Here is an excerpt from William Gibson, The Art of Fiction – Interviewed by David Wallace-Wells – the Paris Review. [HT BB]
Do you revise?
Every day, when I sit down with the manuscript, I start at page one and go through the whole thing, revising freely.
You revise the whole manuscript every day?
I do, though that might consist of only a few small changes. I’ve done that since my earliest attempts at short stories. It would be really frustrating for me not to be able to do that. I would feel as though I were flying blind.
The beginnings of my books are rewritten many times. The endings are only a draft or three, and then they’re done. But I can scan the manuscript very quickly, much more quickly than I could ever read anyone else’s prose.
Does your assessment of the work change, day by day?
If it were absolutely steady I don’t think it could be really good judgment. I think revision is hugely underrated. It is very seldom recognized as a place where the higher creativity can live, or where it can manifest. I think it was Yeats who said that literary revision was the only place in life where a man could truly improve himself.
Everyone I had known during that four-year period was also trying to get a job. It startled me. They hadn’t really been talking about getting jobs before. But some part of me I had never heard from before sat me down and said, You’ve been bullshitting about this art thing since you were fifteen years old, you’ve never done anything about any of it, you’re about to be shoved into the adult world, so if you’re going to do anything about the art thing, you’ve got to do it right now, or shut up and get a job.
That was really the beginning of my career. My wife continued to have a job after she had the baby, so I became the caregiver guy, the house husband guy, and simultaneously I found that it actually provided ample time to write. When he was asleep, I could write, I knew that was the only time I would have to write. Most of the short fiction I wrote at the beginning was written when our son was asleep.
You wrote your first story for a class, didn’t you?
A woman named Susan Wood had come to UBC as an assistant professor. We were the same age, and I met her while reconnoitering the local science-fiction culture. In my final year she was teaching a science-fiction course. I had become really lazy and thought, I won’t have to read anything if I take her course. No matter what she assigns, I’ve read all the stuff. I’ll just turn up and bullshit brilliantly, and she’ll give me a mark just for doing that. But when I said, “Well, you know, we know one another. Do I really have to write you a paper for this class?” She said, “No, but I think you should write a short story and give me that instead.” I think she probably saw through whatever cover I had erected over my secret plan to become a science-fiction writer.
I went ahead and did it, but it was incredibly painful. It was the hardest thing I did in my senior year, writing this little short story. She said, “That’s good. You should sell it now.” And I said, “No.” And she said, “Yeah, you should sell it.” I went and found the most obscure magazine that paid the least amount of money. It was called Unearth. I submitted it to them, and they bought it and gave me twenty-seven dollars. I felt an enormous sense of relief. At least nobody will ever see it, I thought. That was “Fragments of a Hologram Rose.”
Shirley was the only one of us who was seriously punk. I’d gone to a science-fiction convention in Vancouver, and there I encountered this eccentrically dressed young man my age who seemed to be wearing prison pajamas. He was an extremely outgoing person, and he introduced himself to me: “I’m a singer in a punk band, but my day job is writing science fiction.” I said, “You know, I write a little science fiction myself.” And he said, “Published anything?” And I said, “Oh, not really. This one story in this utterly obscure magazine.” He said, “Well, send me some of your stuff, I’ll give you a critique.”
As soon as he got home he sent me a draft of a short story he had written perhaps an hour beforehand: “This is my new genius short story.” I read it—it was about someone who discovers there are things that live in bars, things that look like drunks and prostitutes but are actually something else—and I saw, as I thought at the time, its flaws. I sat down to write him a critique, but it would have been so much work to critique it that instead I took his story and rewrote it. It was really quick and painless. I sent it back to him, saying, “I hope this won’t piss you off, but it was actually much easier for me to rewrite this than to do a critique.” The next thing I get back is a note—“I sold it!” He had sold it to this hardcover horror anthology. I was like, Oh, shit. Now my name is on this weird story.
People kept doing that to me, and it’s really good that they did. I’d give various friends stuff to read, and they’d say, “What are you going to do with this?” And I’d say, “Nothing, it’s not nearly there yet.” Then they’d Xerox it and submit it on my behalf, to places I would have been terrified to submit to. It seemed unseemly to me to force this unfinished stuff on the world at large.
I sensed that it would more than meet my requirements, and I knew that there were all sorts of things I could do there that I hadn’t even been able to imagine yet. But what was more important at that point, in terms of my practical needs, was to name it something cool, because it was never going to work unless it had a really good name. So the first thing I did was sit down with a yellow pad and a Sharpie and start scribbling—infospace, dataspace. I think I got cyberspace on the third try, and I thought, Oh, that’s a really weird word. I liked the way it felt in the mouth—I thought it sounded like it meant something while still being essentially hollow.”