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!

Rejection First Aid Kit January 28, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:38 pm
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The lovely Shannon McKelden, aka The Happy Writer, has put together a free e-book on dealing constructively with rejection. Just sign up for her newsletter here.

Here’s a taster-

The most important phase of rejection is the recovery phase. It’s your choice whether you recover or not. Whether you pick yourself up and plunk yourself in front of that computer again or whether you wallow in self-pity and never write another word.

To survive rejection, it’s in your best interest to develop a thick skin. And the only way to build a callus, to toughen up, is to take
chances, put yourself out there, and accept the risk of rejection by submitting. Remember… rejection is never fatal. Make the choice
to use rejection to become a better, more professional writer.

Finally, remember to apply CPR to your rejections:
C – Collect your thoughts, Check your ego, Celebrate (you’re a real writer!)
P – Prepare to get rejections, be a Professional, watch for Patterns, stay Positive
R – Research, React in a positive manner, remain Realistic, Recover!

Her blog is well worth a visit.


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.


Gratitude ABC November 25, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you grateful for today?


A cheat post- Rules or instinct? August 23, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:50 pm
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Sounds a bit like those “Plotter or Pantser” discussions, doesn’t it.

The wonderful Aideen Taylor wrote a blog post on Intuition, among other things, on Seven Sassy Sisters. I got a bit carried away with my reply, and as I have been a bad blooger and haven’t posted for a while, I’m cheating. This post is the reply. Sorry if you’ve read it before!

There’s a tricky balance in writing between instinct and “following the rules”.

Following our writing instinct without regard for the rules can lead to a writing disaster. I have several hot messes of stories to prove that! But following the rules without regard for individual instinct leads to dull, lifeless stories, devoid of voice. I have several other stories where I focused so hard on getting the framework right the charactacters are cardboard cut outs stiffly going through the motions.

Intuition and instinct aren’t completely interchangeable. Instinct is what is completely internal to the individual. Instinct bypasses thought, it comes from an earlier more emotional part of the brain. Studies on intuition show it’s something quite different.

The studies I’ve read were based on nurses and doctors. We work a lot on intuition, then we try to find the science to back it up. Like House with his brilliant intuitive leaps in diagnosis, or the nurse who “knows” that particular patient is going to tank and need extra intervention, even though right now they seem totally fine. Reseach has shown that what feels to be pure instinct, gut feeling, is actually a very high level of learning and experience. It looks and feels like magic when it happens, but it’s not magic. More like alchemy- a deep knowing of the “rules” mixed with close observation and a touch of instinct, transformed into something that works brilliantly.

I think that’s what we need in our writing, what Aideen is referring to when she talks about intuition. An internalisation of the rules of romance so they feel part of us, part of who we are as a writer, mixed with enough courage, knowledge of our characters, and faith in ourselves to know when to break or bend the rules.

The rules say the story must be focused on the two central characters. The rules say there need to be external forces that push the characters together (and a strong dose of attraction doing the same), and internal psychological and emotional forces keeping them apart. The rules say everything the characters try to do to fix the story problem should make things get progressively worse until the Black Moment. The rules say the Happy Ever After can’t be brought about by external forces, it must come from change within the characters. Some of these rules I think can be broken. It has to be what is right for the characters, and what is right for this individual story. The writer has to use their intuition.

The one I’ve read so many times in “how to write” books, is the progressive worsening until the black moment, the worst possible outcome. My last story, and the story I’m working on now, both break that one, and I’ve read plenty of published stories that do too. In both, there’s a place about three quarters of the way into the story, where all looks fine. The characters are together, and it looks like it might work out. Except the reader and at least one of the characters know that’s not the case. Their time together might be time-limited and the deadline is approaching. There might be a big untold secret that’s going to blow everything apart once it comes to light. There might be a ticking time-bomb of relationship issues within one character that the reader knows is going to go off. I like this set-up, because the fact it was almost working out makes the pain of the black moment ever sharper. That to me is an example of breaking the rules the right way, of the writer knowing what is best for her story.

The other rules? If the story isn’t focused on the relationship, it may still be a darned good story, but it’s not category romance, it’s single title or some other genre. If the resolution doesn’t come about through action and change on the part of both the characters, if it’s external things that bring the character together, or only one character changes, that’s a rule I hate to see broken, no matter what the genre. For me, a story is only satisfying when they earn their HEA. But we’ve all read published stories that break the rules. That’s where author voice comes in. Some writers can pull off the most ludicrous scenarios, break all the rules, have totally unconvincing HEAs, and we still read them and go back for more.

It takes a subtle combination of rules and voice to write a good romance. “Intuition” , I think, is really the writer’s confidence to follow her voice even if it means breaking the rules.

But yes, she needs to know the rules in the first place to break them successfully.


The Sacred Sisterhood- and why I love it December 13, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:13 pm
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I am fortunate to be a member of a small online writer’s group. We’re a bunch of unpublished but working on it romance writers who got together on the I Hearts Presents blog after last year’s competitions (rejected, every single one of us!) to form a group to support each other, commiserate over our rejections, celebrate our successes, and read and critique each others work, so we could learn and grow and help each other reach our goal of publication.

We’d all discovered that no matter how supportive friends and family are, most of them just don’t get it. They don’t understand why a rejection letter would have us in hysterics, and a revision letter for a friend would have us dancing around the room. They don’t have a clue what we are talking about when we muse aloud about a character’s past and how that might impact the black moment, and when we start talking about our hero and heroine like they are real people. There are some things no-one, apart from other writers, really understand.

So we got talking on I Hearts after the last contest, and someone suggested forming a Google group so we could keep on talking.

We’re not really called the Sisterhood, but we’ve become such good friends over the last 14 months, we call each other sisters. We support each other like sisters, not just in good times but in bad times; not just with our writing ups and downs but with all the crap the real world can throw at us too. We’ve been through pregnancy, sick kids and pets, unemployed husbands, money worries, aging parents, day jobs from hell, illnesses and bereavements, plus the utter awfulness sometimes of keeping on doing what we have to day after day after day when it feels like nothing we do can make the dream come any closer.

We chat and encourage and laugh and cry and make bad jokes and rude jokes. Sometimes we even talk about writing.

We bounce our ideas off each other before we even start to write. Would this be believeable if she did that, and is this enough reason for him to behave like that? Character interviews are great fun, and the answers to questions put to the character by the group (everything from favourite music to favourite sexual position) turn up some revealing information.

We post our writing, and get feedback from people who will not just say a meaningless “That’s wonderful,” like friends and family, but will actually tell us what doesn’t work, what needs to be stronger, and how we might make it so. We get to learn how to look critically at a piece of writing, how to recognise what is good and what needs fixing, and how to communicate that. This has taught me more than anything. When I get an insight into how a friend can improve her work, that’s a gift I can apply to my writing too.

We share our rejection letters, cry together over them, and sometimes some of us get to realise what they thought were rejection letters were actually revision letters. We’ve journeyed with Maisey through the revision process, seeing her shape and reshape her story to bring out all the potential her editor saw was there. We all got to dance and sing when she got her Call.

I am joyfully proud to be part of this group, proud that one of our group has just sold to Presents and another is now the Modern Heat winner for the Harlequin Writing competition. Maisey’s book, His Virgin Acquisition, to be released in August 2010, is amazing. Gill’s winning chapter, which will be posted soon on I Hearts is brilliant, a worthy winner.

I’m not saying the group made these things happen. Maisey and Gill are fabulous writers. They would have achieved success no matter what. But maybe the support and encouragement helped it happen sooner. Helped people keep going when things were tough and discouraging and it could have been tempting to give in. I know it’s helped me immensely. I hope and pray I’ll see good news for all the group members in the coming year, because each of these women is talented and deserving of success. I love every one of them.

What makes the sisterhood sacred and lifts it above the mundane is that we do truly love, encourage, and support each other. We mourn each others losses, we celebrate each others victories. We see the truth in each other, sometimes when the person themselves can’t see it.

The group is sacred because they keep me honest. When I am kidding myself about something, they tell me. When I think something I’ve written is good and it’s not, they tell me. When I think something I’ve written is bad, and it’s not, they tell me. When I’m having one of those days, weeks, months and all I want to do is to stop writing, shut down the blog, delete all my writing files, disappear off the forums, they stop me. No point doing it, they know where I am. They’ll track me down and make me write.

Groups like ours don’t work for everyone. Some writers prefer to have a single critique partner. Some prefer a larger group. Some know they work best alone. Everyone is different.

But for writers who feel in need of more support as they work to improve their writing, the option of setting up a similar group or finding a writing buddy is open to anyone. This links to a post I wrote last year about finding a writing group or buddy. There are more suggestions in the comments there.

Some key things to bear in mind-

  • Treat it like dating, with a trial period of “getting to know you” first. Make sure everyone has the same expectations- how much social chat is there going to be, how much writing talk? How many times are you going to meet? How often will you give each other work to read, and how soon should a critique be given? How will you deal with things if it doesn’t work out?
  • Make sure that your CP understands and is sympathetic to the line you are targeting. Ideally a writer targeting the same line, at least someone who has read it widely and recently, and who enjoys it. You don’t want to someone constantly wanting you to take out the sex, put in more sex: change your hero to be more Alpha or less Alpha; cut the vampire out of your paranormal because everyone knows vampires don’t really exist, put a vampire into your Sweet Romance because vamps are hot right now; or whatever suits their particular bias.
  • Be clear on what you want from a critique and that you both understand that. You don’t want a CP just picking you up on a spelling mistake when you want to know if the hero’s motivation works; you might not want her telling you the hero’s motivation doesn’t work if all you wanted was a last minute typo check. Last minute typo checks are good, but not the best use of a CP, in my opinion!
  • Understand that not everyone knows how to give good critique. Ms Nice Girl will just give bland feedback, because she doesn’t want to cause offense, everything is “Fine” or “Nice” or “I enjoyed it”. Ms Nasty has watched Simon Cowell too much and thinks critique means ripping everything to shreds, with no positives at all. Good critique is balanced. It recognises what strengths are there, and builds from them. If there are things that in the reader’s opinion could be strengthened it says so, with some suggestions for improvement. Not “write it like this” suggestions, changing the wording, but things like “would it work better if he did that there?” Or just stating how it was for you and leaving it for the writer to bounce her own answers off you- “I wasn’t clear why he did that there.” Sometimes Ms Nice and Ms Nasty can be coaxed to give better critique by asking them open ended questions. “What were three things you liked about my hero? And what were three things I could have changed?”
  • Know that sometimes people don’t know how to recieve critique. Sometimes even a considered balanced critique isn’t what someone wants to hear. Ms Nice often wants to hear just the same in return. This makes it difficult to get any benefit from her as a CP, or to help her improve her writing in return.
  • Even the best critique in the world might not be right for your writing. Sometimes a CP will make a suggestion and you instinctively know that’s not right, your character wouldn’t do that, whatever. That’s good! You don’t have to take the CPs advice. and you just learned something about your character. A good CP will accept that you won’t always follow through on everything they suggest.
  • Be ready for the reality that not everyone in a group or partnership will develop at the same rate or find their place at the same time. How will you deal with it if you get published when your critique partner is still struggling? How will you manage if your CP gets her Call and it feels like you are being left behind?

It’s not the answer for everyone, and nothing replaces writing as the best of all ways to learn. Groups or partnerships can also be time consuming, eating into our writing time. Only you can decide if this is what works for you. I know it does for me.

For anyone looking for a group, SK started something over at I Heart Presents. There’s now a thread there listing new critique groups, including a group that is open to any romance writer- Romance Angels Network


Dancing naked November 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:08 pm
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My writing friend Eileen wrote this on her blog last week-

 Have you ever felt like the moment you get comfortable in your own skin you’re asked to dance naked in it?

I love that metaphor. She was talking about something else, but it’s true for writing too.

Writing is self-exposure, whether we want it to be or not. We put so much of ourselves into our stories, then we put them out into the world. No wonder rejections and bad reviews are so hard, it feels like it’s not just the words we wrote that are being rejected, but us as people being judged and found lacking.

Holly Lisle’s newsletter this week was about just this- how whether we mean to or not, we can’t help but put ourselves into our writing. She says-

There are two ways to keep from revealing yourself while writing fiction.  The first is to only write things you
don’t care about.

The second is to not write fiction at all.

Good fiction is personal.  If you’re writing—and if what you’re writing matters to you—you are going to be in your fiction,
and the people who read what you’ve written will read your mind.

They will see YOU.

So if we are going to be naked anyway, may as well dance!

What kind of naked dancer are you?

A Dita Von Teese burlesque?

A pagan stomp around a fire in the woods at full moon?

A seductive hip shimmier?

Right now, I’m standing in the darkest corner of the room, hunched over with one arm wrapped around my breasts, the other covering my pubes. The music might be playing, but I’m not listening yet.

Time after time, my critique partners tell me they feel like I’m holding back in my writing. And I am. I’m writing what I want people to like, what I think will be acceptable. That might not be the same as what I really want to write.

But there’s so much in me I don’t want to let anyone else see. I’m old enough to have plenty of saggy unacceptable bits, literally and metaphorically. If I let myself go in my writing, I’m afraid it would be so wild and crazy no-one but me would even understand it, let alone want to read it.

So what do I do?

Keep playing it safe?

Or do I need to close my eyes, take a deep breath, let the music get inside me and move my hips just a little. Then slowly, so slowly, peel my arms away from their protective grip on my body, open them wide, and dance?


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!