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!

More on goal setting January 11, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:21 pm
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Okay, since the last post I’ve read some better bloggers on goal setting in writing.

The Happy Writer is a blog I want to spend a lot more time exploring. She has an excellent post on Happy Goal Setting. Love this idea-

If you make only one resolution this year, looking at the first definition of resolution listed above, make it this one:  I resolve to find ways to be happy in my writing life, to free my creativity by letting go of the tension I feel about my yet-to-be-accomplished goals and the things I have no control over.

It does seem to me that by setting far less ambitious writing goals than I normally do, I have more chance of actually achieving them.

Also, a nice post here by SuperRomance author Holly Jacobs about the difference between dreams and goals.


Shiny New 2011! December 31, 2010

It’s that time of year again!

Time to look back and see what I achieved and what I learned in 2010, and set some goals for 2011.

I do feel like I achieved a lot with my writing in 2010. Not The Call, sure, but other valid achievements. I subbed three first chapters, one each to Harlequin Medical Fast Track, Mills and Boon New Voices, and Harlequin So You Think You Can Write. I did the Write-a-Thon I set for myself over Easter, managing over 5,000 words a day to complete a first draft aimed at Superromance, then edited up and subbed the partial. I learned a lot from the rejections, even the form one! So fours subs in a year, considering the most I managed before was one chapter for contests in each of the preceding years, is pretty good going! I have a bulging ideas file, a story in progress, and plans to edit up the rejected Superromance. Daily word counts may not be awesome, but there’s been steady progress. I’ve certainly written on more days than I didn’t!

I’ve done some excellent online workshops this past year – the Margie Lawson and Shirley Jump ones are the stand-outs, and I’m hopin.g to take more workshops with both of them again in 2011. Margie’s insights into how people express emotion through body language and using a character’s body language (she has a broad definition, including everything except the character’s actual spoken words and internalisations) to show not tell, are something I need to revisit (must reread those super-comprehensive lecture notes!.)   Shirley Jump is just plain fun to work with, a fab teacher, and a brilliant writer. I did two online workshops with her, and will be signing up for the next one in February!

I’ve learned plenty through personal reading and workshopping too. Donald Maas’s Writing the Breakout Novel and the Workbook that goes with it helped make some shifts in my writing – not enough to breakout, obviously, but enough for me to see a difference. Do get both if you’re going to do it – yes, there’s some repetition, but the workbook is where things really shifted. I’m glad I broke my bad habit of reading books but not doing the exercises this year!  Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and Save the Cat Strikes Back are fab – I love his style and the Beat Sheet is a brilliant way of looking at story structure. Robert McKee’s Story, which I’m reading now, is a thoughtful and deeper exploration of what it takes to make a well-written story – definitely one to read with either a notebook or a Word file open for all the insights into your current story you’ll get! I bought a few other writing books this year, but haven’t done much with them yet so can’t comment.

So, onto to 2011 and my goals!

I already wrote down some writing goals a couple of days ago over at the Sub Care forum on eHarl. Then, within 24 hours, my goals changed! So I seems to me important to bear in mind when writing goals to  keep them flexible. Some people say very specific, concrete goals work best, measurable goals where it’s easy to say “Yes, I did that”, or “No, I didn’t.” That’s great if you have a totally clear focus. What I found happened was I made the goals, then something changed, became much bigger than I expected if would be, so what I originally planned is going to be impossible to achieve if I do it properly. Maybe one of my goals should be to have  a clearer focus!

What I need is to set small, flexible goals, goals I can actually achieve that don’t pre-set me to fail. I already think I suck enough as a writer, without adding failing to achieve unrealistic goals into the mix too! I liked this post from Kitty Bucholtz. It seems wise to me to set goals that are written on water rather than carved in stone.

Sticking with my goal to write story words every day is totally needed, insisting on trying to stick with my goal to complete and sub two new  full stories in 2011 is not. That could be counter-productive, given that my WIP (currently two chapters and a plan) just morphed from a 55,000 word category romance to a 90,000 word single title romance – and another sub-plot that’s so perfect I have to include it jumped into my mind literally as I am writing this post. It’s as if having given my story permission to be bigger, it’s doing just that.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I have the skills needed to write something of the complexity I’m envisioning. That’s okay. I’m not entirely sure I have the skills to write it as a short category either. What I am going to do is write free of what I think is needed for the Harlequin series I was targeting, and see what I end up with. Trying to write to meet what I perceived to be category requirements just tied me in knots and what I wrote was cliche ridden crap, with cardboard characters just going through the motions in a same old-same old style plot that everyone has seen a million times. I brought nothing new to the table.

It could be that by writing free, I’ll end up with something that actually has some life and originality in it, that could even work for Superromance, the longer (and getting longer again in 2011 – yippee!) category line I love. If not, it will find its home somewhere.

My writing goal for 2011 is to write every day, write without worrying about publishability, and to see what I end up with before I make any decisions what it is or what to do with it. To keep learning and growing as a writer. Oh, and to finish 2011 with a clearer focus.

May we all have a joyous, productive and Call-filled 2011! And may none of us make ourselves miserable by setting unachievable goals. Let’s set goals that stretch us just enough, so we can look back this time next year and celebrate!

Edited to add- I just found this post with some thoughtful and challenging questions about where we are with our writing- may take the time to answer these properly.


Day One progress April 1, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:26 pm
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Over 5,000 words! I’m not sure of the exact word count but I think it’s 5,200 and something.

The Write-a-thon is off to a good start and I’m pleased with that. Not that all the words are in the right order or will stay in the edited version! It’s out and out first draft crap, but I do think I have the seeds of a good story here.

My plan is to have a rough first draft done before I go back to work on April 12. Then I can spend at least a month editing and polishing, before I send it off for my Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme entry. Then revise it, based on their feedback. Then sub a partial to Superromance. And get on with the next story in the series while I’m waiting.

The main issue I found with my writing today is that I want to be too nice to my characters. The conflict is there, built into the characters and the scenario. But I’m not mining it. I nearly had my heroine forgive her estranged mother as soon as they met again after eight years. Same with the hero. They are all being too nice to each other for people who wounded each other so badly in the past.

Instant forgiveness ain’t gonna happen! They have to suffer first, there has to be a slow emotional change, not a sudden, “Oh, you’re sick now and sorry for what you did, I forgive you,” with her mother, and “I understand why you did what you did so it’s all okay,”  with the hero and heroine.  It’s so much easier to write that than have them do a guarded dance around each other, one step forward one step back, drop their defences piece by piece, go through hurt and anguish over the situation and their feelings and the possibility of redemption. But that’s the way it has to be. They need to earn their happy ending.


Progress report March 14, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:21 pm
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I’ve been a baaaaaaad blogger. No posts for three weeks.

Work has been busy (so what’s new!) but the good news is my colleague who was ill so long is back working normal hours, and we’ve worked out a new work schedule that should help everyone manage the workload better. We’ll start the four day work week we hoped to start in January too, so I’ll have a weekday off to write. No excuses then!

I’ve finally finished the rewritten chapter one of the story I pitched in Donna Alward’s pitch contest. Donna has generously offered to still critique it for me. I hope she likes it. I know she will have suggestions for how I can improve it, which I hope I can write well enough to incorporate! Actually, I more or less finished it a while ago, but kept tweaking tweaking tweaking. Eventually I just had to say “No more” and hit send, or I was never going to send it!  Even though what I sent Donna must have been my fifth draft of the chapter,  as soon as I sent it I realised more changes I need to make- ways to deepen the emotion and conflict. Somehow it felt scarier sending my writing to someone I feel I know and like than to sub to an editor. I don’t want someone I feel knows me to see I really can’t write!

Now on with the rest of the story. I was up to chapter 3 or 4 in the first draft before I stopped, knowing big changes needed to be made, and that the fact I’d taken a wrong turn right at the very start was what kept holding me back from writing. I can’t edit what I already have to fit, I may be able to use somes paragraphs, but really, the only way to make it work will be a rewrite. I want to just race through a quick and dirty first draft now. No point polishing as I go, I know too much will change. It may well be that once I finish first draft I realise I’ve still started at a place that’s less effective, and need to start all over again for the third time. If I do, I don’t mind- it’s all learning how to plot and get it right sooner next time, plus I will know my characters’ conflicts inside out by then!

I’m taking Easter week off, giving me eleven days to write in. If I write something  on the story every day now, maybe with a big push then I can get the first draft roughed out. Fingers crossed! Though I need to be so careful with the goals I set myself. I realised how I was setting myself up to fail with writing and feel worse about myself by making unrealistically high goals. I’d decide I was going to write so many words a day and make up charts to fill in my daily word counts and track how I was going against my goal. Lousy idea! If I’m not writing, I feel bad about myself, get depressed, start beating myself up about my writing being no good anyway so why bother, and end up writing even less. Setting high targets was just exacerbating this. Paradoxically, pushing myself to write harder ended up making me less productive, not more.  I set a new writing target this week, hopefully one I can stick to no matter what else is going on in my life. My goal is to write one sentence on the work in progress, every day. Just one. Anything else is a bonus. I’ll report back how that works!

I’m feeling excited today that I have plans for a whole series of stories set in the same small town as Meg and Nick’s story. I know that seems ambitious for an unpublished writer, but there are secondary characters who deserve their own story, then I saw how other ideas for stories I wanted to write would fit in too. Those characters would be right at home in Haven Bay. I need to know this now because it will alter how I create the story world. If I want to include a future story that hinges on the town being hard to get to and easily cut off from the outside world, no point putting it a mile off the highway now!

I also realised what I need to do with a story I wrote for JanNo 2008, that’s been sitting there in first draft waiting all this time to be edited. It won’t be part of the same series, probably won’t even be targeted at Superromance. I have the feeling it might just be a Blaze. The whole time I was writing it I was holding the heroine back sexually, thinking “She can’t do that!”,  and “No, she can’t possibly do that!” Maybe she can, and it ties in perfectly with her core relationship block. So that might be fun to play with once I’ve finished this one and subbed it.

Seems like the only stories I don’t have plans for are the two first drafts for the Presents contests…


November 1 November 1, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:12 pm
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Means NaNoWriMo!

I wasn’t going to do it this year. I set myself the goal of rewriting/editing Luk and Emma’s story instead, just in case I got a full request. Did not want to have to say to a lovely Mills and Boon editor “Well, um, the thing is, the rest of my story is a 60,000 word pile of steaming cow dung and it won’t be ready to submit for at least three months.” I was planning to go with The Intern and do NaNoReVisMo. Get The Playboy’s  Virgin Princess Bride (or whatever I’m calling Luk and Emma at the moment) at least second drafted all the way through. It would be a valuable learning experience, for sure.

But… but…

I’m so frigging bored with Luk and Emma’s story! I really really really want to start something new. Or even better, something old/new, like the Australian bush nurse story I started back in 2000 or 2001. And lets face it, what are the odds of getting a full request on Luk and Emma? I will be sooooooo mad if I spend another month on them and then get a skinny little R thanks but no thanks email in December. I don’t want another “learning experience”, I want to have some fun writing new characters in a new situation.

Would it really be so bad to let Luk and Emma sit for a month, and dive into a new story?

Or is this just another completion avoidance technique? I actually adore Luk and Emma. I want to give them their HEA. I’m gonna feel so bad if I just leave them dangling ‘cos I wanna run off and play with some newer shiny characters and have that lovely getting-to-know-you, falling in love thing all over again.

Do you know what I just realised the fear is? I don’t want to read any further into my first draft of Luk and Emma. ‘Cos I don’t want to have to deal with what a mess it really is. It’s easier to start something new. It’s less scary to start something new.

Okay. Now I know why I’ve been procrastinating all day.

Luk and Emma it is.


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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the attitude I need.

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

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

Step one is to look at my expectations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.