My father-in-law once asked me what I would do when the ideas for books stopped coming. Now, I’m not going to lie by saying I blinked at him innocently and said, “I never thought about it.”
I have thought about it and about the creative process quite a lot. I have wondered about that very question. What might happen if I never had another book idea?
But after careful consideration, I have decided to reject the premise of the question. Let me break it down, and then I’ll get to Nora Roberts, I promise.
That question seems to assume that book plots spontaneously appear in my head now. I’ve already blogged about my opinions on muses, and I don’t believe any author has a supernatural connection to a watery tart who beams bestsellers to their brain. Books are hard work, and the creative process is a process, not magic.
I’ve never thought of myself as “creative.” And I am certain it’s because of the way “creativity” was used in school. Creative people wore hippie skirts, talked about their feelings, and wrote poetry. I did none of these things. And when a teacher decided we were going to try some “creative writing” that had to be at least 500 words in length, use 20 vocabulary words, and deal with Hamlet’s feelings for Yorick, well, I wanted to put my fist through a wall. How is that creative, even by their own definition of creativity? (And don’t even get me started on the assignment to invent a new product in science class. “Sit down and invent something useful using the following parameters…. Go.” I’m sorry. That’s not how it works.)
What ought to be taught as “creative writing” is the full writing process, from first draft to final edits. Because writing is hard work, and from start to finish, a book changes a great deal. Writing requires a decent vocabulary, a good understanding of story structure, an ear for dialogue, and the ability to organize large amounts of information, not to mention logic, dedication, and, yes, a bit of art. In short, writing is work. Coming up with the ideas for books is work. It will always be hard work.
Enter Nora Roberts. Since 1981, Nora has written 209 novels. Two hundred and nine! (11010001 in binary for you geeks out there). As of 2011, her books have been on the NYT Bestsellers List for 861 weeks, 176 of which were in the number 1 slot. Her 200th book, The Witness received 4.5 out of 5 stars from 327 reviewers on Amazon, so she’s still pleasing her audience 30 years and 200 books later.
Nora Roberts hasn’t run out of ideas, and the quality of her books has not declined over her career. But she is still a hard worker. According to her website, she writes 8 hours a day. That’s every day of the week, including holidays. I don’t think she sits around mooning over what might happen if she runs out of ideas. She keeps working, keeps refining, keeps writing.
Eight hours every day of the year is an incredible amount of dedication. That’s why I say I’d like to be a bit like Nora Roberts. I know enough about myself to be certain that I could not survive and thrive on that rigorous work schedule, but I’m okay with that. I won’t have Nora’s level of output, or likely her level of success, but she is a good example of what it takes to lead a creative life: hard work and dedication. In that, I’d like to be a lot like her. (But I wouldn’t mind her success either!)