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!

Whose black moment is it, anyway? June 14, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:51 am
Tags: , , , ,


“… at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” Joseph Cambell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces





I am not just procrastinating. I am going into a fully fledged depression.

If I don’t finish this story, I don’t have to submit it. If I don’t submit it, it can’t be rejected. If it isn’t rejected, I can keep on being a “couldabeen”. I won’t have to face the fact that I could fail at my dream of writing like I failed at my dream of being a mother. Because who am I if one by one I have to give up on all my dreams?  What am I left with?

I’ve been escaping into safe things, things I know I can do, or things where if doesn’t mean that much to me if I have a few projects that don’t quite work out. Sewing, knitting, cooking, jewellery making. If something doesn’t work, I might be a little frustrated, but I don’t take it personally. I don’t need to. It never meant that much to me anyway.

But writing does. It’s personal. It’s who I am. If my writing sucks, I suck. And boy, does my writing suck right now! This first draft feels so bad I don’t see any point in keeping on going, there’s nothing here that can possibly be turned into good story. And no point starting a new story, because it will just be the same.

I need to stop this right now, before I spiral down into a crash and burn I might never get out of.

Somehow, I need to find a way to step back, get some detachment. Allow it to be okay if I play around with writing, experiment with things knowing it might not work out, might not be anything I ever want to show another human being let alone submit to an editor. Just like I’ve made garments that have never been worn, but have gone straight into the rag bag; or a few jewellery pieces that sit in the bottom of my work box and no one has ever seen; or those recipe experiments that are too bad to even feed to the dog, and we just get takeaway for dinner that night instead.

Sometimes things don’t come out how we want, that’s part of life. Being okay with that is what lets us try, try again, take chances, do things differently, and enjoy the journey regardless of whether ultimately we succeed or not.

That’s the attitude I need.

How to get there from here, I don’t know!

But just saying that, I feel different. I want to go write, make things happen for Luk and Emma. Sometimes it seems just saying “I know I need to change but I don’t know how,” brings its own light to the darkness. Being willing to admit there is a problem, and being open to the solution, begins the change process. Unless our story people go through their black moment, they can’t win through to their lasting happiness. And unless we admit we are in the dark, we can’t see the light when it comes.

Step one is to look at my expectations.

The reason I can play and have fun with other creative stuff is that I am not expecting to produce a professional result. I don’t compare my wobbly-seamed homemade dress with haute couture, or my lumpy-but-yum carrot cake with the work of a top patissiere. Yet for some crazy reason I think my first draft dreck should be as good as published writing, that has been maybe been rewritten, edited and polished twenty times by the writer from her first draft, with the help of an editor too?

The reason I take it so personally is that writing has become inextricably linked in my mind with my other major life goals. From when I was a young girl,  there were three things I wanted to achieve in my life. Have children and be a good mother, be a published writer, and build my own little house. Though not necessarily in that order.

For a long time, writing was the thing I worked on the most. I also renovated two houses. Then, in my thirties, emphasis shifted. All my focus was on having a baby. I didn’t write, apart from some journalling, didn’t think about much else. It probably wasn’t too healthy a way to be, especially when no matter how “good” I was, how much I followed the rules, I couldn’t make it happen. I think I have been in danger of making writing a replacement obsession. Also not healthy.

It’s a good thing that I’m letting myself have some time off, play with other creative stuff, have other loves and other interests. Monomania is never attractive! No need to feel guilty or as if I am somehow betraying myself by taking a break from the intensity of focus.

What is not good is making myself depressed, feeling a failure, thinking that wanting a weekend off from writing means I should give up.

I needed a break, so I could stand back and see what was happening. Taking a break is NOT giving up, it’s having a breather and finding a different, maybe better way to head towards where I want to get.

I gave having a baby my best shot seven times before I gave up trying any more. Here’s my deal with myself- I will give becoming  a published romance writer seven of my best shots too before I give up on that. Hey, if I can handle seven lost pregnancies, I can handle seven story rejections, right?  One submission down, six to go!


12 Responses to “Whose black moment is it, anyway?”

  1. Eileen Says:

    You need Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, particularly the chapter on “Shitty First Drafts”

    “People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the kinks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of the sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

    “… One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, ‘It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do–you can either type or kill yourself.’ …

    “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.
    “The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. …”

    Then she talks about how she would write restaurant reviews for years and years and “Even after I’d been doing this for years, panic would set in. I’d try to write a lead, but instead I’d write a couple of dreadful sentences, xx them out, try again, xx everything out, and then feel despair and worry settle on my chest lik an x-ray apron. … and every time the answer would come: all I had to do was to write a really shitty first draft of, say, the opening paragraph. No one was going to see it. … The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot.”

    I love Anne Lamott. Probably because she’s so neurotic that she makes me feel very, very sane. 🙂

    I think you do need to finish the novel. You’ve worked on it for so long. What if you’d stopped when _nearly_ finished with the house remodel. Would you have willingly lived forever in a house with no doors on the kitchen cabinets just because this way no one would ever come see your handiwork? There were things going on with the baby dream that you could not control … but writing is like the housebuilding dream: it’s all up to you.

  2. Kate Walker Says:

    >>For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

    Amen to that. And to the fact that most writers think that what they write is rubbish – and get pecked almost to death by the crows of doubt. The important word there is “almost”.

    The problem is that a published book appears on the bookshop shelves all neat and tidy and clean and there isn’t a sign of the blood sweat and tears that went into creating it.

    Reading your blog it seems to me that you’re over-thinking this, over-analysing and dissecting your story to pieces. I’ll give you a piece of advice that a very famous, best selling Harlequin author gave me when I said I couldn’t do this again – and that was “Just tell the story.” To paraphrase Nora Roberts you can edit a bad story – you can’t edit or submit one that isn’t written

    I don’t know if you’ll ever be published but I do know one thing for absolute certain and that is that the one person who can totally guarantee you will never be published is you if you give up on the dream. 7 rejections? You write as if you have already decided on that instead of deciding to face the challenge.


  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks for those quotes, Eileen. That’s a book I have been meaning to read for a while- I will get over to Amazon or The Book Depository and buy a copy!
    I was just having one of those self-pity moments, but I blogged myself out of it.

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL, I certainly hope I don’t end up giving up after seven rejections, Kate! It was more my way of saying this is how much I know I can handle, so I am not going to let the the fear of NOT being able to handle it stop me. It’s my way of saying I will rise to the challenge.

    Overanalysing? Absolutely! Hey, I’m a Virgo, so it goes with the territory.

    I feel I need to get real understanding of what the elements are that a story needs to have to work. Not in the sense of a formula, but just what makes for a good strong story. I’ve read thousands, but I don’t have any internalised knowledge of why one story works for me and another doesn’t. I’ve spent my life being told I’m a good writer, and I guess I am, in a colourless grammatically correct school composition and university essay way. What I am most definitely not is an instinctive story teller.

    If I sit down and just write, I have a lovely time writing long meandering going nowhere tales with no real conflict and no emotional growth. If I’m writing for fun, with no intention of sharing my writing with anyone else, that’s fine. I’ve done plenty of that sort of writing in the past. But if I want to be published, just keeping on writing may not be enough. It’s too easy to keep on writing the same stories and keep on getting rejected for the same mistakes. I’m trying to make this one a real learning process by reflecting on it as I go, especially when I get stuck. Maybe I am analysing the life out of it, I don’t know. I tend to work to extremes, wild pendulum swings from one side to the other. I’ve done the “just write it, who cares about the plot” writing, this is a swing to really thinking about structure and form more.

    I doubt very much it will produce a publishable story, any more than the NaNo approach of momentum without direction did. What I hope is that I can take what I learn in this process to my next story and write freely but also guided by a deeper knowledge of structure. Does that make sense?

  5. Lorraine Says:

    I probably should remember but can’t I’m afraid – are you submitting this to the New Writers’ Scheme before subbing? I ask because I was heartily sick of my NWS sub by the time I sent it off and didn’t think it would make publication but the feedback I got not only encouraged me to keep going but gave me tons of targeted advice, specific to me, in a way that boosted me up that learning curve. That ms probably won’t be subbed but I learnt an awful lot that I’m applying to my current WIPs.
    When I was younger I had similar goals to you – to have children and become a published writer (didn’t want to renovate a house but seem to be stuck doing one!). It looks like I’m having to give up on the first goal too so I know where you’re coming from. I also think it’s really, really hard work to take the creative instinct and apply the craft to make it marketable but I’m hoping, with enough hard work, it will be possible for both of us.
    Have a short break, be nice to yourself, and then get stuck into licking it into shape 🙂

  6. Janet Says:

    “I feel I need to get real understanding of what the elements are that a story needs to have to work. Not in the sense of a formula, but just what makes for a good strong story.”

    You need these two books

    Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

    Break into Fiction –11 Steps to building a story that sells Mary Buckham/Diana Love Snell

  7. Jodie Miller Says:

    Me, I take the Flylady approach. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.” Am now struggling to make shitty first draft coherently and homogenously Second Draft (with capitals!) and I’m thoroughly sick of it all.

    Glad you blogged your way out of it, Jane. Gawd knows, I almost wrote a similar blog about where I’m at but decided to go join a creative women’s group instead. I’ll take inspiration from wherever I can get it.

    PS, a writer-friend of mine took herself off for a hypnosis session to get her book finished. She had is all wrapped up within a month!

  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    Lorraine, that feedback you had from the NWS sounds fabulous! Sending your story in early is a good idea to get the best feedback. I’m glad your WIP is going well.

    Taking a short break is good advice. Sometimes slogging on in the same direction isn’t the best answer!

    This morning, I had what I hope is a breakthrough on what the problem is. I have been trying to force it to be a different story because I wanted to target Presents/ Modern, but it just isn’t right for this story or, I suspect, for my voice. So I’m taking the same characters, the same premise, the same plot, but will be rewriting it in a very different way. One that I hope is more suited to my voice and the direction the story keeps pulling in, despite my attempts to pull it back!

    I’m not sure I will have a polished complete ready to send off to the NWS by the deadline. It’s scarily close! But I will submit a partial of whatever I have ready, no point wasting my joining fee.

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    Jodie, what I read of your first draft was far from shitty!

    But I can see editing would be a challenge- your material is so huge and so broad ranging. I’m not sure homeogeneity (is that a real word?) and coherence necessarily go together. Coherence is essential, being homegenous not so much so. In a novel, yes, within each characters voice there must be consistency, but each character’s voice needs to be identifiably different. In a memoir like yours, young Jodie’s voice will naturally be very different from more mature Jodie’s voice, new mother Jodie’s voice will be different for experienced mother Jodie’s voice. As you are telling other people’s stories too, their unique voices will be there as well. You are like a weaver working with different fibre types, or a sculptor in mixed media unifying very different materials into a whole. I guess what I am saying is if you aim for a coherent flow and shape to the different narrative strands, the rest won’t matter. I would think what you are looking for is not making all the threads seem the same, but making sure they will fit together harmoniously.

    Your friend’s hypnosis idea is interesting. The idea of a group not just for writers but for creativity is very very interesting! I think we have such a need to create, and that all types of creativity are linked. What nurtures one type of creativity will certainly feed our other creative activities. I haven’t wanted to write (and thank God I finally figured out why!) but instead I have been looking at cloth doing some different clothes, and also trying new recipes more than usual.

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    I am sure I already replied, but the WordPress “reply via email” seems a little temperamental. It’s probably sent my own reply to a comment on my blog straight to Spam Hell!
    I will look out for those books, Janet, thanks for the tip.
    I’m starting an online workshop on plot doctoring tomorrow so I figure that will be useful. I wish I had the first draft finished to work on as a whole, but no matter, I am sure I will learn plenty I can use.

  11. Julie Cohen Says:

    I\’m a writer in the middle of a very shitty first draft indeed, so I loved reading what Eileen posted. And all my first drafts are shitty. Every. Single. One. I was moaning to my CP last night that I didn\’t feel this way about the book that\’s out now, that it came out fully formed in a rush of beautiful creativity, and my CP cleared her throat and said, \”Um, Julie. It didn\’t. You said it sucked. You\’ve just forgotten.\”

    Really, you need to do whatever you need to do to keep going. FINISH THE BOOK, Mulberry. Don\’t worry about how you\’re going to rewrite it yet. Don\’t worry about sending it out and being rejected. Don\’t worry about the rejections that may or may not await you in the future for hypothetical other projects you haven\’t even started yet. Don\’t even worry too much, right now, about getting the perfect plot. Use what you\’ve learned, definitely, but don\’t feel you have to get it 100% right or you\’ve failed.

    Just—finish the book. Enjoy that sense of accomplishment. And then see what you can do, about rewriting or submitting or whatever.

    Finishing the book is a big, big accomplishment in itself. It\’s a learning curve and it\’s something that most people who think maybe they\’d like to be writers never, ever do. The absolute only way you can be a failure is to give up.

    And by the way—seven rejections? Well, fair enough, but know this—some rejections are bad, and some are good. I\’ve had WAAAY more than seven rejections, but my third rejection, from M&B, was three pages of suggestions of how to make my writing better. What if I\’d decided to give up at three? Some rejections make you want to give up, or at least drink a lot…and some make you want to get all fired up and get right back on the horse. There\’s no rule. And rejections aren\’t failures, in any way shape or form. They\’re the punches you take while you\’re learning.

    Anyway. Finish the book. Then worry about it. Really. I talk shit sometimes, but I know what I\’m talking about here.

    You may never get published; many, many people don\’t. But as Kate said, the only way you can guarantee a failure is if you give up trying.

  12. waitingforthecall Says:

    Eileen’s quotes are fab, aren’t they! I think this one was my favourite- ‘It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do–you can either type or kill yourself.’ He sounds like my kinda guy!

    Julie, I wonder if writing books is like having a baby? Once it’s over a self-defence mechanism kicks in, making you forget about how awful it was, because otherwise no sane person would ever put herself through that again. Good think your CP doesn’t also get the post-book amnesia!

    And you don’t talk shit! Your advice is good. You KNOW how to finish those shitty first drafts and edit them into bloody good books that make their readers laugh, cry, and feel that all important “ahhhh” factor when it is over.

    The seven rejections thing was over-dramatisation, BTW. I know it can take a lot more than that sometimes.

    *Looks around furtively to make sure no one is listening to my confession* I am a drama queen. I make everything a big deal. I am making the writing thing a bigger deal than it ought to be by creating a link between my writing and pregnancy losses, a way of avoiding feeling that pain. (That’s not over-analysing, it was a conscious choice I made one day when I was feeling dismal and wondering what the hell I could do with myself for the rest of my life now motherhood was off the agenda.) So sometimes too much of that stuff spills over into my feelings about writing and I sound more angsty about it than I probably am.

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