says:

    It’s such a difficult balance, isn’t it. I want my writing to be a much bigger part of my life than it can be at the moment. I am working on a massive training project with a crazy deadline. Once it’s done, hopefully things will get easier.

    That’s the theory. But somehow I doubt it will happen like that.

    We are supposed to be an annual performance related pay reviews. I’ve worked my butt off in the hope of getting a good pay rise, then I can drop my hours, have more time to write, and earn much the same money (We really can’t get by on less). Except I’m still working my butt off, the anniversary date has come and gone, and no sign of a pay review.

    Very sad, because I like the work, but it’s just too insane, and they do just use and manipulate people- I can see it in other staff. I’m looking around for something else, and i’m going to try to somehow shut my work ethic up so I don’t end up in the same situation of working four times as hard as people who are on the same pay.

    Hope things improve for you soon, Sylvrilyn! Is it still the Database from Hell?

  6. Speak Coffee Says:

    I always thought that Toni Morrison quote had a little more to do thinking a little creativity here or there wasn’t such a good thing when all of life could be creative. Not “all of life” as in quit your day job and become a writer but “all of life” as in how you view everything that happens to you and everything you do from writing to dinner to how you interact with coworkers to the ride on the train.

    But I think (and I could be wrong) that it was Toni Morrison telling the tale of how she was a mother of an infant and writing long hand, and that she distinctly remembers writing around the baby puke on the pad because she had such a great idea that she couldn’t stop to clean up the puke before she finished it. 🙂

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    Hiya eiie! I’m not familiar with the source of the quote, so I’m not sure how she meant it originally. What I’ve always read into it is, okay, if all we can manage is these little pieces of time, use them, but maybe we should be looking to give ourselves more time, give our creativity a higher priority than we give the chores.

    I like what I think you are saying, which I take to be that that “all of life” can be part of our writing, and that our writing can be part of all of our life, not a piece distinct and separate from the rest. That is how I want it to be. What is grieving me the most about how things are at the moment in my life is that work has taken over my mind. That part of me that always was writing, even when I wasn’t actually putting words on paper or into the computer, seems to have vanished. The pot of character and plot soup that was there simmering on the backburner, ready for me to just dip into when it was time to write, has been taken off and put in the freezer. Instead, the burners are on high cooking up multiple Powerpoint presentations, a user guide and self-study workbook for our inhouse software, creating simulations that I can use in my training sessions, and putting together complex timetables for two very different orientation groups. When I want to write, nothing is there. There’s no space in my brain for story. It feels kinda fried, numb. I don’t want this. I don’t have to have this.

    I know my creativity will come back, once this project is over and I have time to think my own thoughts again. I also know that this is not how I want to live my life. I can’t make that choice to be a full time writer now, but I can choose to find a way of life that honours my writing more, that makes it central.

    This has been a fabulous experience for me, because it has shown me the way forward, resolved the doubts I had been having for a while about whether this job was right for me. I know now that I need to be looking for something else. I don’t have time anymore to make other choices, put my dreams on hold, say “I’ll write someday”. I’ve spent my life fitting writing into the crevices, always making something else more important- work, money, relationships, trying to have a baby. All good things, all things that make me who I am and inform my writing. Last week, I found some tapes I thought I’d lost, from a writers conference I went to in 1994. 1994! I did creative wriitng as part of my degree in the 80’s. English was my best subject at school in the 70’s. I wanted to be a writer since I was six and first realised people got paid to write. But I have made a lot of excuses not to write. I don’t want to use this job as yet another excuse. I want to live my life in a way that honours my wriitng and makes it central.

    If there’s an advantage to being middle aged, it is seeing the crone self emerging, the woman who is through with pleasing other people and is now going to please herself, live her life for herself, make her own choices, set her own priorities, not live by other people’s. The woman who wears purple. Who dyes her hair an improbable red. Who doesn’t care that she’s already fat, but eats cake instead of dinner if she wants it. Who will find a way to live on less and take a job that makes writing, not outside work, the core of her life.

    Start practicing now, don’t wait until you are nearly fifty like me!

  8. Speak Coffee Says:

    RE: the above above conversation about adoption

    I saw this post card on Post Secret Facebook. Thinking you might not have a facebook account I saved it to a new URL address: http://www.geocities.com/ellie_2point0/postsecretfacebook.jpg

    I hope you’re familiar with Post Secret if not check out postsecret.org: it’s post cards with personal scerets that have been mailed from all over the world

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    I love PostSecret, and I don’t have a Facebook account, so I really appreciate this! It is a good example of the second group of people Lori was talking about, I think. The issues are so complex and will affect people experiencing them in so many ways, from hardly any effect at all to being the core of who they are. Ensuring we don’t trivialise the effects of life events by giving trite facile solutions to ANY emotional issue or relationship blockour characters experience is key to how we handle our characters. I guess if we treat our characters with respect, that’s one way we can earn our readers’ respect. In real life, I have accidentally caused great offence and upset by not respecting someone’s feelings about a situation enough and giving stupidly simple soloutions, and I’ve had people do it to me too. Any advice that begins “Just do….” is a red warning flag! I try to catch myself in time and bite my tongue now when I find myself about to say it, unless it really is about something I am sure is totally minor, because it invariably means I am about to mininise someone’s feelings, and give an easy answer that is probably completely wrong. I need to make sure I bring that same awareness to my writing. The resolutions to my characters’ issues can’t be so simple as “Just do….” , or why didn’t they do it years ago?

    Anyway, back to PostSecret! There was an exhibition of some of the actual postcards in London a couple of years ago – incredible little works of art, with so much emotion behind them. Every time I look at the PostSecret site get very emotional, plus I start making stories up about the people and the situations that triggered the postcard.

    And that has given me an idea for some more writing prompts I can use during this “dry spell”! I’ve been making a list this morning of the ways I plan to keep writing even if the stories I’ve been working on are stuck. Thank you soooooo much eiie- you may just have given me an incredible present!
    *hugs and happy dance*

    How is your writing going? And what about the MFA?

  10. Speak Coffee Says:

    Yea! It made me smile to hear that I’d made you happy! 🙂

    I start making up stories about the postcards too! Hehe, I thought I was the only one who did that but I should have known better. 😀

    I went to hear Frank speak when I was living in Chicago and it was great. I really thought he would be this art guy who started it for art purposes (because I knew the first exhibition he’d signed up for a booth in a larger art show) but he was just this uber-normal down to earth guy who had an idea and has really been floored by what it’s become. He also shared previously unseen secrets. And this one – this one I just won’t forget because he had sort of made up a narration that went with it – it was one of the earlier ones he had gotten, back when he was handing them out to people on the street, so it’s on the back of a preprinted/preaddressed card and twice it had been used for jotting down a grocery list (like the person was trying to forget what the card was about but couldn’t throw it out) and then, crammed in the margin of one of the lists they had written “I don’t think I like the person I’ve become.” Frank’s theory is that it took that person a long time to even admit that they had a secret.

    The writing has been up and down recently. I wanted to do 50k on a paranormal werewolf romance this month, but while I had ideas the actual writing was like pulling teeth, so last night I gave myself permission to write a different (nonwolf) paranormal and I’ve kicked out a couple thousand each day now.

    I’m excited to announce that I’ve heard back from the MFA people and I don’t have a student ID# yet but they are processing me and moving forward! So I should be able to get my housing, and school stuff squared away in the coming weeks, but after June 21because I’m going to a week long writing workshop June 14-21 (SUPER EXCITED).

    I love that I can come to this blog and find you even if you’re not on the forums!


  11. waitingforthecall Says:

    Wow, great news about the MFA- I’m so glad to hear it’s all happening for you.

    And so excellent that you are powering along on a new story- a couple of thousand a day is fabulous progress! I got the feeling sometimes with the wolf story that you were trying to make your writing fit what you felt was expected rather than writing what felt right for you. Probably the ideas are great and if you go back to it when the new story is done, giving yourself freedom to write in your own voice, it may flow better.

    What’s the wriitng workshop?

    I am so glad that you do drop by. I should get off my fat lazy ass and visit your blog more often too! I love Stringing Words and the people there, but I felt guilty just visiting just the threads of the few people I really wanted to keep in touch with (yours, Sylvrilyn’s, Jodie’s) and felt I had to read and comment everyone’s, which was taking well over an hour a night. I’ll go back when I have more time.

  12. Speak Coffee Says:

    The workshop [http://www.kenyonreview.org/workshops/wwinfo.php] is amazing. The website extolls it as ” a bit like bootcamp (without the yelling and obstacle courses) for serious writers” and I had a great time spending a week there last year so I hope this year goes as well. We stay right on campus (emptied out for the summer) and live in a dorm but the campus is gorgeous and green and flowering summery and between the scenery and the fact that you’re surrounded by over 100 people who think writing is a serious occupation not just a hobby to a “real job” it really does seem a bit like Brigadoon. It was actually when I was there last year that the thought first crossed my mind that I might be good enough to get into an MFA program and survive.

    They’re not big on genre writing (their definition of genre is “fiction” or “memoir” – ha!) so I’ll be working on my bigger projects but not workshopping them.

    Stringing words seems to have a younger crowd since StringMo started. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily but I’m finding I’m happier being less involved there. I’ve been reading a lot more blogs though. 😉


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