Gibson on Futures and Writing

William Gibson (author of Neuromancer among many other fantastic books) spoke at this year’s BEA about how how the Future as we once knew it is over. We caught up with it and live in an eternal and evolving now.

In science-fiction — the great harbinger of the Future — stories about the Future rarely have really been. As he notes, “[I]maginary futures are always, regardless of what the authors might think, about the day in which they’re written.” You can’t comment on things that are in the distant days to come, and who would really care if you did? It’s far more interesting to discuss what’s happening now, and even if that inevitably leads to thinking about where it all might lead, that’s a warped reflection of where we are at the moment and the vectors upon which we believe we’re traveling.

The best part of his talk, though, comes in his closing paragraphs:

A book exists at the intersection of the author’s subconscious and the reader’s response. An author’s career exists in the same way. A writer worries away at a jumble of thoughts, building them into a device that communicates, but the writer doesn’t know what’s been communicated until it’s possible to see it communicated.

Novelists should carve the last clause on the wall above their desks. You don’t know what your book is about until its done. You may have ideas about it, and you may railroad your text down a rigid set of rails in that direction, but until you finish the book, you can’t really see it. That’s why you write the book in the first place.

Writing is an act of exploration and discovery, for the writer as much as for the reader. That’s where the magic is. You sit down to express an opinion or to tell a story, and when you’re done, you — and hopefully your readers — can figure out what you really meant.