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!

Finding what it takes April 13, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:28 am
Tags: , , ,


It’s Easter. Four days off work. I planned to get a lot done. And I haven’t done any writing at all this weekend. A bit of story planning on Friday, nothing at all the last two days. Nada. Not one word. Not even any notes. My mind is completely blank.

I’ve been telling myself I don’t care and I’ve just been giving myself a break, but the fact is, I do care, I care very much. I’ve been feeling numb, but today I feel heartbroken and I don’t know why. I just don’t think I can do this. I’m feeling a deep and corrosive sense of failure. My writing group friends are finishing and submitting stories. I can’t help comparing myself and what I have achieved (NOT!) in the past year with what they have done.

It’s nearly a year since I got the feedback (AKA rejection letter) from the IS contest. Since then all I’ve done is have story ideas and write first chapters, somethimes a few times over. This story I’ve got to chapter three then stopped. The furthest I’ve got, since getting the letter this time last year and knowing there was no point completing the IS story even though I was only about 10,000 words away from the end.

I just realised, looking back at my blog posts to find the one about the HMB letter, that this is the anniversary of more than my first Mills and Boon rejection. It’s also the anniversary of what should have been the birthday of the baby I got furthest into pregnancy with. I lost Rose at 18 weeks. The letter terminated Bruno and Rebecca’s story at 40,000 words. I’m now in a recurrent miscarriage pattern with my writing.

When I sent that competition entry off, oddly there was no fear in my mind that it would be rejected. I felt confident that I had written a good story and it would be accepted. Just like with my first preganancy, where it never occured to me that I might not end up with a baby. The only feeling when I saw the positive pregnancy test was pure joy and anticipation that nine months later, I would have a baby.

Seven miscarriages later, there didn’t seem to be much point doing pregnancy tests. Why bother, why get excited and get my hopes up. A positive test didn’t mean hope and joy, it meant fear and anxiety, waiting for it all to go wrong again. Sometimes I lost the pregnancy within a few days, sometimes it took longer, eight, ten, twelve weeks. With Rose I got to sixteen weeks before the big problems started. I’d had scans. Seen her tiny heart beating. Seen her moving her arms and legs. Felt the tiny flutters of movement. Been told I should stop worrying now, I was past the stage where things can go wrong. I felt such happiness. At last it was going to happen. This time, this time I would have a baby, no more grief and sorrow, thank God.  It didn’t happen like that. Yes, I had a baby,  but a  baby not much bigger than a Barbie doll, born at eighteen weeks, too early to have any chance of survival.

After the next couple of pregnancies also miscarried, but much earlier, I stopped doing pregnancy tests. If giving up caffeine and alcohol and eating only organic food and taking the right vitamin tablets hadn’t stopped me losing my babies, maybe pretending I wasn’t pregnant and and wasn’t trying to get pregnant and didn’t care and just carrying on like normal would work. It didn’t. The wild hope if my period was late, the gut deep sense of failure and loss when the bleeding came had me on a crazy roller coaster ride. I was so angry with my husband when he insisted that we were going to stop trying, that we wouldn’t ever have unprotected sex. He couldn’t bear seeing me so upset. He was right of course. It stopped the crazy ups and downs. Replaced them with a permanent down. I had no hope. I was still left with the monthly reminder of my failure as a woman. My failure to fulfil my deepest, oldest, most cherished dream.

So cross that one off the list. Only thing to do was to move onto the next thing on my list of things I wanted to do before I was forty, written back when I was eighteen, when anything seemed possible, except believing I would ever be as impossibly old as forty!

 By then, I was forty seven and the three biggies at the top of the list still weren’t done. Having a baby was out. The other two were be a published fiction writer and build my own house. House building was going to be difficult. I was living in Britain, where land was expensive and there were armies of men with clipboards checking that building codes were fully enforced. The sort of small funky organic house I wanted was out of the question. Besides the fact my very “But what would be neighbours think?” husband would be horrified at the idea.  So only one idea left. Writing.

I’d had a couple of articles published, but they didn’t count, the dream was very specific that it had to be fiction. I was the kid who was always scribbling stories. In high school my teachers were encouraging. I sent a few stories and poems off  to magazines and had rejections. It didn’t feel like such a big deal, I’d try again another time. But I didn’t.  There were always distractions. I started nursing instead and writing was always there but just for me.  Went back to uni as a mature student in my late twenties and did english and creative writing courses. Lecturers encouraging, wanted me to submit my writing to journals. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to be writing literary short stories. I wanted to be writing the genre stuff that the lecturers disapproved of. Romance, fantasy. I left uni and kept writing the things I wanted to write, but never finishing anything. Nothing was ever good enough. I didn’t write consistently either, my writing was episodic. Oh, I journalled most days. And my journal pages were full of story ideas, that I never wrote. Every couple of years I would decide I wanted to write seriously, and I would work up an idea and start writing. But I never got much past chapter one. Until late December 2007, when I decided I was going to go for it with writing, really go for it. That was when I finally crossed “baby” off the dream list, and looked at the next thing on the list.

So, JanNo 2008. Dived into a story, finished by 27th January. Found out about the HMB Instant Seduction competition, wrote and sent off my first chapter and synopsis by 14th February. Kept writing the story, and was near finishing in April 2008 when the letter came. I didn’t want to drop that story, but recognised there was not much point finishing it when they didn’t want to see it. Since then, I’ve been in miscarriage mode with my writing. Lots of hopeful starts that go nowhere. In December I recognised that pattern and committed to finishing the story I was working on. I’m still stuck on that same story, starting and restarting it when I know I just need to keep writing and finish the bloody thing. Even if it’s the most rubbishy first draft ever, just get the darned thing done so I can move on! I want to have a go at redoing my IS entry, and my JanNo, with all I have learned about romance writing in the last year. It’s good to recognise that it really hasn’t been a wasted year. I may not have completed anything, but I’ve still learned a lot and made some good friends in the romance writing community.

I still don’t know quite how to get out of this stuck place I’m in and break the miscarriage pattern. I have a week off between jobs, so I’m planning to do Book in a Week on this story and try to just write my way through it. Six days, 8,500 words a day. It will be total crap, but it will be soooo good to finally write The End!


10 Responses to “Finding what it takes”

  1. Janet Says:

    It’s such a shame you almost finished the Instant Seduction story and haven’t done anything with it. Why not send a paratial to a different publisher ? (you’re close enough to finishing to be able to produce a completed story if asked for it) Just because the story didn’t work for Harlequin doesn’t mean you won’t ever sell it.
    With a sale under your belt, your confidence would get a great boost.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL Janet, they were right to reject it on what I sent in!
    There were some good parts and a few nicely written scenes, and the premise wasn’t bad, but it did have some problems. I had already realised that, and had ideas for how I would rewrite it before submitting. Now with another year behind me I can see how to make it even stronger and can recognise issues I wasn’t even aware of at the time. My plan is to rewrite it once I finish the first draft of the WiP, and try again with it.
    I do believe it will be significantly different enough when rewritten not to annoy the editors. Plus, they didn’t specifically say “Don’t send us this again,” just “Try again with something else.”
    If it still gets an R I may well try elsewhere!

    What are you working on at the moment?

  3. Janet Says:

    I’m still working on the story that won Trish’s writing comp ( well over a year ago! Maybe longer.) I really must get on and finish it, and get the partial submitted.

  4. Eileen Says:

    Maybe you should write your own story — what you started here was lovely and totally held my attention!

    Although, you do realize that your first full novel attempt got you a “send us your next work” note. Not a “we’ll publish it now!” note, but still, a note that people spend years and novels and novels trying to get. Your JanNo was certainly not a failure.

  5. Jodie Miller Says:

    Speechless hugs from my side of the world and a nod of agreement that your own story is worth telling. This reads like a breakthrough!

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    Sorry it’s taken so long to answer, guys! So busy right now as I am manically trying to “fix” everything I can for my patients before I leave my job. I’m feeling far more positive about life in general and writing in particular now.
    I don’t think I can write my own story yet, it’s still too raw and open a wound for me. But the time will come when there’s enough distance and healing….

  7. Julie Cohen Says:

    Oh dear. I came here today because of your post linking to Kate Walker’s blog, and I scrolled down and saw this post. It’s two weeks old, but I wanted to comment and give you hugs.

    I’ve been through some of what you talk about with miscarriages, though nowhere near as harrowing and sad as your own story. But I can understand the feelings, and offer my sympathy.

    I think it’s interesting though that you’re comparing your writing process at the moment to miscarrying a baby. The analogy makes sense to a certain extent—it’s a creative process, and if you get blocked it can feel like you’ve failed.

    But I think there are some very important differences. I know that when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have a baby of my own, writing helped me cope with the emotions. Pregnancy is uncontrollable. You think you should have some say in what happens, but as a matter of fact, it’s out of your hands. Writing, however, *is* in your control. I remember when I lost my third pregnancy, one of the first things I did to help myself recover was to write a romance. (The second thing was getting therapy.) I didn’t know if I could give myself a happy ending, but I knew I could make my characters happy. So I did, and it really helped me feel more in control.

    I was already a published author then, and so in a different place than you maybe, but please, please remember that no writing is ever wasted. That’s another place where the miscarriage analogy breaks down. Everything you write helps you to become a better writer and you should never throw anything away, because you can always re-use it when you’ve learned how to.

    I’m a great believer in finishing a book even if it hasn’t got a home; it’s important for a writer to know how to finish things, and how to edit them so that they’re the best they can be. I think it’s also very important to know that a first draft will *never* be perfect, even if you polish it like crazy as you write. I’m writing my thirteenth book to be published right now, and you know what? The draft is *crap*. And it’s supposed to be. I’ll never know how to fix it, until I reach the end and can look back on what I’ve done.

    If you haven’t already, please give yourself permission to make mistakes, and not to correct them right away. To produce something flawed that you can make better. To fail, and learn from the failures.

    Writing isn’t a one-shot deal. It’s a process. And it’s not childbirth either, though it may feel similar. It can help you gain control and express yourself, too.

    Anyway, this may be total rubbish I’m spouting, but if it gives you a lift and some extra determination, it’s worth it. Good luck with your writing frenzy during your time off.

  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    Oh, Julie, thank you so much for this! Definitely NOT total rubbish and definitely uplifting.

    It’s actually come at the perfect time for me cos I’m feeling emotional right now. I just wrote a scene that tangentially has to do with a baby dying, it’s not even happening to the heroine for heaven’s sake and yet I’m still upset.

    If I try to describe the scene it will sound like I am completely insane, but hey, it’s first draft so insane is okay, right? The hero and heroine are nowhere near getting together yet, she’s an ordinary English girl who has just found out she’s princess of an obscure European principality, he’s second in line to the throne but does not want to have to become ruler under any circumstances cos he’s made his own life away from his birth country. She’s sending chatty little emails to the hero (which are inadvertently triggering some rather hot fantasies for him), while he’s running around the world doing whatever it is that billionaire international property developers do, telling him about how she’s settling in to being princess. Anyway, this email is partly about shoes and partly about how she found out her maid recently had a premature baby die because the tiny country has no special care facilities and no decent ambulance service either. So she’s sorting it out, being a “do something” type girl. All her fees from the photo-shoots for Hello, OK, etc are going into a fund to set up a Special Care Baby Unit at the hospital, which will be named after her maid’s baby.

    Anyway, a long story to say I found myself unexpectedly overcome by emotion while I was writing it. I think because my heroine can do something, she’s in control of the situation. While Lia her maid wasn’t when her baby died. And I wasn’t when I had my miscarriages. None of us are.

    Which is where what you say is absolutely right and such a gift to me! We can’t control of what happens with our pregnancies. We do what we can to make things go right, but before we even see that blue line on the pregnancy test, things are happening that are out of our jurisdiction. Writing is different. We CAN control what happens there.

    I was forced to give up on the pregnancies, but I don’t have to give up on my writing too. I think I wrote that post at a time when I was feeling despairing about my writing, feeling like I wasn’t in control. But hey, I am!

    I think I also want to write romance to make things right, to create happy endings for my characters. So it was sooooo frustrating not to get anywhere near the HEA stage of my drafts cos the perefectionism monster got me! But I’m hoping I can tame that particular monster. The manic write-a-thon is going well, just over 15,000 words so far. Okay, I’m not 100% managing to never go back and make corrections. But most of the time, I’m writing forward not going back. A 7,000 word a day target doesn’t leave much time for compulsive editing!

    Doing this is helping me believe that I really can do the writing thing.

    Can I go all fan girly now and say I love your writing! Was it Delicious that you wrote after one of the pregnancy losses? Because of all the heroines who’ve experienced miscarriage I’ve read, that was the most emotionally real. That book made me cry. In a good way. Actually, come to think of it, ALL your stories I’ve read make me cry. Even the LBDs. Your first drafts may feel like crap. The finished product certainly isn’t! I’m so glad things worked out for you too- the Fecklet is one amazing kid!

    Anyway, better get back to writing. Only another 5,500 words to go today!

  9. Julie Cohen Says:

    I’m really glad my comment made sense to you. I’m definitely not saying that we can control everything that happens in our writing—sometimes characters *will* have their own way. And we can’t control what happens once it leaves our hands, and wings its way out into the world for other people to judge it.

    But we can work, and improve, and learn, and write in a way that matters to us. So we can control it that way. And that’s a good way.

    I’m not surprised you cried while writing that scene in your story. And the emotion will show through in your writing, too.

    I’m totally jealous of you and the write-a-thon. I managed 1300 words today, and now I’m stuck. 7000 sounds like heaven. 🙂

    Anyway, the only thing that’s better than giving characters their happy endings is hearing readers tell you that you made them feel happy, or gave them a little bit of escape, too. I know that at my unhappiest, I read romances like there was no tomorrow. So thanks for what you said about my books.

    Yes, I did write (or rather, rewrite) Delicious after losing my first pregnancy. I didn’t mean to make the heroine go through the same thing, but she just *did*. I cried a lot when I wrote that, especially the pregnancy test in the end. I wrote the sequel, Married in a Rush, while I was experiencing my third miscarriage and trying do deal with those emotions, and that’s a pregnancy book too, though with no complications that time. Though it was a struggle to write at first, eventually it helped me to envisage a pregnancy with a happy outcome. The hero is grieving his brother, and that definitely helped me express some of my own grief.

    On a happier note, I wrote One Night Stand while I was healthily pregnant with the Fecklet. 🙂

    Anyway—write! Write like the wind! And finish your book, even if it’s a struggle. It will be worth it, because in the end, I guess it’s what we learn from these things that counts.

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    That’s definitely got me wanting to look out for those books of yours I haven’t read yet!

    Hope today was a better writing day for you.

    I’m having an interesting day today. Only 5,000 words so far, but lots happening in those pages.

    I realised yesterday that I need to seriously up my daily word count targets if I’m to get this thing done by the end of the week. I based them on a plan to write a bit under 48,000 words in first draft then layer in more in the edits . I’ve discovered what I actually need to do is write 60,000, throw away the first 10,000 or 12,000, THEN layer in more! Oops!

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