Sylvain Neuvel on How it Feels to Write a Book


Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

I don’t know what it’s like to write a book.

Yes, my third novel comes out in May, but do a search online for what writing is like and you’ll see the same words over and over: impossible deadlines, pain, stress, self-doubt, misery. It sounds like someone’s vision of hell and only the satisfaction of being done makes this agony somewhat worthwhile. I must not be doing it right.

My first book sort of wrote itself. I wrote it for fun on my couch, some of it on my iPhone, after my son went to bed every night. There was no one waiting for it, no money involved. I did it, like I said, for fun. And it was. Maybe that wasn’t writing. Maybe that was just life happening, singing in the shower, playing with my son.

I spent a year trying to get that book agented when I was done. I also spent that year thinking about the sequel — a few words over here, some notes over there. Life continued on, and then it happened. Boom. The stars aligned, once in a million year quadruple eclipse. I got a movie deal, and they signed me up for a whole trilogy. Scary, exciting stuff. My whole life had changed.


Sleeping Giants came out a year and a half after I signed on the full line — there are no dotted lines anywhere — and for that year and a half, life went on as usual. I still had a full-time job. I hadn’t given one interview. I hadn’t sold one copy of my book to an actual reader. My life had completely changed and turned into something that looked pretty much exactly like my life. I wrote Waking Gods on my couch, after my son went to bed every night. You know what else hadn’t changed? It was fun. Sure, writing with a contract is more pressure than writing without, but I had a blast. And by then I knew Waking Gods inside and out. I was done long before the first book came out. Maybe that wasn’t writing a book either. Maybe that was typing up an old story I knew by heart.

Shit got real when Sleeping Giants actually came out. There were interviews, and sweaty palms, and conventions with a slew of famous authors who seemed to know what they were doing. More than anything, I was now sharing my stories with… YES! One guy reviewed it on Goodreads. Oh, another one. A hundred, a thousand, ten thousand! OH MY GOD, they’re everywhere! That whole universe I had created on my couch was now spreading out of control.

Oh, and I had to write another book. Not just any book — this is a trilogy. I had to write THE END. Those aren’t the right words; they feel too neat, too tidy. It would be easy if it were the end, but the story is out there now. It lives. There being a last book only means it won’t change anymore. That’s what scared me. I had to take a world that was constantly evolving in my head and freeze it in time at the right moment, in a way that gave it meaning. Saying goodbye to the characters wasn’t the hard part, what I found gut-wrenching was telling them… that’s it. That’s your life. That was your purpose. I was putting everyone in frozen carbonite. I was telling them: “I love you” and I wanted them to say: “I know”.

I’m really proud of what I did. Only Human might even be my favorite. Was it hard? Yeah! Of course it was. The first two books were hard. Running in the morning is hard. Everything is hard if you give it your all. That’s how you know you gave it your all. But more than anything it was fun! It was way more fun than hard, or stressful, or anything else.

What’s it like writing a book? I’ll give you three guesses. I love what I do, the physical act, the enthusiasms, the hesitations. I’d do it if the pages erased themselves afterwards. Agony, misery? I’m sorry. If that’s what it takes, then I don’t know what I’m doing. And I hope I never do because I’m having the time of my life.