Brandon Sanderson’s Rules of Writing & other notes

I recently returned from the 2012 Superstars Writing Seminar. The seminar in 2010 went well and I loved it, but to my surprise, I enjoyed this year’s seminar even more. They have this thing down to a well-oiled machine. Brandon Sanderson gave one of the first presentations, talking about his Ten Rules of Writing Success. He asked me to qualify this list by saying, these are his current rules, but they change regularly.

1) Start thinking like a business person.

2) There is no substitution for practice. (Write!)

3) Network (i.e. the seminar)

4) Be proactive.


5) Work harder.

6) The result is what matters.

7) Don’t waste time with writer’s block.

8) Sometimes you have to be willing to suck until you get good. (He may have worded that better.)

9)Yes, luck happens, but you have to put yourself in the situations that let it happen

10)Just write. Do it.

I find it interesting that one word of advice is repeated, directly and indirectly, within this list multiple times–write! Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. I could go into detail on the list, but I think it speaks for itself and Brandon did it way better than I would like to even attempt.

But I will give a short summary of the seminar. We discussed the publishing process–indie and traditional, self-promotion, getting noticed, negotiating, slushpiles, contracts, copyright basics, agents, professionalism, inspiration, ergonomics of your work space, audience analysis, pitches and queries, YA market, IP rules and possibilities, productivity, balance, and so much more I can’t list them all. James A. Owen, author of Here There Be Dragons and a multitude of other amazing works, finished his presentation by earning a standing ovation. We were so inspired, we couldn’t stay in our seats.

Speakers included: Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, Eric Flint, James A. Owen, Dean Wesley Smith, and our very own Moses Siregar III contributed on the self-publishing panel.

Between almost every presentation, we had ten to fifteen minute breaks where we talked with each other, the presenting authors, and had some time to move around. Whoever designed the structure, did a perfect job. I’m not trying to sell this to anyone, there’s no benefit to me, but when I attend a writing forum of any kind I like to make a report so other interested people can know about it. If I sound like a commercial, it’s just because I was so sincerely amazed. I not only learned a lot and made great writing contacts, but I made lifelong friends.

Next year will probably be in Colorado, though I don’t think that’s set in stone. I suggest we all start saving our pennies and write it into our 2013 calendar. It’s the best writing business workshop anywhere.

Oh, and my next post will be an assessment of the 2012 Phoenix Comicon. What are some of the writing resources you’ve found valuable?


Burst Writing – Case Study

Burst WritingLast week, I completed an extremely successful Burst Writing retreat. I wrote 50,000 words in five days, even though I lost almost 8 hours to travel each on Days 1 and 5.

I’ve spoken of Burst Writing before. I define it as an intensely focused period of time in which to write significantly higher word count than normal. This is not free-writing time with throw-away word count. A successful Burst Writing session takes a lot of preparation and produces well-crafted, effective scenes.

Most important is to know what you’re going to write before you sit down to pound away at the keyboard. There’s little time for blank staring out the window. For me, that meant scheduling the retreat only after several weeks of focused effort to develop the story fundamentals and outline the scenes I would be writing.

Last year, the first time I tried Burst Writing, I managed 50,000 words in 7 days, and finished half of that book. I’m now currently planning the third revision of that novel.

My goal is to eventually prepare well enough to where I can crank out huge sections of a clearly defined story that won’t need multiple major revisions afterward.

Last week, I wrote about 35% of a new novel. I believe I did a better job defining exactly what each scene needed to include from a plot and characterization perspective. We’ll see how that holds up once I complete the book.

I get a kick out of tracking stats. So, here are the stats for last week’s trip:

Day 1: 8 hours travel time. 1.5 hours writing time. New word count: 2700

Day 2: 10 hours writing time. New word count: 13,500

(Day 2, evening, couldn’t sleep. Wrote another 1800 words in the middle of the night)

Day 3: 6 hours writing time. New word count: 12,000

Day 4: 10 hours writing time. New word count: 15,000

Day 5: 3 hours writing time. New word count: 5,000. Travel time: 7 hours

As you can see, I started slow, but once I got in ‘the zone’, I cranked out far more words each day, as high as about 2,000 words per hour, which is twice what I can normally produce.

So, what did I do to prepare?

1. Outline. I spent a great deal of time working out the characters and plot of the novel. I had some advantages in this book over the last one because this is a sequel to another novel, so the world and many of the characters are already very well defined. Even so, I had to wrestle with some difficult plot issues in the second half of the novel that required changes to the first half to resolve. If I’d started writing chapters before I had the plan complete, my productivity would have screeched to a halt, and I would have been forced to throw away a lot of good work.

2. Find the right writing retreat. This year, I found the Colonyhouse, owned by the Oregon Writer’s Colony. Signing up to be a member was inexpensive, and the house was exactly what I needed. It was comfortable, located within driving distance, with a beautiful location (about 100 yards from the ocean). I experimented with several different locations in the house and settled on a layout that was comfortable for writing long periods of time.

3. Set lofty goals. I honestly did not believe I would hit 50,000 words. I wrote 12,000 words on my best day in last year’s retreat, so this year’s goal was a stretch. I hadn’t really factored in the travel time correctly, so when I arrived I realized I was way behind right on day 1. By staying focused on the goal, and motivated to reach it, I produced far more than I would have otherwise.

4. Set the right duration. Five days turned out to be an excellent length. Last year I took seven, which was honestly a little too long. I found that the four days in the middle of the trip were the most productive. This year, I had been planning a three day trip, and managed to squeeze in the other two at the last minute. I’m glad I did.

5. Reduce distractions. I did walk the beach a few times when I needed a break, but other than that, I did very little but write. On the drive out to the house I stopped and purchased all the food I would need for the week so I could pretty much lock myself away and not get distracted shopping or running errands. Once I got in ‘the zone’, I was able to stay there for a long time, which is so much more productive.

And, as always, I learned a few lessons about what to do better next time:

1. Bring spare batteries. I learned last year that having a full size, comfortable keyboard is key to cranking out high word counts for me. This year, I brought my cordless keyboard and mouse. And of course, on Day 2, the batteries died. I did not have spares, so I wasted an hour running out to the store to get some (the only excursion I took other than walking to the beach).

2. Sleep. One of the biggest challenges for me when I’m away from home is sleeping. I just don’t sleep well. I know I have this problem, but I forgot to bring any kind of sleep aid. As a result, I did not sleep well most of the week, and returned home very tired. I did bring some movies to watch in the evenings when I needed to unwind, and that did help.

3. Have the first chapter or two already complete. I started the retreat on chapter 1 of a new book. The first chapter is always the hardest, and I wasted a bunch of time trying to set the tone, description, and locking in the characters in the setting. Luckily, I spent a lot of time on the drive up the coast working some of this out in my head so the writing time wasn’t an entire waste. However, by the time I hit chapter 3, I had things flowing well, and I could just roll forward at full speed. Next time, I’ll try to get the first couple chapters complete ahead of time.

I’ll be writing a series of blog posts on my web site, discussing each day in more detail, for those who want to know more specifics.

What have you found helps boost your productivity at home or during a writing retreat?


Dean Wesley Smith: Stop Being In A Hurry


A guest post by Dean Wesley Smith

I’ve talked about this on my blog a few times in different ways, but I noticed a few of you have mentioned this “got to hurry” problem, so I figured it was time again.

And no doubt, as I did last week on my first visit to the Superstars Writing Seminar, I may ruffle a few feathers.

What do I mean by being in a hurry?

For some reason, almost all new professional writers have no sense of time in publishing. And no sense of the amount of time it takes to learn the craft and the business. I hear over and over again how fresh writers need to find a way to cut through the “noise” out there, how they need to “promote” their first or second novel, and how they don’t understand why they don’t sell more.

And I hear all the time how writers like me or Kris or Kevin Anderson or Dave Farland or Eric Flint have this huge advantage over beginning writers. But don’t think our advantage is because our names are known. Nope. In fact, often being known hurts us more than it helps. My bestselling novels are not under “Dean Wesley Smith” because of all the media work I did under that name. My bestselling novels are hidden pen names in both the thriller and mystery genres. Names that started fresh. Names that nobody knew.

But we do have an advantage over beginning writers.

Yes, I said it. We experienced old-timers have a huge advantage. We have taken the years and decades to learn how to write better stories and we are all still working to learn. (Do you think the only reason we teach is to help young writers? That’s a big part, sure, but mostly it’s so we can keep learning as well.)

That’s right. Shocking as it may seem, writing better novels and stories–stories that fans want to read–makes us better known. It is not promotion or some silly trick. We sell more because we write better stories.

It really is that simple.

Learning the craft of fiction writing comes from listening to others talk about their ways of doing things, or reading how-to-write books, or studying what other writers do, then putting that information out of your front brain.

In other words, learn it and then forget it. Just go back to writing, and trust that the knowledge will come out of your fingers when you need it.

Sometimes it doesn’t happen for a novel or two. And then suddenly your writing is better and you don’t even know why–but your readers will see it.

Sounds kind of silly, huh? But it’s the way it works. And that method of writing and learning how to write better stories TAKES TIME.

My first published novel was my third written novel, and by the time I had written it, I had already sold over fifty professional-level short stories. Now understand, I sold my first short story in 1975 and didn’t sell my first novel until 1987. A long twelve years, and a thousand-plus rejections.

But with indie publishing, writers today think they can put up their debut novel and sell thousands of copies in the first month. And when they don’t, they either stop writing, or get upset, or blame it on the fact that they have no name recognition. Many new writers never blame poor sales on the fact that maybe they just don’t know how to tell a good story yet.

These same new writers don’t realize that it takes years to learn how to tell a good story, a story that thousands of fans want to read.

Focus on learning how to tell a better story while at the same time learning the business. If you keep writing and learning, eventually you will be a big name writer with a lot of books out and will have to give this same advice to the next generation of writers.So my suggestion is to stop whining about how big names have all the advantages, and start focusing on learning how to write better stories. Stop spending time on promotion and spend the time on the next short story or the next novel. Your best promotion is always your next book.

Remember, every time you say to a professional writer, “The only reason you can do that is because you are . . .” then you have insulted them and all the years and years of typing and work it took them to get to where they are.

We are only better known than you because we spent years learning how to tell a better story. Nothing more. And certainly nothing less.

Focus on learning how to tell a better story. Make each story the best one you can do. Practice something new in every story. Get it on the market, then move to the next story.

And keep having fun.

Sunday Reads: 6 May 2012


10 reads worth your time:


At Writer Unboxed, Barbara O’Neal discusses the need to figure out what you’re really writing about.

At Editor Devil, read about how to Delinate Characters Through Dialogue.

Over at Romance University, Theresa Stevens talks line editing.

Marcy Kennedy discusses the use of smell in How to Make Your Novel Scratch and Sniff.

Over at YA Highway, Veronica Roth talks about the Strictly Objective Critique Partner.

Julie Butcher-Fedynich has A Ten-Step Program For More Writing Time.

Nathan Bransford lists The Top 5 Social Media Blunders You Shouldn’t Make.

Andrew Jack has some no-nonsense advice in It Doesn’t Matter How You’re Published – We’re All Self-Promoted.

Over at Genreality, Bob Mayer talks about the necessity to Have A Career Plan As A Writer.

And, just for fun, check out the The Terrible Crossover Fantiction Idea Generator for wacky creative writing prompts.


Missed any Fictorians articles this week?

How To Procrastinate Successfully – Kylie Quillinan

Other Venues – Dylan Blacquiere

An Exercise to Exorcise Personal Demons – Clancy Metzger