Occasionally I hear from writers who ask what I think about writing conferences. My answer always comes fast: I love them. (Just recently I co-authored a piece about the fabulous ThrillerFest for The Big Thrill e-zine). But today’s Made It Moment illustrates the real reason I think conferences are such a wonderful experience. If I hadn’t gone to Malice 2011, I wouldn’t have met Hank Phillippi Ryan in person. Hank had long been an author whose work I admired, but when I signed up to sit at her table at the banquet, I had no idea she would become such a person to admire, too. You’ll see what I mean when you read Hank’s Moment, which gets at the doubt we writers live with everyday, and how we just might surmount it.
And if you get hold of a copy of Hank’s hot-off-the-press latest suspense novel, The Other Woman, and play the video which goes “behind the scenes,” well, I think you might find real inspiration there, too. I did.
For me –a TV reporter—the “made it moment” has a completely different meaning. As in—it’s two minutes until 6 PM, my news story is on the air at 6, and we’re still in the edit booth. The seconds tick by. If I miss my slot–a cardinal sin in TV news–that will not be a good thing. The machine whirs, the computer connects, the pictures are all in place, my voice is there, no black holes in the video—we push ENTER! Right on time.
Made it! I say.
And if that moment sounds stressful and frantic–yes, indeed it is.
Which is why my made-it moments in my other world of fiction writing are so wonderfully different.
I’ve been a reporter for 30 years—more!—wired myself with hidden cameras, chased down criminals, confronted corrupt politicians—and it’s often instant gratification. You got the story, or you don’t. You get the sound bite, or you don’t. Yes? No? And the next day you start from scratch.
But in writing fiction—imagine that, I get to make stuff up–the timeline is incredibly different. I’ve learned—it all takes a long time. Overnight successes are measured in years. Years! Think how long Charlaine Harris has been writing, Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, Tess Gerritsen. My heroes in the mystery world are—long-term heroes. And it took impatient me some time to understand that the glory of writing a novel is that it takes a while. A long while.
And you have to be diligent, and persistent, and devoted. Even—obsessed.
So every day I write, I have a made it moment. I sit down at my computer, I hear the hum and I revel when the manuscript is –yes! still there!– and hasn’t disappeared in some unpredicted disaster. I’ve made it back to my place. The story is moving ahead, unfolding. I’m never sure what’s going to happen next—with no outline and no plan, my new world takes shape.
(I had a little separate made-it moment when I got the idea for THE OTHER WOMAN, I must say. The moment I thought about this sentence: “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences,” I realized I had a story to tell. A story of secrets and sex and duplicity and revenge and consequences—and the conflict created when a devoted reporter thinks she’s onto a big pivotal election scandal—but what if he’s wrong?)
And—a year or so later—that turned out to be THE OTHER WOMAN. But every day that year, at the end of each writing session, I thought—oh, I made it! I did this. I’m doing this! I’m a writer. My story is growing and soon—but okay, not THAT soon—I’ll know what happens.
And I cannot wait until I make it to my desk again the next day. A new world awaits. In just the next moment.
Hank Phillippi Ryan is the investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. A television journalist since 1975, she has won 27 Emmys and ten Edward R. Murrow awards for her work. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. A best-selling author of four mystery novels, Ryan has won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards for her crime fiction. Her newest thriller, THE OTHER WOMAN, was published by Forge in September 2012. She’s on the national board of directors of Mystery Writers of America (and an instructor at MWA-U) and will be president of national Sisters in Crime in 2013.