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!

Multitasking madness! January 18, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:52 am

I’m blogging today over at the group blog Seven Sassy Sisters , on making time to write in a busy, busy life.

Hope everyone is powering on into January!


Surviving the week from hell! January 23, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:27 pm
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Woo! It’s Saturday!

The last week will have to go down as one of the worst of my life. Not right up there on the list of life shattering tragedy weeks, but if there was an award for the Most Exhausting Week, or the Most Petty Frustrations Piling on Petty Frustrations Week, this would be it for sure. Warning- whinge ahead!

First I had flu. I spent most of last weekend in bed feeling achy and painy and sorry for myself, wasting the long weekend I planned to write in. Then I struggled into work after being up most of the night coughing and blowing my nose on Tuesday to find that we were running on half the staff we normally have. Okay, we’d cope. Except then we lost another staff member and had to manage with a third of our usual staff. And weeks with long weekends we usually pay for the day off by needing to pack the five days work into four. Except this week was even busier than normal. Much busier. One of those weeks that would have been tough fully staffed but nearly impossible with one third staff. Somehow I got through the week of ten hour work days and a long commute in a zombie haze of cold medications, crashing into bed the minute I got home. The funny thing was, everyone who came into the office said, “Poor you, you should be at home.” Didn’t stop them from asking me to do stuff for them though, stuff no-one else could do, that was urgent for them. Even when I stuck the sign on the door, “Emergencies Only Today”, because I was the only one in the office, they still kept coming. Hmm. We have different ideas of what constitutes an emergency, clearly!

Yesterday was the cream on the cake. One of those days where you run all day, faster and faster, fast as you can. Only to find you’ve gone backwards because the treadmill still turns faster than you can run. At 5pm, my desk was a mess. My email inbox was a parade of red flags demanding attention. I had Post-Its turning my desk yellow with things I needed to do before I went home. The folders of things I’d started working on and got interrupted before I finished grew from neat little piles to teetering stacks. I could have just walked out the door and left. But I have this pesky thing called a work ethic. It wouldn’t let me go home leaving a huge backlog of unfinished work for a colleague when I’m off on conference next week. I can’t dump all that her, when she may have nearly as bad a week as I did (though hopefully without sinusitis and bronchitis to manage too!). So I stayed in the office working solidly for sixteen hours yesterday. Finally left at midnight, because I’d miss the last train home if I stayed any longer. Made it home at two am. The worst thing about it- I still didn’t get caught up. Still, I got a massive part of it done, and what’s left over is organised so at least it’s possible to see what needs to be done. I could leave with a clear conscience.

Maybe time to start looking for a new job (again!). Or if anyone has a handy cure for an overactive work ethic, please let me know! If only I had energy left over after work to direct work ethic that to my writing, I’d be laughing.

Though I guess I did direct it to writing in the end. The worst realisation of the week, as horrible exhausting day piled on horrible exhausting day, was that I wasn’t going to manage to get my pitch done for Donna Alward’s pitch contest. I sat on the train home at half past twelve, totally shattered, with not enough neurones left firing to string together a cohesive thought. And I had only one sentence toward the pitch, done on Monday. Looked like flu and the day job had won over writing. Then as I was walking home from the train just before two am, I remembered something. The time difference between GMT and EST. I had nearly three hours. I could still do it. Maybe. Something clicked. My brain switched from zombiefied sleep seeking mode to story mode.

I emailed my pitch at 17 minutes before the closing time. It’s not the best I could have done. But I did it, and I feel good about that. Being sick didn’t stop me, and the Day Job didn’t stop me. This year, I want to live by the rule of “No more excuses!” When it comes to writing, anyway. I might still keep some handy for other things, like not exercising enough or drinking too much wine occasionally.

It’s not a fabulous pitch. It doesn’t follow the plan in Winnie Grigg’s excellent workshop. But I’m glad I did it.  The great thing about writing a pitch is it gives the essence of the story. It shows straight away if something isn’t working or isn’t strong enough. It can help us see what we need to do to strengthen our stories. I’m not happy with the hero’s conflict at all. I love Nick, but he’s just not coming across as strong enough or conflicted enough. His main conflict is wanting and loving Meg, in the face of her stubborn independence and refusal to believe anyone could love her, let alone a man like him. Is that enough? (And *groan* I’ve just realised how I worded it there is probably loads better than what I sent in the pitch last night!)

I also know I need to make some big changes with where the story starts, something I suspected all along. I’m going to be in trouble if by some freak chance Donna picks my pitch to final. I may not have a first chapter ready to send. I realised Nick and Meg’s story really starts with what would have been chapter six in what I’ve written so far. Looks like all those lovely scenes I’ve enjoyed writing are backstory, and need to go. It’s good to know my instincts were right, those times I stopped writing, thinking this is all very nice but it’s not going to work as story, I’ve gone wrong somewhere. It’s good to know that writing isn’t wasted, too. I’ve got to know and love these characters and their background through writing my way in. It’s not a bad way to do things, and maybe I simply need to accept that’s how I write. The first ten or twenty thousand words I write may never appear in the story I submit, but they’re still an essential part of my process.

I’m sure I read an HMB author say she always did that. Now I’m trying to find who. It’s mentioned, in a less extreme form of losing one scene, not several chapters, in this First Chapter article from Heidi Rice.  Maybe I was thinking of this article by Melissa James (I love all her articles on this site, BTW, so pleased to find them again!). I still think it was someone else though I can’t track it down! Oh well, doesn’t matter if no-one else writes like that, it it works for me it works for me! I think the toughest thing there is just being willing to put what’s already written aside and start again. Not because it’s crap, but because that’s just how my process works and it’s time for the next stage.

 I may not stop and start over. I might keep writing up to the point where the story starts, at least sketch it all in, so when I do get into the real storyI totally know their history together. Then when I move on to second draft it gets the chop. That works for me. I just need to remember, my target word count is now 80,000, not 60,000!

Edited to add- LOL, just saw this is the latest entry on How to Write Badly Well! At least I don’t have that level of foreshadowing abuse!


Time to write December 7, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:22 pm
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Yay! I am a happier girl today. My manager has approved a proposal that we change the work hours in our department from five eight hour shifts a week to four ten hour shifts.

A third day off a week! My commute is so long and I’m so often late off, that I rarely write on work nights. Extended shifts won’t lose me any writing time. But with all of another day free, I’ve simply got no excuse not to spend it writing.

I need the extra time, as I’ve realised I probably should totally redo most of what I’ve written so far on Luk and Emma. My pacing is soooooooooooo sloooooooooooow.

I have too many scenes where not enough happens. Too many scenes that go on for too long. Poor transitions where I just write too much.

Not quite sure how to fix it yet. I just know that it’s not working as well as it could.


Oops, wrong life choice! February 7, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s scary. Very scary.


A sulky readhead stamps her feet January 25, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:00 pm
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Ack! Why do I go around in circles and just come back to the same place over and over? I think I’ve found a new road map to get me where I want to be, get excited, then here I am, back again at this place of not writing and wondering why the hell I want to write.

I made myself laugh looking back at my last post and the fab resolution to finish the first draft of the current story by the end of January. With six days to go, I have about 16,000 words of story. Most of which are false starts. I had to give up keeping track of total word count. It got meaningless when I knew that the bulk of it was backstory  and three goes at Chapter One, that aren’t going to be in the finished version. The good news is, I have the story very strongly plotted out, and it could work . The bad news is, I’ve written nothing on it for the last two weeks. Not a word. No writing at all, for fourteen, maybe fifteen days.

Surely if I really wanted it, I’d do it, right?

I can make plenty of excuses. There’s the new job that fries my brain and exhausts me so I arrive home without the mental capacity to do anything more challenging than make dinner, pour a glass of wine, then sit down at the computer to feed my ebay addiction.

Or I can psychoanalyse myself. So many lovely psychological reasons not to write! It’s my fear of failure, of submittimg and being rejected. Or its my fear of success- if I do get asked for a full, the pressure is really on.

The latest one I realised today, is that my creativity does not function well when I am angry.  I am soooooo resentful that my husband was made redundant and can’t find another job so is home all day, while I’m out working my ass off  to pay the bills when I want to be home writing. 

I discovered this not very grown up part of my mind is throwing a tantrum and saying , “Well, if I can’t stay home all day and play, I’m not doing anything. You can’t make me get up earlier and write for an hour before work. You can’t make me write in the lunch break (what lunch break, anyway?) You can’t make me write last thing at night before going to sleep. I’m not gonna, and you can’t make me. Naaaaah!” Accompanied by poking out my tongue at myself and some serious foot stamping. My hair colour may mostly come out of a bottle now, but I’m still a natural redhead in my soul. And even more than the temper, one thing redheads are is stubborn. Really stubborn. Once we make our mind up to something, that’s it.

Useful to know this stuff, but it just boils down to more excuses. What makes a writer isn’t loads of great ideas. Got em, sort of. What makes a writer isn’t having a good grasp of language and grammar. Got that too, more or less. What makes a writer is the old mantra Bum On Seat, Hands On Keyboard. Keep writing until I learn the craft of creating a well paced story, characters that come alive, plots that work. I need to find some way to convince that mulish little redhead that she really does want to doing some writing, it’s fun, truly it is. Because as well as being an obnoxious brat sometimes, she’s the one with the stories.

In my constant efforts to feel like I am doing something towards supporting my desire to write, without actually having to write anything and admit “Hey, this is crap!”, I spend a fair amount of time reading other writer’s blogs ar on writers’ groups. I found this post today on the Writers at Play blog  .  Another reminder that it’s not about finding time to write, it’s about making time to write. Writing needs to be the priority.

I especially liked the idea of the 100 x 100- write  a minimum of 100 words every day for 100 days. If I can’t do that, then obviously I don’t want to write. Or I’m allowing my fears to be stronger than my desire to write.  Or those pesky excuses are stronger than my desire to write.

One thing I do a lot is set myself up to fail. Not just “I want to write something every day”, but “I want to write at least a thousand words everyday”, at a time when I have a lot of other pressures. What then happens is that old lazy me says, “Well, no chance of me writing a thousand words today, so no point bothering.” When the goal is 100 words, that excuse no longer cuts it.

So I’m daring sulky little redhead me- 100 story words a day.  Pffffttt! That’s nothing. You could do that while standing on your head. Or hanging upside down off the swing in the big old mulberry tree. Or teasing the cute boy next door by “accidentally” flashing your knickers at him. So go on, dare you. Double dare you!