CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
In the Green Room

Novelist Neal Stephenson

Wanna Be a Writer? Write 10,000 Pages, Then Throw Them Away

Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic “The Baroque Cycle” and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. Before discussing the relationship between science fiction and science, he offered some advice for aspiring writers and explained that even when it looks like he’s procrastinating he’s probably working in the Zócalo green room.

Q:
What keeps you up at night?

A:
Not much keeps me up at night. I’m a sound sleeper.

Q:
Describe your singing in one sentence or one word.

A:
In the past.

Q:
What food won’t you eat?

A:
There are very few foods I won’t eat. I’ve stopped eating shrimp because I was in England earlier in the year, and there was a really disturbing article about how they’re produced: a lot of slave labor. But I never liked shrimp anyway, so it was exactly the excuse I was looking for. Now I can not eat shrimp, and I can cloak it in a high moral tone.

Q:
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A:
For me it was retroactive advice—write 10,000 pages and throw them away. I can’t remember who said it. It’s a statement about writing, and how you have to sort of write 10,000 pages of dreck before you can learn how to do it. I saw that advice after I had already figured it out through experience, so in a sense I didn’t need it. But I immediately recognized it as true.

Q:
What’s the last great book you read?

A:
I really liked Hild by Nicola Griffith.

Q:
When did you know you weren’t going to be a scientist or an engineer?

A:
I still don’t know that. I mean, I do enough amateurish dinking around with science and engineering—I still have a membership card, I don’t get paid for it, but I think it’s more a state of mind than a formal occupation.

Q:
How do you procrastinate?

A:
It’s been so long since I had the luxury of procrastinating that I’ve kind of forgotten. I think sometimes you have to have some down time in order to let things process in the background. To the external observer that looks like you’re procrastinating, but it may be that you’re actually working.

Q:
What’s your favorite household chore?

A:
I never liked gardening and green stuff, but I’ve been trying to grow a hedge. And I got some black thorn seeds, and I’ve been trying to get them to turn into little black thorn plants, and I go and water them every day, and that’s kind of become my favorite chore.

Q:
What weapon would you choose in a zombie apocalypse?

A:
Probably a longsword.

Q:
What’s the last live performance you saw?

A:
A sing-through of La Traviata at a little dinner theater in Seattle.