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!

So You Think You Can Write? November 21, 2010

I knew I’d neglected this blog for a while, but I’m shocked to see it’s been three months.

Warning- long ramble about my writing process and easy distractability ahead! This post could be subtitled- Ideas are NOT the problem.

It’s been a busy time- I had two weeks back home in Australia, visiting my family and taking my very English husband touring some of rural New South Wales in a tiny campervan. The campervan really was ridiculously small, and late September mornings were chilly, especially west of the Great Dividing range, but we had a marvellous road trip.

I wanted to get something in for the Mills & Boon New Voices contest, but work had  been too manic in the run up top the trip for that to be an option (12 and 13 hour work days). So on the flight over, I wrote a chapter, from scratch,  and managed to get an internet connection to post it the day before the contest closed (in a mad panic- I actually thought I scraped it in 5 minutes before the contest closed, then found out I’d messed up the time zone difference!)

Well, that was another useful exercise in what not to do! It was fun to write – I had a particular mental image that was the starting point and I then had to come up with a story line that could explain it- but Presents is sooooo not the line for me. I may still finish that story, but it’s not top on my list of priorities!

I started revising it, using it as the raw material for an online workshop I did in October with the ever fabulous Shirley Jump, but then distraction set in. A new idea, triggered by a poster I saw on my walk to the train station after work. I decided this would be my NaNo story and began to plot it and do some character development. A lot of notes and a week into NaNo, I realised I was writing the wrong story. This was part of a trilogy and I had to write her two friends’ stories first, as this story started with them both getting married in Vegas and her being left on her own, which is where the bad boy hero comes in. Of course, I could have stuck to it and kept going with the story I had, but I really really really wanted to write the stories in the “right” order. So I picked the friend whose story seemed to come first, and started it.

Well, 6,000 words in I realised I had it all wrong. It wasn’t hanging together right, the conflict was off, the hero’s distrust of the heroine was all out of proportion with the reasons for it. Then it clicked. I’d given the heroine the wrong job. She should be playing the role I’d given a minor character. With that little change, the things that weren’t working, worked. It only meant that I needed to rewrite everything I’d done so far! No great loss as it was all first draft dreck anyway and would have needed rewriting anyway. On with the story! This part of things is good- I know I write my way into the story to get to know the characters, and need to ditch most of my first 10,000 words or so. I was also reassured that a number of published writers (and prolific ones) work like that too- stop after a few chapters or however it takes to appraise what the story really is, and start over if needed.

Except then there was another distraction. My hero has two older brothers, who are both already married (well, I thought they were, turns out one is engaged). I wanted to know a little about their situation and backstory as fairly significant secondary characters, and in a Superromance these other characters and subplot are important. Before I knew it, these guys were telling me their whole stories and wanting to know why they weren’t getting theirs written before their little brother. Arrgghh! I am not stopping writing again to start over with a new story. I did take a few pages of notes and opened files for each of the brothers, and that settled them down enough to co-operate in this story. I got a bit more written. Then for some reason, I got thinking about pseudonyms for if I wanted to write hotter stories I may not want to have published under my own name (I know, a bit premature- first write the story, then find a publisher, then worry about this stuff!). So I spent hours not just deciding on a couple of names, but setting up blog sites and email accounts for the new personas too.  A bit ridiculous setting up new blogs when I haven’t posted on the one I already have for three months, but there you go, it seemed important at the time. Turns out one of them is actually very very sweet and wouldn’t write erotic romance anyway. Her blog is all pink flowers.

Then today, yet another distraction. I’d been going well, got 1600 story words. But the sexual tension between hero and heroine was just too… sexual. The sex part comes before the emotion part. Was this story perhaps a Blaze rather than a Superromance?  I thought I’d look at this month’s Blaze releases to see what sort of stories they were doing and if this had any chance of being a fit there. One phrase in one of the blurbs reminded me of a Modern Heat idea I’d had around the time of the Feel the Heat contest that had fizzled out before I even finished the first chapter, because I knew it wasn’t going to work. Suddenly, I saw exactly how it would work as a Blaze. Two page synopsis and another couple of pages of notes later, and now I have another story nagging at me to be written.

I’m not going to. I have to commit to sticking to this one I’ve already got going through to the end. Then I can give into all the lovely distracting ideas dancing through my head. I always laugh when I hear anyone say “I’d love to write but I don’t have any ideas”. Sheesh! How can that be possible? I have too many ideas! A few years ago my husband, knowing I wanted to get back into writing again, bought me a writing book for Christmas. It was, you guessed it, about generating ideas when you don’t have anything to write about. He got so upset when I kindly but firmly told him it was the last thing I needed. If however, there were any books on sticking with one idea and following through…

Anyway, the main reason to stick with one story is that I want to have something new finished, at least in first draft, to sub to the Harlequin So You Think You Can Write competition. These one chapter and synopsis contests, with a guaranteed response time, are too good an opportunity to miss. Especially as this one is at the Canadian Harlequin office. They normally only accept snail mail submissions, and I still don’t know for sure that the partial for marrying Miss Wright I sent off three months ago made it there. So I have to get “Visiting Redemption” first drafted, decide if it’s Super or Blaze, polish up the first chapter, tidy up the rough synopsis I already have, and send it off by December 15.

Then and only then, are any new ideas getting given more than an hour to write some notes.

What’s everyone else doing? (That is, if anyone ‘s visiting here after I haven’t posted for three months!) NaNo-ing? Entering SYTYCW? Too many ideas? Not enough ideas?

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Stuck, again! February 15, 2010

I’m wanting to write Meg and Nick’s story, the one I pitched to Donna Alward for her pitch contest. I need to get the first chapter done and polished to send off as she’s generously offered to still give me a critique (though I know she’s on a tight deadline this month, so maybe she won’t mind not getting it till next month!). But I’m stuck. Again.

What is it with this story? I love the characters. I love the setting. I love the whole set up. I know how to fix the first chapter. I know I need to rewrite rather than keep tweaking the existing chapter. And I’m just not doing it.

Maybe all my willpower is being used up doing Menopause Makeover  (I lost 2 pounds and even better an inch and a half from my waist in the first week, so that’s going okay). Maybe I’m just being lazy. Maybe I’m having another crisis of confidence. Maybe I know, like my Presents contest entry, I’m yet again making the story too complex and convoluted, creating something I just don’t have the skill to carry off yet.

As Donna said reunion stories are hard to write- so much backstory! Also, I feel maybe I’ve overthought it, planned all the life out of it. I’ve completely lost enthusiasm for it. On some level, it feels like the story has already been told. I feel that I need to let all the thinking I’ve done on this story sit and simmer for a while, before I write it, let all those ideas and plans sink down to a deeper level and hopefully my subconscious can play with it and turn it back into something alive again. When my colleague who’s been off sick all last month is finally back working normal hours, I’m going to take a week  of vacation, and do a personal Book in a Week. Just write this story with no time to stop and think.

 What I would love to do right now is dive in with something different, and just write like crazy. First draft without stopping to think too much and work things out. Let the characters surprise me.

I have two options, the bush nurse story, Fool’s Gold, with Kate and Adam, which would be a Super; or Nellie and Mace’s story, which was originally going to be an Modern Heat. I can see how it could be even better as a Super, because both the hero and heroine’s emotional issues are family based, and the hero just wasn’t working out for MH, which is why I shelved the idea before. I can even see how it can link in to Meg and Nick’s story, as the start is Nellie trying to get out of the city to go to a wedding out in the country, but everything goes wrong. It was going to start in London with the wedding out in the wilds of the Cambridgeshire fens, but no reason it can’t start in Sydney with the wedding in Haven Bay. Though ideas for Kate and Adam are popping up all the time too!

I hope I’m not doing a “Bright Shiny New Story” to run away from just buckling down and writing Meg and Nick! I do genuinely feel I’ll write that story better with a bit of space from all the thinking I’ve done on it.  I just hope that now I will stick with whatever story I decide to write and at least see it through first draft and not let myself be seduced again by either a new story, or one of the ones I left on the shelf for now. My characters do hate being sidelined, waiting their turn, they all want to be the star!

I can’t help feeling I am lacking in Michelle Style’s Four Ds.

 

Meanwhile, back at the ball… December 5, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:24 pm
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…Poor Emma is still stuck in Chapter 3, at the Grand Ball to present her to the people as the new Princess, wondering when Luk is going to appear.

Think I’d better stop procrastinating and go rescue her!

 

New directions or distractions?

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:50 pm
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I’m trying to decide what to do with my work in progress. Do I keep editing it to fit Presents, or do I work the story a totally different way?

I’m doing an online workshop with the fabulous Susan Meier, and one of the lessons is about how to find different directions for stories that aren’t working. There are so many possibilities for any story! Doing it Presents style is only one of then for Luk and Emma. And I am so tempted by those possibilities, as I have been right from when I started this story.

What I need to do is decide what I want to do. Where do I want this story to go? How committed am I to targeting it at Presents.

I need to decide if writing for Presents is really my dream. If is is, I need to go for it. If it’s not, maybe I need to reconsider, do just what I played with in the last post, and take the story in a different direction.

I know it’s my friend Maisey’s dream, which is why it’s so fab she has this two book contract. It’s the dream of a couple of others in the writing group, so I hope they get good news from the contest. But is it my dream?

I’m just not sure. I drifted into targeting the line because I like the books, they had the contests, and all my writing buddies were aiming for Harlequin (that’s how we got together, actually, on the I Heart Presents blog). And I mean, Harlequin- the Holy Grail of romance! How could anyone serious about getting published in romance not target Harlequin? I must have read thousands across all the lines over the years. Plus I had the compliments slip from the first contest, and I wanted to use it.

When I was planning Luk and Emma’s story, it was meant to be Presents, but all sorts of fantasy elements tried to creep in. I had a fun weekend of worldbuilding and gave the island all sorts of myths and legends and its own creatures and magic places, before I realised I wasn’t going to use any of that.

When I finished the first draft of this story, it was a mess, a lot longer than it should have been and with a lot of scenes (whole chapters!) that would have to be cut out to fit Presents. I wanted to do it as a romantic women’s fiction single title (aka chick-lit, but it’s not done to call it that any more, is it, since we all overdosed on pink covers with high heels on them) instead, but my crit group convinced me to stick with Presents, and I had lots of good reasons to do that.

But ever since I decided to go for Presents, I’ve wanted to do it differently! Do the fun “Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Princess I Learned from Grace Kelly” version. Or the one that used all that worldbuilding and the myths and legends that told psychological truths about relationships, where magic is real and Royals have healing hands and the Melusine the island is named after still lives in her enchanted pool.

Maybe this is all a diversion, of course. Maybe this is another manifestation of the Bright Shiny New Story syndrome that stopped me from finishing anything for a long time. Harder to spot, and more seductive, as I can tell myself it’s not a new story at all, just a different version of the same story. Another way of coping with fear of failure.

Sour grapes- “It doesn’t matter if I get an R from the competition, because I never really wanted to write for Presents anyway.”

Damn! That’s it. Not a good reason to switch story type and start over. I don’t think I’d be writing this if I’d had a call from Richmond last week telling me I was the winner or runner up in the contest. That tells me all I need to know. My idea to rewrite the story is a way of trying to protect myself by telling myself I don’t care.

Of course I care!

I don’t want to quit for the wrong reasons. I’ve got to finish the Presents version, even if just to show myself I can stick to a project through to completion.

And- it’s fun. I want to write a Presents story. All through my teens and twenties and into my thirties, all I wanted was to write for Harlequin Mills and Boon. That hasn’t changed. This is just a weird form of psychological body armour.

I can always do the fantasy story later. And the women’s fiction one. Right now, it’s Presents.

My husband is right.

I really am crazy! All this to decide to do what I was planning to do all along.

Take that, Bright Shiny New Story Syndrome (*kicks it in its nasty little guts*)- foiled your sneaky attack!

 

November 1 November 1, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:12 pm
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Means NaNoWriMo!

I wasn’t going to do it this year. I set myself the goal of rewriting/editing Luk and Emma’s story instead, just in case I got a full request. Did not want to have to say to a lovely Mills and Boon editor “Well, um, the thing is, the rest of my story is a 60,000 word pile of steaming cow dung and it won’t be ready to submit for at least three months.” I was planning to go with The Intern and do NaNoReVisMo. Get The Playboy’s  Virgin Princess Bride (or whatever I’m calling Luk and Emma at the moment) at least second drafted all the way through. It would be a valuable learning experience, for sure.

But… but…

I’m so frigging bored with Luk and Emma’s story! I really really really want to start something new. Or even better, something old/new, like the Australian bush nurse story I started back in 2000 or 2001. And lets face it, what are the odds of getting a full request on Luk and Emma? I will be sooooooo mad if I spend another month on them and then get a skinny little R thanks but no thanks email in December. I don’t want another “learning experience”, I want to have some fun writing new characters in a new situation.

Would it really be so bad to let Luk and Emma sit for a month, and dive into a new story?

Or is this just another completion avoidance technique? I actually adore Luk and Emma. I want to give them their HEA. I’m gonna feel so bad if I just leave them dangling ‘cos I wanna run off and play with some newer shiny characters and have that lovely getting-to-know-you, falling in love thing all over again.

Do you know what I just realised the fear is? I don’t want to read any further into my first draft of Luk and Emma. ‘Cos I don’t want to have to deal with what a mess it really is. It’s easier to start something new. It’s less scary to start something new.

Okay. Now I know why I’ve been procrastinating all day.

Luk and Emma it is.

 

Back- and procrastinating again (surprise surprise!) October 10, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 7:14 am
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I’m back from a fab but too short trip to Australia. Both wonderful and strangely disconcerting seeing family again (ten years older) and revisiting all the old places. Odd staying in my parents home, being a child again. My very English husband surprised me by decing he seriously wants to emigrate.

My body clock is taking a while to recover. I fell asleep exhausted at 9pm last night, only to wake at 1am, ping, wide awake. I lay in the dark trying to get back to sleep for hours, but no luck. My mind is racing with ideas, both writing and non-writing. Too many to be practical, as always. I have that paralysis of wanting to do five things at once, and as I can’t, I spin my wheels and do nothing while I plan. Great way to procrastinate while feeling like I am actually doing something!

 

Non- writing ideas-

  • the  lagenlook style travel wardrobe I designed and made myself worked so well I’m wondering if I can make a little business making and selling a small range of clothes for lusciously curvy women like me who can’t find anything suitable in the shops. That kept my brain busy for a few hours
  • to fund this- I’m considering selling all the collectable books in my Amazon shop (and all the ones that I haven’t got around to relisting) off on ebay
  • once my elderly mother-in-law doesn’t need us nearby anymore, dh and I may well move back to Australia. So hours of time-wasting fun there looking at property prices and job options and discovering how hard or easy it would be to get permanent residency for English dh.

Writing ideas (yes, there are some!)-

  • rewrite Luk and Emma’s story, using the new ideas I had just before I went away on overcoming the problems of the passivity of the heroine, and the almost too-stupid-to-live plot requirement I was forcing on them. I wrote some more notes on this on the flight over, and think it will work. Luk’s intrusion into her life introduces her to a new world, where she suddenly discovers her power as an attractive woman and is revelling in it. She’s still an innocent inexperienced girl, but sexy and sassy in a sweet naïve way that sends Luk crazy. Needs to be kept very light in tone- this is to be a Modern Heat not a Presents. Luk is 100% alpha, but a slightly softer alpha. Play up the fairytale craziness of it all. Play up that although he has the money and the worldly power, she has the power to arouse his passion and his emotions like no other woman ever has. I also firmed up the black moment and resolution, which was both fuzzy and a little corny before (though I still kinda like the corny resolution!). I’d love to write the first chapter and synopsis for the HMB comp. Which reminds me, must check the deadline for entries!
  • still playing with my other potential MH idea, also a possible for the comp, Mace and Nell’s story. No real new ideas there, but the old idea still seems a goer. I like these characters a lot.
  • tonight’s addition to the mix jumped into my mind from out of nowhere (well, maybe from the thought I’d like to write an Australian set story, and this story has sat simmering on a very back burner for ages). It’s a potential solution to the problems of a story about a nurse in a small rural town, that I plotted and started but never completed back in 2001. Eventually I gave up after rewriting the first chapter several times because I just couldn’t get it to work. (I didn’t know it then, but the problem was the usual beginner writer one- started waaaaaay too early, no wonder it was dull and lifeless!). Also, I created a ridiculously complex plotline, with far too much external conflict, and zero internal conflict. Well, I know how to fix it, I hope. I have simplified the plot, while keeping in the key external elements. And hurray, we have internal conflict! Another concern with it (besides all I just mentioned!) is that even if I wrote it right, it didn’t seem to fit anywhere. Certainly not for any of Mills and Boon’s lines, anyway. It’s got medical elements, but it’s really NOT a Medical; it could be a Sweet, but then I’d have to take out the skinny dipping and the sex; and it is definitely not a Presents or MH, the country setting and storyline don’t work there at all. I think I just realised- it could be a Little Black Dress. As long as they don’t think “We have our Australian writer in Janet Gover, don’t need another one” (the reason M&B rejected Nora Roberts- not that I’m any Nora). Oh, and that minor matter of actually writing the thing and getting it right this time! The longer word count will allow more of the external events I really want to have to stay in the story, not to mention the cast of secondary characters I’d have to kill off for a shorter romance. Very tempted to start this one. But then I won’t be entering the competition.

Now we come to the moment of truth. I didn’t submit to Feel the Heat last year, using the excuse of too much going on at work (true, but still an excuse). I’ve successfully avoided finishing anything I felt was ready to submit with the compliments slip from the Instant Seduction comp. I didn’t submit to the NWS this year, deciding Luk and Emma’s story was too fatally flawed to be worth sending in. Now this new-old story idea will distract me from this year’s HMB Presents/Modern Heat comp.

How long am I going to keep playing this game of not finishing properly and therefore not submitting anything? I know exactly what I’m doing, it’s a ploy to escape submitting anything anywhere, so I don’t have to deal with the pain of being told my writing isn’t good enough. So I can keep on being a wannabee and a couldabeen. Crap. I know I’m not ready for publication right now. My writing really isn’t good enough yet. I also know I am learning, and if I keep writing, one day, I will be there.

But how will I ever realise I’ve cracked it, if I can’t get over this fear of rejection along the way? How will I get feedback on my writing? How will I ever get published, if I won’t send anything off? Maybe if I just keep writing for my own enjoyment, one day I’ll feel I’m ready to do it, eventually I’ll hit that Send button. Maybe.

Or maybe I can make a commitment right now to growing myself as a person and a writer, and just doing it. Soon. Tidy up Luk and Emma’s first chapter. Redo the synopsis. Hit Send. Then play with the other ideas.

 

It’s done! June 20, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:24 pm
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Phew.

I can’t find a picture to illustrate quiet satisfaction. Not fireworks, not champagne corks popping. Just a quiet sense of “I’ve done it.”

The first draft is finished. More or less. I confess, a little bit of fudging was involved. I wrote the last resolution scene in full, then went back and simply did extended outlines for the one or two chapters that preceed that. But the story is told.

It feels good. Bloody good, actually!

Now the real challenge- editing some sort of coherent story out of the 60,000 word mess I’ve created!