Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book? (If it varies, please keep one project in mind as you answer these questions.)
Steven: I am very much a “pantser” as they call it. In other words, not a plotter. My drafting process is a rolling churn. As I write I revise on an ongoing basis. If something needs to be set up in the current day’s work, I go back and set it up first. While this is not a fast process, it does result in my finished first draft being very close to my submission draft.
Tamago: Which part of writing–drafting, revising, critique from others–do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?
Steven: Drafting is best but as I said, revising is pretty much part of this process. I REALLY like finishing. However, I have been fooled by this desire to finish to declaring a book done when it still needed several thousand words.
Tamago: What is the longest time it’s taken you to complete a project? The shortest time?
Steven: I’m going to talk about novels. I was writing REFLEX, the sequel to JUMPER, when 9/11 happened. JUMPER had scenes of terrorism and several scenes at the World Trade Center and this really interfered with my ability to go forward with the book so it was finished for another two years (three and a half in all).
The quickest thing I ever wrote was the tie-in for JUMPER the movie. JUMPER: GRIFFIN’S STORY was written in 9 months but the destination (leading up to the events before the movie) was defined ahead of time so that helped.
Tamago: In what ways has your writing process changed over time?
Steven: I’ve always written books like I read them: To find out what is going to happen. (The pantser thing.) This continues to be true. I’ve found, over the years, that I can’t really workshop incomplete books as the critiques seriously delay my already slow writing process. I would like to say that I’ve become a better writer, but I’m not sure. The process feels the same inchoate horror that is has always been and my first book remains my most popular.
Tamago: How much research do you do to get your science right in your work?
Steven: It’s not just science. Especially since I tend to write contemporary SF, the world as I write it is mostly our world and all my readers are experts in their little corners of the world. So I try very hard to get all my facts right, not just the science. I’m already asking my audience to accept one impossible thing (teleportation–if not impossible, so improbable as to be the same) so I have to make all the other things about my writing as realistic as possible. If everything else feels real, I can sell the unreal.
Tamago: Are you part of a writing group, or do you write alone? Why do you prefer your chosen approach?
Steven: See 4 above. But I have participated in some Google Hangout writing sessions with my peers. This is more about motivation and less about critique. I have first readers in my wife and (for my last book) my daughters. I have good friends that have been first readers in the past, but I am usually so late for my work that I don’t have time to use them by the time the book is done and I owe a great deal of my success to Beth Meacham at Tor, who has edited every book I’ve ever written.
Tamago: How do you know something you’re writing is working?
Steven: Well, sometimes I find myself going back to that section just to read it. Not to revise or improve it, but to enjoy it. Otherwise, if the voice in my head screaming “It’s SHIT! It’s all SHIT!” is barely audible, I figure I’m doing okay.
Tamago: Besides the big firsts (getting an agent, publishing your first novel), what moments have you had that made you think, “hey, I’m actually a writer?”
Steven: Maybe that first fan letter (Which really was a letter in those days, pre-email.) My fourth published story was on the Hugo ballot. That was a good moment. We are hostage to our readers, in a sense, a factor I really try to de-emphasize. I love my readers but I want my identity as a writer to be confirmed by things that are in my control. So, I guess I currently believe I’m a writer when I consistently write. In other words, there are still times, even though my writing income covers the mortgage and most of the bills, when I doubt that identity. Writers write. Period.