Ken Liu is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. His fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He has won a Nebula, a Hugo, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

I think it's safe to say that you're a fairly prolific writer. How do you organize your life to make time for it all? How much time do you devote to writing/translating each day?

I don't think I'm particularly good at time management. Having young children at home makes it difficult to do any writing until they're asleep, and by then I'm really tired and just want to go to bed myself.

So what I end up doing is taking advantage of small bits of downtime during the day. For example, I get to and from work on the commuter rail, so that gives me about twenty-five minutes each way to do some drafting. When I'm walking about I try to think about a scene or revise a story in my head, taking notes on my phone. And then, after the kids are asleep and I have a few minutes before I crash for the night, I take the notes on my phone and put them into the draft.

In your interview with Strange Horizons you said, "Translations engage a completely different part of my brain." Do your (physical) working methods differ for translation vs original fiction? What about fiction vs poetry?

I don't have any fancy or interesting writing rituals. Whether I'm writing, translating, drafting, or revising, physically, it pretty much all looks like me sitting in front of a computer and typing away.

I will say that a lot of the work of writing is actually done while _not_ writing. Engaging in physical activity can be a great way to get the blood flowing and stimulate the brain into solving tough writing problems. I've solved many translation challenges and plot issues while mowing the lawn.



I understand you don't rely on a single computer program for writing. Can you share your thoughts on writing programs?

I find modern versions of **MS Word** to be too overwhelming for drafting. All these auto replacements and grammar checking and formatting options and ... (yes, I'm aware that I can turn them off, except I _do_ want them on for business writing) make it impossible to focus.

To get away from MS Word, I tried to write in programmer's text editors since I was familiar with them as a software developer. For a while, I wrote in **vim** (I think "The Algorithms for Love" was written in vim), but it reminded me too much of programming, and I ended up fiddling with macros and devising elaborate command sequences to do complex text manipulations that I really needed to perform only once and could have done by hand. Scripting the text editor took up more time than writing in it.

Then I reasoned that my problem was that the tools were too powerful and distracting, and I needed to go "retro." The solution I came up with was to run an ancient copy of **Word 5.1 for Mac OS** (back before Word became overwhelming) on a Classic Mac emulator running on my laptop. Yes, I honestly thought forcing my 2010 MacBook Air to act like the ancient Mac SE/30 from my high school days was a good idea. And this even worked for a while -- until the day the emulator crashed and erased my disk image file.

The common thread here is that I was jumping around from tool to tool as an excuse to procrastinate. A lot of writers are familiar with this phenomenon: we'd do anything to avoid actually writing.

I ended up picking **Markdown** as my text format: it's basically plain text so I avoid being locked into proprietary formats, and there are many editors that will format it with visual highlights. I now do 90% of my drafting in **iA Writer**, which is clean and minimalist, and gets out of my way. (And there's an iOS version, which is helpful on the commute.) When I'm done drafting, I export the result to a Word file so I can format it into Standard Manuscript Format for submissions.

What aspect of writing fiction is the most difficult for you/gives you the most grief?

My favorite part of writing a story is the first major revision pass.

I don't like doing first drafts (or, as I call them, "zeroth drafts") because I hate plotting, so the entire time during the zeroth draft I'm just stumbling about in the dark. I also don't like the revision process near the end, when you're constantly tweaking small things and not sure if you're making it better, and the energy that carried you through the story is almost all gone.

But the first major revision pass is a lot of fun. If you view the zeroth draft as kind of an outline, then the first major revision pass is where you actually fill in the meat of the story and pull all the incoherent ideas in the zeroth draft into some semblance of order. I love that.

What do you wish you were reading but aren't, because it doesn't exist?

I'd love to read a good martial arts fantasy novel (a _wuxia_ novel) in English. This seems to be one Chinese genre that has consistently failed to translate into English successfully. And English readers are missing out.

What should a reader do after reading this?

Forswear all martial arts movies. Compared to the novels, all the martial arts movies are utterly worthless.