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!

Long wait! July 11, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:21 pm
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I haven’t posted for a while, mainly because there hasn’t been much happening on the writing front. Lots of Day Job and Real Life getting in the way, sometimes in good ways like the wonderful weekend away in Devon dh and I had last week, but nowhere near  as much writing as I need.

I called the blog “Waiting for the Call”, well it’s going to be a flipping long wait the way I’m going!

I’m plugging on with the rewrite of Lock and Cady’s story, but still don’t have the partial together yet. Chapters One and Two came relatively easily, and I honestly think they are the best things I’ve ever written (that doesn’t mean I’m claiming they are good, but they most certainly are better than what I’ve done before). Chapter Three is like pulling teeth without anaesthetic- slow and painful. Plus it’s not even much good. It should be strong and powerful and emotional, instead it’s just- meh. Cliched body language, no real depth of feeling, it’s depressing me to the point of wanting to give up. I keep slogging on with it, but the slow rate is half the problem- at a couple of hundred words a day I’m not getting into the character enough to get the emotion that’s needed.

I’m setting up unrealistic expectations for what is really more first draft, of course, and that’s what’s wrecking my motivation to write. I need to give myself permission to write the dreckiest chapter ever,  as long as I get the story moving again. It can always be fixed.

Not that I’m completely unmotivated, but my motivation tends to be strongest when it’s hardest to write. Like one day last week coming home from work on the train. Yet again there were problems with the trains and as the earlier train was cancelled, my train had twice as many people on it was usual. Which meant standing up all the way, in my curved sole exercise shoes, trying to stay upright as the train swayed and I rocked crazily, unable to hold on because I was balancing my netbook in one hand while I typed with the other! Other days when I had a seat and could easily have typed, I read the paper instead.

Today, when I had time to write, I found other things far more urgent, like clearing out my wardrobe. No words written, though I do have some space in my wardrobe and a pile of clothes to sell on ebay. This was the toughest round of decluttering- the quality clothes or things I loved that just aren’t right for me any more. All the easy to let go of stuff went to the charity shop weeks ago. It’s good space clearing, but that’s not helping the story any.

Maybe the declutter will be good feng shui or something. Sure hope so. And I sure hope I don’t come up with more excuses and delaying tactics next day off work when I could write. The actual act of subbing is getting too close and too real and far too scary, so I’m procrastinating. Anything to avoid that long painful wait with the rejection at the end.

I think I named the blog well. I will always be waiting, until I find the guts to sub.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Procrastination (again!) August 9, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:08 pm
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I had grand plans for editing chapter two this weekend, and it’s not happening.

Part of it is down to the day job. I’m on call this weekend. Normal procedure is that I make sure I carry the work mobile phone everywhere, I don’t sleep so well because I’m scared I’ll miss a call if I fall too deeply asleep, but the phone never rings. My colleague whose did it last did not get a single call in the whole week. So it wasn’t unreasonable to hope I would get a lot of editing done.

So what’s the score so far. Three hours at the hospital Friday night with a patient having post op problems. A total of probably four hours on the phone but spread out over six or seven hours yesterday. An ex-patient in one of the “-stans” had new symptoms and needed a phone consultation set up with a specific doctor. Of course, it was a doctor we have no out of hours contact details on. We do now. Then the outcome resulted in the person having to be flown to London for urgent assessment and treatment. Then there was the other patient from the night before to follow up on. Only three calls so far today, but I can’t relax because I’m expecting another one. My shoulders are somewhere up near my ears I’m so tense.

The weekend is almost over and I’ve achieved nothing on my story. So I have the file opened and I’ve sat and stared at it. Suddenly it was essential that I know exactly what private jet he would be whisking her away on, and which airfield they would fly out of. That took a good half hour. Finally I could start. She’s in the plane with him, bouncing a little in the seat. She’s excited, because she’s never flown before. But what colour are the seats? They look beige to me. But I don’t want to use beige. Such a blah. boring word. Synonym for dull. How else can I say “beige”? The thesaurus doesn’t help. None of their suggestions are as good a match as beige. I have to find another word. That’s another fifteen minutes wasted.

I have to get some editing done! I have an August 31 deadline  for the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. I hoped to submit a full, looks like I’ll be lucky to have a partial the way I’m going. I really don’t want to waste the fee I paid, let alone the fact that another writer could have had the slot I’ve taken up.

Maybe I can guilt myself into working on this.

Maybe I can drop my expectations that I have to get it just right on this edit too. Maybe I can just get some words on the paper, start pulling what I’ve already got around a bit. Write beige for now, and trust that the better word will come.

Oh, here’s the seat. Any suggestions?













I’m thinking I might try “buttery”. Carries the sense that it’s soft, as well as of the colour.


Whose black moment is it, anyway? June 14, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:51 am
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“… at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.” Joseph Cambell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces





I am not just procrastinating. I am going into a fully fledged depression.

If I don’t finish this story, I don’t have to submit it. If I don’t submit it, it can’t be rejected. If it isn’t rejected, I can keep on being a “couldabeen”. I won’t have to face the fact that I could fail at my dream of writing like I failed at my dream of being a mother. Because who am I if one by one I have to give up on all my dreams?  What am I left with?

I’ve been escaping into safe things, things I know I can do, or things where if doesn’t mean that much to me if I have a few projects that don’t quite work out. Sewing, knitting, cooking, jewellery making. If something doesn’t work, I might be a little frustrated, but I don’t take it personally. I don’t need to. It never meant that much to me anyway.

But writing does. It’s personal. It’s who I am. If my writing sucks, I suck. And boy, does my writing suck right now! This first draft feels so bad I don’t see any point in keeping on going, there’s nothing here that can possibly be turned into good story. And no point starting a new story, because it will just be the same.

I need to stop this right now, before I spiral down into a crash and burn I might never get out of.

Somehow, I need to find a way to step back, get some detachment. Allow it to be okay if I play around with writing, experiment with things knowing it might not work out, might not be anything I ever want to show another human being let alone submit to an editor. Just like I’ve made garments that have never been worn, but have gone straight into the rag bag; or a few jewellery pieces that sit in the bottom of my work box and no one has ever seen; or those recipe experiments that are too bad to even feed to the dog, and we just get takeaway for dinner that night instead.

Sometimes things don’t come out how we want, that’s part of life. Being okay with that is what lets us try, try again, take chances, do things differently, and enjoy the journey regardless of whether ultimately we succeed or not.

That’s the attitude I need.

How to get there from here, I don’t know!

But just saying that, I feel different. I want to go write, make things happen for Luk and Emma. Sometimes it seems just saying “I know I need to change but I don’t know how,” brings its own light to the darkness. Being willing to admit there is a problem, and being open to the solution, begins the change process. Unless our story people go through their black moment, they can’t win through to their lasting happiness. And unless we admit we are in the dark, we can’t see the light when it comes.

Step one is to look at my expectations.

The reason I can play and have fun with other creative stuff is that I am not expecting to produce a professional result. I don’t compare my wobbly-seamed homemade dress with haute couture, or my lumpy-but-yum carrot cake with the work of a top patissiere. Yet for some crazy reason I think my first draft dreck should be as good as published writing, that has been maybe been rewritten, edited and polished twenty times by the writer from her first draft, with the help of an editor too?

The reason I take it so personally is that writing has become inextricably linked in my mind with my other major life goals. From when I was a young girl,  there were three things I wanted to achieve in my life. Have children and be a good mother, be a published writer, and build my own little house. Though not necessarily in that order.

For a long time, writing was the thing I worked on the most. I also renovated two houses. Then, in my thirties, emphasis shifted. All my focus was on having a baby. I didn’t write, apart from some journalling, didn’t think about much else. It probably wasn’t too healthy a way to be, especially when no matter how “good” I was, how much I followed the rules, I couldn’t make it happen. I think I have been in danger of making writing a replacement obsession. Also not healthy.

It’s a good thing that I’m letting myself have some time off, play with other creative stuff, have other loves and other interests. Monomania is never attractive! No need to feel guilty or as if I am somehow betraying myself by taking a break from the intensity of focus.

What is not good is making myself depressed, feeling a failure, thinking that wanting a weekend off from writing means I should give up.

I needed a break, so I could stand back and see what was happening. Taking a break is NOT giving up, it’s having a breather and finding a different, maybe better way to head towards where I want to get.

I gave having a baby my best shot seven times before I gave up trying any more. Here’s my deal with myself- I will give becoming  a published romance writer seven of my best shots too before I give up on that. Hey, if I can handle seven lost pregnancies, I can handle seven story rejections, right?  One submission down, six to go!


Luk and Emma stuck in transition June 7, 2009


I finally got them into bed together, and boy, these two are loving it! The problem is, I seem to have got stuck in the bedroom. I need to somehow get through the three week honeymoon, and on to where things start to unravel for them.

I’m at that turning point in the Hero’s Journey where The Reward becomes The Journey Back. Something needs to change to impel them back into movement and action, which will inevitably lead to the Black Moment. I have a good idea what will trigger the change, but just don’t seem able to write the darn thing!

Several reasons-

  1. I am lousy at transitions. always have been. I can understand why newbie writers create 150,000 word epics. It’s easier to write in everything that happens than write a smooth transition!  Solution for that is going to be to just write any crap that gets them into the next scene in as few words as possible, and hope I can straighten it out in edits.
  2. I’m not convinced the motivation for the characters’ actions are going to strong enough to be believable and sympathetic, especially Luk. He has to do something that could appear highly unheroic, so he has to have good reason to behave that way. The motivation I had for him that seemed good enough when I was planning the story just wasn’t feeling right anymore. The answer there was to dig a bit deeper into his character and background to find out why he would choose to act like that. What I came up with was unexpected and changes his backstory quite a bit, but makes a lot more sense. Hopefully it will also make his choices when Emma triggers a crisis believable and acceptable.
  3. The toughest one of all. I like these characters. I’m so happy writing their love scenes. I don’t want to send us all out into the painful wilderness of the Journey Home and the Black Moment, even though the only way to our Happy Ever After is to get them through it. Writing this stuff is going to hurt. I will have to deal with pain and betrayal and people confronting their deepest held limiting beliefs. It is most emphatically NOT going to be fun. Don’t have a solution to this one. So far, I’ve procrastinated. I’ve read a couple of stories. I’ve done some work on this blog. I’ve signed up for an online workshop (Plot Doctoring- think I may need it when it comes time to edit! But I was also kinda hoping that wanting the first draft finished before I start the workshop would give me an extra push). I’ve visited lots of discussion groups and writers’ websites, kidding myself that reading about writing is almost the same as writing, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not writing. Because the other stories I’ve completed or nearly completed weren’t structured right for series romance, I’ve never had to do this before. My stories just meandered on to a HEA. I know the answer is just to take a deep breath, dive into the deep water, and hope I can swim. But sheesh, I really don’t want to!

Synopses, pitches- and the dreaded red pen moment yet again February 6, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:58 pm
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bic-cristal-orange-ball-pen-0-2mm-line-width-red The issue of synopsis writing has come up again, on a couple of writing groups and forums. It seems that everyone hates writing a synopsis! But we gotta have them, if we want to sell.

Everyone seems to have a different opinion on how important they are, and a lot of multi-published writers readily admit that they still suck at synopsis writing. For writers targeting editors like the Mills and Boon Richmond office, where the submission guidelines call for three chapters and a synopsis, probably it’s not that critical. Our writing in the chapters will speak for itself, and the synopsis is just telling the editor whether we have enough plot and conflict to carry off the rest of the story. 

But if we’re trying a publisher or an agent who only want to see a query letter and a synopsis, suddenly it becomes crucial, the only tool we have to show not just the characters and the plot but also our all important “voice”.  Tricky to do in as little as two pages!

Luckily there are some fabulous resources out there on synopsis writing. Kathy Carmichael’s is frequently recommended, and was the one I found most helpful when I was writing my first ever synopsis for the Instant Seduction competition (my God, was that a whole year ago? What happened to all the writing I was supposed to do in the rest of the year?) . Diana Peterfreund gives some laugh- out- loud funny practical advice on synopses  here. I can’t believe I only just discovered her blog, I can see it is going to become another of my excuses for not writing! (“But I’m reading about wriitng, doesn’t that count?” Well, maybe, but not in word count.)  The thing here that particularly grabbed my attention was that she writes the synopsis first, uses it as a road map while writing the book.  A completely different way of thinking about synopses.  It’s what I’ve tried to do on my current story, the most fully plotted one I’ve written. Too soon to say if it’s working or not. I’ve still had masses of off the track writing that will never see light of day in the final version.  But maybe that’s because that mass of unusable writing was what triggered me to want to plan the story more!

I also saw Laurie Campbell’s synopsis workshop highly recommended by Sally on Trish Wylie’s forum. Ack! This was either fatal or lifesaving, depending on how things work out. She isn’t doing a synopsis workshop for a while, but she did have an interesting article on putting together a Pitch , that I read today. I had a go at writing a pitch for the work in progress last weekend, a last-minute thing to enter a contest I’d known about all month (how unusual, I procrastinated again). I didn’t win, of course, ‘cos my pitch was rubbish, but it was useful trying to get the essence of the story in a few paragraphs. I wish I’d read this article first. Beacuse though it’s about writing a pitch, it’s really about writing a damn good romance novel. It focuses on the key elements- characters, goals, motivations, conflict, and resolution.

This is where the red pen moment comes in. I’ve had this niggling doubt about the conflict in my story. I knew it was off. What I have could work, but it just doesn’t feel strong enough. The reason is that the same thing will give both the hero and the heroine their original goal. That throws them together, which is great. But then there’s no convincing reason for them not to be together, without bringing in complicated plot devices and external sources of conflict. If the relationship isn’t at risk, there’s no emotional tension, and no black moment. Reading Laurie’s article has got me wondering if I need to completely rethink the conflict, put their goals more in opposition initially.  Get rid of the villian, who was responsible for a lot of the conflict, and almost make the hero the villian instead. Hmm. It will be tricky. But if I can pull it off, the story will be that much stronger and emotionally satisfying.