Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Motivation, lack of

If you were expecting this to be a craft blog on how to keep motivated when writing after 58 books, I’m afraid I have to disappoint you because when it comes to motivation, I have, it seems, completely lost it for the 59th.

I was inclined to blame this on a lack of inspiration at first, but I think feeling unmotivated is different. I’ve got an idea, I’ve got a plot.  I’ve got characters with goals and motivations.  I’d like to write this story, I really would, but somehow I just can’t quite bring myself to do it.

Lack of motivation isn’t the same as block, which is a terrible thing.  Block is when you sit at your computer, staring at the screen, fingers frozen to the keyboard, feeling sick as a great tangle of words knots and lodges immovably in the pit of your stomach … ugh, I feel quite nauseous just thinking about it! 

Lack of motivation is less dramatic, but more insidious.  Now I can’t even get myself to sit at my computer at all, and if I do, I just spend my time checking my email, or drifting off to browse Amazon or check on the weather in countries I have no expectation of visiting in the near future.  And weirdly, I’m not even bothered by it.  

I can trot out plenty of explanations for this: I’m deadlined out; I’ve been getting over a general anaesthetic; I’ve been away, and now have visitors; my head is still in time slip mode and I’m waiting to hear what revisions are needed that; I’m not living from advance to advance the way I normally am. But these are explanations and not excuses, I know, and I am rather ashamed of myself, especially when I hear about other authors getting on with their writing under the most difficult of circumstances.

It may not be very cool to admit it, but for me the financial incentive is usually a very strong one.  Thanks to advance on the time slip, I've been in a more comfortable position this year, but I still can’t afford to give up my regular income from Harlequin.  If I don’t write a book now, it won’t have any immediate effect, but in two or three years’ time, it certainly will, and if the time slip isn’t a success, I will surely regret faffing around now.  The trouble is that I really can’t whip myself into a frenzy about something that may or may not happen in two years’ time. 

The real problem is that I don’t have a deadline. I had so many earlier this year that I agreed with my editor that I would write the book and then we’d talk about a contract.  Which is all very well, but I hadn’t realised then that my motivation would collapse like a popped balloon the moment the last deadline of the year was made.  So the obvious solution is to set myself a new deadline but you guessed it … I can’t bring myself to do that either.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll get my act together, but in the meantime, at least I’ve got most of my Christmas shopping done and it's not even December yet!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

We’ll always have Durdle Dore

Thanks for all the brilliant suggestions for questions in the Mr & Mrs questionnaire last time. I made a note of them all … and then that felt like enough work before I went away for five days.  My nearest and dearest have spent the entire year complaining that I have been manic, and should calm down, so I have taken them at their word and am now so calm I am almost catatonic. 

The view was even better!
My stress levels have been reduced to sub zero by a lovely weekend on the Dorset coast.  We stayed in the most romantic little cottage right on the coast.  You can't see from this picture, but the bed was so high I had to climb on a step to get into it, and when we sat up in the morning and pulled the curtains, we could look right out at the sea. The state of my nose was rather less than perfect but apart from that, as romantic weekends go, it could hardly be bettered.

Aerial view of Lulworth Cove
The weather was beautiful, too, and in my current relaxed state I was happy to eschew long hikes for sitting on the beach listening to the sea on the shingle, or lying back on the tufty grass and watching the sky.  We were a bit more touristy on Sunday, and went to Lulworth Cove, which I’d never seen before, and which was much more spectacular than I was expecting.  I couldn’t get a good picture, so this is a postcard view, but the sea was nearly as blue as this when we were there, I promise you.

We'll Always Have Paris ... and Durdle Dore

Then we walked over the hill to admire Durdle Dore, where I made John pose with We’ll Always Have Paris so that I could take the perfect photo (after all the fuss, I haven't yet broken it to him that the best shot is the one I took one-handed).

This is the RIVA edition of We'll Always Have Paris and I am very ho-hum about it, I confess.  The girl on the cover is SO not Clara.  Clara loves musicals and is warm and energetic; this girl looks sulky to me - I certainly wouldn’t mess with her – while the cover hero looks barely out of his teens as usual.  I haven’t seen the North American cover for Harlequin Romance yet – actually, I’m not clear exactly when it’s coming out – so I’m awaiting that box of books with bated breath … or as bated as I can muster in my current slack state. 

We’ll Always Have Paris is out in the UK in January (I’m still trying to find out when it’ll be released in North America) so more about Clara and Simon’s story nearer the time. For now I really must, must, must get on with Frith and George …    

In the meantime, here are some more photos of the Dorset coast, since I have them on my computer.  Picture me sighing gustily.
The sea outside our window

The coast near Lulworth Cove

Durdle Dore, late November afternoon

Lulworth Cove

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The missing muse

Some great news to start the week:  I’ve been nominated for a Series Career Achievement Award by the Romantic Times. The RT Career Achievement Awards honour authors for their entire body of work throughout their career rather than for a specific book.  Nominees are selected by RT’s staff of over 50 reviewers representing the readers’ voice in the women’s fiction industry, so it’s a great honour and obviously I am thrilled.

There is something a little ironic about it, too, as I have been struggling to get going on my next book and as always when I hit a block, I immediately decide my career is over/I’m never going to be able to write again/will have to sell the house etc., etc. (Overreact?  Moi??)

It’s all very frustrating as I was all fired up go when I realised that my muse had gone AWOL.  I called for her, but she wouldn’t come, no matter what blandishments I offered. 

At first I wasn’t too worried.  I made excuses for her. She’d had a lot of deadlines, she deserved a bit of a break.  My nose (still looking fairly gruesome but much better) had made it hard for her to concentrate, poor thing.  Then I started to get cross.  I was sitting here, ready to work, and the least she could do was show up and do her bit.

But no. 

A gin and a bath: what more could a muse want?
One of the sessions in my writing course is about dealing with block, and I was even reduced to getting out my notes.  I tried writing through it, and didn’t get anywhere.  I tried drawing up a character cluster and identifying goals and motivations. I tried writing a description of the heroine from the hero’s POV, one of Michelle Douglas’s suggestions (at that point my muse did, in fact, poke her head in the cat flap, as it were, but ran away when I attempted to coax her inside.  Should have ignored her, I suppose).  I tried gin, I tried a bath.


Exasperated, I dragged a key member of my plotting team off for a walk.  George was the problem.  I didn’t have a sense of him at all.  By the end of the walk, we’d established that both George and Frith were problems, and neither of them were characters anyone would care about. 

And then, just when I’d given up on her and was cooking for friends arriving that evening, who should turn up but my muse, without a word of apology for her lateness, but bearing an idea that would turn everything around.  Now I know why George is the way he is, and why he is heroic in spite of appearing, on the face of it, a failure. 

Then we had a discussion over dinner about hen parties and various associated activities, and I learnt about the Mr & Mrs questionnaire.  This may be old news to you, but I had never heard of it before.  Apparently, you ring up the groom and ask him various questions to see how well he knows his bride to be, and then you compare his answers with hers, presumably over a bottle of wine.  So you can ask him whether he knows what her favourite sandwich filling is, or what their favourite book is etc.  I’ve now got a great idea for a scene, and all at once the characters and the plot are coming to life. 


Now all I have to do is start writing.   (Muse?  Muse?  Where are you going?  Come back!)

While she’s being skittish, I’ll start by drawing up the questionnaire Frith and George discuss in the book.  So far I’ve got:

What’s his/her favourite sandwich filling?
What is his/her pet hate?
What does s/he do when s/he is nervous?
What is his/her worst habit?
What’s the name of his/her first pet?
What would his/her dream holiday be?

Any other ideas very welcome!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Blasting through the Blah

Donna Alward (Copyright Marti Corn Photography)

Are you serious about writing romance?  Perhaps you were brave enough to enter Mills & Boon’s New Voices competition or are having a go at National Novel Writing Month?   

It takes guts to write a book, and we need all the help we can get while we do it.   So if you’re in the market for some hands-on advice, why not try award-winning Harlequin Romance author  Donna Alward’s on-line workshop, Blasting through the Blah, which is running next week, 14th-20th November.    

Blasting through the Blah … what a great title for a workship!  That’s EXACTLY what we need to do when we write. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get lost in the blah the first time you try to get your story down on paper (or on screen for you techies).   

I’m trying to write a rough draft at the moment, and I am wallowing in blah, I can tell you.  Reading through the  course description below, I found myself nodding along and thinking ‘yep … yep … yep, need to think about that … God, I always forget to do that …oh, yeah, that too …’  Even though I know what I need to do, it still always helps to have someone else remind me to keep on track, no matter how many books you’ve written.

Donna won a Bookseller’s Best award and a Colorado Award of Excellence this year and knows what she’s about when it comes to writing romance.  She's also a ridiculously nice person, so you couldn't be in better hands.  If you’re looking to sharpen up your writing skills, sign up at Savvy Authors  next week and start blasting through that blah ...

Blasting Through Blah!

Instructor: Donna Alward. Most authors have written a scene that just doesn’t feel quite right, or lacks that certain spark. Saggy middles?  Stilted dialogue?  Can’t seem to see what’s wrong?  This one-week workshop will introduce some fun techniques to blast through the blahs of your manuscript! Come prepared with a work in progress, as each day attendees will try their hand at employing the day’s technique.  This is a five part (one week) workshop with assignments for participants.  Assignments will not be graded. Target Audience: Mixed. Must have a work in progress ongoing.

Topics covered by this online class will include:

Lesson 1: Say What? 

Switching dialogue to tease out motivation and conflict.

Assignment: take a scene and change dialogue attribution

Lesson 2: Get Out Of My Head

Play with POV: the benefit of trying opposite points of view.  Assignment: take a scene and change the POV

Lesson 3: Let ‘Em Have It

Holding back on that crucial plot point?  Do it now, and let the chips fall where they may. Assignment: introducing a crucial element earlier than planned

Lesson 4: Everyone Can Do With A Change Of Scenery

Moving the scene to a different setting can make all the difference!  Assignment: take a scene and put it in a different setting. 

Lesson 5: You Big Meanie!

Take away your character’s security blanket. Assignment: examine a scene for what your character wants most – and then take it away.

This day will also be for any lingering questions/observations.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Men in uniform

There’s something about a man in uniform … How many women of my generation can think about Richard Gere sweeping Debra Winger off her feet in An Officer and a Gentleman without a sigh?  I have a real weakness for Kevin Costner in No Way Out, too. Tom Cruise in Top Gun … not so much (too much smile, I think), although all those planes screaming around the skies were unaccountably sexy.  Oh, and I liked the beach volleyball scene too, now I come to think of it.  Hhhmnn, I think I can feel a DVD coming on ...

I’ve often wondered how they keep those naval uniforms quite so pristine and white.  You’d think they’d be so impractical.  But the combination of a super fit body and the competence that all members of the Services seem to bristle with is irresistible. 

I’ve been thinking about men in uniform recently, and not just because Remembrance Day is approaching. Last-Minute Proposal has been re-released in a volume called Loving Our Heroes, and for every book sold, a £1 donation will go to Help For Heroes which provides practical, direct support for members of the Armed Forces who have been wounded in recent and current conflicts, and whose bravery puts my nose into humbling perspective.

Loving  Our Heroes also includes stories by Australian RuBY award-winner Amy Andrews, and India Grey’s Mistress Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure, which won the UK’s coveted Romance Prize in 2009.  Last-Minute Proposal was a RITA finalist in 2009, so this is a great line up of books from three different series in one volume. 

All the stories feature fictional heroes with a Forces background, but the real heroes are those who put their lives on the line for us every day, so why not have yourself terrific read and contribute to a really great cause at the same time?

One last copy of Loving Our Heroes to give away for free before I make a donation to make sure Help For Heroes don’t miss out.  Do you have a favourite man in uniform, real or fictional?