July 14, 2003

Notes on Neal Stephenson’s USENIX Keynote

Here. As a frustrated fiction author myself, I find this very cool: “He rented a modern typewriter, secluded himself in his apartment and started to type. Soon a problem appeared: the typewriter had a modern plastic ribbon. The plastic mellowed and became sticky: it was July in Iowa City, and the apartment was hot. The only way to prevent the ribbon from getting stuck is to keep the ribbon moving. And the only way to keep the ribbon moving is to keep pressing the keys. That discovery did wonders for his productivity.” This is *so* different from how I write, but it makes a really good story. : ) Plus, he adopted another technique later. “For instance, many stories of Charles Dickens were first published in a magazine, over a course of several months. It is not often emphasized that Dickens didn’t have time to distill his novels and to write draft after draft. He had to write in monthly installments, with barely a time for one draft.” This is how I like to write. I write up articles, post them various places, get feedback and then use those as draft material for the chapters in my books. It works really well, I think, both because it produces better material and because my hardcore audience doesn’t have to write for the book publishing process for a lot of the material.