“I have a pretty simple piece of advice to writers of science fiction or any other kind of literature, which is to just keep writing.”
Author of Snow Crash and Seveneves
While this advice seems to be universal wisdom from successful authors, Stephenson points out two common reasons authors convince themselves to stop writing.
First, they overvalue inspiration over perspiration. They wait for inspiration to motivate them to write rather than forcing themselves to sit down and write even when they don’t feel like it.
“Sometimes people are led to believe that writing is a kind of fine art, where some mysterious inspiration strikes and magic happens. I think it’s more like cabinet making or soccer playing, where if you do it a whole lot you get good at it, and if you stop doing it you either stop getting good at it or you actually lose ability.”
Second, too many authors spend their time promoting their book rather than writing the next one. In recent years, Stephenson has really lived this. He abandoned almost all interaction on social media and even includes a letter on his website explaining why he is a bad email correspondent. He focuses on his craft well above any administrative or marketing task.
Indeed, as book marketing expert Ryan Holiday says, the best way to promote your current book is to write the next one.
A classic mistake that I see people making is that they’ll put a lot of effort into writing their first book — and then they’ll stop and spend two years trying to sell their book, or trying to improve their book by tiny little increments, or both. And the whole time that they’re doing that, they’re wasting time that they could be spending writing their second book.
Thanks to TED for sharing this interview on the TED-Ed blog article, “Neal Stephenson’s writing advice for students (and everyone else).”