Raymond Carver was someone whose work was tremendously inspiring to me. So I felt very fortunate when I had a chance to meet him in 1980. I was asked to show him around New York City prior to a reading he was giving at Columbia that fall. Instead, we stayed at my apartment and talked literature for six hours, and subsequently began a correspondence.
He convinced me that if I really wanted to write fiction I had to stop hedging my bets with jobs in publishing and journalism and make a real commitment, and the next year I followed him to Syracuse University, where he was then teaching in the creative writing program. If not for that move, I doubt I would be answering these questions today. Carver somehow convinced me to go for it, and convinced me that I had the right stuff—I’m not sure how he could have guessed that at the time, on the basis of a few early stories.
He was also influential in convincing me that the only secret to writing was to put in serious hours every day for years. I’d been under the thrall of a sort of romantic image of the writer as a genius who effortlessly produces masterpieces under the influence of a kind of divine madness. Carver convinced me that writing was 90% perspiration. He used to call me up every day to see if I had been writing. And I used to hear his typewriter every day, down the street, clacking away. That was almost as inspiring as anything he said.