Why Neil Gaiman is right about what he’s wrong about.

Two quotes that get passed down from writer to writer from famous authors are about as commonsensical as thinking Earth is flat. One is Stephen King’s formal for the second draft, which I’ve ranted about in the past. The other is Neil Gaiman’s quote about how the pros write when the amateurs wait for inspiration. Because what he says is absolutely right. He’s just wrong if he’s using the quote to suggest amateurs should write like pros if they want to be pros.


Amateur writers need to know the feeling of inspired writing. They need to hold it in their hand and dissect it like Beatrix Potter sliced open rabbits to see how they moved. If the author must hold still until inspiration settles like a spider web across the fingertips, it’s not a bad thing.


We didn’t stay hunter-gathers as a population for long, and neither will those who hunt inspired moments. It’s only a matter of time before those touched by inspired writing learn how to harness it, farm it, and make it reproduce itself at a much more convenient time than just when it feels like showing up. It’s human nature to domesticate our resources.


Instead, I see amateurs doing what the pros are doing because the pros are doing it and not understanding any reasoning behind it. If King writes 1500 words a day, so too should every writer. And if every writer hadn’t cut down the trees and pulled up the roots, tilled the soil and irrigated it properly to be able to produce 1500 words of plot each day, what fills up those pages isn’t going to be story. Could it be rewritten from the ground up once it’s completed to cut out all that deadwood that got pulled up instead of fruitful crops? Yes. Will it be?


Rewriting is a whole separate skill to learn beyond just writing first drafts.


There are more differences between the pros and the non-pros than how much and when they write. Learning how to weave a story together in a way that delivers a rich reader’s experience is a skill that takes time to practice and get better at.


So Gaiman is right. Amateurs should wait for inspiration, but just so they can memorize the sensation of its heartbeat in the tips of the fingers. Having the skillset to recreate that sensation on command is the real difference between pros and amateurs.

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