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!

Stuck, again! February 15, 2010

I’m wanting to write Meg and Nick’s story, the one I pitched to Donna Alward for her pitch contest. I need to get the first chapter done and polished to send off as she’s generously offered to still give me a critique (though I know she’s on a tight deadline this month, so maybe she won’t mind not getting it till next month!). But I’m stuck. Again.

What is it with this story? I love the characters. I love the setting. I love the whole set up. I know how to fix the first chapter. I know I need to rewrite rather than keep tweaking the existing chapter. And I’m just not doing it.

Maybe all my willpower is being used up doing Menopause Makeover  (I lost 2 pounds and even better an inch and a half from my waist in the first week, so that’s going okay). Maybe I’m just being lazy. Maybe I’m having another crisis of confidence. Maybe I know, like my Presents contest entry, I’m yet again making the story too complex and convoluted, creating something I just don’t have the skill to carry off yet.

As Donna said reunion stories are hard to write- so much backstory! Also, I feel maybe I’ve overthought it, planned all the life out of it. I’ve completely lost enthusiasm for it. On some level, it feels like the story has already been told. I feel that I need to let all the thinking I’ve done on this story sit and simmer for a while, before I write it, let all those ideas and plans sink down to a deeper level and hopefully my subconscious can play with it and turn it back into something alive again. When my colleague who’s been off sick all last month is finally back working normal hours, I’m going to take a week  of vacation, and do a personal Book in a Week. Just write this story with no time to stop and think.

 What I would love to do right now is dive in with something different, and just write like crazy. First draft without stopping to think too much and work things out. Let the characters surprise me.

I have two options, the bush nurse story, Fool’s Gold, with Kate and Adam, which would be a Super; or Nellie and Mace’s story, which was originally going to be an Modern Heat. I can see how it could be even better as a Super, because both the hero and heroine’s emotional issues are family based, and the hero just wasn’t working out for MH, which is why I shelved the idea before. I can even see how it can link in to Meg and Nick’s story, as the start is Nellie trying to get out of the city to go to a wedding out in the country, but everything goes wrong. It was going to start in London with the wedding out in the wilds of the Cambridgeshire fens, but no reason it can’t start in Sydney with the wedding in Haven Bay. Though ideas for Kate and Adam are popping up all the time too!

I hope I’m not doing a “Bright Shiny New Story” to run away from just buckling down and writing Meg and Nick! I do genuinely feel I’ll write that story better with a bit of space from all the thinking I’ve done on it.  I just hope that now I will stick with whatever story I decide to write and at least see it through first draft and not let myself be seduced again by either a new story, or one of the ones I left on the shelf for now. My characters do hate being sidelined, waiting their turn, they all want to be the star!

I can’t help feeling I am lacking in Michelle Style’s Four Ds.


How Janey got her groove back January 7, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:10 pm
Tags: , ,

I seem to have got my groove back, thank God!

Thanks for the advice and encouragement after my last discouraged post- it all helped.

I simply decided these characters were worth writing about, even if it’s just for me and not ever for publication. Putting the pressure to write well wasn’t helping at all. I was expecting too much from my first draft, and not just letting it be first draft. The only way out was to just write my way out, because it came down to that or giving up. And I’m surely not  ready to give up!

What helped? Using Write or Die in short bursts -500 words in 20 minutes seems to work well for me-  it’s doable and not an offputting impossible seeming target. Engraving “It’s okay to write crap in first draft” on my brain. Putting writing high on my priorities. Remembering that it’s the character’s story, not mine- I need to do let them do their thing, without me getting in their way too much at this stage, and allow them to surprise me. I guess that’s another way of saying- don’t let my critical left brain mess too much with what has to be a creative right brain process. And also another way of saying that the story  has to be about two people falling in love, not about me throwing in yet another plot device.

Word count is creeping up. I’m a little behind the higher target I set to get to 60,000 words before I have to go on a work trip on the 25th, but almost spot on target at 22% if I had the whole month to use. I feel like I’m getting momentum now, and coming into a run of steady progress, before I come unstuck again somewhere in the middle.  

I love these characters! Happy writing, everyone.


The joys of writer’s block! June 17, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:48 pm
Tags: , ,

writers_block Image source











I wanted an image to fit the theme for my post, so I did a Google image search for writer’s block. It’s surprising (or maybe not, given the propensities of so many writers!) just how many wines there are named Writer’s Block.

I’m not planning on standing out the front and announcing “My name’s Jane, and I’m an alcoholic.”  I’m pretty sure I don’t have a drinking problem, though my teetotal husband may tell you otherwise! I was thinking about the usefulness of writer’s block,what I can learn from being stuck and not being able to move forward.  

When I whinged  posted about this somewhere (I thought it was the Mills and Boon forum, but I couldn’t find the post!) a kind published writer (again because I can’t find the post I can’t find the advice, but I’m fairly certain it was either Michelle Styles, Michelle Willingham, or Donna Alward) said that when they got stuck, it was because there was something wrong in the plot that needed fixing. I didn’t see how that applied to me at the time. Mini-lightbulb moment- I now feel maybe I do.

I have been so confused. Right from when I started planning the story, part of me wanted to write the story as a Presents, with loads of emotional drama; the other half wanted to write it as a lightly ironic romantic comedy, though still with its quota of emotional growth and change.

It seemed to make more sense to aim at Presents/ Modern. I love those stories, they are shorter (not that I am stupid enough to think that means easier, far from it!) and I have that Mills and Boon Compliments Slip that I don’t want to waste. But…but… as I was writing I seemed to lean more towards romantic comedy, and I had to keep pulling myself back.

As it is now, it’s neither one thing or the other. It’s a weird bastardised hybrid which will need huge amounts hacked out in the edits no matter which way I decide to take it.

The resistance to writing any more hit when I realised that to make this a series romance, whether Presents, Modern Heat, or a Sweet Romance, I would have to cut out all the bits I liked best and had most fun writing. Of course, those are very probably the bits that I will see I most need to be cut when I re-read the first draft! But I have this massive reluctance to let go of that fun, light, more chick lit voice. I didn’t really see how to make it work as a single title though. Now I think I have figured it out and I know what I am going to try and do. It’s the same story, but with a very different slant to it. The romantic comedy side is winning!

It won’t require just a little change to the story, but a massive change. Voice, tone, POV, whose emotional journey I focus on, all that will need to change. I don’t know if my idea will work or if it is totally crazy. It may be the sort of thing that could work fine for a short story or novella but get tiresome over a whole novel. Or it could work fine and be a fab romantic comedy.

I’m back in the saddle. I just don’t know yet it I’m galloping full tilt towards home, or the edge of a cliff.


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!

No more Superwoman! April 25, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:56 pm
Tags: ,


Not much writing happening this week, as my job has fried my brain.

Well okay, maybe I should be more honest, I have allowed my job to fry my brain.

Now, I’m leaving, I finish on Tuesday. My manager has already sent my reference off, so nothing I do in the last week will make any difference to my future. What would be the sensible thing to do? Take it easy, right?

Not me. I have to see all my patients, do a million referrals, leave them with as much follow-up in place as I can, keep on worrying about them. I’ve run myself ragged every work day this week, despite the fact I’ve felt lousy and vaguely under the weather all week. Next week isn’t shaping up any better. I’m even considering doing an extra day of unpaid work just to tie up all the loose ends.  Being a caring professional is one thing, but this is going too far.

 I’m recognising a pattern here as it’s happened a few times now, over about ten years. I start a new job, feel I need to be Superwoman and do more than is humanly possible, take on too much, realise I can’t manage it all, and have to leave the job because once I’ve taken on that much it’s almost impossible to back out gracefully and reduce the workload. I really really really need to learn this lesson before I start in my new job!

No more Superwoman! My job is not my life. My job is part of my life. So is writing. So is my marriage. So is my health.


Finding what it takes April 13, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:28 am
Tags: , , ,


It’s Easter. Four days off work. I planned to get a lot done. And I haven’t done any writing at all this weekend. A bit of story planning on Friday, nothing at all the last two days. Nada. Not one word. Not even any notes. My mind is completely blank.

I’ve been telling myself I don’t care and I’ve just been giving myself a break, but the fact is, I do care, I care very much. I’ve been feeling numb, but today I feel heartbroken and I don’t know why. I just don’t think I can do this. I’m feeling a deep and corrosive sense of failure. My writing group friends are finishing and submitting stories. I can’t help comparing myself and what I have achieved (NOT!) in the past year with what they have done.

It’s nearly a year since I got the feedback (AKA rejection letter) from the IS contest. Since then all I’ve done is have story ideas and write first chapters, somethimes a few times over. This story I’ve got to chapter three then stopped. The furthest I’ve got, since getting the letter this time last year and knowing there was no point completing the IS story even though I was only about 10,000 words away from the end.

I just realised, looking back at my blog posts to find the one about the HMB letter, that this is the anniversary of more than my first Mills and Boon rejection. It’s also the anniversary of what should have been the birthday of the baby I got furthest into pregnancy with. I lost Rose at 18 weeks. The letter terminated Bruno and Rebecca’s story at 40,000 words. I’m now in a recurrent miscarriage pattern with my writing.

When I sent that competition entry off, oddly there was no fear in my mind that it would be rejected. I felt confident that I had written a good story and it would be accepted. Just like with my first preganancy, where it never occured to me that I might not end up with a baby. The only feeling when I saw the positive pregnancy test was pure joy and anticipation that nine months later, I would have a baby.

Seven miscarriages later, there didn’t seem to be much point doing pregnancy tests. Why bother, why get excited and get my hopes up. A positive test didn’t mean hope and joy, it meant fear and anxiety, waiting for it all to go wrong again. Sometimes I lost the pregnancy within a few days, sometimes it took longer, eight, ten, twelve weeks. With Rose I got to sixteen weeks before the big problems started. I’d had scans. Seen her tiny heart beating. Seen her moving her arms and legs. Felt the tiny flutters of movement. Been told I should stop worrying now, I was past the stage where things can go wrong. I felt such happiness. At last it was going to happen. This time, this time I would have a baby, no more grief and sorrow, thank God.  It didn’t happen like that. Yes, I had a baby,  but a  baby not much bigger than a Barbie doll, born at eighteen weeks, too early to have any chance of survival.

After the next couple of pregnancies also miscarried, but much earlier, I stopped doing pregnancy tests. If giving up caffeine and alcohol and eating only organic food and taking the right vitamin tablets hadn’t stopped me losing my babies, maybe pretending I wasn’t pregnant and and wasn’t trying to get pregnant and didn’t care and just carrying on like normal would work. It didn’t. The wild hope if my period was late, the gut deep sense of failure and loss when the bleeding came had me on a crazy roller coaster ride. I was so angry with my husband when he insisted that we were going to stop trying, that we wouldn’t ever have unprotected sex. He couldn’t bear seeing me so upset. He was right of course. It stopped the crazy ups and downs. Replaced them with a permanent down. I had no hope. I was still left with the monthly reminder of my failure as a woman. My failure to fulfil my deepest, oldest, most cherished dream.

So cross that one off the list. Only thing to do was to move onto the next thing on my list of things I wanted to do before I was forty, written back when I was eighteen, when anything seemed possible, except believing I would ever be as impossibly old as forty!

 By then, I was forty seven and the three biggies at the top of the list still weren’t done. Having a baby was out. The other two were be a published fiction writer and build my own house. House building was going to be difficult. I was living in Britain, where land was expensive and there were armies of men with clipboards checking that building codes were fully enforced. The sort of small funky organic house I wanted was out of the question. Besides the fact my very “But what would be neighbours think?” husband would be horrified at the idea.  So only one idea left. Writing.

I’d had a couple of articles published, but they didn’t count, the dream was very specific that it had to be fiction. I was the kid who was always scribbling stories. In high school my teachers were encouraging. I sent a few stories and poems off  to magazines and had rejections. It didn’t feel like such a big deal, I’d try again another time. But I didn’t.  There were always distractions. I started nursing instead and writing was always there but just for me.  Went back to uni as a mature student in my late twenties and did english and creative writing courses. Lecturers encouraging, wanted me to submit my writing to journals. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to be writing literary short stories. I wanted to be writing the genre stuff that the lecturers disapproved of. Romance, fantasy. I left uni and kept writing the things I wanted to write, but never finishing anything. Nothing was ever good enough. I didn’t write consistently either, my writing was episodic. Oh, I journalled most days. And my journal pages were full of story ideas, that I never wrote. Every couple of years I would decide I wanted to write seriously, and I would work up an idea and start writing. But I never got much past chapter one. Until late December 2007, when I decided I was going to go for it with writing, really go for it. That was when I finally crossed “baby” off the dream list, and looked at the next thing on the list.

So, JanNo 2008. Dived into a story, finished by 27th January. Found out about the HMB Instant Seduction competition, wrote and sent off my first chapter and synopsis by 14th February. Kept writing the story, and was near finishing in April 2008 when the letter came. I didn’t want to drop that story, but recognised there was not much point finishing it when they didn’t want to see it. Since then, I’ve been in miscarriage mode with my writing. Lots of hopeful starts that go nowhere. In December I recognised that pattern and committed to finishing the story I was working on. I’m still stuck on that same story, starting and restarting it when I know I just need to keep writing and finish the bloody thing. Even if it’s the most rubbishy first draft ever, just get the darned thing done so I can move on! I want to have a go at redoing my IS entry, and my JanNo, with all I have learned about romance writing in the last year. It’s good to recognise that it really hasn’t been a wasted year. I may not have completed anything, but I’ve still learned a lot and made some good friends in the romance writing community.

I still don’t know quite how to get out of this stuck place I’m in and break the miscarriage pattern. I have a week off between jobs, so I’m planning to do Book in a Week on this story and try to just write my way through it. Six days, 8,500 words a day. It will be total crap, but it will be soooo good to finally write The End!


Bleah! April 13, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:38 am
Tags: ,


No writing today, but I have been reading some great stories and seeing exactly how I am not doing it right! The Frenchman’s Marriage Demand by Chantelle Shaw, and The Brazilian’s Blackmail Bargain by Abby Green. Very different stories but sharing the same quality of emotional intensity and depth.

I’m feeling bleah about my own writing in comparison. I’ll be very very surprised if I get a letter from the Mills and Boon editors about my competition entry, but that’s okay- it’s a good thing to be aware of how much there still is for me to learn. I thought I’d already served my writing apprenticeship, but somehow I think it’s only just beginning!

And it’s true. Okay, almost true, Of course I still want a frigging letter, but if I did get one the story I would send won’t be the same oneas the competition entry in many ways, as it really does need a total overhaul. I have reached a point in my story where I have realised its a house built on crumbling foundations, and it simply won’t hold together as I pile more on top. Not enough understanding of my characters before I started, they were just coathangers to hang the plot on rather than the engine driving the story (hoo boy- serious case of mixed metaphors!).

I don’t want to give up on it, but the problems go beyong editing and, I think, need a total rewrite. I’m thinking I need to start over, with the same characters, same situation, but hopefully a better understanding of these people and what motivates their choices. I am so undecided about this, I seem to change direction five times a day on what to do with this story! I reallyw ant to make a decision and stay with it, and stop this endless see-sawing between options. The problem is, all the options seem equally unappealing. I’m fed up with this story, almost certain it’s fatally flawed, but I don’t want to be a quitter.

The choices are-

1. keep writing, but accept that I am in first draft mode and what I write will be crap, but that’s okay because I will be doing a heavy duty edit later

2. stop now, and start again from scratch, what I have is so flawed that I need to begin again, there is nothing in what I have done that can be salvaged

3. take a break, start on another story, and look again at this one is a few months, when I have a bit of distance from it and can make a better judgement as to whether it is worth continuing with

Looking at it that way, option two is not an option. There may not be much that is good in what I’ve done, but in sure there are one or two paragraphs that i would leave in the completed version.

Just went back and reread Kate Walker’s blog for the 10th April- her advice to one writer who asked a similar question in the “Writers’ Q&A” is to keep writing and then sort the problems out later. Okay, so that’s what I’ll do, keep slogging on. I just wish I knew some way to recapture the joy and sense of adventure I started out on this story with!