Archive for 'books'

Thursday, October 29th, 2009 by Candace Havens
Tricks and Treats

I’ve been talking about time management all month, and this is the last bit of that. It’s important to realize that you can have all the time in the world to write and still get nothing done. That’s why it’s important to have daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly goals. Yes ,I know. I don’t plan that far in the future either, but we need something by which to measure our success, and goals help us do that.

So sit down and figure out what you think you can accomplish each day. You can use word or page count it doesn’t matter, but it needs to be a number that you know you can stick to. One page a day is a book a year. But if you can do 10, you can finish your book in a month. If you do 20 pages a day you can finish your first draft in two weeks. Did you know that the average writer takes about two and half hours to write 20 pages? That’s head down fingers on the keyboard typing about 35 wpm.

In my FAST DRAFT class I teach the importance of letting go of that internal editor while you are creating, because there isn’t a bigger time waster than that IE. When you are creating, you have to send the IE on vacation. Send them far, far away.You need to focus on creating.

Sometimes you have to trick yourself to get things done. Or treat yourself with bribes.

In another class I teach THE WRITING GAME (we are starting Nov. 1 on my free workshop loop get to it thru we pull random numbers out of hat and that’s how many word you have to write that day. You can bank words if you do more, but you have to do the minimum amount each day. My students love this game, because it reminds them that writing can be fun.

Now, I don’t want to get to far away from my time management thesis here. But you have to know going in what some of the pitfalls might be, and you have to plan for them. Tricking yourself, or bribing does work well. BUT you need some attainable goals to measure.

Sit down right now and answer the following:

1. What do you want to accomplish this week with your writing?

2. What are two things today you can do to make that happen?

3. What is one thing you can do each day to make that happen?

Now do this for your monthly and yearly goals. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to look back and see what you’ve done.

These time management techniques can be used for anything. What can you accomplish in 20 minutes? Can you clean your kitchen? Write five pages? Walk the dog? Knit half a sleeve?

We use timed writing a lot in the classes I teach, but you can use that idea for any task you want to accomplish. I know it takes me less than 5 minutes to unload the dishwasher. It takes about six minutes to clean the bathtub (It’s kind of big). It takes me about an hour to answer emails in the morning. I have to work these things into my day. It helps to know how long it REALLY takes you do something.

It’s a little too anal for me, but it helps if you keep a log, at least for a short time. You might be surprised how short or long a time it takes you to do certain things.

I hope these tips have helped this month!

I’d like to hear about your time management tricks? Or feel free to share your goals.

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Candace Havens
Auto Focus

I’m continuing my talk about time management and today I want to talk about focus. I mentioned before that I wear several hats. I’m a mom, wife, daughter, columnist, radio personality, author, student and friend, along with a myriad of other things I do. I may be interviewing a celebrity  in the morning, then running off to preview a film, then coming back to write pages or do homework until the wee hours of the morning. It’s very seldom that my days aren’t 14 hours long, or longer. But it’s okay because I love what I do.

People really do ask me all the time how do what I do, and the truth is focus. Some days I’m better at it than others. It’s something I had to teach myself when I started working at home. I have daily deadlines and that helps. The thing that is due always gets first priority. That means I mix it up. If I have a column due, then all my focus goes into that until the job is complete. If I have a book due the same goes. I may set aside specific hours in the day to make sure I accomplish my goals.

I have a hard time remembering things so, as I mentioned before, I keep calendars and I’m very fond of sticky notes. If I have a lot to do in a day, I make a sticky note listing the items in terms of priority, and then it goes on the computer. I love scratching things off the list, and even better completing that one and throwing it away. Knowing what I have coming up helps me to see what needs the most focus.

But I have to leave room for the unexpected. For example: Yesterday I’d promised myself, and my agent, that I would finish the rough draft of a synopsis I’ve been working on. It took longer than I expected, but I did it. Then something wonderful happened. I was so into that book, that I wanted to work on it. I wrote another 15 pages before all was said and done. I have to make my days as flexible as possible so that I can do things like that, and at the same time accomplish everything I need to.

So how do I focus? It varies depending on the project. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to Twitter, Facebook and checking emails. With all my different accounts I can get upwards of a 1000 emails from fans, listeners, publicists, networks and a variety of other folks in a day. I have to keep up or it becomes overwhelming. So I set aside an hour early in the morning, another one later afternoon when my brain is usually tired, and then again before bed to take care of those things. Keeping up with emails is one of those necessary evils for me, but I try not to let it disrupt my day.

I’ve learned to shift from one project to the next using small rituals. If I’ve been working on columns, and I’m shifting to fiction I have small things that I do. I usually refill the water bottle, light a candle and put my headphones on. I have soundtracks for each book. I even have editing soundtracks. For some reason, even if the house is quiet, the music helps me to focus. If I’m working on a book, I always leave myself notes from the day before. They are brief, but can take me right back into the story without re-reading pages. That keeps me moving forward, because when I re-read I have tendency to start editing.

When I’m writing non-fiction there are no soundtracks, usually because I’m listening to an interview I’ve done and adding quotes to a story. But I have my little rituals here too. I make sure that all my notes are together, that I have any research I might need within easy reach.

Distractions can come at you from places you never expected. I used to keep the TV on in my office with no sound, but I no longer do that. I found I was much more productive with out, so I gave the TV to my niece. If I’m writing on the lap top in the living room, I do have the TV on with no sound, but for some reason in there it isn’t much of a distraction. No matter what I’m doing, I make sure my dogs have been outside, have some kind of bone to chew and that I’ve worn them out so they won’t bug me to play. They’re cute, and it’s very hard when they bring me a stuffed shark to throw, not to do it. My dogs are probably my biggest distraction, but I love having them in my office. Still, I have to make sure that everyone is happy before I begin writing.

I’m able to shift easily in and out of things, but as I mentioned, it’s something I’ve had to teach myself. If an interview is running late and I have an extra 20 minutes to write, I do it until the phone rings. You’d be amazed what you can do in 20 minutes if you are focused. I keep a notebook in my purse for the same reasons. If I’m waiting for a movie to start, I can jot down notes. I’ve taught myself to take advantage of those “free minutes” and to use them as much as possible.

You need to be aware of the things that pull you out of your project and get rid of them. Create small rituals for yourself that define the day for you. I even have different scented candles depending on what I need to do. I know that sounds crazy, but it works for me. For some reason Joss Stone’s Body & Soul album helps to me to focus if I’m scattered. I’ve listened to that CD 100os of times on my iPod. It never gets old. You need to find what works for you. Be aware of your shortcomings and rid yourself of those distractions. It takes a little planning and practice, but you can do it.

So I’d like to hear from you. What are some of your distractions and how do you get around them?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009 by Candace Havens
The Queen of Time Management

I’m a mom, spouse, friend, daughter, author, columnist, film and television critic, student, teacher and radio personality. On any given day I can wear all or some of those hats, and I’ve had to learn the fine art of time management. It isn’t easy, especially for someone like me who isn’t overly fond of organization. But in order to do everything I must in a day, I have to be pretty diligent about managing my time.

The most important thing was learning to say “no” to the right things. The things that didn’t make me happy.  I discovered early on that the mom hat was the hardest. I’ve always been very involved with my kids and their schools, but I was careful about the volunteering. I made sure that I was there when I thought I could be a valuable to whatever was going on. I was always there for performances and auditions, and if my children specifically asked me to help with something, I did it.

I’m lucky in that the spouse hat doesn’t take much. My husband is pretty low maintenance, which is a blessing. As a friend, I’m faithful to a few of my friends, but bad about making time for people who I really do care about but our lives run in different circles. But I’m trying to change that. The teaching is also something I’ve cut back on. There was a time a few years ago when I was gone most every weekend teaching at some writing conference or another. I’m pickier these days and I opened the free online Write_Workshop (you can get to that through so that I could reach the masses in a more effective way. I also bring in other writers, agents and editors to teach so that the workshop doesn’t consume so much of my time.

I’ve added student to my list of duties this fall, and I will tell you it’s been quite an adjustment. I average about 15 hours of homework/reading each week for one class, which is much more than I was expecting. I’ve had to rely on the help of friends and family in other parts of my life in order to make school work.

The biggest part of that life pie is work. I spend an average of 12 hours a day writing books, columns, reviews and blogs, and watching films and television shows. It’s a lot. But when you love it as much as I do, it doesn’t always feel like a chore.

So how do I squeeze all of this into 24-hour days? Sometimes I do it better than others. I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t tired, but I’m not ready to give any of it up. The 20-minute nap is a luxury I covet. Sleep in general is a luxury, but I’m trying to change that.

I did do something long ago that helped a great deal. I rid myself of time-sucks. Things like Scrabble, or Bejewled shouldn’t be a part of the work day. Nor should reading blogs or watching You Tube videos. That’s not to say I don’t still do those things, but I have set time either during lunch or after I’ve finished the day’s writing to play. When you were a kid recess might have been the lovely break you needed during the day. We all need those, but the majority of us would rather play than work. That is especially true for writers. It’s easy for us to do anything BUT write.

It amazes me how many people tell me they don’t have time to write, yet they watch an average of 10 hours of television a week. Do you know how much writing you could get done in 10 hours? Haven’t you people ever heard of DVR or TIVO? Get your work done, then turn on the tube. Or they play War Crack and other computer/video games. Hey, I’m a big fan of “Animal Farm,” and anything where I can kill a zombie, but that stuff is for when the day is done. If you’re going to be productive, you have to get the job done.

My latest thing is playing Pet Rescue on I swear it’s the lamest game in the world, but for some reason it is extremely relaxing for me. It’s my treat at the end of a long day. There are days when all I want to do is sit on the couch and watch old movies, or HGTV, or something else, and I try to schedule at least one of those a month.

Scheduling is big for me. I have a couple of calendars on the iPhone, the computer and a paper one for just in case. That way I know if I have a movie in the morning or late at night, that I have to adjust the writing to fit that time table. And as I said, I have to be diligent about it.

A friend once said I do more in a day than most people do in a month. I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, it’s probably more like a week. :) The truth is, I manage my time well. And there’s no reason you can’t do that too.

So let’s have a little confession time. What is your biggest time suck? And what things do you do that help manage your time? Tell me, I want to know.

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Candace Havens
A Cover Story

Do you judge a book by it’s cover? I want to say I would never do that, but the truth is I do. My friend K. Hutson Price is a wonderful short story writer, and also an elementary school teacher. She does this thing where she holds up a book with a really cool cover and another with an old, boring beaten up one in front of the class. She asks the kids which one they want to read. They always pick the pretty one. She reads the first page of the pretty one and stops. Then she reads the first page of the second one, and she asks the question again about which book they want to read. They always pick the second book. It’s a much better story.

She does this as part of a bigger lesson about not judging people by the way the look. It’s brilliant and she’s able to put it into context for these kids. Before I became an author, I have to admit that I too judged books, not necessarily people, by their covers. I think most people do, though they probably wouldn’t admit it. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had some pretty cool covers so far. I wasn’t super crazy about my cartoon-like characters on my early books, but they grew on me. And they sold, so obviously it was a good thing I wasn’t the one picking the art.

I loved my last two Berkley covers for Dragons Prefer Blondes and the Demon King and I, even though for Dragons I had to change the character’s hair color. Alex had dark black hair in the first book, and as you can see on the right she now has blonde. That’s not the first time my editor had called to ask if I could change something in the book to fit the cover. In Like A Charm they asked me to add a dog character so they could have a dog on the cover. I’m not kidding. Of course I had to do it my way so there are two ghost dogs. But if you check out the cover, no dog. They decided to go another way. I tell people there is a dog on the cover, but it’s a ghost, so you can’t see it. :)

I absolutely adore my new cover for Harlequin, which is below. The characters are exactly as I imagined them in my head, as is the setting. It’s tropical and sexy, and that she is on top is significant. The hero is a burned CIA agent on the run, and I feel like they really captured that. And I’m going to share something a little crazy. I have ALWAYS wanted a cover with a half-naked man, and this one is so dead-on that I feel like it’s a dream come true. But I know that some people will see that and think, “Oh, it’s that kind of book.” And that’s where they will be wrong. This is a hardcore action adventure, it just happens to have a lot of sexy spy stuff in it. It’s for people, like me, who like a little romance with their adventure stories.

So I’m curious. Do you pick a book when you see a cool cover? If you’re like me, you might pick it up because of the cover, but you judge a book by those first few pages. My friends and I often make decisions based on the first two lines of a book.

What are some of your favorite covers? Have you ever been surprised when you saw the cover and then read the first page or so? And what do you think of my new cover? Take Me If You Dare is a Feb. 2010 release.



Thursday, September 17th, 2009 by Candace Havens
Galleys Make It Real

I love and hate getting galleys. My new one for TAKE ME IF YOU DARE (Harlequin, Feb. 2010) came in yesterday. The love comes in the fact that it makes it feel real. It’s my first chance to see what all those words look like in book form. It’s exhilarating in many ways, and absolutely horrifying in others.

I’m not one who second guesses herself too much, but it’s the very fact that this is final look at the book before the public sees it. Why didn’t I do that? I should have thought to? I can drive myself crazy with it. I do have the opportunity to make small changes at this stage, but the publisher generally frowns on it if you want to revise huge chunks.

But the truth is, I have to make myself look at it and ask myself, “Did you tell a good story?” The answer, so far, has thankfully always been “yes.” There might have been some tweaks here and there, but overall I ended up telling the story I wanted to.

I’m often asked if I could go back and write those first books in the “Charmed & Dangerous” series, would I want to? Part of me says yes, but the other part realizes that I told the story I wanted to in that moment of time. All of my life experiences up until that moment made that book what it was. Have I grown as writer since then? Goodness, I hope so. But I’m okay with what I’ve created.

It’s that idea of living with no regrets. That’s sometimes a hard for me, because there are lot of moments in my life I’d like to do over. Those moments usually have to do with something I said, that I wished I hadn’t. I have a big mouth, and it often gets me into trouble. But even those moments have made me more aware of how I want to act in the future. Hopefully, they made me a better person.

And I’ve discovered I can “do over” things through my writing. Many times the scenes and dialogue come from very real experiences in my life that I wished had gone a different way. Those witty comebacks are so much easier when you’ve had a day or so to mull them over. And in a book you can punch someone and or in Bronwyn’s case, blow them up when they’ve done you wrong.

So what do I wish I could do over with “Take Me If You Dare”? So far, nothing. I’ve found a few tweaks but nothing to major. It helped that I have an amazing editor who caught those moments in the revision process. She made it a stronger book and I’m grateful for it.

My only regret with that book is that the hero isn’t real. I’m telling you, he’s my ideal man. Sigh.

So I want to hear from you. Any thing you’d like to “do over”? Is there a witty comeback you wish you’d said at the right moment? Tell me. I want to know

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Candace Havens
A Funny Thing Happened…

At what moment did writing, for you, turn from being just a hobby to play around in to something you took seriously enough to create a salable novel, and a resulting career?

I actually have two stories one for non fiction, which lead to a 21-year career as a journalist. The other of how I came to be an author. I’m going to tell you the latter.

I was at the TV Critics Press Tour about seven years ago. At an ABC party I had a slight mishap (read: I tripped on my flip flops and almost did a face plant in the middle of the horseshoe gardens at the Ritz in Pasadena, now known as the Langham). I was completely mortified and ran to the corner near some bushes where a friend of mine stood surveying the party.

It was the normal network soiree with lots of celebrities standing around wondering which one of them was the most important. It really is like that. My friend, Paulette Cohn, who writes for ET online, started talking about books. My non-fiction book “Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy” had just come out, and she made the comment that I should try my hand at writing fiction.

I told her she was crazy, I could never do anything like that. She told me that if I ever did, she knew a great editor at a publishing house.   I returned home a week later and wrote my first novel in about two weeks. It was God awful. No, I mean, really, really bad. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time.

I’ve never told anyone this story, but I actually emailed her friend, the editor, with a brief query, something I hadn’t a clue how to write. He was quite kind and told me that he didn’t really have a place for a 35,000 word novel, that might be a romance. Yes, I’d actually said those words in the query. Sigh. My only saving grace was that years later he didn’t remember what I’d done, and I never said a word.

With that one rejection I decided my career as an author was over. Then something crazy happened. A new family moved in next door. The mom of the family happened to be a columnist, just like me, and she too had written a book. We agreed to swap manuscripts.

After reading the first three pages of hers, I called and told her I wanted mine back. She declined. A week later we swapped again. I had a found a few typos on hers, but the prose was nearly perfect. My manuscript was red from the first page to the last. But she wrote something that kept me from giving up: “You are a great storyteller and have an amazing voice.”

From that moment on, everything sort of went on a fast track. I polished that manuscript and then began another one. I only slept about four hours a night for more than six months. Within the year I had an agent and my first book sold to Berkley. My friend had sold her book, about five months earlier to Warner.

The truth is, it might have been a higher power. It could have been a lucky string of coincidences. But from the time I decided I wanted to write a novel, until I was published was about 14 months. Now, I can’t imagine not writing fiction. I live for it. My second book, Charmed & Dangerous, was the first one to sell. The very first book I wrote, was completely revised and became “The Demon King and I,” which was my fifth published novel.

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by Candace Havens
The Big Break

I have trouble relaxing. I can never quite shut my mind down, even when I’m forcing myself to take a break. For the past week, since I turned in my revisions for my upcoming release “Take Me If You Dare” for Harlequin (Feb. 2010) (Do you like how I slipped in that plug? Snort), I’ve been doing my best to take a break.

It’s so not happening. I still have to work on the day job, which is writing about television, movies and celebs, but I thought I’d give the fiction side of my brain a little rest. A vacation of sorts. Something that hasn’t happened in more than six years when my first book, “Charmed & Dangerous” sold. I’ve had some kind of deadline every few months since then, not that I’m complaining. But I’m a busy chick and I worry about burnout.

So I turned in the revisions on Monday of last week. On Wednesday my editor called. She loved the changes I made and said the book was great — but I needed to revise the proposal I’d sent for the next book. Sigh. I had to write a new chapter and rewrite the synopsis. I turned everything in on Friday, determined to take that self-imposed break over the weekend.

On Saturday I had a lovely book signing with my friends Dakota Cassidy and Michele Bardsley. We did a Q&A session for about 45 minutes, and then we signed books. I had so much fun, and was inspired by the whole event. So much so that I had to stop in a parking lot on the way home. Pull out my notebook and write down some ideas for a character in a YA I’m working on.

But I wasn’t at the computer so I didn’t count that as “real work.” On Sunday I’d promised myself a day on the couch. I was a little under the weather and it seemed like a great idea. I was catching up on some of my screeners for the new TV season. In the middle of “Destination Truth,” which is coming up on SyFy, something clicked in my brain and I had an idea for an interesting plot twist in another project I have stewing. LOL.

I can’t wait to write both books, which means my break is over. If I’m counting right, I think it might have lasted 8 hours. At least I was able to squeeze a nap in there.

So how about you? How do you force your brain to slow down? Or do you?