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!

Fairy Dust? I want some of that! June 26, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:54 am
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One of my crit buddies Robyn has a don’t-miss post on the nature of inspiration over on the Seven Sassy Sisters blog today. Where do those magical, out-of-nowhere ideas come from?

Her Fairy Dust angel has to be seen to be believed…

I had my own fairy dust moment this week (missed seeing the angel, unfortunately!) while struggling with the synopsis for Marrying Ms Wright. One key thing that will hopefully fix my worst plot holes and “characters acting out of character” problems from the first draft.

Yippee! Hope it works!


Getting the form April 10, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:41 pm
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Image from Hoarded Ordinaries


I haven’t done any actual writing this week at all. Not one story word.

What I have done is a lot of thinking about the essential elements of a romance story, and a lot of working out what needs to happen in the Work in Progress.

I don’t want to plot it to death, but I’ve been feeling lost without a road map, and I’ve gone down too may tracks that turned out to be dead ends with this story.

My writing group think I’m being a perfectionist, trying to come up with the “perfect” story.  They could be right. But I think what I am trying to do is really get to the heart of what a romance story is, what needs to be there to make it a strong and effective story. What are the core elements? How do they fit togther? How do I handle POV, and the balance between the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey?


Some writers seem to have it already internalised- perhaps quite unconsciously, absorbed from reading lots of stories.  I just don’t feel that I’ve got it yet. Maybe it’s magical thinking but I feel that once I get a deep understanding, the writing will just flow. I have the ideas, but I don’t know how to build the framework to hold them. This is an exercise in frame building, not just for this story but for all my stories.
I don’t feel stuck or frustrated with this process at the moment.   It’s all good stuff.  What has been frustrating is all this writing myself into a dead end stuff. I’m thinking I might do Book in a Week with this story. I get to spend three weeks planning, then a week writing first draft as fast as I can without thinking too much about it at all! If the plan isn’t working, don’t stop, just keep writing. But I don’t want to waste too much of that time writing stuff that is going nowhere.
I was like this at school. I could not write an essay to save my life, because I didn’t understand the form and what it was all about. One day it just clicked, and after that I could write an essay on just about any topic that would be sure to get good enough marks. I need the same inner conceptual shift to happen for romance writing. It’s that “aha” moment, when it all just falls into place, and once it happens, you’ve always got that skill or knowledge. I haven’t had that yet. I had it for essays at school, I had it for short stories at uni. Now I need to have it for romance writing.
The thing with romance writing is that though it’s not formulaic, there is a form. Once I have that clear in my mind, I can give shape to my ideas by using that to guide them. I’m too wild and all over the place at the moment. My imagination is undisciplined, it needs something to contain it, to guide it into shape.  There’s this essential balance between ideas, creativity, and individual voice on one side, which needs to be a bit wild and undisciplined; and the form of a story that the reader can relate to and understand on the other. Either one without the other is not a complete story.
My JanNo was a mess, all over the place, three different stories in one. My IS entry was more writing to what I thought were the conventions of the Presents form without real ideas to back it up. And sadly, I haven’t written anything that’s gone past three chapters in the year since getting my IS feedback.
Part of that is fear- if I finish and submit something I risk another rejection. Part of that is just that 2008 was a really crappy year when it was a challenge to get much writing done. And part of that is that I still don’t fully understand what makes a working romance story tick.
Overcoming the fear will just be a matter of doing it. Hopefully with my next job move I will overcome some of the work demands using up my brain. And right now I am focusing on the third problem, just not have a clear enough idea of what I am trying to do.
I have that lovely feeling of teetering on the brink of a breakthrough, I’ve almost got it, I’m almost there. And once it happens- WHAM! My ideas will be shaped by clarity and understanding. I will be able to let my writing just flow, with a form to contain and guide it.
Of course if I am still stuck in this process of working things out in a month’s time, our writing group’s disciplinarian had better start polishing those whips. ‘Cos then it’s clear it’s just another strategy to avoid actually writing. I really don’t believe it is.

Getting unstuck March 29, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:45 pm
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000-title-page-detail-angel-with-whip-q75-449x500Hmm, thinking about that pitch contest and my frustrations with the current story has me ready to, well, probably not give up, but definitely take some time out. A looooong time out.

It’s official- I hate Luk and Gabi. I just want to put them in a car and drive it off a cliff into the sea, and type The End.
Well, not really. I actually like both of them a lot. But I am so fed up with struggling with their freaking going-nowhere story! I’ve done no other writing apart from their story for nearly four months, and where am I up to? Half way through chapter two, for the fourth time! Arrrggghhh!
I really do want to just stop, have a break from them. Spend a week doing no writing but lots of reading, or go back and edit last years JanNo, or play around with some different story ideas, or something. Anything that’s not this story!
But maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll keep going with it. Thinking about how I would pitch the story, not just for a contest but for my writing group,  just gave me an idea for what the story might need. Because if I can’t get the essence of the story in a few simple sentences, my plot is too convoluted and the characters’ internal conflicts aren’t central enough to the story.
Funny how giving myself permission to moan and say I want to stop produces more ideas! Looks like I didn’t really want to give up, I just wanted to get unstuck.
Hopefully this idea will make sense of things that didn’t make sense in the story once I took out the villain. He needed to go, he was becoming too much the driver of the action rather than the H and h, but then I didn’t have a strong enough reason for Gabi becoming princess to be important. I’d lost a big chunk of motivation. But this might put it back! It does require some changes,  actually it’s closer to my original premise for the story.
So it’s not a new idea at all, it’s taking my new knowledge of the characters back into my very first setting and premise, that the country Gabi finds herself princess of is one that has just come out of communism. Okay, I know all that happened years ago in the real world, but this one little country didn’t do it then, held on to the old ways, and now they want to reinstate the monarchy. That explains why all week I’ve wanted to change Gabi’s name to Emma, too. It was Emma in the original version, then when I changed the setting and situation, I changed her name to Gabriella.
Yippee! I can have some fun playing with this, I think it might just work and I can just write forward from here. I am not going back to rewrite what’s already been done! And I might just escape the wrath of my writing group’s motivational expert, who uses techiques rather like the avenging angel in the photo. I know, I know, some people pay good money for a whipping. But pain is just so not my thing!

Bright shiny new story syndrome November 28, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:06 am
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afrika32 Image source


I’ve fallen a victim to the BSNS Syndrome- the siren lure of the Bright Shiny New Story.

I feel like a drug addict trying to come up with excuses for my next fix. The truth is, I just can’t feel excited about what I’ve been trying to work on.

That’s the problem, I don’t want a story I have to work on, I want a story I can play with, have fun with, enjoy writing, not feel like “This is a chore but it’s got to be done” every time I sit down to write. Is that a realistic expectation? I know that not many stories would ever get finished if the writer didn’t keep going when the going got tough. I don’t want to be a serial starter, never getting anything finished.

Though that’s a damn good strategy for a writer with a massive fear of rejection. Just keep moving from unfinished story to unfinished story. Nothing ever gets submitted because nothing is ever finished, so nothing can get rejected. NIce and safe and comfortable. The no-risk method of feeling like I’m doing something to achive my dreams, without ever actually having to put myself out there. So I tell myself I have to stick with the Work in Progress, keep slogging on.

But the problem is, I’m so bored bored bored with the WiP, I feel like I will scream if I have to add another word to it. I didn’t choose this story because I loved the story and wanted to write about the characters. I chose it for all the wrong reasons, because I though it was the best fit for Modern Heat of the stories I had in mind and I wanted to enter the Feel the Heat contest. And it was the idea that appealed the most to my writing buddies who are also aiming at MH.

But it wasn’t the story I most wanted to write. The story I most wanted to write was this crazy mixed up thing set in an imaginary Eastern European country with a kidnapping and a forced marriage and all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Which I rejected because I thought “No, that’s too weird and wonderful for Mills and Boon. They won’t buy that.” So I settled for the safe boring story set in London with the usual billionaire hero and I’m bored bored bored and can’t write a word of it becauase it’s not really my story, it’s the story I think I should (horrible word!) be writing.

The story I want to write now is even more far fetched than the original idea I dismissed as too off the wall, though it does include a lot of the same ideas. And it feels like a story I could havea lot of fun writing. It feels like characters I could love. It feels like even if it gets an immediate big fat R from the editors in Richmond I won’t care because the story will have been the point of it all. It feels like a Good Thing.

So I’m going for it.

If I am whinging in a couple of weeks about being bored with the new story too, the people who said I should have stuck to the WiP have full permission to say “I told you so.”

But if I am still loving the story and the characters and powering on with my word count maybe, just maybe, I can silently whisper to myself “Yes, oh yes!”


I’m back (at last!) July 22, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:05 pm
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Thank God, the 70 hour a week work insanity that has consumed my life for the past six weeks is over. The 300+ page training manual is written, the first week long training using it has been delivered, and although it could have been better, there weren’t any major disasters either.  So now I can start getting my life back again.

Trouble is, it’s hard to even know where to start. I have gotten so out of the habit of doing what I want to do, of making any plans apart from just keeping on going on the project. My work role seems to have consumed my life. This week is vaction time, but spent at home  just to recover, but I’m still waking up in the middle of the night thinking how I can make the workbook or the training work even better. I’m even still working in my dreams. I want that dream space to be for my writing not for work! They are paying me for 37.5 hours a week, and getting me 24/7- that is definitely not what I want my life to be like!

It’s been a learning experience, that’s for sure, but not the sort of thing I ever want to have to do again.


  1. I know I can do work harder than I ever thought possible for an extended period. I know I can put in 70 hour weeks driven by nothing but pig headed determination to do a good job, and Diet Coke. May come in handy if I ever need to do a huge revision to a tight deadline.
  2. I got some useful practice working with an editor, as my work all had to be signed off by a senior collegue. She is a fabulous proof reader, which I really appreciated, but I didn’t agree with all the bigger changes she wanted me to make. Many of these gave me a lesson in gracefully letting go of what wasn’t worth fighting for, so that I could stand up for the few things that I felt were important and shouldn’t be changed.
  3. I know I have the focus needed to complete a huge project. I’d been worrying that I didn’t, that I had a grasshopper mind that wouldn’t stay with one thing but would always be chasing something new. The focus I maintained on this work has shown me that’s not true, but that if I’m not focused, I need to ask myself why not. What is it about what I’m working on that’s stopping me from committing to it fully?
  4. I have learned that I can only work hard for something I really belive in. I hadn’t realised just how values driven I am. I already had recognised the importance of writing in a way that is true to myself, I’d been told that we never really find our voice when we are writing what we think the editors want. I now also know that I have to believe passionately in what I am doing, and then that conviction will express itself in motivation. It will also shine through in the work that I produce.
  5. I can be a morning person! For years I believed that I was naturally a night owl, and recoiled in horror at the idea of getting up early to write before work. Half an hour earlier to do morning pages, okay, just maybe, but waking at five to put in two hours solid writing- no way! Except that last week, when I had to finish the workbook section for the following day in time to get it printed out, then complete my lesson plans and presentations for that day, I found my most productive time was between five am and nine am. I was too burned out from the day to be able to do much the night before, but waking early in the morning when I was as fresh as I was going to be all day, somehow worked for me. I’m going to give that a try when I’m back at work and see how making that early morning my wriitng time  goes. I found evenings after dinner were used socially- either spending a little time with my husband, writing my own blog posts, or going on the writing discussion boards and reading other writers’ blogs.

I’m just letting my mind be empty now, rather than rushing into a wrting project. I have lots of ideas, but none that have really grabbed me and said “You have to write me, not those other stories!” The first writer’s blog or discussion group I went on since I’ve been “back” was the I Heart Presents one yesterday, and they are running another competition, this time for Modern Heat (aka Presents Extra in North America or Sexy Sensation in Austrailia, I think). I’m not convinced I meet the requirements- but I can have fun trying!

Do you have a fresh, vibrant, sassy voice and a passion for sexy alpha heroes? Can you write sparky dialogue, create great sensual tension and hot love-scenes?

If so, then we want to hear from you!

Hmm, is that me? I’d been feeling inclined to try my hand at some hen lit- 40 something woman finds herself suddenly single again and discovers how fabulous and sassy she really is, and finds real love, after years of being unappreciated and downtrodden by the ex. The last two books I read and really enjoyed both fell into this category. Every Woman for Herself and Stage by Stage– both had me getting funny looks for laughing out loud on the train. And lets face it, I’m well and truly 40 something- I remember that first true love clearly, but it was a loooong time ago!

But there is that JanNo story about the mid-twenties twins that lost its way a bit and got mixed up with an Intrigue, but could edit up well. as a Modern Heat  Or a different version of the James and Cassie story that gets rid of a lot of the complicated sub-plots and focuses on the relationship. Hmmm,  it will be fun to play with some ideas and see what grabs me!