Blast from the Past: Writing Takes More than Inspiration

This month I’m replaying some of my favorite posts about the art and craft of writing. Here’s one from June 2018. The events that inspired (no pun intended) the post still make me alternately laugh and shake my head.

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Reminder: Writing takes more than inspiration

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Once, at a book event, a man asked me how long a novel takes to write.

I told him that for most of my career I’ve written one novel a year.

He stepped back like I’d hit him in the forehead with a spitball. “No way. A book every year? That’s impossible.”

I assured him it was extremely possible. “Deadlines are fantastically motivating.”

He frowned and shook his head. “You can’t write to a schedule.”

“Professional writers do it all the time.”

His expression shifted toward disdain. “But you can’t schedule inspiration.”

As I started to reply, he went on. Writing regularly? Ridiculous. “That’s not how inspiration works,” he said. The idea that I would deliberately sit down to write, when inspiration hadn’t driven me to the keyboard… His lips pursed.

I realized: He thinks I’m a hack.

He thought that to have imaginative value, every word an author writes must originate in an ineffable bolt of creative lightning. Unplanned. Uncontrollable. That crafting a piece of writing renders it crass and somehow inauthentic. He was a businessman, not a novelist; he admitted that the writing process was entirely foreign to him. But no matter how I explained it, he couldn’t abandon the idea that I was doing writing wrong.

I’d been invited to this event to give a speech. I’d been flown across half a continent, actually, to tell an audience of 500 people how I came to be an author with more than a dozen published novels to my credit. By pure coincidence my talk, which I gave shortly after this conversation, discussed the interplay between inspiration and craft. Inspiration is wonderful, I said. But when you’re in the trenches writing a novel, constant inspiration is neither necessary nor sufficient. Grab it when it strikes. But when it doesn’t? That’s when experience, and discipline, and a knowledge of dramatic structure, along with an understanding of plot and character and suspense — in other words, craft — will carry you across the finish line. Then you can recharge. And revise.

Inspiration, I said, looks a lot like work.

I don’t know if the man who challenged me heard the speech. Our conversation had wrapped up when he commented that he guessed publishing is a business, so he supposed that writers need to supply it with material. Then he shrugged.

“What do I know about it? I don’t read.”

Blast from the Past: Writing takes work. That should inspire you!

Happy 2023! I want to start the year off with some fun blog posts, so of course the year has started off having some fun with me. Meaning that life has already overtaken my plans. It’s all good. I’m just unexpectedly busy with things that have pushed blog-writing aside. So for now, I’m going to replay some posts from past years, with a focus on writing. Here’s a post from March 2016. Enjoy!

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Writing a novel is a process. According to my college writing teacher, Ron Hansen, it’s “a ramshackle process.”

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That means it takes brainstorming, spitballing, dreaming up characters, dreaming up plots, throwing your characters into a tornado (emotional or actual), pounding out their story, revising that story, cutting some of those characters and plot strands, killing thousands of needless words, and rewriting until your fingers and brain ache.

It’s work, and I never want to hide that. Because it can be glorious work. It’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

But a friend recently asked whether hearing that the process can be tough, and that first drafts are usually bad, discourages people from getting serious about writing.

I damn well hope not.

I’m telling you this to let you know that if you’re struggling with any of these aspects of the writing process, you’re normal. And you’re doing it right. Putting in the work is the way great books get written.

If you’re a new or aspiring writer, this should inspire you.

Really.

If your first draft seems awful: That’s the way writing works.

If your rough draft’s dialogue sounds dull or stilted: Yeah, almost everybody’s does.

If the early version of your plot has a hole big enough to wreck a Mack truck: Welcome to the club.

If you have to stick your first novel in a file cabinet because it doesn’t hold together: Been there. Learned a hell of a lot. Started the next novel at a much higher level because of it.

I tell people that writing is work because it is. And because I wish that when I got up the nerve to write CHAPTER 1, somebody had told me I was going to stumble, and run into walls, and want to beat my head against the desk… and that this would be okay. That everybody did these things. And that wonderful books were born of this process.

I was desperate to write. I was never not going to write. From the time I was a kid, the desire to write was a fire in my bones. Hearing that learning to write well takes real time and effort would have eased my doubts and fears. It would have bolstered me for the journey.

So dig in. When you see your debut novel on bookshelves, the work will all be worth it.

Happy New Year! Here’s to 2023

2022 has been a big year. My family and I rebuilt our house after a major fire. I traveled for book events for the first time since before COVID, going to Portland, Oregon, Tallahassee, and New York. And I saw Heat 2, the novel I’m incredibly proud to have co-authored with Michael Mann, debut at #1 on the New York Times best seller list. The world has been topsy-turvy, with all of us weathering unprecedented ups and downs. In 2023 I’m hoping to grab hold of the ups and ride them as hard as I can. I hope you all find joy, hope, wonder, peace, and light in the new year.

And, of course, great books.

Happy New Year!

Entertainment Weekly names HEAT 2 one of its Best Books of 2022

This is certainly exciting. And I’m not kidding about that — having a book with my name on the cover make a best-of-the-year list will never get old. It’s an honor and wonderful validation of the hard work and pride that went into writing the novel. I’m thrilled that Heat 2, which Michael Mann and I wrote, has been named one of Entertainment Weekly’s Best Books of 2022.

“Nearly three decades after his now-iconic heist thriller Heat hit theaters, filmmaker Michael Mannreturns to the scene of the crime in unexpected form: a novel. Co-penned with Edgar-winning writer Meg GardinerHeat 2 jumps around in time, exploring the before-and-afters of characters like Al Pacino’s relentless LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and Val Kilmer’s slippery thief Chris Shiherlis. For a director so well known for his visual impact, he turns out to be a propulsive prose stylist as well; Mann fans will find connections and parallels with many of his films, but any crime reader can feast on the meaty storytelling.” — Christian Holub

Best Books of 2022

HEAT 2 named one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2022

What can I say except: Thank you! I’m delighted and surprised and extremely gratified that Heat 2 has been named one of Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of 2022.

Edgar survived!

EDGAR SURVIVED!! I found him in a box of books salvaged after our house fire. An Edgar Allan Poe statue that literally emerged from the flames and smoke… I love the little guy even more now.

Well, this is a terrific surprise

Where should I hang this?! A plaque commemorating HEAT 2 debuting at #1 on the New York Times best seller list — such a cool memento! My thanks for this lovely surprise go to William Morrow Books, HarperCollins, and everyone who made this possible for Michael Mann, me, and HEAT 2: Shane Salerno, The Story Factory, and above all, READERS!

Heat 2: #1 New York Times best seller

I am stunned and thrilled beyond belief to say that Heat 2 has debuted at #1 on the New York Times best seller list.

I’m incredibly proud of this novel, and happy that the intense and amazing work that went into it is being rewarded. It was an honor and a privilege to write this book with Michael Mann. I’m delighted that his commitment, passion, vision, and brilliance have been put on the page with this story, and that I get to be part of it.

I am grateful to HarperCollins, William Morrow Books, and Michael Mann Books, for publishing this novel so beautifully.

I’m especially thankful to my agent, Shane Salerno, for every effort he has expended over many years to help nurture and shepherd this novel to publication.

There are no words adequate to thank my husband, Paul Shreve, for his support of my writing. Especially after our house fire, when we had to start rebuilding our home even as the book deadline loomed. Without Paul’s willingness to shoulder a huge portion of the load, I wouldn’t have been able to write. I love you!

And thanks, readers!!! You’re the ones who have truly made this moment happen. I’m gratified that Heat 2 has connected so strongly with so many of you. Happy reading!

Rebuilding: I found my Barry Award!

In the days after the house fire last August, demolition and salvage crews swept through our home. The garage, attic, and roof were destroyed. Charred debris covered walls and the floor inside. Wet insulation had rained down through holes in the ceiling. Gasoline and plastic-infused smoke had filled the house, ruining most of our furniture and clothes. Shoes in our closet were sitting in an inch of filthy water and firefighting foam — which had saved the bones of the structure, but totaled a lot of our possessions.

The salvage crew swiftly, carefully, almost tenderly swept up items they thought might be saved, and took them away. That included the Barry Award for UNSUB, which was hanging on the wall in my office. I didn’t see it get packed up. I just saw the soot-blackened ceiling, walls, and bookshelves, and feared the worst.

Especially after the salvage crew dragged melted boxes down from the attic, and I found that all my actual copies of UNSUB were literally toast.

So yesterday, when we began unpacking boxes that had been stored for the last year, I was thrilled to discover the Barry Award — safe, sound, and beautiful. It will return to the wall in my newly rebuilt office, and I will look at it with relief and pride and joy, remembering how I felt when I received it.

Heat 2: Rave Review in GQ

Al Pacino in Heat, 1995. Everett Collection Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Yes, I’m blogging more this week than I have in a long time, and yes, that’s because I want to shout out every bit of news about Heat 2. Yes, I’m wildly happy to see the novel received so well. And yes, I’m thrilled I can use the word rave to describe this review in GQ.

Heat 2 Brings Michael Mann’s Exacting Vision, Improbably, to the Page

“[Heat 2] gave me a better understanding into how the creator of Heat saw an even bigger world, but also made me appreciate a guy whose work I’ve literally grown up on. That sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.

“There are plenty of other directors who have great vision, who understand the style of a moment and how a certain song can truly capture the mood. But Mann’s whole thing is a trust in his own vision and an absolute belief that little details are a must. The guy seems to operate on a creative level not dissimilar from the one inhabited by some of the great fashion designers, who know that new seasons require new trends, but that good taste is timeless. Being able to turn that into a great story, whether Heat on the big screen or Heat 2 in a book, is a trick few besides Mann can pull off. There’s sex, violence, cool cars, bright lights, and a whole lot of grit. It all works together. When a character is at the Beverly Hilton—where “everything gleams,” including the “Lamborghini and the Bugatti parked outside the entrance, placed like ornaments,”—I kept thinking, Man, I can see that…in a Michael Mann movie. I want to see that in a Michael Mann movie. And if that doesn’t happen, then I’m happy I read it in a Michael Mann novel.”

All I can say is: wow.

I talk to Jack Carr on the Danger Close Podcast

I had a fantastic conversation with Jack Carr, best selling author of The Terminal List, on his podcast, Danger Close. We talked about books, writing, and Heat 2. The episode is now up. Check it out!

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/6gbN5LmeB9nufBc39l1Og3

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/…/meg…/id1557814875…

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYrBwEFPcto

HEAT 2: Have some Twitter reactions

When a novel is published, I suspect that a lot of people imagine the author kicking back on a chaise longue with caviar and a glass of champagne, relaxing because all the work is done. Maybe wearing fluffy slippers. In reality, while publication day is wonderful — a realization of years of hard work — it means the author actually rolls up their sleeves and gets to work in a new way. Publication means it’s time to really get the word out, and hoist the novel into the public eye, and snag people’s attention. Readers’ attention. And to hope that they’ll skip off to the bookstore or library to grab a copy.

With the publication yesterday of Heat 2, that meant I did podcasts, signed copies at my local independent bookstore, and spent hours on social media urging everyone to pick up the book.

I got some good reactions. Here are a few. I’m incredibly thrilled and grateful to have heard from Stephen King, Danny Trejo, and David Duchovny. And of course I love the vivid, kinetic tweet from my co-author, the inimitable Michael Mann.

I hope you’ll enjoy the novel, too.

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Bookshop | Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Apple

Heat 2: out today!

I’m thrilled that Heat 2, the novel I co-wrote with Michael Mann, is published today. The book, a standalone thriller, is both prequel and sequel to Mann’s 1995 film Heat. This has been a challenging, ambitious, exhilarating project, and I’m incredibly proud of this novel.

The Associated Press says: “Hollywood screenwriter and director Michael Mann and veteran thriller writer Meg Gardiner have achieved a rarity with their novel ‘Heat 2’: a screen-to-page sequel that stands tall on its own. . . . Slick as a Neil McCauley heist and as intense as a Vincent Hanna chase, ‘Heat 2’ is just dynamite.”

Rolling Stone calls it “a genuinely exhilarating expansion of the movie’s world, complete with. . . some truly jaw-dropping, bullet-filled set pieces.”

The Film Stage says: “Stunning. . . . an intoxicatingly relentless gem. . . . a novel to be devoured more than once.”

Entertainment Weekly calls it a “propulsive universe-expansion. . . . reading this novel, and its cliffhanger ending, definitely leaves you wanting another book set in the same world.”

I’d love for you to read it.

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Bookshop | Indiebound | Barnes & Noble | Apple

HEAT 2: Wonderful CrimeReads Review

CrimeReads dedicates itself to the thoughtful discussion crime novels, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and more. So I’m especially grateful that it has named Heat 2 one the best books of August.

“Heat 2, which combines the feeling of both prologue and coda to the iconic Michael Mann 1995 film, deepens our understanding of the original world and simultaneously upends it with new wrinkles of mania and humanity. It’s a novel about the growing complications of global crime and about individuals pushing deep into that moral abyss. Mann’s brooding moments of sublime isolation are there in abundance, combined with Gardiner’s deft touch for modern thrillers. The result is an intensely satisfying crime story. –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads editor-in-chief

That’ll make my day.

And, if you want to dig into the story behind the story, here are a few recent pieces:

If you’re interested in what went into writing Heat 2, the Los Angeles Daily News has the scoop: How author Meg Gardiner teamed with filmmaker Michael Mann on ‘Heat 2’

For The Week, I wrote about my favorite books that feature the theme of Heat 2… people who take down scores, and those who hunt them: Meg Gardiner’s 6 favorite crime fiction books.

And I answered 20 questions for The Big Thrill. Find out my superpower, and my most embarrassing moment. The Big Thrill’s Behavioral Analysis Unit: Meg Gardiner.