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!

Keeping it moving! January 31, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:53 am
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A story needs to be finished.  And the way to finish is to keep moving it forward,  but so many things can get in the way. I have a long trail of writing attempts behind me, littered with unfinished stories.

In pre-computer days, it was a big box with a page of ths story, twenty pages of that story, forty pages of another story. Now it’s all those files om my computer that don’t go further than chapter one. Meg Cabot did a lovely NaNoWriMo pep talk about The Milk Crate of Shame, where she keeps all her unfinished stories.

Her main issue was the lure of the Bright Shiny New Story Idea. I get that one, all the time. I would loooove to give up on the Work in Progress and go back to an old story I got some great new plot ideas for, or start something totally new and exciting. The thing that makes this one so seductive is that it can feel like it actually is forward motion. “Well, I’m stuck on that story anyway, so why not do something different?” The problem is that the new story doesn’t last for long either, and the unfinished story file gets bigger and bigger and…  I’ve been so bad for this that my writing buddies made me promise that I wouldn’t start another story until I at least first drafted this one. I’m trying to cheat and claim that the long outline really IS a first draft, but they’re not buying that one.

So now I’m getting stuck in my other forward motion killer, going back to rewrite.  “I can’t write any more until I fix what is wrong with what I already wrote.” This is probably the number one thing that has stopped me writing over the years. I get so bogged down in multiple attempts at the first few chapters trying to get the start right, that the story never gets finished, I get disheartened, and I stop writing yet again. The unfinished story file contains a lot of different goes at first and second chapters on the same story! I don’t want that to happen this time too. So far I have three goes at chapter one and two at chapter two. No more!

What I’m trying now when I realise I’ve slipped into too much backstory or exposition is to just highlight the text I want to revise or cut in a different colour font, them jump forward to the next place where something IS happening. Editing it will be hell, but at least I will have something to edit! The 100 word trick is working for getting words down, my word counts aren’t anything to shout about but at least I am writing something on the story every day. No matter how cruddy a day I have had at work, I can fit in a few minutes to write a hundred words. And the hundred will end up being two or three hundred plus, because it’s just impossible to only write a hundred once I start, even if it’s in the five minutes before turning the light off when I’m dog tired, desperate for sleep, dreading how soon that bloody alarm is going to go off in the morning. So the story inches forward, slowly, so slowly, but forward motion all the same.

I’m probably overanalysing myself now, but another reason I’m not writing more seriously just occurred to me. I love getting these little aha moments, whether it’s about my characters’ motivations or my own, ‘cos once I understand why something is happening, then I can move things forward some more.  They usually happen either in the bath, or when I’m journalling or blogging.

There’s a little part of my brain that thinks its job it to protect me from being hurt. It ‘s saying if I don’t work too hard at writing, the rejection won’t hurt so much. Somehow I don’t think that is true, it will still be just as devastating! But it is holding me back. Getting the R on my Instant Seduction entry when I had poured so much love and time into developing the story after sending off my entry gutted me. I haven’t had the same energy and commitment for my writing since. I love the writing, but don’t want to risk the pain of another rejection, so I’m not writing. That part of my mind is not believing me saying “So let’s just write for fun, I won’t submit the story.”  Especially as the other pledge I made the writing group was that I would send off a partial by March 31st, to use that Comps Slip which is probably nearing it’s metaphorical use-by date.

I’m smiling here, talking about making pledges to the group makes it sound like the wannabe writer’s equivalent of AA. I stand out the front and introduce myself “Hi, I’m Jane and I’m a procrastinator, ” and at the end of the meeting I promise I am going to write so many words this week. LOL- it’s definitely NOT like that! But I do think we all need a  cheer squad, some sort of support system to keep us going when writing is tough, and to celebrate our successes with us.  The eHarlequin discussion forums are great for that too. I just read this inspiring quote posted there by one of the writers-  Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day, saying… “I will try again tomorrow.” (Mary Anne Radmacher)

In the end, it just comes down to taking it one day at a time, keeping on writing, keeping on with that forward motion, doing it for its own sake, for the love of the story and the characters, getting them to their happy ever after. ‘Cos we can never have too many of those in the world!


A sulky readhead stamps her feet January 25, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:00 pm
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Ack! Why do I go around in circles and just come back to the same place over and over? I think I’ve found a new road map to get me where I want to be, get excited, then here I am, back again at this place of not writing and wondering why the hell I want to write.

I made myself laugh looking back at my last post and the fab resolution to finish the first draft of the current story by the end of January. With six days to go, I have about 16,000 words of story. Most of which are false starts. I had to give up keeping track of total word count. It got meaningless when I knew that the bulk of it was backstory  and three goes at Chapter One, that aren’t going to be in the finished version. The good news is, I have the story very strongly plotted out, and it could work . The bad news is, I’ve written nothing on it for the last two weeks. Not a word. No writing at all, for fourteen, maybe fifteen days.

Surely if I really wanted it, I’d do it, right?

I can make plenty of excuses. There’s the new job that fries my brain and exhausts me so I arrive home without the mental capacity to do anything more challenging than make dinner, pour a glass of wine, then sit down at the computer to feed my ebay addiction.

Or I can psychoanalyse myself. So many lovely psychological reasons not to write! It’s my fear of failure, of submittimg and being rejected. Or its my fear of success- if I do get asked for a full, the pressure is really on.

The latest one I realised today, is that my creativity does not function well when I am angry.  I am soooooo resentful that my husband was made redundant and can’t find another job so is home all day, while I’m out working my ass off  to pay the bills when I want to be home writing. 

I discovered this not very grown up part of my mind is throwing a tantrum and saying , “Well, if I can’t stay home all day and play, I’m not doing anything. You can’t make me get up earlier and write for an hour before work. You can’t make me write in the lunch break (what lunch break, anyway?) You can’t make me write last thing at night before going to sleep. I’m not gonna, and you can’t make me. Naaaaah!” Accompanied by poking out my tongue at myself and some serious foot stamping. My hair colour may mostly come out of a bottle now, but I’m still a natural redhead in my soul. And even more than the temper, one thing redheads are is stubborn. Really stubborn. Once we make our mind up to something, that’s it.

Useful to know this stuff, but it just boils down to more excuses. What makes a writer isn’t loads of great ideas. Got em, sort of. What makes a writer isn’t having a good grasp of language and grammar. Got that too, more or less. What makes a writer is the old mantra Bum On Seat, Hands On Keyboard. Keep writing until I learn the craft of creating a well paced story, characters that come alive, plots that work. I need to find some way to convince that mulish little redhead that she really does want to doing some writing, it’s fun, truly it is. Because as well as being an obnoxious brat sometimes, she’s the one with the stories.

In my constant efforts to feel like I am doing something towards supporting my desire to write, without actually having to write anything and admit “Hey, this is crap!”, I spend a fair amount of time reading other writer’s blogs ar on writers’ groups. I found this post today on the Writers at Play blog  .  Another reminder that it’s not about finding time to write, it’s about making time to write. Writing needs to be the priority.

I especially liked the idea of the 100 x 100- write  a minimum of 100 words every day for 100 days. If I can’t do that, then obviously I don’t want to write. Or I’m allowing my fears to be stronger than my desire to write.  Or those pesky excuses are stronger than my desire to write.

One thing I do a lot is set myself up to fail. Not just “I want to write something every day”, but “I want to write at least a thousand words everyday”, at a time when I have a lot of other pressures. What then happens is that old lazy me says, “Well, no chance of me writing a thousand words today, so no point bothering.” When the goal is 100 words, that excuse no longer cuts it.

So I’m daring sulky little redhead me- 100 story words a day.  Pffffttt! That’s nothing. You could do that while standing on your head. Or hanging upside down off the swing in the big old mulberry tree. Or teasing the cute boy next door by “accidentally” flashing your knickers at him. So go on, dare you. Double dare you!


Not such a pantser? January 2, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:06 pm
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 I haven’t posted lately, because December has been a month of good intentions and excuses and not much else.

So the biggie New Year Resolutions are to-

  • finish a first draft of the current story by 31st January
  • get a partial of either this story, last years JanNo, or another story which is COMPLETE in first draft (that doesn’t leave too many to choose from- I am the Queen of First Chapters!) edited up, ready to-
  •  use that Comps Slip from the IS competition by 31st March, ‘cos it’ll soon be past its Use By date

I love the Work in Progress now, though I’ve been stuck on it  for much of December and went through a stage of thinking it was just too boring and stupid to bother with. Two false attempts at the start- nearly 10,000 words going nowhere much! This is the story that I wanted to do for my Nano, that felt so chick-litty to start with. I wanted to write a series romance though, not chick lit, so I started again. Then, though they were at least half the story away, I ran up against these plotholes. Plot holes the size of London double-decker buses. I needed the heroine to be kidnapped, and the hero to rescue her, but in the process they need to spend the night together. The very archaic laws of the country they are in require them to marry immediately or be punished. The rest of the story is how they turn their marriage of convenience into a true love match, and there are a couple of other little complications besides. The problem was, I had no idea who the kidnappers were or why they would want to kidnap her, and though I was only in chapter two the groudwork neded to be laid for all of this. Now if I was a true pantser I would have just kept writing, trusting and hoping that the solutions would work themselves out in the writing. But no way was my muse budging. She wasn’t going to write another word ’til she knew what the hell was going on and why.  Clearly I am not the pantser I thought I was. I was going round in circles of ever increasing frustration, daily getting far more exciting ideas for very diffeernt stories I was desperate to write.

Unfortunately, I’d made a promise to my writing group that I would still with this story ’til I finished it, or at least a first draft. They know me too well as the serial non-finisher that I am. I was stuck with this frigging story and that was that.

The answer, as always, lay in the characters. One of the girls in the group made a comment about going back to an old story and having to work to fall in love with the hero all over again. That seemed like a good strategy to try, okay, it wasn’t going to help me with the kidnapper question, but it was a possible way back into the story.  Plus, I felt like I knew the heroine well, but the hero was a tall dark and handsome  mystery, especially his motivations for being involved with the situation at all. I would dig deeper into the hero, spend some time with him.

Well he surprised me! Within half an hour of starting to interview him, that wonderful man had not only told me a lot more about himself, he told me who the kidnapper is and why they kidnap Gabi.  Not that he knows yet that Gabi is going to be kidnapped, but what he told me about the situation and his own reasons for being involved, and who his opponents were, made the answer obvious.

And with that question answered, most of the rest has fallen into place. I don’t have  a detailed outline. But what I do have is a sort of road map, telling me the routes I could take into this story. I know a lot more about the hero and heroine. I have a collage! The first time I have done one. It was fun. and it seems to help a lot to have something visual. I find that interesting as I never realised I was so visual in my learning style.  I even have a real physical map of the imaginary country all this happens in, very badly drawn by me. And I have nearly 6,000 story words written yesterday, and I’m eager to get in and write more. Fingers crossed I can keep up the momentum, and make my goal of completed first draft by the end of the month a reality.