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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tips for Making a Writing Schedule Work

Time is a precious commodity, a truth writers know well. We also know that time is something that often needs to be planned in order to be used effectively. Today, we're happy to have Harlequin Superromance author Beth Andrews visiting the Posse. And she's brought along her fabulous collection of tips to help make the most of your writing time and stick to a writing schedule.

Those who know me know I’m what you might call easy-going. Which really comes in handy during summertime when I’m surrounded by my wonderful husband (he works from home as well) and my three kids (two are teenagers). But being easy-going and taking a laid-back approach didn’t work so well for my writing career. How do I know? Because that’s the approach I took for five years. And during those five years I wrote four books.

That’s right. Four.

Okay, to be honest, I revised three of those books extensively but after writing the third book, I spent close to two years writing partials of stories and submitting revised versions of three of my books -- but I didn’t write an entire story. For two years.

Then, on August 21, 2007, I got The Call! I sold my Golden Heart winning manuscript to Harlequin Superromance (For those who are interested, Not Without Her Family is out now. What? You didn’t think I’d write a blog and not mention my debut release, did you? *g*) After three GH finals and five years of writing and re-writing, I was thrilled to finally sell.

And then came the doubts. The first of which being: Can I sell again?

The second one: If I do sell again, can I write a story, start to finish, in a reasonable amount of time after having not written a complete story in over two years?

I was freaked. This was my dream job, the career that I’ve worked so hard for, so there was no way I was going to allow a few measly (although very real) doubts stop me. In March, I answered the first question when I sold two more books to Superromance. When I sat down to figure out my deadlines, I was terrified. Yes, I had a partial of the first story done but that was only 20% of the finished product. How long would it take me to write the next 200 pages? Did I even have it in me to write another full book? If so, how long would it take me to complete it? My other books, all the same length, took at least six months, but I want to grow my career in category and my goal was to have a book out at least every four to five months.

So, for about the hundredth time since I started writing, I made a Work Schedule. But this time, for the very first time, I actually stuck to it. Maybe it was the signed contract and a firm deadline that pushed me, but whatever it was, I finished that first book in two months. A personal record for me. *g* Best of all, both of my critique partners claim it’s some of my best writing.

It wasn’t always easy. I had a lot of bad habits and personal misconceptions about what I was and wasn’t capable of, but with dedication and determination I was able to make my schedule work. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned:

Be Realistic - This is one of my favorite goal-setting tips, but it works for making your schedule as well. Don’t schedule your writing time for 4 a.m. if there’s no way you can roll out of bed before 7. If you work full or part time, this is especially important. During the school year, my two older kids get home shortly after 3 p.m., so I work to have the bulk of my writing done before that time. Once my kids are home, I’m usually busy with them (even as teens, they want attention - go figure *g*) or taking them to one of their many sports practices, friends’ homes, after-school activities etc.

B.I.C.H.O.K really works! - B.I.C.H.O.K., or Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard, is the best advice I’ve ever heard. I might not always reach my page goal for the day, but if I stay at the computer long enough (and stay off of the Internet and e-mail) chances are I’ll get at least a few good pages.

Know Your Process - Everyone’s writing process is unique to them and as long as your process works for you, I say embrace it! I’m at my computer by 7 every morning, but most mornings I’m not able to jump into writing so I ease into it by checking e-mails and blogs first. When I write, I like to spit out a scene then go back and revise as I go so I have a fairly polished story when I reach The End.

Just Say No - Your work time is precious which means you need to protect it. Saying no isn’t easy but it can be done - and yes, I’ve done it *g*

Delegate - I’m a big believer in delegating although my kids aren’t very big fans of the concept - probably because I delegate so many responsibilities to them. They’re in charge of housework and now that my oldest has his driver’s license, he runs errands for me as well.

Multi-tasking - To be honest, I’ve given up multi-tasking. I was always trying to do four things at once and still not getting anything done. So when I read an article that said multi-tasking doesn’t work, I decided to give it up *g* Now, I do what I call Chunk-tasking. I ‘chunk’ tasks together and work on them one at a time. For instance, Saturday morning is my time to work on Promotion. I make a list during the week of what I need to get done. Then on Saturday morning, I do each item (one at a time) until I’m done. I’ve found this works really well for things such as sending out prizes, writing thank-you notes, updating my Web site and writing blogs ahead of time.

Make The Time - Yep, this is the most important thing I’ve learned. I used to say that I couldn’t ‘find’ the time to write, then I realized that no one ‘finds’ time to write. They make the time. And making the time isn’t easy. It usually means giving up something such as time, money, your favorite TV program, weekly lunch with your girlfriends, etc. For me, I had to give up my easy-going existence. Gone are the days where I wandered into my office when the mood struck me. I no longer get up from my chair to just “See what’s on TV” during the day. No more sitting down during my scheduled writing time to read a magazine or a book. Nowadays I stick to my schedule - and I’m loving every minute of it!

What about you? Do you have a strict writing schedule? Do you believe in multi-tasking? If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?

Don't forget to pick up Beth's debut release, Not Without Her Family, out this month from Harlequin Superromance. And swing by her Web site at to learn more about Beth and her books.

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At 1:39 AM, Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Hmm, I think the Noodlers should make up a bed for me! I'm such a regular visitor! Hiya AGAIN, Noodlers! Great day yesterday with Elisa, by the way.

Beth, I really enjoyed your post, partly because a lot of it is stuff I had to learn. And it was painful. My first two books that sold, I spent around four years writing (sort of piggybacked on each other so we're talking a five year period, but that's not impressive in terms of productivity). My next book out Tempt the Devil, I had to write in a year and it was tough! But as you say, the deadline is great for focusing!

Hey, I'm really excited. NOT WITHOUT HER FAMILY turned up on my doorstep today from those tardy souls at Amazon. Whoo-hoo! Everyone I know who's read this says it's a beauty! Congratulations on your debut release and here's to many more!

At 2:49 AM, Blogger Tawny said...

Beth, you're a scheduling inspiration! This is a great list of tips and tools, and yes I know you lecture me with them regularly, but I'm loving seeing them here all together like this.

I need to work a little more on the chunking - I set aside specific days for things but somehow I let life derail that schedule.

At 4:41 AM, Blogger Margay said...

Oh, my gosh, Beth, did you figure in sleep in your writing schedule? How do you find the time? This is a great set of tips, especially for someone like me who is easily distracted by life at times. I need to find more discipline and try to actually schedule in writing time and see if that works for me. Thanks so much for posting these tips.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Great post, Beth. Very practical and reassuring; I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has taken 'a while' to write a book. :)

I loved Not Without Her Family! Kelsey was such a vivid and memorable character. I can't wait for your next release.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Good morning! Thanks to the Noodlers for having me here *g*

Hi, Anna! Sometimes those hard learned lessons are the best ones, aren't they? *g* And I'm all for any lessons that result in more fabulous Anna Campbell books :-) How long do we have to wait until Tempt the Devil (LOVE that title!) is released?

And thank you for the congrats and for getting NWHF. I hope you enjoy it!

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Tawny, what do you mean I lecture you? I sometimes lecture - but only my kids. And you ;-)

And you know you're my inspiration! You have so much going on and you still manage to meet your goals and write awesome, sexy and emotional stories *g*

And now that I've said you're my inspiration, Chicago's song, You're The Inspiration is stuck in my head *sigh*

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Hi, Margay! Believe me, I find time to sleep *g* I'm not one of those women who can get by on a few hours - I need at least 7 solid hours but I prefer 8 :-)

I hope the tips help! Life can be very distracting and sometimes we have to give up a few things so we'll have writing time but usually, the trade off is so worth it!

LOL, Gillian! I'd say you're definitely not alone in that it takes you a while to write a book *g* But the best thing I learned was that just because it took a certain amount of time to write my first 4 books, I could write faster. What a relief!

And thank you so much for saying you loved NWHF! I had so much fun writing Kelsey and Jack's story :-)

At 9:01 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

I LOVED Not Without Her Family, too! I read it this weekend and fell in LOVE with Jack....hard for me since I'm usually drawn to the bad boy.

I'm very goal oriented when it comes to writing. I set my goals for the week, then break them down day by day. Because of that, my summer vacation hasn't been very relaxing, but it's been very productive!

And the saying no bit....too hard for me!

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Joan said...

Hey, Beth (waving from the lair)!

NWHF is on the top of my TBR stack and has mysteriously found itself faced out in every book retailer in Louisville (puts hands in pocket and whistles)

Your post is a pure echo of some of my concerns. But when worries of being able to keep to a schedule I remember how much I want this and how hard I've worked.

I work better under firm my CP's crazy when I am...but I get it done.

Hearing your take gives me courage!

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Beth, I like your idea of chunking. I do that some, but never thought to call it that. I notice that I'm more productive that way.

Thanks for guesting with us today.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Congratulations on your debut book!NOT WITHOUT HER FAMILY sounds like a real winner.

Your tips are so sensible. I've decided that I must structure my time more and be disciplined. It is so easy to drift away from a schedule. My wip (now almost one month late) has been a learning experience in What Not To Do. Not all books are easy to write and you have to make the time for them!

I'm going to follow your tips from now on!

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Thanks so much, Mary! I'm glad you enjoyed the book and yes, Jack's a good boy - but I hope still sexy and easy to fall for *g*

I'm big on breaking down my goals as well. It's really the only way I don't get overwhelmed with everything that I want to get done :-)

Hi Joanie! So glad to see another fellow Romance Bandit *g* LOL on my books being face out - wonder how that happened?? ;-)

Yes, I was quite worried about my abilities until I sat down and just wrote, wrote and then wrote some more. The ideas were there, the words came and voila - I had a story :-)

Believe me, if I can do it, you can do it (and give us more of those yummy Roman heroes)!

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Thanks again for having me, Trish! I've found I'm more productive when I chunk items together. Also, writing things I need to do on a list knowing I have a certain day/time set aside to focus on makes it much easier to keep writing.

Hi,Diane! Yes, some stories are more taxing than others. I had a harder time with the partial I just turned in then I did with my second story. I'm not sure if it's because I didn't know the story as well or if it was just slow going because of starting a new project.

As for discipline, that was tough for me to come by. I've always stayed home with my kids and while we had a certain structure to our days, our lives were very laid-back. Learning to keep my butt in the chair and keep to my schedule took quite a bit of practice :-)

At 1:27 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Hi Beth! Congratulations on your debut.

I'm learning the lessons you just summarized. Can't "find" the time so I'm working on making it. Multi-tasking doesn't work, especially for writing, at least not for me. I need solid, dedicated time, even if it's only 30 min. And BICHOK really does work!

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

Congrats on your book and thanks for the scheduling insight. It's good to know the seat-of-the-pants writers can get on schedule enough to meet these deadlines. And I like your word, "chunking"--it makes "scheduling" not so intimidating and not necessarily an hour-by-hour contraption.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger jo robertson said...

Hi, Beth, popping over from Romance Bandits to wave furiously and say congrats on your debut book. As I've said before, you have a great writing voice.

I love your tips for making the writing schedule work. Such good advice.

I love writing schedules, make them all the time, and usually I follow them pretty well, and try to "beat" my record so that I get ahead.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger jo robertson said...

Forgot to add that I love the idea of chunking. That's definitely an idea I'll implement.

And isn't it great when you have that first teenager with a driver's license and he actually thinks it's "fun" to run errands?

I'm a pretty good multi-tasker and I still manage to do it, but you're right about finding your process. I think too many beginning writers follow someone else's idea of what works. In the end, you just have to know what works, or not, for YOU.

At 1:49 PM, Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Beth, what a fabulous way to lead into some blatant promo! Thank you, my Bandita friend. Tempt the Devil is out in January which effectively means just after Christmas.

I wondered if there was anything about being newly published that surprised you. I mean, we dream of this moment for so long - was it as you expected?

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Thanks for the tips! Knowing you do this with the kids makes me think I can make my schedule work for me, too. Speaking of which, I have a few pages to write before driving my teen to ballet. And congrats on your debut!

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Beth: Congrats on your great book!

I can sort of do email and talk on the phone at the same time, although my phonees often tell a funny story only to have me tune into the end and say, "Wait! Could you say the first part again?" I don't think they like that much.

I like the term "chunk-tasking." Does that mean we can say, "I had a chunktastic week!"

Anna: We'll put in a Murphy bed for you. You get along with the Murphys, right?

At 3:49 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Hi, Patricia! Thanks for the congrats *g*

The best part about getting 30 minutes of solid writing time is that all of those 30 minutes add up! I used to think that if I had an appointment in an hour then there was no sense starting to work on my story. But when I was under my first deadline I realized that I could get a solid page done in 30 min or so or at least revise a few pages I already had written.

Eden, I hope some of the tips work for you! "Scheduling" does sound intimidating but I tell myself that even schedules can be revised. Mine changes during the summer when the kids are home and I'm always trying to revise it to fit whatever's going on in my life :-)

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Thanks, Jo! I'm a firm believer that we should always try to improve - whether that's improving our writing skills, making more time for writing or writing faster. A little competition is a good thing, even if it's against yourself :-)

Yes, I think it takes time to find our process but it's so important. I tried many different ways of writing before finally discovering what worked best for me.

Anna, I hate that we have to wait so long but I know Tempt the Devil will be so worth it!

Honestly, the biggest surprise to me was that I could sit down and write another book. I wasn't as disciplined as I should've been before I sold so knowing I could be disciplined was a huge shock *g*

Other than that, I feel I was well prepared about what happens after you first sell. I have so many dear friends who are wonderful about sharing their experiences - I was able to learn a lot from them when they sold :-)

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Hey, Mo! Thanks for the congrats. I just came back from driving a teen to a friend's house - it's never ending *g* But it can be done. Although mine still like to come in my office while I'm working and just stare at me and sigh about how bored they are :-) Of course, that's when I just give them more chores to do!

LOL, Esri! I always like to think I can read email and talk to my CP but the next thing I know, I'm giving a bunch of "uh huh, uh huh" and have no idea what I'm "uh huhing" about ;-)

And I love "chunktastic" week! ROFL! I'm going to use it with my kids (who told me today that I wasn't very hip! Which really, they're teens. Should they be using the word 'hip'??)

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Beth, I love these tips! The two that work best for me are the butt in the chair rule and the just say NO!

Hi Anna! It's good to see you here. I just made you a bed with your name on the pillowcase! You're either an early riser or you go to bed late!

I have been writing for over ten years...still striving for publication. I have always set deadlines and I find that I am writing each book faster than the one before.

Thanks for coming today, Beth. I am definitely going to buy your debut book! Can't wait to read it!

At 6:04 PM, Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Um, Esri, what's a Murphy bed? It sounds kinda scary!

Beth, thanks for that insight into your publication journey!

Theresa, thanks for the welcome and for making me a 'proper' bed ;-) I'm in Australia so I'm always on blogs at odd hours.

At 7:58 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Thanks, Theresa! Saying No was one of the toughest ones for me to learn but I almost have it mastered *g* It's actually gotten easier as after I said No (but in a much nicer tone *g*) a few times, people stopped asking me to go out to lunch, babysit their kids and/or volunteer at school (although I admit, I did that one the most. Kids are only young once!)

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Thanks for all the great comments and questions today, everyone. And Beth, thanks so much for hanging out. I had a chunktastic time. :)

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Christine Wells said...

Hi Beth! Hi WNP! I love this blog. I need to visit here more often, though unlike Anna, I don't require accommodation;)

Beth your tips are fantastic. I especially like the 'chunk' tasking. I'm trying to do that kind of thing because these days I just need to focus on one thing at a time. My brain is always divided between my boys, the story I'm working on and whatever I'm actually doing at that moment. Focusing on one thing stops me burning dinner so much!

Congrats on NOT WITHOUT HER FAMILY and on your ability to stick to your schedule. A book in 2 months! Wow. I bow down to you, my dear.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Hi Christine! I found I needed to focus when I realized my youngest was talking to me and my head was still in my story. My kids (and my husband) are used to me being lost in my own world but I realized they deserve all of my attention

Trish, thanks for having me here and thanks to everyone who commented! I'd love to give away a signed copy of NWHF! I'm going to draw a name in just a few minutes so I hope you all check back!!

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Winner of NWHF -- Mo h!! Congrats, Mo! Please email me at: with your snail mail info.

Thanks to everyone who commented and to the Noodlers for a great day!


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