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
Tags: , , ,

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!


19 Responses to “Surviving the week from hell!”

  1. Joanne Coles Says:

    Oh no! Poor you. What on earth do you do as a job? Sounds horrendous, whatever it is. I thought you were a nurse–have I randomly made that up?!

    You did amazingly well to get your pitch done, huge congrats for that. Also, now you’re getting all these thoughts about motivations and where to start your book, it means you’re on the right track.

    Lots of hugs for your tiredness, though, you must be exhausted today 🙂

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks Joanne! The process of doing the pitch was so helpful.

    I am a nurse but I work in an office based clinic for a huge American organisation, we do the usual occupational health stuff, and also a GP type service for the thousand London employees and their families. The main part of my job is coordinating medical care for people in the company coming in from overseas branches. A lot of the places they work have the most minimal health care, and they promise their staff access to an American level care if they get sick while they are overseas. It’s super busy. As well as setting everything up I support the patients while they are in London and have a lot of paperwork and billing to manage too.
    I think what is hard for the people who work in the London branch to understand is that just because the waiting room in the clinic is empty doesn’t mean the office is not busy. Our doctor and nurse practitioner write prescriptions and do phone advice as well as visit regularly to six smaller branches in other countries that don’t have their own clinics. I am insanely trying to juggle up to thirty different patients often with complex problems, by remote control. It’s manageable though constantly busy when we are fully staffed. There’s someone else to deal with the people calling in and I can focus on my stuff. But when things go wrong like they did this week and there’s only two of us, or even hair pullingly worse I’m the only one there….aarrrggghhhh!

    Good luck with your pitch- you sent one too?

  3. Eileen Says:

    Aw! Jane I hope you’re feeling better. The flu is the worst.

    But I’m really excited that you got your pitch in!

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    Yeah, me too. Though I just reread it (Donna sent a confirmation email) and it’s crap, actual capital C Crap! Sooooooooo clunkily worded.

    Oh well, the process was worth it, anyway!

  5. Eileen Says:

    Just knowing that you tried is worth something. Was it Woody Allen that said 90% of life is just showing up … ? There’s truth to that.

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    Yes, that’s true. That’s what I thought- that though it has no chance (and if I was lucky enough to get picked, I’d fess up and tell her I don’t have the chapter ready so to pick someone else!), but if I want to live by “No more excuses”, especially when it comes to writing, I have to take up whatever opportunities are in front of me.

    I think doing it was more about telling myself I am serious about my writing, a sign of my decision to commit to it, than anything else.

    What’s been happening for you? JanNo is going to carry over in to FebMo, for me, obviously. How’s your’s going? Last time we “talked” you were having a crisis of confidence. I’m going over to your blog to catch up with your stuff!

  7. Sounds like a tough week. Hope you feel better and things ease up work wise.

    Keeping everything crossed for you pitch.


  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks Suzanne! Must visit your blog too. That’s the fab thing about blogs- when I get comments it reminds me whose blogs I want to go see!

  9. Did you see that Victoria Curran has done something on Super for the Pink Heart Soicewty? She will be coming into answer questions on Monday morning.
    So now is the time…

  10. Caroline Says:

    Hugs on the bad week. I had a bad one too and put a mega whinge on my blogsite! It’s good to let off steam me thinks!! I’ve entered Donna’s competition too- no sure if I’ve followed all the rules though, as I didn’t have time to absorb Winnie’s post on eHarlequin! Hope you have a better week. Caroline x

  11. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks for that info Michelle, I’ll definitely have a look.

  12. waitingforthecall Says:

    Good luck with your pitch, Caroline! Just getting feedback from Donna is a prize in itself- so we will all be winners on this one. She gave me helpful info on mine last year. I’ll have a look at your blog and see what’s been happening- Ihope things improve for us all next week!

  13. Kaily Hart Says:

    What a week! Would love to know what you job is! I’m so glad you got your pitch in. You didn’t let it defeat you. Good luck with it!!

  14. Eileen Says:

    “What’s been happening for you? JanNo is going to carry over in to FebMo, for me, obviously. How’s your’s going? Last time we “talked” you were having a crisis of confidence. I’m going over to your blog to catch up with your stuff!”

    Emotionally, I’m down. Writing-wise, I’m even. Classes, I’m slightly behind. Work, still unemployed. The cats are being cute though! I really think I need to sleep/whine less and just get the work done. However, sleeping in and chatting about my mental state are the two things I REALLY want to do right now. lol.

  15. Lorraine Says:

    You must be so glad you emailed that pitch now! Well done and may it be the start to a much better week for you 🙂

  16. Joanne Coles Says:

    Yay, your pitch wasn’t crap at all!! Not with a big C or even a small c–you hear that?!

    I’m so pleased for you, especially after your difficult week. Best of luck with your chapter 🙂

  17. Jane Holland Says:

    Wow – well done on the pitch!


  18. Kelly Boyce Says:

    Hope this week is better!

  19. Eileen Says:

    How was this week? I know I’m just now getting around to getting stuff done. Was it better than the last one?

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