Monday, July 13, 2009

A Writer’s (Evolving) Schedule

It’s always a special treat for me to feature authors I also love to read. Carly Phillips is one such writer and my guest today. I’ve been reading Carly’s books long before she began writing single titles. One day, I had nothing to read so popped over to my sister’s house to raid her book stash (we tend to do this with each other’s books) and picked up two books she said were good. They were Perfect Partners and Brazen.

I liked the way the author made me laugh and her characters. That hasn’t changed over the years. I recently finished Lucky Charm. Loved Gabby—my kind of woman—and Derek. I’m now reading Lucky Streak and can I just say…Mike…yum.

Carly’s topic today is something writers can relate to, scheduling writing time, dealing with distractions of every day life, as well as the way we deal with changes.

I'm often asked what’s the best part about being a writer? Easy answer. Making my own schedule. What’s the worst part? Also making my own schedule. As a stay at home mom with two girls (now 17 and 13), I’ve learned to be adaptable. I started to write when my first daughter was just one. I needed to learn to write when she napped or occupied herself (hah!). Luckily, I’ve always been a person who needed background noise to write. In High School, later college and law school, radio or TV would keep me company. In fact, silence is too noisy for me! Over the years, I kept up quite the writing pace – at times – 4 Harlequin Temptations a year. I must have written through many distractions!

When I started writing single title romances, starting with The Bachelor, the length and different complexity brought me to two books a year. Although this was still the word count equivalent to the four Temptations. But I definitely started to slow down. Hit more blocks. I used to think that when the newness of the career wore off, sometimes it became more like work than love. But then I’d realize no matter how hard the stories were to write, I still loved what I do. But I found myself in a new pattern – writing less in the beginning of a deadline, scrambling more towards the end. I realize now this isn’t so much a function of laziness or wasting time (OK well there is SOME of that) but beginnings are more difficult for me than middles and endings.

In the beginning, I’m establishing character, motivation, conflict and story. I often find myself going back and weaving in something big that should have been there all along. For awhile this was frustrating. I thought it was because I didn’t preplan enough. But as the Plotmonkey Group evolved (we go away as a group 2 times a year to plot), I WAS getting the preplotting work and still struggling through beginnings. So I now accept, this is my process. The beginning is slow and requires reworking and revising a lot; and the middle and ends go much faster.

With this new process, I needed a new schedule. I could no longer rely on “writing when I can.” It’s funny. I thought when my kids got older, I’d write more. Instead I found myself writing less. That’s when I realized something had to change. And it did.

USA Today Bestselling Author Janelle Denison is my critique partner and friend. We talk for hours every day. She lives in Oregon, I live in NY. We both have girls the same age. And we both hit the same scheduling issues at the same time. We decided to try something: We “meet” online (via AIM) at 9 AM EST; 6 PM PST (yes this requires more dedication on her end as she has to wake up very early!) – we say hi on AIM (Instant Messenger). Janelle sets the alarm for 30 minutes, and we write straight through. When the time is up, she IM’s and asks if I’m up for 30 more. We do this for an hour – an hour and a half. I no longer book 9 AM doctor or hair appointments. I try to ignore (thanks to Caller ID) calls that can wait. When possible, nothing else happens until I’m finished at 10:30/11:00 AM. Yes, occasionally life gets in the way. Pages don’t happen. But I always pick up and start over the next day at 9 AM.

We’ve been at this since March. When I started I was on page 80 and now I’m on 250. I will meet my deadline, yes with a rush towards the end, but my goal for the next book is to start with this scheduling and write daily. If I keep it up, I may turn in a book early (as opposed to just on time) for the first time in years. And I may end up relaxed throughout the process.

One can always hope!

The point in sharing this is to tell you that life isn’t static. It’s chaos and change. The days when I used to plan an entire day to write, one of the kids would get sick. When I had only a spare hour, I’d crank out pages. Over time, not only did I need to adapt but also I needed more routine. For now, I have that. I’m sure over time, this schedule will need to morph into something different, as my life’s needs change. But having seen the value in daily writing – it comes faster; easier; more consistent flow – I want to continue.

So if you’re not writing the way you’d like, take a look at your life and your schedule. See where you can make changes and PROTECT THE WORK (rumor has it this phrase comes from Nora – not surprising – and I thank her for it!). If you don’t mark your work time as sacred, no one else will!
A few extra things about Carly:

How did you get started as a writer?

Sometimes I wonder myself! I never planned on becoming a writer, let alone a romance writer. I was a lawyer who loved law school but hated practicing law. Not a great combination let me tell you! My parents always said I could be a perpetual student and they are probably right. But I loved reading romance when my first daughter was small. I began to notice that many of the hardcover authors got their start at Harlequin or Silhouette. Eventually I got an idea that wouldn't go away—I wanted to write for them too! Seven years and ten completed manuscripts later, I sold my first book, Brazen, to Harlequin Temptation.

Where do you work?

I have an office right off my bedroom. A separate room from my room that isn't on top of the kids and yet is right in the center of things. I'm always around when they need me and they come in here to do homework. I recently bought a recliner, an idea given to me by Vicki Lewis Thompson, who suggested I use it as my place to write with my Alphasmart on my lap. Unfortunately I use it to nap, instead. I’ve also learned that if I write too often on the laptop, I end up with back pain, arm pain, and in physical therapy.

Favorite way to waste a day ...
Shopping, soap opera watching in the afternoon with the dogs at my side, hanging with my girls and my mom!

Biggest vice ... Buying makeup and handbags—it's embarrassing the amount I own!

Want to learn more about Carly, fun facts, her books, and pictures? Stop by and vistit her wonderful website:

Carly Phillips started her writing career with the Harlequin Temptation line in 1999 with Brazen and she's never strayed far from home! Carly has since published more than 15 books and hit the New York Times bestseller list with her famous "Reading with Ripa" pick, the first romance ever chosen for a nationally televised book club, The Bachelor, and its sequel, The Playboy.
Carly lives in Purchase, New York, with her husband, two daughters and frisky soft-coated Wheaten terrier, who acts like their third child. When she's not spending time with her family, Carly is busy writing, promoting and playing online! To learn more about this quickly rising star of romance,


~Sia McKye~ said...

Carly, I want to welcome you to Over Coffee. It's so good to see you here.

Pull up a chair, grab some coffee, I have tea, hot chocolate; not to mention some wonderful bagels, muffins, and delectable scones. Being virtual, we don't have to worry about calories, lol!

I thought your comment on struggling with beginnings was interesting. I'm a pantzer, I usally know my beginning and ending for that matter. Even though I do plot, I found myself having problems as to WHERE the story really started.

Nice to know that someone with as much writing experience as you have, also faces various problems.

VA said...

4 Temptations a year? Incredible. Making and protecting one's time to write is crucial if we want to get anywhere. I like to hear different people's tips on how to make it work. Of course, what I come away with is that everyone has a different routine. One that works for them. I guess the key is to keep trying it until I find one that fits. Thanks.

Carly Phillips said...

Thanks for having me. The coffee is good! Yum! :)
Interestingly, the issues I have ... some stay the same book to book and then some pesky new ones crop up!

And not only does everyone have a different routine, but I found that routine changes with different stages of life. I have to be flexible!

Anonymous said...

Great post! Now I've got to get my hands on a couple of new books it seems.

Thanks Sia!

Esther Sanchez Chalaby

~Sia McKye~ said...

Speaking of coffee,I'm thinking I need an IV this morning.

Thanks for stopping by this morning Esther. You won't be disapponted. I can also reccommend The Bachelor, The Playboy, The Heartbreaker. :-)

Judi Fennell said...

Hi Carly,

I like the IM system you and Janelle have. I might give that a try as I've found myself in that rush to deadline. Then with life intervening... it's definitely a juggling act.

So how many handbags DO you own??? LOL

Magdalena Scott said...

Sia, thank you for yet another wonderful guest blog. Carly, I so much enjoyed reading your post. It's nice to know we all have our issues. My biggest distraction is internet, so I've turned to Dana (cousin of alphasmart).

Helen Ginger said...

I love the way the two of you have teamed up to get in your writing time. It's a great support system, plus like having a coach there not letting you slack off. Wonderful idea.

I was thinking, I could not do that - my schedule is too erratic. But, that's the main purpose - to put some structure and commitment into your writing!

Straight From Hel

Anonymous said...

Hi Carly (happy belated birthday, again...I feel badly missing it last week). I agree with you on 'protecting the work", although, mine is allowing myself fifteen minutes here or there to just 'goof off' and 'protecting my sanity". I find I need to have 'me time' throughout the day when I am not doing Mommy type stuff. Selfish, I know. I also believe in a daily walk (durng school or at night at summer time). I just need to get out by myself!


I love the idea with Janelle :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sorry for being a bad hostess. Unexpected company. Sister came over and then about 20 minutes later, niece, grandniece, popped in. My son has been down there the past 3 weeks and he was up too. I've missed him.

Sisters-in-Sync said...

Hi Carly,

Great post and something I really struggle with. Managing my time is the hardest thing. I also have two children and I work a full time job. I love the idea of blocking time, even if it's only 30 minutes to an hour each day and stay focused on the task at hand! This is so important and you have inspired me to get my schedule locked down.

I do think I may have to renovate the house though. I need my own writing space! Something with a spectacular view I think and maybe on the beach. Okay, guess I need to leave Wisconsin.

Thanks for sharing,

Terrie said...

Great blog... I have been enjoyed reading most of Carly's books lately. Now I currently reading " Lucky Charm " .. Speaking of handbags. it caught me an eye.. I do collect handbags. I keep change purses whatever I go.. Like the person said .. How many do you have own it?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Inquiring minds, eh? It pulled my mind to Imeda Marcos with shoes and I'm visioning a separate closet just for handbags.

Barb, thanks for stopping by. I love reading Sisters in Sync. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Carly, for both your wonderful stories and the pleasure of your company. :-)