Diana Gabaldon (born in 1952) is the hugely popular author of the Outlander series. Here are five fantastic quotes she’s shared over the years to help you with your writing!
1. When I turned 35, I thought, ‘Mozart was dead at 36, so I set the bar: I’m going to start writing a book on my next birthday.’ I thought historical fiction would be easiest because I was a university professor and know my way around a library, and it seemed easier to look things up than make them up.
So many of us think we’ve missed our chances, our opportunities, if we haven’t been published by thirty, or thirty-five, or forty, or whatever random age you’ve designated for yourself. When I started writing fiction at twenty-five, I had a five-year goal. I wanted to be a traditionally published author by the time I hit thirty. At minimum I wanted a publishing deal by thirty. And here I am, thirty-five years old, twenty novel manuscripts under my belt and some writing successes here and there but still no publishing deal and certainly no books on shelves yet. Does this make me sad? Sometimes. But at the end of the day you need to step back and look at the larger picture.
I mean, think of Diana Gabaldon. She’s one of the world’s bestselling authors, she has a series of novels that’s beloved the world over, and she didn’t start writing fiction until age thirty-five. Her story is proof that you don’t necessarily need to find success in writing at an early age to find success later on, and you don’t even have to have started writing your fiction until well into your thirties! She’s been a publishing sensation for many years now, and whether you’re in your thirties or forties or fifties, don’t worry, there’s still time, I’m telling you.
2. I work late at night. I’m awake and nobody bothers me. It’s quiet and things come and talk to me in the silence.
This is how I worked in the beginning. I drafted my first three novels between 10pm and 1am, mostly because I was working a day job at the time and I am so not a morning person to get the words down earlier in the day. I actually came to love writing my fiction at night because, yes, it is quiet. Nobody bothers you. There’s not a ton to do or think about outside of the novel you’re composing. If you ever struggle to find time to write, doing it late at night is certainly recommended if you can manage it.
My problem as of late is that I just get too damn tired by 10pm. And also, this wave of laziness usually washes over me by 5pm, no matter what kind of day I’ve had. Sometimes I get a bolt of creativity and excitement about my writing late into the night. But usually I feel most energized to do my work between 10am and 2pm. That’s my golden time. Find what’s yours. If it’s late at night, great. If it’s early in the morning, that’s fantastic. Do what works best for you. And any time you choose that allows for things to come and talk to you in silence? Even better.
3. I don’t plot the books out ahead of time, I don’t plan them. I don’t begin at the beginning and end at the end. I don’t work with an outline and I don’t work in a straight line.
Every writer is different. There’s no one right way to get your words down on paper. We each have our specific processes, and we each do something that works best for us. What’s most important is that you find a process that ensures you work on your novel at least five days a week and ultimately gets it finished in the not-so-distant future. I think any process that ensures your novel gets completed is always a good one!
Some of us like to outline heavily. Some of us like to start with the end and then work our way back. I personally do two things before I start a novel. I write detailed bios for all my main characters. And I have very specific ideas about what the first couple scenes are and what the last couple of scenes are. Sometimes the ending changes as I work on the first draft, and sometimes it stays in line with my original intention. But again, find the process that works best for you and stick to it every time.
4. If you’re going to have more than one person read your book, they’re going to have totally different opinions and responses. No person — no two people — read the same book.
This is what I find so fascinating about writing novels. The novel means something to you. The story you’re telling, the characters you’re creating, you have such specific visions in your head. And some small part of you naturally assumes each person who reads your book will have the same vision, or at least something similar.
But the truth is that every single person who reads your book will have a completely unique experience with it. Some people might like like the book for the same reason, some people might share a favorite scene or something. But each person comes to your book from a different background, from a different viewpoint, and no two reading experiences will ever be the same. It’s why when you put your novel into the world, it doesn’t really belong to you anymore. It belongs to the readers.
5. Normally, it takes me about three years to write one of the big books. It is usually four years between releases because of the huge amount of travel and PR and just nuisance going on around them. I have a lot of pressure from publishers and agents.
I’m always really happy to see successful authors like Gabaldon not just pump out a book every six months but instead take her time with each new novel she writes. There’s something so wonderful about the ability to write in one series you adore, one series that has completely shaped your life and your success, and then spend a few years on each manuscript knowing full well there’s going to be a huge audience for it on the eventual day of publication.
When you’re just starting out, you feel like you have to be the most prolific writer alive to find success. But the truth is that if you can write a story that connects with people, if you create characters that your readers instantly fall in love with, there’s suddenly no urgency to pump out one book after another if you don’t want to. Some big-time authors like Stephen King publish at least one book a year, and that’s great, but others like Gabaldon only publish once every few years.
Listen — quality matters at the end of the day. And if you need extra time to write the best book you can, for God’s sake, take that time. Take all the time you need to be the best writer you can possibly be. Always.