I attended a book signing event for the author Neal Stephenson. His new book Seveneves was just released, and he was on tour promoting it.
He's written over a dozen novels. I have read only two, but they were memorable and impressive to me. The first one that I read was Snow Crash. The first chapter alone was enough to make me a fan. He wrote that the core competency of the future United States was pizza delivery. The second book was Cryptonomicon, a multi-generational epic about code, cryptography and the ties that bind.
The question and answer session with Neal was fascinating. He fielded a handful of questions about his process as a writer, and I had the feeling people were taking notes. (I certainly was.)
He dispelled the notion that he does a lot of research. "Real researchers would be horrified at what I do for research," he said. The way he gathers ideas is more like strip mining, he joked.
He said that planning out a novel is not the best way to write. The time you spend planning is very short compared to the time you spend writing. Be open to new ideas as you write, he suggests. He did say that it's helpful to have a general idea of what you want your characters to do. (In the acknowledgements of his book, he said it took him seven years to develop and write his latest novel.)
When it came time for the book signing, a line quickly formed with what seemed like 200 people. Some had copies of his older books, and some had his new book. By the time I got up to him, I was in such a dazzled state that I didn't say anything as he signed my book. "How are you?" he asked. I blurted out that I was fine, and then said I was a big fan. "Well, I hope you like this book then." I've read the first 100 pages, and I think I will!