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!

Surviving the week from hell! January 23, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:27 pm
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Woo! It’s Saturday!

The last week will have to go down as one of the worst of my life. Not right up there on the list of life shattering tragedy weeks, but if there was an award for the Most Exhausting Week, or the Most Petty Frustrations Piling on Petty Frustrations Week, this would be it for sure. Warning- whinge ahead!

First I had flu. I spent most of last weekend in bed feeling achy and painy and sorry for myself, wasting the long weekend I planned to write in. Then I struggled into work after being up most of the night coughing and blowing my nose on Tuesday to find that we were running on half the staff we normally have. Okay, we’d cope. Except then we lost another staff member and had to manage with a third of our usual staff. And weeks with long weekends we usually pay for the day off by needing to pack the five days work into four. Except this week was even busier than normal. Much busier. One of those weeks that would have been tough fully staffed but nearly impossible with one third staff. Somehow I got through the week of ten hour work days and a long commute in a zombie haze of cold medications, crashing into bed the minute I got home. The funny thing was, everyone who came into the office said, “Poor you, you should be at home.” Didn’t stop them from asking me to do stuff for them though, stuff no-one else could do, that was urgent for them. Even when I stuck the sign on the door, “Emergencies Only Today”, because I was the only one in the office, they still kept coming. Hmm. We have different ideas of what constitutes an emergency, clearly!

Yesterday was the cream on the cake. One of those days where you run all day, faster and faster, fast as you can. Only to find you’ve gone backwards because the treadmill still turns faster than you can run. At 5pm, my desk was a mess. My email inbox was a parade of red flags demanding attention. I had Post-Its turning my desk yellow with things I needed to do before I went home. The folders of things I’d started working on and got interrupted before I finished grew from neat little piles to teetering stacks. I could have just walked out the door and left. But I have this pesky thing called a work ethic. It wouldn’t let me go home leaving a huge backlog of unfinished work for a colleague when I’m off on conference next week. I can’t dump all that her, when she may have nearly as bad a week as I did (though hopefully without sinusitis and bronchitis to manage too!). So I stayed in the office working solidly for sixteen hours yesterday. Finally left at midnight, because I’d miss the last train home if I stayed any longer. Made it home at two am. The worst thing about it- I still didn’t get caught up. Still, I got a massive part of it done, and what’s left over is organised so at least it’s possible to see what needs to be done. I could leave with a clear conscience.

Maybe time to start looking for a new job (again!). Or if anyone has a handy cure for an overactive work ethic, please let me know! If only I had energy left over after work to direct work ethic that to my writing, I’d be laughing.

Though I guess I did direct it to writing in the end. The worst realisation of the week, as horrible exhausting day piled on horrible exhausting day, was that I wasn’t going to manage to get my pitch done for Donna Alward’s pitch contest. I sat on the train home at half past twelve, totally shattered, with not enough neurones left firing to string together a cohesive thought. And I had only one sentence toward the pitch, done on Monday. Looked like flu and the day job had won over writing. Then as I was walking home from the train just before two am, I remembered something. The time difference between GMT and EST. I had nearly three hours. I could still do it. Maybe. Something clicked. My brain switched from zombiefied sleep seeking mode to story mode.

I emailed my pitch at 17 minutes before the closing time. It’s not the best I could have done. But I did it, and I feel good about that. Being sick didn’t stop me, and the Day Job didn’t stop me. This year, I want to live by the rule of “No more excuses!” When it comes to writing, anyway. I might still keep some handy for other things, like not exercising enough or drinking too much wine occasionally.

It’s not a fabulous pitch. It doesn’t follow the plan in Winnie Grigg’s excellent workshop. But I’m glad I did it.  The great thing about writing a pitch is it gives the essence of the story. It shows straight away if something isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. It can help us see what we need to do to strengthen our stories. I’m not happy with the hero’s conflict at all. I love Nick, but he’s just not coming across as strong enough or conflicted enough. His main conflict is wanting and loving Meg, in the face of her stubborn independence and refusal to believe anyone could love her, let alone a man like him. Is that enough? (And *groan* I’ve just realised how I worded it there is probably loads better than what I sent in the pitch last night!)

I also know I need to make some big changes with where the story starts, something I suspected all along. I’m going to be in trouble if by some freak chance Donna picks my pitch to final. I may not have a first chapter ready to send. I realised Nick and Meg’s story really starts with what would have been chapter six in what I’ve written so far. Looks like all those lovely scenes I’ve enjoyed writing are backstory, and need to go. It’s good to know my instincts were right, those times I stopped writing, thinking this is all very nice but it’s not going to work as story, I’ve gone wrong somewhere. It’s good to know that writing isn’t wasted, too. I’ve got to know and love these characters and their background through writing my way in. It’s not a bad way to do things, and maybe I simply need to accept that’s how I write. The first ten or twenty thousand words I write may never appear in the story I submit, but they’re still an essential part of my process.

I’m sure I read an HMB author say she always did that. Now I’m trying to find who. It’s mentioned, in a less extreme form of losing one scene, not several chapters, in this First Chapter article from Heidi Rice.  Maybe I was thinking of this article by Melissa James (I love all her articles on this site, BTW, so pleased to find them again!). I still think it was someone else though I can’t track it down! Oh well, doesn’t matter if no-one else writes like that, it it works for me it works for me! I think the toughest thing there is just being willing to put what’s already written aside and start again. Not because it’s crap, but because that’s just how my process works and it’s time for the next stage.

 I may not stop and start over. I might keep writing up to the point where the story starts, at least sketch it all in, so when I do get into the real storyI totally know their history together. Then when I move on to second draft it gets the chop. That works for me. I just need to remember, my target word count is now 80,000, not 60,000!

Edited to add- LOL, just saw this is the latest entry on How to Write Badly Well! At least I don’t have that level of foreshadowing abuse!


Another fab contest- Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch January 18, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:38 pm
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Hopefully everyone who had positive feedback from the 2009 Presents contest are working on finishing their stories and polishing their chapters, ready to send in to the editors!

But I know many who received the “form feedback” aka rejection have been feeling just a tad despondent and wondering what to do next.

Here’s a chance for those of us who have decided that perhaps Presents isn’t the line our voice best fits and are looking around at the other Harlequin Mills and Boon lines.

Pitch contests are happening regularly over at eHarlequin this year for various lines, and they are a fab opportunity!

Honing a pitch is a necessary skill anyway. Pitches help us to really get to the heart of what our story is, the characters and their conflicts. They’re what we put in a query letter to a publisher or agent. Not only that, these pitch contests are a great chance to get immediate feedback from an editor on our story ideas for those chosen to pitch, and to bypass the slush pile if she asks the writer to submit.

There’s also a different pitching contest- with an excellent prize. Donna Alward, who writes Harlequin Romance, is offering to mentor one writer for a year. Clicking the heading will take you to eHarlequin for more details, but I cut and pasted the main announcement.

Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch Contest

Now that the wonderful Winnie Griggs has finished her pitching workshop, here’s your chance to try out your skills!

It can be for any heat level or subgenre of romance – spicy to sweet, Inspy, Paranormal, Suspense, straight up Contemporary, Historical and anywhere in between. The contest closes Friday midnight EST. I’ll pick five winning pitches and announce them on the thread. Each of those winners will send me a first chapter. I’ll then judge the first chapters and one person will get me as a mentor for the year. The thread will be here for you to post any questions and to read the winning entries! What are you waiting for? Get pitching!

What: Donna Alward’s Perfect Pitch Contest
Where: Eharlequin!
When: One week only – Jan 18th
Who: Unpublished Aspiring authors
How: E-mail me your pitch at donna@donnaalward.com.

This is a fabulous chance- Donna is a talented and generous writer! Friday deadline- gotta be quick!

I’m working on my pitch and my story. I’m seriously behind on my word count targets but the good news is I am getting a grasp on the conflict in my story.  The internal conflict was there all along, built into the characters, but the external conflict was missing. I realised today that something that was part of the story all along, almost background, a subplot with one of the secondary characters, can be a rich source of external conflict. It links deeply into the theme of the story, which is that true family is about ties of love, not ties of blood.

 Now I just have to write it!


Wonderful Michelle Styles article…

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:19 am

… called Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover  just out in Living North magazine.

I adore Michelle, though I’ve never met her! She’s a fab writer, a great ambassador for Mills and Boon in particular and romance writing in general.

The one surprise in the article- I never knew she was American! I’d always assumed she was from the North of England where she now lives. People in that region are reputed to be warm, practical, but also direct and not the type to suffer fools gladly. Michelle is a support to many unpublished writers, dispensing to the point and wise advice, that fits perfectly with that North Country image!


TGI Friday! January 15, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:20 pm

What a week!

I am soooooooo glad it’s the weekend at last. Not much good getting my mojo back if work is so hellishly busy I come home wrung out and too exhausted to do anything but collapse! I’ve had a lousy fluey bug with sinusitis and bronchitis for ages, but it could be worse, my collegue who got sick the same time developed pneumonia! Luckily she’s getting better now, though still not back at work.

I am way behind on my writing targets. I need to dive right into the story this weekend. Thanks to Martin Luther King and having an American employer, I have the day off work Monday. It’s not remotely feasible that I catch up to my goal by Monday night, but I want to be a hell of a lot closer than I am now!

I hoped to enter it in the Superromance pitch contest on eHarlequin, but I don’t see how it will be even first drafted in time, let alone ready to sub by the end of February. Oh well, learning plenty about the fine art of pitching from Winnie Griggs’s massively useful tutorial!

Bound to come in handy some day…


How Janey got her groove back January 7, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:10 pm
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I seem to have got my groove back, thank God!

Thanks for the advice and encouragement after my last discouraged post- it all helped.

I simply decided these characters were worth writing about, even if it’s just for me and not ever for publication. Putting the pressure to write well wasn’t helping at all. I was expecting too much from my first draft, and not just letting it be first draft. The only way out was to just write my way out, because it came down to that or giving up. And I’m surely not  ready to give up!

What helped? Using Write or Die in short bursts -500 words in 20 minutes seems to work well for me-  it’s doable and not an offputting impossible seeming target. Engraving “It’s okay to write crap in first draft” on my brain. Putting writing high on my priorities. Remembering that it’s the character’s story, not mine- I need to do let them do their thing, without me getting in their way too much at this stage, and allow them to surprise me. I guess that’s another way of saying- don’t let my critical left brain mess too much with what has to be a creative right brain process. And also another way of saying that the story  has to be about two people falling in love, not about me throwing in yet another plot device.

Word count is creeping up. I’m a little behind the higher target I set to get to 60,000 words before I have to go on a work trip on the 25th, but almost spot on target at 22% if I had the whole month to use. I feel like I’m getting momentum now, and coming into a run of steady progress, before I come unstuck again somewhere in the middle.  

I love these characters! Happy writing, everyone.


Enthusiasm- where is it and how do I get some? January 5, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:21 pm
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Today is my first extra week day off under our new four day week regime at the Day Job.

I should be feeling wonderful. I should be diving into this fab opportunity to write. Instead, it’s nearly midday, and I haven’t written a word.  I’m sitting here feeling generally bleah, tired and sorry for myself. Sinusitis, a rotten headache, and it still being minus two degrees outside aren’t helping.

The story feels like total crap and I think I should give up already. Not just on the story, on writing.

Some people really don’t have what it takes. The downside of being in a group with such amazingly talented writers is that I compare myself to them. I see that spark, that something extra in their writing that I know is lacking in mine. I suspect that’s something that no amount of learning the craft will provide.

The crows of doubt whisper seductively,”Why bother? Don’t waste any more time on writing, you’ll never make it.”  (Now there’s an image- seductive crows? I’m seeing them in some sort of burlesque outfit.) My internal cheerleader tells me, “Keep going, you’ll never know if you give up now!” The cheerleader is right, of course. What worries me is, the crows might just be right too.

Okay, it’s just another crisis of confidence, I’ll get over it. I can’t stop writing, really. All that happens is I write less, or I take a break. The need to write always jumps up and bites me again and won’t let go. New characters tempt me to find out what their story is, push me to keep going if I stop. I’m just being my usual Drama Queen self and making a little doubt about this story into a bit global- “Should I stop writing?” thing.

But you know that nagging feeling that you are missing something important? I have it about this story. The characters are so aimless. They don’t really have any goals beyond maintaining the status quo at the start of the story. No burning desires (till they meet each other, of course!)

Nick wants his vineyard someday but is willing to postpone that desire because he knows it will break his parents’ hearts. Meg just wants to keep things steady and safe, and after her awful childhood, that’s a darned good goal.

It all feels a bit too coincidental. Oh look, he has to go to this town for a court case. Oh look, all the other accommodation is booked up so he has to stay at her boarding house. Oh look, bang, he falls in love with her, realises she is the woman who is meant for him.

I know that happens in real life. Actually A and I meeting was exactly that sort of coincidence. I got sent to work in his clinic for just one day, one nurse was off on a course, the other was new, so I was put shadowing him for the day. He wasn’t well and had nearly taken that day off work sick, in which case we would never have met.

I just don’t think it reads convincingly in a story.

Maybe I’m being too critical too soon and I just need to write. Let these characters tell their story, and see where they want to go with it. Worry about things like GMC when it’s time to second draft. (Knew I shouldn’t have looked at all those character charts yesterday!)

I might feel lost, without a compass or a road map, but Meg and Nick know exactly where they are and what they want to happen next! I need to trust these characters to take me where they need to be. Trust that I already know them well enough, and I don’t need to fill in any charts or tick any boxes just yet.

Just write their story, that’s all I have to do.


New Year, new story. January 1, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:57 pm
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January 1. Time to start my JanNo story at last!

I’m going to be pushing myself- rather than the usual 50,000 for NaNo or JanNo, I’m going to aim for 60,000.

I love Nick and Meg, my new characters. And it’s a huge relief to write a gamma rather than an alpha male. Alpha simply does not come naturally to me!

Trying to start writing today proved the importance of writing everyday- after just three days back at work, when I hadn’t looked at them, I’d lost touch with who my characters were and needed to spend a bit of time getting to know them again. But just thinking about the characters to make a couple of tweaks on the little bio sheets I’d done on them and on the collage got me back into the story again.

I did finally start writing and now have over 3,000 words.  All the ultimate in first draft crappiness, but at least things are moving. I want to see 5,000 words before I go to sleep tonight.

The rules- No going back. No correcting or spellchecking. No erasing. Just write!

Write or Die has helped with the “Just write” bit. I’ve already cheated a bit on all the other rules.