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!

Warning- long confusing post on pitching! February 2, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:14 am
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I owe a load of apologies to all the people who commented on my last entry and didn’t get replies! Sorry to be so rude. I just got back from a week away for a work conference, where I had hardly any time for essential emails, let alone blogging.

Actually, I’m lying when I say I just got back, I just woke up from the sleep I needed after travelling for over 24 hours.

Memo to self- booking a late departing flight on the basis you can sightsee all day and then sleep on the plane is NOT a good idea.  Reasons:

1. You never really sleep on planes, no matter how tired you are. And those over the counter sleeping tablets just make you fuzzy headed;

2. Even if you could sleep on planes, you had to change flights at Dubai in the middle of the night. Even though you are just going from one side of the terminal to another you discover that you and the other thousand people transferring flights there at  1am will have to queue and queue and queue some more to have your bags checked again to be allowed to do that;

3. You will become one of those people you always mutter at when you are on your commute,  traveling with a suitcase on the packed full rush hour Underground, as no matter how you think it will work out invariably the Airport Express train will deliver you to an insanely busy station at an insanely busy time. Where you have to struggle though crowds to even get onto the platform. Wait and let several trains go without even trying to get on they are so full. When finally one arrives with just enough space you can almost squeeze yourself and the bag into, you will need to get off at every stop along the way so other passengers can get off, then you will get your suitcase stuck in the closing doors when you try to get back on again.

Actually, Bangkok was excellent. Wonderful hotel that I could never afford to stay in if I was paying and not my company! Interesting conference learning loads and meeting with some of the other nurses who work  all over the world for our massive US employer. I still had sinusitis and a deep cough that made people turn and look at me on the flight and in the conference, despite loads of cough medicine and a second course of antibiotics. I almost lost my voice, and needed to crash into bed as soon as the conference programme finished on a couple of nights. Even so, we got to explore the city enough to feel I had a good experience of it. I’d love to go back.

In amongst of all this came the email that I was lucky enough to be chosen by Donna as one of the finalists in her pitch contest!

Shocked was not the word. “Whaaaaaaaaaat?” was the word. My crap with a capital C pitch? She liked it? She liked it enough to pick it? OMG OMG OMG, she liked it! Happy dancing around the room.  Tell my husband, who’s pleased for me but doesn’t quite get why I’m bouncing off the walls with glee.  Scrape myself together enough to start thinking about the reality of this. She needs the first chapter. In four days. Insert expletive of your choice here: Oh —-.

Major panic!  I knew even before Donna asked for the chapter it needed a rewrite because my ideas for the story had changed. I was hopelessly confused!

I’d already realised things were moving too fast for the events of chapter one to be their first meeting, they needed to have somehow met before.  That was what kept stopping me in my tracks as I was writing originally, the thing that felt “off”.  It wasn’t realistic for my heroine to be jumping into a fling quite that fast with a stranger. I know it happens, and I’ve read many fab stories with that as the starting point. But not my heroine, not with her history. I had thought that him being a stranger, only in her town for a few days, was enough to make it safe for her to let go and have her fling. (It could work that way for a different heroine, and that’s given me a whole different story idea!) But I didn’t feel comfortable as I was writing it, kept stretching it out and stretching it out to keep anything from happening between them. He had to NOT be a stranger, as well as only in town for a short time, for it to work for this heroine. So even if I keep the start where it is, which means most of what I already wrote is usable as a first draft, the backstory of that previous time together needed to be dripped in. I thought I had a plan. Let’s call it Plan A.

The process of writing the pitch clarified a lot more about the story and what the main conflicts are. I felt that the story  actually needed to begin later, start when the action really starts, when she has to go back to him some time later to ask his help to save the home that means more than anything to her. The first part, where they have their fling, is lovely but tension free. They meet again, they have a fling, they part. That’s nice, but it’s not enough. So everything I had already written was not story at all but back story. I’d written myself in, as a way of getting to know the characters and their situation, but needed a whole new chapter one. Well, that’s okay too, as part of my writing process, though I was going to have to write fast to have anything to send Donna (at that stage of course I didn’t know I was going to be a finalist, but the thought that I might be was a powerful motivation!). Getting that done a tight time frame when I was travelling and doing and intense conference and still ill would be difficult but maybe not quite impossible. I had a new plan, Plan B. This was the one to go with!

Then after rethinking it over the weekend, I couldn’t see that working. For story reasons not only time craziness reasons. I decided to start it where I presently do but compress the time frame between the fling and her needing him. I couldn’t see how leaving out the early development of their relationship would work (again, I can see stories where it could work very well, but maybe not for these characters in this situation). She’s spent her life avoiding intimacy, and has so much conflict over even allowing him into her life for three days. That could be another reason the story was stalling initially. Even if she knows him already from a previous meeting, I don’t think they can jump straight into sexual intimacy. That needs to build slower, she has to have more time to overcome her resisitance and feel safe and comfortable with him.  So maybe that part of the story needs to be included. It felt just too big for the heroine to be workable as backstory. A better and more experienced writer than me could probably manage it, but I’m not sure I could pull it off.  Plan B, to start latter, went in the “Ideas not used” file.  I was going back to Plan A Version 2, start with the fling, but deepen the conflict and intensity. Still almost impossible in the time, but maybe more possible. On the flight on Monday I did some planning for whether that would work as a whole story, roughly plotted it out. It looked good, so I started to rewrite Chapter One.  Then when we were changing flights I had time and internet access to go online. I checked my emails. There was one from Donna, asking for chapter one by Friday, and including her feedback on my pitch.

OMG and not in a good way. She strongly advised starting later in the story!

This stalled me. Total confusion. Do I go ahead with what I’m doing, despite it contradicting Donna’s advice, or do I rethink yet again and go with Plan B? By this stage it was the early hours of Tuesday morning. I was on the transfer between flights in Dubai with another seven hours travel ahead of me. I was exhausted, and I’d got sicker on the flight. I had a busy week of conference between arriving and the end of the week, attendance at all sessions compulsory.  I’d taken my husband with me and he knew no-one there, so I would have to spend some time with him in the evenings after leaving him by himself all day.  Me sitting in the corner with my laptop writing while he watched Thai TV was not going to cut it. Then, when we got to the plane I was put in a seat separate from my husband, a seat where I couldn’t plug my laptop in, and my battery was almost flat. No chance to write. And I needed to have a chapter by Friday. Preferably neither the one I had or the one I was working on. The chances of getting a chapter done were poor to start with, now they looked non-existent. I did what any sensible person would. The ostrich approach. Two glasses of wine with the airline meal and try to nap.

By the time we got to the hotel I had a fever and felt far more ill. I went to the nearest pharmacy, where she prescribed me another course of antibiotics. Back to the room to try to sleep. It was early next day before I properly woke up,  and considered my options. They didn’t look good.

What I had as my existing first chapter was passable. It was readable, competently written but dull, full of backstory in internal monologue (a big issue of mine!).  There’s no spark or real emotion. It’s just he said, she said; he did this, she did that. Of course, it’s only first draft. I’ve read several authors  say they need four or five or even more to layer everything in, and the first draft is just what I’m seeing and not liking in mine. But I didn’t want to send Donna first draft, especially first draft that I knew was missing important pieces of backstory and conflict I felt I now knew how to add. No point getting feedback on something I knew was broken, as chances were much of what she wrote to me would tell me what I already knew.

To to rewrite using Plan B, which would also be following Donna’s advice, was the most sensible approach, but it just wasn’t possible in the time frame.

All that was left was was the way I at least had started, Plan A Version 2. Which very probably wouldn’t work, and most likely wasn’t doable in time either. It was really the only choice if I wanted to submit something I could get meaningful feedback on.  But it went against what Donna advised. I felt deeply ambivalent about sending someone I hoped would mentor me a piece of writing that appeared to ignore what she was suggesting. That felt wrong. My feeling that this was the best way to solve the story problems and make it work was shaken too. I still really wanted to try this way anyway, even knowing it may not work and I’d end up having to do it the other way. The best way I learn is to experiment, try out different methods to see what works for me. It’s sometimes a good fast method, sometimes a slow and inefficent method, but once I learn something  this way I can really take that and apply it. Anyway, I’d made a decision. This was the version I wanted feedback for. I wrote when I could, bits here and there, but the time ran out.

The outcome was, it wasn’t even half-way done with the chapter by the Friday night deadline. I emailed Donna to let her know I couldn’t submit anything in the time frame and put myself out of the running. She agreed to still give me a critique when I am able to send it, so that is fabulous in itself, even though I missed the chance of longer term feedback. Soraya, who won, is a Romance writer at a stage where she’s very close to cracking it, just the right place to get best benefit from Donna’s mentorship. I think I’m at an earlier stage where I need to learn more craft and develop my voice more first. I need to feel free to make mistakes without feeling like I am wasting someone else’s time too, if that makes sense.  Part of what made me panic wasn’t just the not having a chapter ready, it was also the feeling of “I’m not ready for this!” Maybe next year, if Donna is generous enough to offer so much of her time to run this contest again, I might have a chance to enter again, and be able to make better use of an opportunity like this if I was chosen…

Anyway this has been a big learning experience. I feel a lot better now  (as I wrote that I woke my husband up with my coughing, but I am a lot better!), so I can get that chapter done and sent off to Donna. I’ve had some lovely positive feedback, which is always a good thing.  I had a go at something, and got surprising results. My big take home lesson from this is- do not enter pitch contests thinking “I’ll just get some feedback on my pitch.” You may just get a lovely complete surprise that will throw you into a total panic. This would have been a totally stress free experience if I’d had the chapter ready to sub if needed before I hit send on the pitch. I was wrong  thinking that she wouldn’t want my chapter anyway, so it was safe. Admittedly, the process of doing the pitch was what made me realise just how much more work my chapter needed. I’m not sorry I entered, I just wish I’d been better prepared. I will certainly think twice about entering the online pitch contest for Superromance on eHarlequin, unless some miracle happens giving me time to get it finished by the end of the month (that’s the whole story, not just chapter one, I think even I can manage one chapter in a month!).

I think my other lesson and the biggest one I’m only just realising through writing this is a deeper one. I wimped out when it came to the crunch. Maybe if I’d really pushed myself I could have got the chapter writen and submitted. Or maybe I am being too tough on myself. All the above reasons I couldn’t get the chapter done are also true. It’s useful as a writer to be honest about internal motivations though- I know what stopped me making that push to do it. It would have been bloody hard, but it wasn’t impossible. The truth is, the prize frightened me. It felt like pressure, expectations. With their positive flip sides- accountability, needing to show up in my writing and not run away from emotion. I’m not sure where to go with that now, but it could be that just being aware is enough to start to change it, enough to help me dig deep and find the real emotions I want to be there in my writing.

A few people on the contest thread at eHarl wanted to see the finallist’s pitches and Donna’s feedback, so I’ll post those separately. This post is plenty long enough already!

 

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.

 

Reading, reading, reading…but not writing September 12, 2009

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:47 pm
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Okay, I confess. I’ve been a total slacker and have done no writing at all this week.

I feel strangely relaxed, like a kid let out of school. I know I’ll start writing again soon, the characters will start nagging me to write their story! But in the meantime, I’m realising just how much pressure I was putting on myself to write.

Somehow, I need to find a balance. Find a way to write regularly and consistently, but without turning it into a miserable, creativity-destroying chore. Somehow, find the joy in writing again. I don’t know how to do that yet. I do know that lately I’ve seen writing as a  miserable task to be completed, rather than a pleasure, apart from the odd moments when I’m in the flow and the words just come like magic.

In the meantime, I’m happy planning a trip back to Australia in a couple of weeks, sewing a suitcase full of clothes to wear (loving expressing that very practical side of my creativity again!), and reading plenty to refill the well.

I just found this link to ten free Mills and Boon ebooks, to celebrate a year of them doing ebooks. Yay! More fab books to read!  And there’s a Modern Heat from Heidi Rice in there! I’m even happier to see they support Mobipocket, the ebook format I use on my PDA so I can read on my commute or wherever, without filling my already ridiculously overloaded bag with paperback books  (I really do carry the biggest tote in the world to work with me everyday!).

So thank you M&B.

 

On not writing August 16, 2009

Filed under: General strangeness of life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:26 pm
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I’ve been feeling low. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, maybe it’s because I’m post-viral, maybe it’s because I’m staring down the barrel of 50, and I haven’t achieved a single one of my life goals. Yeah, that’s it,because just writing it makes me want to well up in pathetic self-pitying tears.
 
I also think I have gone very wrong with my writing. I’m trying to write what I think I “should” write, not allowing myself to discover what comes naturally for me.
 
I know I need to just drop Luk and Emma’s story and start on the next one. Luk and Emma’s story has served it’s purpose. It was a learner story, not one that was ever meant to be submitted. I only started it because I hate those royalty stories second only to sheik stories (though I’ve read some good stories of both, I think it’s such a crazily unreal premise), and wanted to see if I could do one. Then I made that promise to my writing group that I would finish it, so I’ve kept going with it long after I wanted to dump it. Quite simply, the story sucks, because it hinges on the hero doing something too stupid- losing control and kissing the heroine where they could be seen, in the town square the night she is announced as the next princess. He just wouldn’t do that, no matter how tempted he was, because what he stood to lose was too important to him. To avoid that I created a whole convoluted kidnap thing, as a device to force them to spend the night together. But for that to work, the heroine has to do the stupid thing and run away and get herself lost. Only way to avoid that is to have a real villain kidnap her, but then that got even more complicated, with the villain a more interesting character than the hero. So I went back to the first idea, but I keep getting stuck on the fact that my hero would simply never make that mistake.

This story was never going to work, because I started with a premise and then tried to create the characters to fit it. I like Emma, but Luk has never felt real to me. It might conceivably work redone in first person, purely Emma’s POV, in a more chick-lit style. That idea excites me. If Luk doesn’t have to explain why he does something so out of character as kiss Emma in public, because the reader is in her head only, reeling with her shock and surprise, it could possibly work. I like the way what goes on inside the hero’s heart and head is a mystery in first person heroine POV, it’s more the feel of old romances before hero’s POV came in. Less emotional intensity, but more like real life.
 
Our lives are already too full of miserable things that have to be done, whether we like then or not. Writing was starting to feel like yet another one. I am going to forget about the NWS. There’s no point putting in a crappy story that bores me silly- what’s the point of wasting the reader’s time giving a critique unless I intend to follow through?

The idea of rewriting Luk and Emma in first person is interesting, and I’m tempted to do it, though maybe that’s just an avoidance strategy so I don’t start on Nell and Mace’s story.

On the plus side, taking the weekend off from writing has let me do the big clear-up at home I’ve known for ages was desperately needed, but had been putting off so I could write. I’ve thrown out loads of old paperwork I’d been saving for some unknown reason (every bank statement since I arrived in the UK thirteen years ago, for example- why?), and rearranged my bookshelves. I had dusty books packed solid two deep on the shelves in my bedroom, but the new shelves in the hall and the sitting room I put up months ago were inexplicably empty.

I’m hoping this represents something symbolic, some sort of getting my house in order on an inner level too.

 

Giving up or giving in? August 15, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:33 am
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stress_reduction_kitI’m in a funny mood today, and not ha ha.
I don’t think I want to keep doing this. The chase for publication I mean, not writing.
It’s just too much work, and it takes all the fun out of writing. I know my writing is still a long way off being ready for acceptance by M&B, and even if it was, it won’t necessarily get any easier. It’s still all waits and rejections and needing to meet deadlines and having to write what the editors want to meet contracts. 
I feel like I have enough s**t in my life without adding pushing to get published as well.
All writing is for me at the moment is guilt.
I’m tired of getting home from work at 7.30, exhausted and brainfried, and feeling guilty that I want to relax, not jump into edits. I’m tired of spending my too short precious weekends feeling guilty about doing anything other than writing.
So I’m calling a time out. I don’t care if I don’t put anything in for the NWS, don’t mind not entering the Presents/Modern comp. I just want to try to get my life back, or some little bit of it anyway, rather than have nothing but work, or chasing an elusive and distant dream.
Maybe that makes me a wimp who just isn’t tough enough for the real world of writing. Maybe it makes me a dilettante who just wants to play at writing. Whatever. I don’t much care.
I’m hoping that in some perverse reverse-psychology way, I’ll do more writing this way. I need to get my joy in writing back, need it to be something I want to do again. Not just yet another pressure to perform I put on myself.
I get more than enough of that in my day job.
So today, I’m not going to sit at my laptop all afternoon. I’m going shopping. I want to wander round the shops. Look at shoes and clothes. Buy some books. Sit and indulge myself in the simple pleasure of losing myself in another writer’s created world and characters.
And not feel any guilt that I’m not spending that time on mine.
 

Agency pitch contest March 29, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:08 pm
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Thought I’d post this here in case anyone who visits hasn’t seen it elsewhere- a fab opportunity for anyone with a single title story ready to go. The Knight Agency is running a “Book in a Nutshell” competition- send in a 150 word pitch for your story, it has the chance of winning representation by the agency. They handle a range of genres including romance and women’s fiction, paranormal, suspense. The twenty best pitches will be invited to submit a full for consideration. Heres the link to the announcement on their blog. Closing date is 20th April.

I’m not planning on entering as I don’t have anything single title in remotely submittable form. My chick-lit JanNo is still a first draft disaster area, I’ve got so bogged down with my WiP I haven’t even started to edit it yet.  But go for it guys and girls who do!

Hmm, I am so tempted to take a break from my princess story and play with the older story for a month. I can justify it- I’ll come back fresh to my WiP and actually make some progress, plus I wanted to edit my JanNo for my RNA New Writers’ Scheme entry. Decisions, decisions! The girls in my writing group will probably murder me if I take time off the WiP now, I did promise I would keep going ’til I first drafted it. Problem is, I am stuck. I’ve been going round and round in circles on this same story since December, I’ve written God knows how many words on it, probably fifty thousand counting all my agonising about the plot as well as the twenty something thousand of story, and I’m still only on chapter two! For the fourth time. Ack! Maybe the private jet taking them to Melusia can crash and they can all die, and I can start another story!

Tempting, but I guess not. I do like to keep my promises. This is a good question though- when should we give up on a story that sounded promising but ends up going nowhere?

Anyway,  even if I’m going to stay with the current story, working up a pitch will be helpful. It’s a useful exercise thinking how I can summarise my story in a 150 words or less. Asking- what is the essence of my story, my characters, their relationship blocks and conflicts?  To have distilled the key features of the story down to a few words should help me to stay focused, when I’m going adrift in my writing.

I seriously need to do it now, to get that strong handle on what is essential to my plot, what has to happen for each character to reach their HEA. I love thinking up new ideas, digging deep into my characters, but can end up losing focus, making things too complex and messy and diffuse, having too much external stuff happening and neglecting the internal conflict, where the real emotional intensity lives. I need to go back and not just read but do what Laurie Campbell describes in this article on putting together a Pitch . I am sooooo bad for that, reading some fab advice but failing to ever follow up by doing something about it!

 

Oops, wrong life choice! February 7, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:15 pm
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2008 was an interesting year. “Interesting” in the sense of that Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

Started off pretty good. I’d got back into my writing again and was loving it, and had a great job that I enjoyed with a work schedule that gave me plenty of time and energy to write when I wasn’t at my job. I finished a 50,000 word story for JanNo, then got stuck into my new story for the Instant Seduction competition. Things looked good, and I was well on target for my goal of completing four stories in the year. Then big changes happened at the Day Job. The small friendly health care company I worked for was taken over by a giant much less friendly one. I was asked to take on a different role, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for. In the space of a couple of months, my dream job morphed into the Job that Ate My Life. Instead of writing stories, I was writing a massive software user guide and training manual, and designing and delivering a completely new three week training programme for new staff. Even worse, I knew that once I had done my job well and delivered the training to enough staff working for the new company at the new site, chances were our small centre would be shut down and the team disbanded. Not a happy time, and not much writing got done. I guessed when I thought the redundancies would happen, researched the likely payoff staff would be given, and it didn’t seem worth waiting for the axe to fall.

So I jumped before I was pushed, and accepted a new job offer one week before the sacking of our entire team was announced. Duh! I really misjudged the timing, and the financial cost of that decision. Not only did it happen months earlier than I thought, the big nasty company actually were very generous in the payouts they offered staff, paying far more than the legal minimum. If I’d waited a week to resign I would have got a juicy package that would have made a biiiiiiig difference to our finances, especially as my husband worked in the same team and was made redundant too but for complex contract reasons got a much smaller payout.

And now three months into the new job I am realising I’ve made a massive mistake. This job is if anything even more life devouring than the old one was! Interesting role, great team, fantastic opportunities for education and career progression. Ten or fifteen years ago, when I was a bit more ambitious and career orientated, it would have been the perfect job for me. Now, it’s just not what I want. At the time I thought it was what I wanted, but I was wrong. I don’t want a job that takes 12 hours out of my day. I don’t want a job that needs me to study and research in my own time. I don’t want a job where I come home worrying about my patients and waking up dreaming about them. I don’t want a job that allows me to make excuses about having no time to write.

Oops, wrong life choice! So easy to make these decisions which aren’t aligned to our real goals. I even spent some time telling myself that I really didn’t have the talent to write, so I should just give up on writing and make the most of the new job. It really is a fabulous job after all. Plus I don’t want to let the team down. I don’t want to let my patients down. I don’t want to feel that I haven’t kept my end of the bargain with my employer, having gone into the interviews happy and optimistic and “Yes, I can do this!” I don’t want to have to admit that I tried something and I failed, that it was just too hard for me. And I do still have to earn enough money to keep this household going, so taking time out to focus on writing isn’t an option. No guarantee that if I find another job it won’t turn out to be the same.

But I feel the decision has been made now. I really do know what is right for me. I’m going to look for a different job and resign. I spoke to my manager a couple of weeks ago, discussed my concerns that it wasn’t the job for me, allowed myself to be easily convinced that I was expecting too much of myself, it was early days, stick in there. Last weekend, out for coffee with a girlfriend, we talked about this, and it was the opposite way around. She was all for me going for another job, I argued myself out of it and decided no, I should stay. It’s the “shoulds” not the “wants tos” that are keeping me there. I know it’s not the job that is right for me, right now.

Do I have the courage to admit I made a mistake, to stop now before both my employer (in expensive training) and I put any more energy into this wrong choice. Can I go back, try again with another less demanding job, make writing my primary focus? Because that’s a risky choice. If I relegate writing to the sidelines, to the cracks and crevices, and get nowhere with it, I can go on being a wannabe and a couldabeen. I can still always wonder if I might have succeeded if only life circumstances had been different, can still kid myself that I do have the talent, I just didn’t have the time.

The flip side of that, if I commit to my writing and go for it wholeheartedly, is that if I still don’t get published, I have to accept that I just don’t have it. That I really don’t have that indefinable something that makes one writer’s stories a must read and another’s with the same premise ho hum. If I go for it, there are no more excuses.

That’s scary. Very scary.