Hank Phillippi Ryan: Yes–it’s interview day! And more of those in-depth discussions with your favorite authors are in the works. (Who would you like to hear from? What would you like to hear about?)
But I’ve been thinking. What makes an author successful? What are the traits that can help move you from crossing fingers to applause?
One thing you will hear from everyone–persistence. Nothing in the world takes the place of persistence. Never never never give up. You can’t win if you don’t play. Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle. On and on. I say these things to myself every day. Every day. Do you?
So. Given that commitment is a must-have in writing world, what other traits do successful authors have? And are they shared?
I wondered–do exceptionally successful authors do certain things exceptionally well?
Yes, of course they are all wonderful writers, with unique voices and everything else we can all list.
But every time I go to an event, someone asks–“what’s your process?” Almost as if there’s some secret thing a person could do to to be more successful/creative/brilliant.
It’s fascinating, right? So we’ve devised a little–quiz. A series of easy and brief questions very specifically about the work habits of successful authors.
Today we welcome Kathy Lynn Emerson, who also writes as Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Emerson — Kathy, of course, is the Guest of Honor for the upcoming Malice Domestic — talk about success! That’s about as good as it gets. So let’s see how she does it …
1. When you need to do your writing for the day, how difficult is it to get yourself to begin? Why?
That depends on whether or not I know what comes next in the story.
2. Is there something you say to yourself every day? Whether it has to do with responsibility, or deadlines, or commitment, or fear, or optimism, or creativity?
“It takes as long as it takes.” This is a reminder to myself that I’m not going to write the whole book in one sitting and I should be happy with whatever I manage to get done that day.
3. When you sit down to work, what’s the first thing you think?
4. What’s the first thing you do? Really? Do you check your email, or Facebook, or Twitter FIRST?
I’m not on Facebook, Twitter, or any of those. With breakfast (toast and the first cup of coffee) I check email and read the blogs I enjoy on my iPad, but that’s all done before I go into my office to start work. At my pc, I start by calling up the WIP and figuring out where I left off.
5. How do you handle the temptations of the Internet?
I’m not all that tempted while I’m working. I’d have to exit the WIP to look at anything else, so I don’t. I don’t allow interruptions by incoming email (or phone calls). I’m very good at turning things off.
6. When you begin writing, are you optimistic or pessimistic about where you’ll be two hours later?
Optimistic. If the WIP is moving ahead, then I’m making progress.
7. Do you have a daily word or page quota? How committed to that are you?
When I’m working on a new book, I try to write at least the next scene each day and keep moving forward, but I do a lot of backing and forthing. I write down my total word count just to see how far I have to go, but that number is pretty meaningless. I always write short in the first draft. Trying for a certain number of pages or a certain number of words a day isn’t a workable goal for the way I write.
8. Do you work on the book every day? How do you feel when you have a day where you don’t write? How often do you think–“I should be writing!” ?
I try to work every day, although not necessarily on the same project. It’s easier to keep track of the flow of the story if I don’t take days off. But I don’t even try to work if I’m traveling or at a conference. And I don’t feel guilty about it. If I’ve been away from something for a week or more, I usually have to go back to the beginning and read everything before I can go on . . . and of course I end of changing stuff along the way!
9. Are there things you have given up as a result of your–well, okay. What have you given up to allow yourself to write?
I have no social life, and more friends in distant places than in my home town, but I’ve never felt I was making any big sacrifice to shut myself away and write. I married my best friend, so he’s right here with me. On the other hand, I do enjoy myself at conferences and conventions.
10. Do you actually drink the wine or champagne your friends gave you when you succeeded at something? Or do you save it for a more special occasion?
I don’t actually drink, except for the occasional beer, so no one gives me wine or champagne. They know better.
11. Think of your last success. When it happened…how long did you float? How soon after did you start focusing on the next success?
Hmm. I don’t usually think in terms of success as much as in reaching goals. The big one is usually sending in a finished book to an editor. But I did recently have a surprising bit of good news that counts as “success” when my agent called to tell me that one of the non-mystery historical novels I write as Kate Emerson was the lead title in a book club in Russia and has sold 140,000 copies. For a confirmed mid-list writer like me, that’s mind-blowing. I’m not sure I’ve ever even had a print run that big in the U.S. So, from that success, I’m still floating (and gobsmacked) two weeks later, but it didn’t really interrupt the forward movement on the WIP.
12. For extra credit: what do you wish someone had told you? (Something personal and specific. Not like how wonderful Sisters in Crime is, or how supportive everyone is, or how wonderful librarians and bookstores are. We agree.) What is something you really–learned?
I wish I’d learned sooner not to drive myself crazy because I wasn’t doing everything “they” say a writer should do to promote a book. I’m going to turn this around and say the best advice I can give other writers is to figure out what works for you and keep doing it, but don’t feel you have to do everything.
12+. For double-duty extra credit: because this is a very important question which may be difficult to answer but may be very helpful to others. Do you think you are a good writer?
Yes, I do think I’m a good writer. Not a great writer, mind you, but definitely a good one.
Hank: Fascinating, huh? Turning off things, shutting herself away…hmmm. What do you think? Are you similar, or different? Of course we’ll give a book to a lucky commenter! And come back this time next week for another peek inside another writing life.
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Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 Emmys and dozens of others honors for her ground-breaking journalism. The best-selling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: two Agathas, the Anthony and the Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the Mary Higgins Clark award. Her newest thriller THE WRONG GIRL (now an Agatha and Left Coast Crime nominee) was dubbed “Another winner!” in a Booklist starred review. Her upcoming novel is TRUTH BE TOLD (Forge, 2014.) She is 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. http://www.HankPhillippiRyan.com