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.”