Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Then you can start, to make it better, better, better!

Thursday! And the box with my CM/GM tiara must have blown off my front porch. Fine. I can handle it.

In real life, I'm working on a big story that might air Friday if the powers-that-be agree.

In book life, I'm back here to answer more questions. Graham's turn. And thank you for allowing me to take over your day!

GRAHAM: Working on my second book and living daily with the sudden realization that there is always more to learn about writing, I wonder if you could share a little on how your writing has changed/evolved on this latest book?

HANK: Book two. That's the one, I think, where you figure out if you can really do it. If you can make it through book two, and be thrilled, you've conquered a big hurdle. I was intimidated by book two, I must say. And I know FACE TIME is different from PRIME TIME. You realize--you're a writer. And it's work. It's your job. And it's--exhilarating.

More to learn. More to to learn. You’re so right—and I think we’re lucky. In television, you get a new job by sending out resume tapes, you know? (Now everything is on DVD, but it’s the same thing. ) You pick your best stories, whatever you think showcases your reporting skills, writing, interviewing, presentation, all that, and make a composite to send to potential news directors.

The goal in TV, of course, is to get to a bigger market. You start in, say, Ames, Iowa, which is market—what, 150? Then move to Buffalo, say, then Indianapolis, and then Philadelphia, then market one, New York, and then the network. And then you win the TV nomad game.

Anyway. A few years ago, a TV pal and colleague was looking at his resume tape, trying to see if it was still good to go. I walked by his viewing station and said something like, oh, isn’t it so frustrating, looking at your resume tape? When I screen mine, I always see all the changes I could make! What I should have said, should have asked, should have written, how I SHOULD have done the story. I can always think of a million tweaks.

And my friend looked baffled. Well no, he said, I was just thinking about how good this was.

See, that’s amazing to me. I can always find something to fix. Something to make better.

When I first wrote PRIME TIME—the very first draft was 723 pages long! Whoa. So I had to cut 400 pages. 400 PAGES! And I must say, it was the most educational experience ever. I saw my repetition, my crutch words (like "just" and "so" and "shrugged"), my rhythm patterns, my redundancies, my unsuccessful cuteness, my flabby verbs… and that was so helpful in writing my next books.

Writing a short story was also a good education. I knew it had to be no more than 5000 words. So that made me choose every word very carefully. Why did I care? Why did I need that particular word? Was it the strongest best verb possible? Now, I do that in writing my novels, too. Because again, every word has to be the best possible word it can be. And every word counts.

Finally—(whew). I’ve also learned to be more careful about going the easy way. It’s hard to explain—but some phrases just come out as I’m typing. And then I think—why did you say that? Why EXACTLY that?

In DRIVE TIME, I examined each word. Each sentence. Each scene. Did the story need it? If not, it was a thrill to cut it out.

Book two is when you get to realize you've done it. And now people are waiting to see if you can do it again.

Kelli's home from the road! For a while at least! Yay, and congratulations, Kelli.

Just in time for a question.

KELLI: Hank, you’re an Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and an Agatha-award winning author, superb at each of your twin careers, and constantly busy! How do you do it? Can you share some time-management secrets with us?

HANK: Ha. I wish. Kelli, my dear, it’s out of control. I said to Jonathan the other day—you know, I’d like to formally announce I’m in over my head.

Sleep was the first thing to go. Then vacation. Then fun. (We haven’t been on vac for five years or so, and the movies we saw at Christmas time were the first we’d seen in a theater for—a year. My movie experience in the last several years has encompassed falling asleep in the middle of Netflixes.) Cooking, too, not a chance. (I’m a good cook, but we now have a lot of carry out salmon. Jonathan is so patient.)

One thing I’m deciding—to do one thing at a time. Just do that ONE thing. Trying to multi-task—which I used to think I could do--results in headaches, mistakes and not accomplishing anything very successfully.

I’m happy though! Sometimes I’m running down the stairs the TV station—and I think—wait, where am I going? What was I doing? And then I burst out laughing. It’s what I always wished for, right?

So my absolute advice? Don’t forget to enjoy it.

What can we give away today? In honor of the virtue of short stories, how about two wonderful anthologies: Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane, and QUARRY, the new New England Anthology from Level Best Books, which contains my short story "On the House." One lucky commenter will win both! Plus a copy of the TIME book of your choice!

(And thanks to Kara Delahunt for the great newsroom photo!)


Meredith Cole said...

Hank, it's so lovely to see you here every morning! I love hearing your insights and finding more about your process.

I was juggling tasks and feeling in over my head this morning (and to top it off, I have a cold!)-- many thanks for reminding me to enjoy it all.

Rosemary Harris said...

I remember my head (as in...also feeling over it.) Juggling the promotion and the writing is a challenge for me. How do you get so much done..other than not cooking, vacationing, etc. I've taken to saying that you have more hours in your day than the rest of us have! Are you formal about how much time you spend on each activity?

Sophie Littlefield said...

I loved reading about your book two insights. I thought this whole confidence thing would get easier as I went along, that as I began each new book I'd make 50% fewer errors or something until it trended down toward zero :) that has not happened. In fact, i'm chagrined to say, each new book starts with this ritual where i have to admit i've written every good word i'll ever write, and then argue with myself until i can attack the first page.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Meredith! I love our new morning chats...
And having a cold is like, the last straw. When I have a cold, sometimes it's hard to remember that it'll actually go away and I''ll be able to think again. Everything seems so difficult. Feel better!

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Kelli Stanley said...

Oh, Hank--that makes me feel much better. :) Thank you!! Though I still wonder how you're able to do everything you do, do it superlatively well--and look fabulous while doing it!!! :)

I'm with Rosemary--I think you must have a couple of hours tucked into a purse. ;)


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hi RO! Oh, my gosh--you are the busiest person on the planet!

Seriously? NO, I'm not formal about the time split. It just depends where in the process I am. You know?

I have given up worrying about the next book until it's time to worry about it. Consciously worrying, that is. And that'll be when the roll out of DRIVE TIME is over-ish. NOt that its ever really over, we hope.

But I can't write and promote in the same chunk of time. (Can you guys?)Because my brain is so focused on THIS book. So I'm trying, instead of worrying, to just be in DRIVE TIME mode. And then--out of it.

Stuff they don't tell you at the beginning, huh?

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Terry Stonecrop said...

I love reading about your life and your writing. Glad you have similar problems with editing out the flab. Makes me feel better.

It can be discouraging. I can edit a chapter fifty times and on the 51st still find more wrong.

Shane Gericke said...

Hank, how was book 3 compared to book 2? Harder? Or easier? I just finished 3 and it was both harder AND easier. Curious to hear your thoughts ...

Lady_Graeye said...

Hank, I love your books. I don't know how you do it all. I'm starting to believe you should add Wonder Woman to you resume.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Terry, that's so lovely of you! Thank you! And I agree, it's easy to find something to change, no matter how many times you look.

But I do think there comes a time--when you're finished. It's--good. And be happy.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And Sophie, I should say--I think that's so interesting. I feel that way, too..sometimes I think, well, I've used up all my good stuff, and I'll never be able to come up with anything creative or original again.

And then..all you need is one little thought. And you're off... and too soon, worrying that you have too much. Got to love it!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Lady_Graeye--what a charming thing to say! Thank you! (Your name is so there a story there?)

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