William Gibson answers questions

Having finished the manuscript for his next novel, Zero History, William Gibson is taking a break from fiction by answering a wide-ranging set of questions from the readers on his blog. His answers are really good and interesting. This one should be graven in marble over every beginning writer's desk.
A "Creator's block" sounds like something afflicting a divinity, but writer's block is my default setting. Its opposite is miraculous. The process of learning to write fiction, for me, was one of learning to almost continually be doing it *through* the block, in spite of the block, the block becoming the accustomed place from which to work. Our traditional cultural models of creativity tend to involve the wrong sort of heroism, for me. "It sprang whole and perfect from my brow" as opposed to "I saw it mispelled, in mauve Krylon, on the side of a dumpster, and it haunted me". I was much encouraged, when I began to write, by Manny Farber's idea of "termite art".


  1. Oh, thank goodness! I thought it was just me.

    Still, Mr. Gibson and I share a birthday, so I suppose our heads are in similiar places.

  2. I have something taped to my writer’s desk. It is a very powerful motivational quote that I discovered inside of a fortune cookie awhile back. “Something wonderful is about to happy”.

    I also have a saying that you should append every fortune inside a fortune cookie with “…in bed”.

    In this instance, when I have writer’s block, I am always reminded that something wonderful is about to happy…in bed. I do my best work after those things.

  3. I fully agree with Mr. Gibson’s assessment of the writing process, and I believe it applies to most creative acts. I was helped a lot by the idea of “the zero draft” and the idea of not editing while you write (thanks to Joan Bolker) since you will edit it later anyway. I think she also said “we write in order to think”, which for me says that when you get to the end of a section you will probably have a slightly different understanding of what you just wrote compared to your understanding at the beginning (unless you have written a lot of drafts first, but that falls under the idea too).

    I am under the impression that people who make sculptures don’t just carve up some stone or weld some bronze, they make studies and practice and think, as do many in the design fields (artists, writers, etc.). Painters practice and make studies and sketches. Architects make plans and refine them. If you read about the IDEO method, they come up with all sorts of ideas and prototype away until they get something they like. Creativity is a playful process, and it is usually not an immediate one.

  4. I have no idea who Manny Farber is, though the term “termite art” brings to mind Steven Johnson’s “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities,” Gibson writes “I’m a sort of Victorian weekend naturalist of technology,” which I think is perfectly apt.

  5. I saw it mispelled, in mauve Krylon, on the side of a dumpster, and it haunted me.

    Merely reading this little quip, made offhand, reminds me why I love Gibson’s work.

  6. As a photographer, I find non-creative to be my default setting as well. When it comes, it comes and I have to be prepared to manifest it in my work. Creativity, for me, cannot be summoned at will. When I’m on, it’s a brilliant sensation. When I’m not, it can’t be forced.

    Long live film.

    1. You’ve got it backwards. The idea is to work in spite of the block. Not feeling creative? Tough. Work anyway. It’s the difference between an amateur and a professional.

  7. I’m a believer in the concept that one must write in order to be a writer. Waiting around for inspiration to strike results in a whole lot of waiting and not much production. Writing is pretty much like any other job – the way to get it done is to just roll up your sleeves and get to it.

  8. A delightful read. Thanks, Cory.

    To me, writing is like solving one word in the Thursday NYT crossword puzzle. From a solid footing, I can work backward, forward, up or down.

  9. People don’t ordinarily meet the part of me that writes novels, and when they do, they must assume I’m not not doing very well. Which as a human being, right then, I’m not. In direct proportion to how well I might be doing, right then, as a novelist.


  10. 人们通常不符合我的一部分写入小说,而当他们这样做,他们必须承担起我不是做得很好。其中作为一个人,就在那时,我不是。成正比,如何好我可能会做,就在那时,作为一个小说家。

      1. Just for yuks, I ran winyourself’s “translation” back the other direction through Google Translate. The result is fun:

        “People often do not meet part of my written novels, and when they do, they must assume I am not doing very well. One as a person, it was then, I am not. Proportional to how good I might do, it was then, as a novelist.

        I think this tells us all we need to know about the state of the art of computer translation.

    1. “I suppose you think it’s pretty weird, don’t you Mike? Well, you’d be right. Because that’s the kind of guy I am, right! weird! Which is why I go over people’s heads…a bit like a aeroplane!”

      -Rick, from the Young Ones

  11. Gibson’s blog had the same holiday greeting for months, then BLAM!, this wonderful head-dump. I can picture him reading the answers in his droll snotty voice. (Which I mean with esteem and admiration.)

    There’s a cool deep reading of The Difference Engine going on at Differencing the Engine.

  12. Creating through the block is not a painless process, nor does it lack long-term consequences.

    I’d rather have one great book by an artist who worked with the block than twenty mediocre books by an artist who worked through the block.

  13. not to detract from this, but every time i hear william gibson it gets me thinking about warren zevon, and whenever i think about warren zevon, i have to sneak out of bed to fetch a few beers and my headphones and sit in the chair by the living room window for a while. cheers.

  14. Wow! did I really read “Neuromancer” 25 years ago?. I lent to a friend in ’86, I remember talking to him about it at work on a warm Spring day, we had the windows closed because the Chernobyl fallout was allegedly drifting over England.

    Seems an awfully long time ago, time for a re-read.

  15. Felton / Terry,

    I was just stumped when it turned out not to be spam. Why dammit?!

  16. From Wikipedia – “Termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art,” Farber contends, “goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, like as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity.” I guess this means stop avoiding the studio and go back to work.

  17. Gibson question for which, for some strange reason, I’ve been unable to find a definitive answer to (that I could trust).

    Were there ever (or will there ever be) harcover versions of “Neuromancer” and “Burning Chrome” ? I recently replaced my original paperback of “Neuromancer” with the larger trade paperback because the original was worn from rereadings, but I have most of the other stuff in hardcover and would like these as well. I’m not a collector, I just think hardcovers work better for me.

  18. Thank you Terry. Of course I’ve used Amazon. My error was remembering the situation the last time I did a search there, when I’m quite certain (well, now not as certain) I didn’t find the hardcover, rather than re-checking before posting my question.

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