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


So You Think You Can Write? November 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Conflict July 11, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:35 pm
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Hmm. I know I’m supposed to be editing, but I’m thinking about my new story idea today, the one for the Presents/ Modern Heat competition.

My opening is possibly a little too coincidental, too cute a meet, but my real concern is the conflict. I thought I had it nailed, but I’ve just realised the conflict I have in my plot outline so far is much too externally based. The heroine has her emotional issues, which are hooked into nicely by the external conflict, but I have no idea at all about the hero’s conflict. It’s all too “women’s fiction” so far to work as a series romance, focusing on the heroine and her emotional changes.

 A bit of a flaw given that Presents is mainly the hero’s journey, and Modern Heat is probably both characters journey to overcoming their relationship blocks.

This is the exact same problem I had with my last story!

I did just find this excellent discussion on conflict on the eHarlequin writers’ forum (you may need to log in to the Forums to see it). The thing I’m really taking away from it is that there must be layers to the conflict. The easy, superficial answer just is not enough. There’s another layer under that and maybe another layer under that again until we get to why whatever the conflict is over is really so important to the character. And the conflicts need to link together. The heroine must challenge the hero’s defence mechanisms and coping strategies for dealing with his issues, and he must do the same to the heroine. They really do need to be the worst possible person for the other to fall in love with, and not just for obvious external reasons like they are business rivals.

Hooboy! I need to do some serious thinking on this before I write myself in too far.


Edited to add- I just tracked down another  discussion on conflict on eHarl I read a while back. I need to reread this now. I remember learning a lot from it at the time. I love Ellen Hartmann’s idea of coming up with ten reasons “why?”, so we don’t go with easy but cliched internal conflicts. Like the hero is commitment phobic because his Mom left his as a kid and his first girlfriend dumped him. (Luk’s weak motivation for being a work hard, play hard/ love ’em and leave ’em type. I must do better next time!)


Stone the crows! May 22, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:41 pm
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Those wretched crows of doubt have been back again today, circling!

I seem to have ground almost to a halt on James and Cassie’s story. The romance writing workshop last Saturday was fab and stimulated lots of ideas for strengthening my plot, but I can’t seem to actually write anything. I’m finding it’s getting progressively harder to write. When I started writing again just for fun, I wrote more and better than I am now, after so much writing and workshopping and planning. I think I am falling into the trap of needing to “get it right”, and it’s paralysing me. I keep telling myself to just let it rip in first draft and fix all the faults later, but it’s simply not happening for some reason. I know I can write a whole first draft in a month, and yeah sure, it was total rubbish that needs serious work in editing, but I’ve been struggling for 2 weeks with a first chapter on the WIP that is still total rubbish and will be almost all thrown out in my second draft!

I’m not sure what the best way to deal with this is, whether to keep wriitng and hope I push through it like a rmarathon runner when they hit the wall, or to give myself some time off to read, relax, hang out on wriitng boards, and just recharge.

Part of what’s stopping me write is changes in my life too, which are affecting my wriitng time and have been an additional stress this week -like I didn’t already have enough! The question of balance is a tough one, we are all juggling so many competing demands. I wrote pretty obsessively for the first few months of the year, but now I’m thinking I really need to spend more time with my husband, more time doing other things I love. I don’t think it helps us be good writers if we are neglecting the other things in our lives. Does it matter that much if the book is finished three months later than it could have been?

This is a weird one, but it also occured to me that maybe doing the morning pages is blocking me too- my subconcious is thinking, ‘Okay, that’s it, I’ve done my writing for the day, don’t need to do anymore.’ Hmm. Might experiment with that one. I also read a long time ago that talking about the story or writing about the story could sometimes again make the subcounscious think that the story had been told and that it didn’t ned to write anymore. I don’t know about that, because otherwise plotters would never get anything written!

I’m hoping that my story is somehow simmering away beneath the surface when it looks cold and lifeless, and that the words will come in a burst. My hero is the real block in the WIP. James is supposed to be alpha, but every time he opens his mouth he’s nice. He’s powerful, determined, rich, and stubborn about getting his own way; but he doesn’t use people, he asks rather than demands, he has good reason to be cynical and he guards his heart closely, but he doesn’t act like a bastard because of it. I’m trying to make him be who he’s not, to fit my idea of what a Presents/ Modern hero should be. I just have to write him as he is, and see what comes out, I think.

I’m not sure yet where the “home” will be for my stories. I do like writing more sensual stories (not anywhere within shouting distance of erotica, but the bedroom door is definitely open!), but I just can’t get a grip on writng the Alpha hero. I think because in real life I’d run a mile from that sort of guy, and if I can’t write a hero who I can fall in love with, he’s not going to affect my readers either. I read a psot on Tote Bags and Blogs today about the attraction of the nerd. I have to say I adore the more nerdy type guy- and I married one! He’s still the sexiest man alive for me, so let’s hear it for the nerd! I had crushes on few Alpha-ish types when I was younger, but now I say give me a man who is smart, funny, great in bed and who adores me, even if his hairline is receding, his waistline is expanding, and he needs reading glasses! Okay, I doubt anyone else would want to read a story with my husband as the hero, but maybe the reason I’m struggling so much is that I’m trying to write Alpha heroes, and I need to write the oh-so-sexy, guy-next-door-only-better Gamma male instead.

Scared off the crows by flinging a handful of stones at them, going to the shops to buy a half-dozen Mills and Boon “Romance” stories (the pink cover ones that have been through so many incarnations- Tender, Sweet, whatever else they were called), as I haven’t read that line for years, and wonder if that’s where my stories belong. Also read an excellent article on Scene and Sequel here, thanls to Claire Baxter recommending it on e-Harlequin. It’s worth a read, beacuse it looks at pace, at deepening tension and emotional intensity, at POV- just about everything, in one brief article!


April Fool? April 1, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:58 pm
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Somehow, April Fool’s Day seems appropriate to launch the tales of my adventures along the way to becoming (hopefully!) a published romantic writer! It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was in my teens, but the ambition somehow got lost amongst too much real life and too many story ideas that semed brilliant but died after around twenty pages. Then just before Christmas 2007 I had an epiphany of sorts- could it be that the reason my life felt so flat, so dull, so damned middle-aged be that I had given up on too many dreams? If so, which ones did I want to resurrect? It wasn’t really a difficult question to answer. I was the kid who wrote stories as soon as I could write, and made them into little books. I was the teenager who submitted her clumsily hand-written romantic short stories and poems to magazines, and wondered why they were rejected. I was the twenty-something who always kept a notebook, who wrote fragments  of stories in her journals, who started too many first chapters to keep count of. I was the adult who carried a secret dream around for a long long time, doing nothing about it, as Real Life got in the way or I chased after other goals. Writing it was. I made an impossible seeming commitment to myself- that I would be a published romance writer within two years.

I looked around for something to motivate me, give me a kick start, force me to get past the first chapter block, and discovered JanNo, like NaNoWriMo but in January. I finished the first draft of a a 50,000 word story in 28 days. The feeling as I wrote those magic words Chapter Two, and kept on writing was indescribable. The story is also indescrible- indescribably bad! Imagine an explosion at the plot factory, and you’ve got something close. Elements from different stories got jumbled in together. It couldn’t decide if it wanted to be fluffy chick-lit or a dark intrigue. It’s just possible I may be able to edit something out of it one day, who knows. It was fun, and it got me writing, and it kept me writing.

So my JanNo is finished, what next. January 28th I saw a post on a discussion board about the Harlequin Presents Instant Seduction Competition- send in a first chapter and a synopsis by February 14th to win the chance to work with an editor for a year. Insane to think I could do it from scratch in sixteen days, there were people having discussions about whether starting in November would give enough time. So of course, I decided to enter. And equally of course, I had no hope in hell of winning. Many of the entrants have been seriously writing romance for years, and working on the story they submitted for months. Thank God I didn’t win, by some amazing fluke! What would I have had to work on with the editor? Great experience for me though, as I enrolled on a crash self-study course in writing for that particular romance series. Character development, plot, dealing with saggy middles (the story’s not mine- I still haven’t found how to deal with the spreading waistline), creating conflict, notching up the sensuality….

There’s so much to learn! What this blog will be about is my progress as a writer, and particular as a romance writer aiming to get published. What I learn in the process, where I screw up, and possibly from time to time where I actually manage to get it right.