by Hank Phillippi Ryan


I have done it 14 times now. Written a book. As I hit “send” on my newest, UNTITLED HANK BOOK, last week, with that mix of delight and terror, I realized that the process I had just gone through for the past year or so, although different in many ways,  is remarkably similar to the very first time. And to all the other times.

There is a cycle to writing a novel.  There are predictable stages in the author’s emotional and creative journey. I wonder if your stages match mine.

1. The increasingly frantic search for ideas

I will never think of a good enough idea, I realize. All the good ideas have been used. How can I think of a good idea when they are used up? I write thrillers, psychological thrillers, how many different combinations can there be of a book like that?  I am toast.

2. The tantalizing discards

At this point, I grab on to anything. Taking out the garbage – – what if there’s a book when someone takes out the garbage, and…? A stranger on the street, that could work. A visit to the grocery store, fraught. The television is broken! What if…  A letter arrives addressed to someone else. Oh, why? The ideas go in one ear, through the Rube Goldberg machine, and out the other.  I still have nothing.

3. The moment of existential despair (yes, this comes rather early)

I will never think of a good idea. End of career.

4. The arrival of the thing

It arrives. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the good idea has emerged. I am saved. I do every writer prove-me-wrong test known to the author brain: poking and prodding and twisting and deconstructing and yet, it survives. It will work! Revival of career.

5. The procrastination

Ah. My desk is too messy, I have too many emails. The laundry is calling. What if I put up some social media things in advance? I owe someone a blurb, maybe send that, it’s not stalling, it’s only so the decks are clear.

6.  The typing of Chapter 1

I mean, simply the words “chapter one.” And there it is, I am committed.

7. The glorious beginning

I type like the wind. (Only, without cliches.)  This is astonishing, this is great, why did I ever fear for a good idea? The words flow and the ideas come and the characters are so brilliantly interesting I cannot believe they even came out of  my own fingers.

8. The arrival of page 36

Oh, yeah. Now what? Now what, now what, now what. It’s almost as if my manuscript is out of breath, breathing hard, hands on its knees, bent over and panting.  Spent. What am I going to do?

9. The eyes on the prize

If I can get past page 36, it will be a book. Just get past page 36.

10. The mantra of the arithmetic

Writing is only addition. Keep typing keep typing keep typing, if I just keep typing the pages will fill up, and, hey, I can fix it later. Just keep going, just keep going.

11. The emergence of the middle

Oh. No. I hit the middle of the book, 200 pages or so, and realize I have 200 more pages to go. What on heavenly earth is going to fill all those pages?

12. The creeping specter of defeat

What if this was a bad idea? What if this was the worst idea on the planet, and I fell for it, and I got all this way into the book, 200 whole pages, all for nothing. I never should’ve started. I am doomed.

13. The sinking into the slough of despond and the emergence of the rationalizations

Everyone gets one not-so-wonderful book. It’s fine, just keep going. Plenty of successful authors have had a miss, and my readers will forgive me. I’m doing the best I can. Yes, I  may have forgotten how to write a book, but I must  just go on, even though it’s bad. And this one is so bad, it’s going to be  TRULY bad, but it has to be finished, so just finish it.

14. The arrival of the book-resuscitating idea

Oh! Maybe… Just maybe… was that…something working? With a burst of speed I do 100 more pages.

15. The glorious seduction of possibility

This could actually work. And if this first draft is not perfect, of course it isn’t! I can fix it later. Maybe just…get to the end and see what happens.

16. The avoidance of the ending

I have to write it, yes I do, but when I do, it is written. Maybe…think about it.

17. The inevitability of writing the ending

See also: deadline.

18. The avoidance of typing the actual words “The End”

Because if I don’t type of those words, I am giving myself permission to change it.

19. The staring at what you just wrote

Wow. Somewhere in all that mess there is a book. Maybe. Possibly. Some of it is potentially okay. And it is too long. But the first draft is done!

20. The initial thrill

Yes yes! It’s amazing! I always knew you could do it. I have done it before, and I did it again. Awesome. This is fabulous. Yay, me.

21. The plummet to reality

No, turns out, it’s terrible. It’s a disaster. Oh no. And now I have to send it.  (See, as above, deadline. Now looming.) I am toast. And going to be humiliated. End of career.

22. The rescue mission

The frantic need to go through it again. Edit edit edit. Cut cut cut. Cut cut cut. The removal of “actually” and “of course.” Oh. My, my. Perhaps the book is emerging.

23. The burbling of possibility

Look at that—A THEME! This could be good. It actually could be! It could even be fabulous. Life-changing, maybe. If my editor thinks so.

24. The hitting of send

Victory! Followed by the discovery of the typos, the cliché in the first paragraph, and the three characters who have names beginning with the same letter.

25. The Waiting

Followed by remorse and comparison to other authors, including the impossibility of reading someone else’s book, because THEY did it, and gloriously, but I clearly can’t, because it’s been a whole day and my editor has not responded. And I would know, because the editor’s email has a special ping.

26. The ping

“You’ve got mail.”

27. Epilogue and further study

How to survive your editorial letter. Click here.

28. And PS

How to get a blurb. Click here.

What do you think, Career Authors? Do you have the same journey of 27–or 28!– (gulp) steps? Let’s talk about it on the Career Authors Facebook page.