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!

Setting goals I can keep January 9, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:51 pm
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How are you doing so far with your New Year’s Resolutions and writing goals for 2011?

Hopefully you did the goalsetting bit right and are powering on with them!

Or have you already broken them?  Or did you not bother making any at all, ‘cos you know from bitter experience all they do is make you feel like a failure?

That’s been me most years, one or the other. I really hope I can do it differently this year. I’m old enough to know better than to keep on doing what doesn’t work. If you are feeling like a failure because you haven’t met your writing goals, that’s not really true. You haven’t failed as a writer. Maybe you simply set the wrong goals. I know I often have.

The New Year starts off all clean and fresh and hopeful and positive, and by around now I am usually sitting in a corner crying and feeling like crap (well, that was yesterday, and it wasn’t over writing, it was over other goals that are less under my control than my writing is).

I have a history of setting crazy high goals I could never manage to keep going longer than three days. Impossible daily word counts, or finishing the story by a date that’s insanely too soon are my favourites. Problem is, every time I crashed and burned and couldn’t do it, I felt like an even worse failure as a writer than I did when I started.

So the easy answer was to give up on goalsetting. I’d write when I wrote, and that was okay.

Only problem with that was, it got me nowhere. Sure, I’d write. Lots of ideas and first chapters that never went any further, because without the discipline of a goal to keep me focused, I’d follow whatever bright shiny idea came along, and never stuck at anything long enough to get results.

Good goals are goals you can keep. Good goals deal with things you can control. Good goals are goals that get you where you want to go.

I’ve had loads of practice setting bad goals. To write 3000 words a day when I have a busy full-time job. To get published by Mills and Boon by the time I was fifty. To enter writing contests that were for lines I really didn’t want to write for. Baaaaad goalsetting!

Good goals start with thinking about what it is you really want, then working out the steps to get there. It’s not usually going to be easy, or doable in one step, or we’d already be there. A bit like that old joke where a lost tourist stops his car to ask a local how to get to the place he wants to be, and the local replies, “Well, if you want to get there, you really don’t want to be starting from here.”

My big dream come true goal is to take early retirement, move back to Australia, and make my living from writing romance. That’s a massive goal. I’m not going to get there from here. But if I can get myself a few steps closer, I might just get to where I can reach “there” from.

Steps to get there- Improve my writing. Learn how to present it better. Submit it to the right places. If I get rejected, learn from that. Either revise the story to submit somewhere else, or start a new story. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat some more.

But those steps aren’t what I really need, either. I need specifics. I need to know what I have to do today and every day to get me there.

I like this blog post where writer Hart Johnson applies science to goal setting. She differentiates between goals and strategies. Goals are the results we want, big aims that break down into smaller stages. Strategies are the things we need to do to achieve those stages, real, concrete, measurable things. 

So, the things that will get me published are to write better, write finished stories, and submit them.  

The practical task that will show I am doing that is to finish my work in progress, edit it up, and submit it.

The strategies to get there are to stick with writing at least 500 words a day on work days, 1000 words a day on non-work days until I finish first drafting the work in progress, my SYTYCW story.  I know this is a realistic, do-able target. 5000 words a week and 55,000 more words to write, so I aim to have that done by the end of March. I need to edit up the first three chapters and update the synopsis, so a realistic subbing target is the end of April. There’s a bit of leeway in there, so if real life gets in the way, it won’t derail me.

Then on to the next step- starting rewrites on my rejected SuperRomance, to sub elsewhere.

So far, 9 days into the New Year, it’s working! Though there’s a lot of year still to go.

It should keep working, because what I have set myself to do is realistic and practical. I’m determined. I’m ready to change the way I do things and make the changes last.  I want 2011 to be the year it happens for me. Maybe not publication with Mills and Boon, but by this time next year I will be published or at least had a story accepted for publication. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep editing. I’ll keep subbing. I’ll keep learning. I’ll keep growing as a writer. In the end, that’s all it will take- keeping on and not giving up.

Chelsea over at Sassy Sisters  wrote a wonderful post on goal setting that reminded  me of the most important piece of all- celebrating the little successes along the way to the big goal.  

The big goal is so huge- to make my living from writing full-time, that measuring myself against that goal, I feel a constant failure. But there are so many smaller goals along the way I can feel good about, from sending in a sub, to sticking to writing 500 words a day minimum, to finally getting a handle on story structure, to understanding character arc and why proactive characters are so important.

So, wherever you are, if you are powering into the New Year or looking at the flaming wreck of good intentions and wondering why you bothered, remember to celebrate what you have achieved and what you’ve learned. If what you’ve tried isn’t working, it’s never too late to start again. That’s what I keep telling myself.

And it’s true.

If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes. – Andrew Carnegie


Fab Superromance review- and I have an epiphany (again…) December 29, 2010

A wonderful review over at Dear Author for Karina Bliss’s latest Harlequin Superromance. I love her stories, and I’m really looking forward to reading this one, though I do have to say stories that start with the hero or heroine trying to pick up someone else tend to squick me out a bit. It does seem to turn up a lot in these “best friends into lovers” stories. That’s possibly just me showing my personal preferences, or it could be my age. I read Blaze now, so I can handle the heat, but I was brought up on Sweet, no-sex romances. I definitely want one man-one woman stories, even a start showing the heroine with someone else just sets the tone all wrong for me. I’m old-fashioned.

I’m realising that a lot of what is wrong with my stories is exactly what the reviewer commented on- they read like they were written by someone’s Mum in 1983. Co-incidentally, about when I first tried writing a romance!

I had a small epiphany yesterday, when I realised the problem with my WiP and the real reason why the situation and the heroine’s backstory just weren’t gelling was her age. I started writing with her 28, a good age and one I usually like for heroines in stories I read.  But the way she was living and the things she was doing seemed too immature for someone of that age to still be doing- I felt impatient with her, wondered why she hadn’t grown up. I tried changing her age to 24.  Better, but still not right. Suddenly I realised- she’s forty!

Everything fell into place, beautifully. All the pieces of backstory that didn’t fit, the conflict with the hero that felt contrived, the motivation for her doing what she was doing. It works. Or at least, hopefully it will work. I still have to write the story, of course. It’s a good lesson in the importance of making sure I know my characters, really know my characters, before I start. The essence of the story, as I mapped it out using the Beat Sheet from Save the Cat, is identical. It just works so much better now!

Where I went wrong was not even thinking about it. The story was aimed for Harlequin, so the heroine had to be in her twenties.  Realising, no, she doesn’t, is a wonderful change, and is absolutely right for this heroine, even though I know it stops this story being a fit for any of the Harlequin lines.

That wasn’t the epiphany though. The epiphany was that this is the sort of story I want to keep on writing- sensual stories, set against a small town or community background, with grown up heroines.

There doesn’t seem to be much available for women of a certain age, who want to read about women their own age finding true love and happy endings, but who still want stories with good sex too. There’s women’s fiction, usually with an unhappy ending but a  life lesson learned; for a short time there was “hen lit”, which seems to have fizzled; there are a few sweeter romances with older heroines, with the bedroom door tight closed; or there are hot stories about women half my age, or over ten years younger at best. The only exception seems to be abominations like Sex and the City 2, which I totally detested for the shallow pathetic characters, caricatures rather than heroines anyone could identify with. At least what SATC shows though is women in their forties and fifties, still wanting love and sex. Where are the romances, for and about women in their forties, fifties, and beyond, with heroines who are falling in love and having the hottest sex of their lives? Few and far between, it seems, certainly from the major romance publishers. Which is understandable given the huge costs of paper book production and distribution.

So if I write the stories I want to write, I will never ever have any chance of being published by Harlequin, no matter how well I learn to write. Maybe there is no market, and the best I can hope for is to get my stories published by an obscure e-publisher and sell six copies, all to my friends, who make polite noises but never actually read the things. Or maybe there are actually a lot of women out there who know that love and sex don’t stop at thirty, and would love to read stories with older heroines, who are just not finding the books out there they would like to read.

I discovered yesterday that at least one of the romance e-pubs, Wild Rose Press, has a line featuring older heroines, called Last Rose of Summer. I intend to read a few, see if I like them. The wonderful thing about e-publishing is it lets publishers take risks on books that might sell poorly. When fabulous big publishers like Harlequin have tried series with older heroines, sales weren’t good enough, so the lines soon folded. E-pubs can afford to get away with lower sales, so can publish a more diverse range. I’ll still keep reading the Harlequins I love, but it’s time to be more adventurous and venture further afield too.

Much though I would love to see my name there on the supermarket and newsagent shelves on the cover of a Harlequin/ Mills & Boon, it’s not going to happen. I love those books, and there are so many brilliant writers of all ages writing wonderful stories, for HMB, but I won’t be one of them. My chance of getting published is going to come with one of the e-publishers. I honestly think it’s time for me to stop writing the weak, cliched stories I’ve been labouring with, stories that were never going to fly because I didn’t believe in them, and because they read like the stories I tried to write when I was the same age as the heroine I was writing about. My writing can only get better if I try writing honest stories from my heart.

Any suggestions for great romances with older heroines for me to read? What do you think- would you read a story with an older heroine?

Oh, completely unrelated- if anyone saw the post I did earlier about the free Harlequin comics on Amazon, I took it down when I found they weren’t offering complete stories as the freebies, just samples. Still worth a peek at them though, just for the sheer awesomeness of a story written in English that’s been translated into Japanese to be turned into a manga, then translated back into English again.


Keeping focused December 20, 2010

Or- I discover “Save the Cat”.

I posted today over at Seven Sassy Sisters, our group blog, about my latest discovery that I hope will keep me on track with my writing instead of pantsing in  a fog.

Please pop over and tell me what you think- am I overcomplicating things again, or could I be on to something?


“So You Think You Can Write”- Yes, No, or Maybe? December 18, 2010

I subbed on Wednesday to the latest Harlequin writing contest, “So You Think You Can Write”, along with probably a thousand other aspiring romance writers.

Do I think I can write? Yes, obviously, or I wouldn’t have entered, but probably not well enough for it to count for anything.

I’m starting to wonder if I will ever get my writing to the point where it’s good enough for publication, if I shouldn’t just give up now and save myself the pain of bashing my head repeatedly against a brick wall, hoping I hit the magic brick that opens the secret passageway to publication. (Not my image, BTW, it’s one of my writing buddies Chelsea’s, but it’s so apt I borrowed it!) After all, for my three subs this year, I’ve had three more rejections to add to my list. Isn’t it time to stop trying?

Thinking that didn’t stop me deciding late on Monday night just as I was falling asleep that I would enter something in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write, closing date 11pm Wednesday my time. Especially when I saw that they didn’t expect that the story had to be completed to enter after all, only that if you were asked to sub more you would do it pdq. Problems- I had nothing remotely ready to sub, and I had a Christmas party after work on Wednesday that meant I wouldn’t get home until after 11. So whatever I entered had to be subbed before I slept on Tuesday night. One day to do a subbable chapter and synopsis.

I did it. My first chapter and synopsis went in at 3.30am on Wednesday morning, aimed at Blaze.

I’m proud I met the deadline, but am not convinced it was a wise thing to do.

This is Mason and Steph’s story,  the one I was working on when I got the rejection letter on my last Superromance submission, then stopped when I realised it had the exact same problems commented on in the letter, and then some new ones! Reactive, goal-less characters, drifting into the story and then buffeted around by events. And even worse, something I figured out for myself, a resolution at least partially triggered by something  external happening, not internal change in the characters!

Also, it started life as a Super, but then as I wrote it my reaction to the first chapter was “Whoa, this is waaaaay too steamy for Supers!”  I know Supers can be super sexy, but that’s sex in the context of a relationship, not just sex. Sex is clearly the way into the relationship for this couple, love comes later. The conflict and character arcs are far more Blaze too, if I’m understanding what Blaze needs right (a focus on the heroine’s emotional journey to being able to commit to this relationship). I’m kinda worried it will fall between the two lines. Not sexy enough for Blaze, because even though there’s lots of lusting and sexual tension, they don’t go all the way until half-way through the story; but not right for Supers either.

Oh well, I rewrote the first chapter, and came up with a new synopsis that I hope fixed the worst problems of reactive characters and a weak resolution. Can’t see what can be done about the lust,all those pebbling nipples and bulging crotches, will just have to hope it’s a fit for Blaze and not too cliched! 

But even if I got those obvious problems right, no doubt there’s a hundred other things wrong with the chapter and synopsis. There’s no way something thrown together in less than a day is going to be any good. I hit that send button anyway, just to have something else out there.

The thing is, I’ve known about this subbing opportunity for nearly six weeks. Yet once again I left it to the last minute to start working on my submission? This is becoming a pattern now. I did it for the Medical Fast-Track, I did it for New Voices, and now I’ve done it again for SYTYCW. Why did I do it to myself again, a rush job entry, when I swore not to after the last time? I gotta face it, no matter how well I may or may not write, something thrown together on the last day before entries close is not going to be my best work. Aren’t I self-sabotaging myself here, setting up for failure?

I think I am. There are positives to doing it this way, which is no doubt why I do it. When I get a rejection, being able to console myself with “Well of course I got an R, it wasn’t my best work, it was thrown together in a day,” helps take some of the sting out. It also gets me over the fear and anxiety about subbing at all. I don’t have time to think and worry about it when I give myself twelve hours writing time to pull together a chapter and long synopsis. It got me out of the stuckness and uncertainty of what to do next that I felt after the rejection.

I had good reasons for doing it in such a rush. When I looked at the R and what I could learn from it, I straight away saw what the letter was getting at, and how I could fix it. But then I couldn’t decide whether to start straight into rewriting the rejected story, whether to rework the story I was writing at the time, or whether to start over completely with the new story idea.  The new story seemed the best option, so I started working it up, looking at the characters and their conflicts.  I’d read somewhere that SYTYCW required that the entrants had the full story completed, so no way was that possible. I just played around with the new story, without any deadline pressure. My starting point was an image I had of a man and a woman stuck in a lift together and neither know who the other is, then later they find out they are business rivals. I set up their goals, motivations, and conflicts. It looked like it should work, but somehow I didn’t feel right about it, it just didn’t seem to be coming together. Also, the characters and the plot felt very Modern Heat, and I’m not sure I can manage the right level of sass and banter for that line, especially now it’s changing to Riva in the UK.

I had a startling realisation- I wasn’t writing character driven stories like I thought I was! I started off with a few set piece scenes that I could visualise clearly, built a plot around that, then thought up the characters who could slot into the story. Arrgghh! I recognised I’d done this with most of my stories so far. No wonder it wasn’t working, especially with this story. Basically, I was trying to shove together two separate stories that didn’t fit at all! I had managed to create good strong characters, but they didn’t work with the pretty scenes I wanted. Either the pretty scenes had to go, or the characters did, attached though I was to them. In this case, the scenes could work well in a Blaze, with different characters, but I had no idea who they might be. I started writing the Modern Heat/ Presents Lite type story, but only got a few pages in when I saw on a SYTYCW reminder post that they didn’t require that the story entered be complete after all.

Yippee, I could sub after all, why not have a go?

No way I’d get a first chapter and synopsis for this new story done in time, and it wasn’t what I wanted to sub anyway. This was a good chance to email submit to the North American office instead of messing with posting hard copy, so no point sending something targeted at a London based line where I could do an email sub anytime. The changes needed for the rejected Super were too big to do in the time I had, and I wanted to sub something different, not just keep subbing and resubbing the same story. The only option left was to rework the previous WiP, the Super that wanted to be a Blaze. A lot of the first chapter could stand as it was, with a bit of tweaking. The thing that was starting from scratch was the synopsis. I had a bullet point list of possible events, but that would make a very bad synopsis.

I had some new insights that seemed good about the characters, and made some more changes in the set-up that to me seemed to help the heroine in particular to act and decide in ways that were more consistent and authentic to her personality. I made sure they had goals, and made sure their relationship blocks were clearly stated in the first chapter. (Maybe too clearly? Did I reveal too much too soon, and then bash the reader over the head with it just to make sure she got it?) In the synopsis, I tried to keep the focus on emotional change and growth and not just a series of events, and hopefully got across that the resolution was not solely due to the big external event that happens at the three-quarter mark. Or as well as I could with only twelve hours writing time to do it in!

Without really even reading it back properly, I hit send. So at least I’m subbing, and doing it so fast gives me a built in defence mechanism for the inevitable rejection.

But the inevitable rejection is why it’s self-sabotage. Yes, I have some built in self-protection against the pain, but I’m also setting up in advance that the pain will happen by sending off sub-standard work. I have loads of good excuses for doing it this way (didn’t it just take me over a thousand words to tell you them all!), but it’s still a dumb way to do things.

Maybe it would have been a far wiser choice to wait until I had a good partial, well thought out, polished, and truly ready to go, subbed via the usual route. Wiser, but far more scary. Because then if I get a rejection, like on my Superromance partial, I don’t have my emotional safety net to stop me plummeting to earth with a messy splat. I can’t say “I could have written it better but I did it in a hurry to meet the deadline.” I’d have to drop those “woulda if I coulda” justifications for subbing bad writing, weak characters, insipid and unbelievable conflict, a story that didn’t fit the line. I’d have to stop kidding myself, and deal with the pain of my writing just plain not being good enough. I’m maybe cheating myself out of making it a better quality learning experience, too.

The truth is, there is no magic brick in that wall we’re bashing our heads against. It’s not a secret passageway from unpubbed to pubbed that I need. It’s the insight to see how I can improve my writing with each story I start, and the persistence to keep working at it. But to really keep working at it, not merely pretend I am, with these half-baked contest entries and my crappy excuses.


Gratitude ABC November 25, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:38 pm
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I’m not celebrating Thanksgiving today, Australians don’t, but Happy Thanksgiving to those who are!

I love the concept of taking time to give thanks. I don’t stop often enough to really appreciate all the good that is in my life (and for starters I’m grateful I work for an American company so I get the day off today, without having to cook that big dinner!).

 I challenged myself to come up with an ABC of all the things I want to give thanks for.

Here it is, my gratitude ABC-
A is for Abbi, Sassy Sister and our guiding light, a wonderful and diverse writer gifted with a particularly wicked way with snark and a voice that is just meant for Single Title. Also for Aideen, Sassy Sister extraordinaire, possibly the most courageous woman I know, who’s dealt with things I’d crumble before, yet also manages to be one of the funniest women I know. A role model for feisty heroines everywhere. And for Arthur, my dh who puts up with a lot from me and is slowly but surely learning that when I say “I’m writing, so don’t interrupt me unless it’s important, or I’ll be angry,” I truly mean it, especially when the important interruption is to ask me whether we have any hummus in the fridge.
B is for Books, those things we all love and want to see our name on, my escape and refuge as a child, and still a new world ready for me to explore every time I open one.
C is for Critique partners, I’m so blessed to be in a group with some amazing writers, friends as well as writing buddies. It’s part of Community, something romance writing has a lot of. The support and encouragement in places like eHarlequin’s SubCare, the Mills and Boon equivalent, and other writing groups like NaNo and JanNo is awesome. Also for Chocolate, that writing necessity; and for Computers, wonderful things Some of you won’t be old enough to remember what trying to write and sub was like BC, but I sure do! And especially for Chelsea, Blazing a trail as the secretly sexy and sweet Sassie, wonderfully supportive and with an excellent editorial eye.
D is for Diet, made necessary by too many hours sitting at the computer eating chocolate- I give thanks that it worked- I lost fifty pounds this year and feel great! I’m so grateful I discovered The Menopause Makeover by Staness Jonekos just at the right time.
E is for ebooks, letting me fit a whole bookcase worth of books on a 7″ device to take with me on vacation. And epublishers, bringing us interesting books that may not have found a home in print.
F is for Fabulous Fifty, what I turned this year, also Friends and Family. And for Fairy Tales, stories I love, archetypes that speak to me, and a quality I want to catch in some of my stories. Also for Finished First Drafts– I’ve managed one this year and plan to make it two before the end of the year.
G is for God, making it all possible.
H is for Harlequin, the publisher we’d love to write for, and the books they publish. Also for Husbands, I wouldn’t be without mine, even if sometimes I want to kill him.
I is for Ideas, they may drive me crazy but I would hate it if they dried up. Now if only they’d be more workable… And for the Instant Seduction contest back in 2008, that got me started back wanting to write series romance again.
J is for Jackie a late addition to the Sisters but it feels like she’s always been with us, funny, far too self-deprecating, a fabulous writer; also for Super-Sassie Jilly, her wicked wit, warm wisdom, and always slightly warped way of looking at things is an inspiration. Love her to bits!
K is for Kisses, the more the better, and I’m always thankful for my husband’s.
L is for Love, it may not really be all we need but it’s a fair chunk of it.
M is for Mills and Boon the romances I grew up with. And for Maisey, the youngest and most published Sassy, an awesomely prolific writer with an instinctive understanding of workable conflict, and the three cutest kids on the planet. Also for Mistakes, I’ve learned so much from mine!
N is for Nancy (sheandeen on eHarl), her support and inspiration made all the difference when I was losing weight this year. I also give thanks for NaNo giving me the extra push to write more this month. I’m not going to win, but what I’ve written is worth it.
O is for One Chapter Opportunities– the fun chances to get our writing in front of the editors without needing a whole partial worked up, like the Medical FastTrack, New Voices, and next up So You Think You Can Write. I know I write better if I do the whole first draft first, I write my way in and my stories change so much, but I love the speed of the feedback and the ease of email submissions!
P is for Partial, in so glad I finally subbed one properly this year, ratger than just going for the contests. Also for Peace, which goes with …
Q is for Quiet, I’m so thankful when I get some and have a chance to write, I really would love more of it, and even more would love to not waste it when I get it!
R has got to be for Reading.  I wish I had more time for it!
S is for Superromance, my favourite romance series. I’m grateful that I actually Submitted a Story this year.
T is for Time, it feels as if there’s never enough, but I’m so grateful for what I do have.
U is for Uncovering layers in our characters. I love writing my way in and finding out so much more about these story people I thought I knew.

V is for Virgins– we were all one once, and I just realise as I write this that if the heroine of my WiP is improbably still one (it fits with her backstory) a big chunk of her conflict suddenly makes sense. Which still leaves me with the other chunk that doesn’t make sense, but it’s a start!
W is for Writing, love it, hate it, we can’t stop doing it.
X is for eXercise, the only way besides not writing to avoid writer’s bum. I still have it, but not as bad as if was, thank God. Okay, that was a stretch! I just thought of another one- my X-rated fantasies that come in handy when writing love scenes.
Y is for (this one really is a stretch!) whY? The most useful question in the world and one I have to keep asking myself as I write. Unfortunately right now it’s being used in the sentence “Why the hell did I ever think that conflict would work? It makes my heroine seem TSTL.”
Z is for zzzzzs the sleep I’m usually running short on. I’m grateful for the day off today and the sleep in I got. Of course, that ate three hours of my writing time, but I needed it!

I’ve probably left out lots more I should be giving thanks for.

What are you grateful for today?


Critique group or critique buddy? November 19, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:41 pm
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Image source


Romance writing can be a solitary affair, just us and our story. Which is fine if we’re only writing for our own pleasure, but not necessarily so good if our aim is publication. LIke sex, writing can be fun for one, but even better shared with someone else!

When we keep our writing to ourselves until we feel the story is completed and edited, it’s just too easy to get so close to the story that we can’t see it clearly enough. This can lead to one of two things, both of which can kill any chance of getting our beloved story published. I know, ‘cos I’ve done both!

Either we see nothing but the faults and flaws and keep endlessly editing and rewriting and polishing, and never allow another living soul to see it. The risk here is that we can literally edit the life out of the story, polish the diamond away to nothing, taking out the exact things an editor is looking for- the things that make it individual and fresh and give it our unique voice. Plus of course, the story never gets entered in a contest or submitted it a publisher or agent, because it’s never quite “good enough”.

Or we can’t see the flaws in our story. We know exactly what the hero is thinking when he’s so horrible to the heroine in chapter four, so we don’t explain his motivation and he comes across as a bully and a tyrant, not a man she could fall in love with. We know who is saying those delicious lines of dialogue or thinking those key thoughts, so we don’t realise that for a reader our shift in point of view wasn’t obvious at all, and she has to back up and read that page again to figure out what the hell is going on. Do that too many times and she’ll throw the book against the wall in frustration, or the editor will do it for her first with a quick rejection. Or continiuty slips, where the hero who was sitting down is standing on the other side of the room in the next line, and the heroine’s green eyes turn blue in the next chapter. I had my hero do something that was actually physically impossible in the first chapter of my IS entry!

Luckily there’s an answer for us wannabee published writers. And it doesn’t involve paying lots of money for a professional crtique, though they have their place too. It’s getting another writer to read and comment on our stuff for us, in return for us doing the same for them. Another person reading our story can see all those things that we can’t, both the truly wonderful things we don’t realise, and the bits that need fixing before an editor sees our work. All it takes is one other person, or a group. It can be done face to face or on the internet. I am lucky enough to be part of a fabulous crtique group, just six of us all aiming to be published with Harlequin Mills and Boon. We haven’t met each other physically yet, we met up online, but I feel I know those girls so well! Getting to be part of the group was pure luck- I just happened to be posting in the right place at the right time. when the group was formed I also have a wonderful critique buddy. So many published romance writers comment on their blogs or websites about how much help their crit group or partner was in helping them get published. Of course, plenty did it all by themselves too, but my experience is that being part of a critique group or having a buddy is not only massive fun but so beneficial for my writing too.

There are advantages and disadvantages to a group or a one to one buddy partnership. The great thing about a group is that there is a wider range of feedback, different people will see different things. With a buddy it’s one person’s opinion, which could be spot on or could be simply a personal preference. If three members of a critique group all pick up the same thing in the story, chances are this is something that most readers would see. If a buddy says it, we might edit out something she didn’t like but most readers would love. Or we might say “Well that’s just her opinion,” and leave in something that most readers including the editor will also hate!

Particularly for someone who is a little shy or reticent, a buddy can be easier than a group, because it’s just forming that one relationship. With a group we might feel more nervous about sharing our work with a number of people at once and dealing with a lot of feedback. Also with a buddy there isn’t the sheer volume of writing to read and critique. There are some amazingly prolific writers in the group I am part of, and I feel so guilty that I haven’t read and critiqued all the writing that has been posted. Also, sometimes I feel inadequate that I am writing so little in comparision. The (very plus) plus side of that is that I am getting to read some brilliant writing, in my opinion more enjoyable than some published romances out there, and learning so much about editing and strengthening a story that I can apply to my own work. Also, with a group if a member isn’t able to participate so much because of illness or other life events, things can still go on. Everyone will have a personal preference, it seems that many writers have a group AND a buddy, or even several groups and buddies, though that must keep them very busy!

Whichever way you choose to go, the thing I think is most essential is that the others involved are aiming at the same sub-genre as you, or at least open to it and with a good understanding of it. Someone who writes sweet inspirational romance may not give a totally useful critique on some aspects of a hot erotic story, and the erotic romance writer may not “get” what inspirational romance readers and editors are looking for either. Plus people have to be willing to give and to accept constructive criticism. It’s not much help having someone who only says nice things about the piece of writing, as chances are it isn’t already perfect. It’s even less help having someone who just tears the writing to shreds without any comments on how it can be improved, that’s both unhelpful and demoralising. And there’s no point in a writer who is positive their stuff is already perfect joining a group or looking for a buddy- there almost certainly will be some areas that need more work getting noticed and commented on. I know my writing is improving, but there’s a way to go yet. And even multi-pubbed writers still bounce their stuff off their group or buddy before sending it off to their editor, so I’m not going to be too proud to take some help from other writers.

Finding a group or a buddy isn’t too hard. How to do it depends it on if you want to be part of a group or partnership that meets face-to-face or online. The group I am part of is closed to new members, but there are lots of open groups or wrietrs looking for crtique buddies out there.

Finding a face-to-face group or buddy

  • national groups like the RWA have local chapters
  • if you live in a big town with a bookshop that specialises in romance they may have writers’ groups already running, or if not you could post on their notice board to see if there is anyone else interested
  • you can look on the internet for a local group or a buddy- asking on romance discussion boards like eHarlequin or Romantic Times may local an existing group, someone near enough to be a buddy, or even enough people to start your own group meeting in a coffee shop or the local library
  • check out the local library- many have writers’ groups, or host lectures or workshops by published writers. Here in the UK Mills and Boon writers regularly do library talks- what a great way to meet other people interested in romance in your area.
  • look at the adult education or evening classes in your area- are there any writing workshops or classes? Just make sure to check that they are open to romance- I got put off writing anything for years by joining a class that despised romantic fiction!
  • try an ad in the local free newspaper- you may find a buddy or be able to start a group. Or even better, write an article about wanting to start a romance writers’ group and get the local paper to publish it. There are some ideas for how to go about starting up a writers’ group here
  • big online writing events like NaNoWriMo have local groups that meet all year round, some members are just writing for fun, but others are more focused on publication. There will be people writing in all genres in these groups- but you may just find the ideal critique buddy there.

Online groups or buddies are even easier-

  • entering “romance writers critique group” into Google brought up a load of online groups that are open to new members
  • critique group leaders looking for new members may post about their group on eHarlequin or other romance discussion groups
  • RWA in both the US and Australia have online groups (this requires paying to join the respective RWA, but there are plenty of other benefits to membership- I intend to join both when I have some spare cash!)
  • eHarlequin has a page just for writers looking for a critique buddy here
  • if you can’t find a group that feels right to you, start your own online group just like Barbara who started our group did- thanks Barbara! It’s free and easy to set up a group at Google, Yahoo, MSN or plenty of other online providers. You can post about the group on eHarlequin or the romantictimes.com forum, or invite people who you see posting on any of the romance discussion boards or blogs who you think may be interested. Do be prepared for some refusals- critique groups aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and some people you invite may already be involved in one or more and not have time to get involved with another.

Does anyone have any other ways to find a group or buddy to suggest?