How to be prolific

The story of Neal Stephenson’s typewriter

Andrew Macrae
3 min readJun 6, 2021

So we all know the story of William Gibson’s typewriter, right?

The legend of how he wrote Neuromancer on a manual typewriter, before he’d even used a personal computer?

The concept of cyberspace was invented on a Hermes 2000.

Hermes 3000 — the next model up from the 2000. Source: Wikicommons.

Neal Stephenson also has a great typewriter story in his past.

Stephenson is an infamously verbose author who turns in massive doorstoppers full of meticulous historical and scientific detail.

I’m just about to start a re-read of The Baroque Cycle, a series that weighs in at 1,125,000 words or 2,250 pages.

Part of his prolific writing style may be explained by the way he came to write his first novel, The Big U, and the role that working on a typewriter played.

I was lucky enough to interview him back in 2004 for an Australian magazine when he was promoting Quicksilver, and I asked him about this.

This is the story he told:

I had been working on some chapters of a novel when I was living in Iowa City [in the mid-80s].

I thought I would have to write the entire manuscript before I could try to sell it, but then I read somewhere that publishers are willing to buy something based on sample chapters.

It seemed like a long-shot, but I thought I’d give it a try.

I went out and rented an electronic typewriter with a nice plastic carbon film ribbon and I wrote up a few sample chapters and a query letter.

I got back some more or less encouraging rejections, and heard from someone who turned out to be a fairly important editor who said they liked what they’d seen so far, but they couldn’t make a decision…



Andrew Macrae

Freelance writer and editor. Sign up for my newsletter about writing, freelancing and whatever is worrying me https://tinyletter.com/Andrew_Macrae