09/30/2010 07:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Making of a Novel: Inspiration is Overrated

A week or so ago, I scratched one book idea and 50 pages, and brought a different book idea off the back burner and onto a front burner. I thought of a working title, roughed out a summary, brainstormed with a friend. And today, I have 20 pages of this new idea. The words are flying onto the page. The story is zooming along. I wrote all day yesterday and all day today, ignoring (almost) everything I should be doing. There is a mounting pile of mail I have ignored, stacks of laundry, nothing ready for dinner tonight...again. But I have a story that I'm excited about, a story that has steam, a story that I think may be exactly what my agent was hoping for.

But 20 pages? I'm close to the point where I should show her what I'm doing -- maybe halfway there -- and I'm terrified. My concern is obviously about whether or not she thinks the idea is viable, but it's also about whether or not she thinks I've lost my mind. Can you pull an idea for a novel out of a hat like I've done, and write something good? Or is it possible that by abandoning one story and starting another on practically the same day, I'm just grasping at straws? It's completely possible. And that's what scary.

Not too long ago, my daughter told me that she hadn't been working on her own novel (she's 14 -- writing a novel!) because she wasn't inspired. "Inspiration," I said, "is overrated. Just sit your butt in the chair and write." I was being somewhat flip and over-dramatic, and my tone told her that (she laughed, and then I laughed) but the point, I think, was quite valid. It was, perhaps, a message I needed to hear. Any story has the potential to be a good story, but you can't sit around talking about writing it or wishing you had the time to write it or wondering what else you could be writing instead. You just have to sit down and do it.