‘Outlander’ Author Diana Gabaldon Had a Very Different Job Before Writing Novels

Diana Gabaldon is now a full time author. She writes the Outlander books, on which the Starz series is based. She also wrote a spinoff series of Lord John books, plus assorted short stories. Writing was not always her full time occupation, however.

Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon | Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ

Gabaldon was part of a Television Critics Association panel for Outlander Season 2 in 2016. During the panel, Gabaldon described her life before Outlander and how it prepared her for writing novels.

Diana Gabaldon was a teacher before ‘Outlander’

Prior to Author Diana Gabaldon, she was Professor Gabaldon. 

“I was a university professor at Arizona State University,” Gabaldon said. “I used to be a scientist in my previous life,   I had a Ph.D. in quantitative behavioral ecology. And, what I actually did was I was an expert in scientific computation.”

Diana Gabaldon was another kind of writer before ‘Outlander’

Gabaldon was already a writer during her academic job. She wrote different sorts of texts than fictional novels like Outlander.

Outlander TCA Panel
L-R: Ronald D. Moore, Caitrona Balfe, Sam Heughan, and Diana Gabaldon | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

“Because of that [teaching job], I developed this odd expertise which led me to write full-time for the computer press,” Gabaldon said. “I was a freelance for Byte and InfoWorld and all things like that.  So those were my two fulltime jobs.  And then the kids, of course.”

Diana Gabaldon made plans to be an author much earlier 

Even though Gabaldon had a career in academia, she already had plans to write novels. The Outlander author explained how she manifested her dream job.

“I’ve known since I was about 8 that I was meant to be a novelist, I just didn’t know how. When I turned 35, I said, ‘You know, Mozart was dead at 36. You better get a move on here.’ So I said I think I’m going to start writing a book just to learn how, because I had written all this other stuff, and no one had ever told me how. I just tried it, and if it didn’t look right, I poked it until it did. I said, ‘Okay.  You’ve been reading novels for 30-odd years. If you write one, surely you will recognize it.’

‘Outlander’ was Diana Gabaldon’s practice novel

Apparently, Gabaldon got a lot right on her first try. That practice novel became Outlander and launched not only her book series, but the TV show too.

Outlander Season 2
Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan | Starz

So I decided to write a novel, and I thought, for me, historical fiction would be the easiest because I was a research professor. I know my way around a library. It seems easier to look things up than make them up. And, if I have no imagination, I can steal things from the historical record. So that historical fiction find, I said this, I happened to see a really old Doctor Who rerun on public television which had a young man who appeared in a kilt.  And I said, ‘Okay. Why not?  Scotland 18th century.’ That’s how it began. That was it.

Diana Gabaldon, Television Critics Association panel, 1/8/16