Category Archives: Teaching

Those Writerly Moments

A guest post by David Farland.

I love being a writer. In fact, I love it so much that it has probably spoiled me. I’m not sure that I’m even fit for a regular 9-5 job.

I’ve been asked to tell about some of my own writerly moments, those times when I just love my job. Here are a few:

Fun Writing Days. About five years ago I was at Cabo San Lucas on a writing retreat. I’d awakened just before dawn, and walked out on the beach to write as the sun rose—a ball of molten silver with magenta highlights, rising above a purple mist. The wind was perfectly still as the sun ascended above the ocean, and I got into the writing groove. I got lost in a scene, writing as fast as I could until the beach warmed enough so that the iguanas began to come out to sun on a nearby wall, then I went into my room and just kept writing until the sun went down. I love it on days like that, where you get lost in the work.

Changing Peoples’ Lives. Recently I got a letter from a fan who was ill with a terminal disease. For the past six years he has been hooked to a morphine pump, and he wrote to tell me that he had read my Runelords series many times. He said that he found that when he read my books, they transported him into another world, and he forgot about his pain—to the point where his nurse could turn off the morphine pump for a few hours. I’ve gotten similar letters over the years, and each one touches me anew.

Surprise Paychecks. Everyone knows that writers don’t make a lot of money, right? But every once in a while I’ll get a paycheck that surprises me. A few years ago, we had a nice foreign rights sale to a publisher that came in just before Christmas. An extra $100,000 sure helped add to the holiday cheer.

Helping Other Writers. Four years ago, my novel In the Company of Angels went up for the Whitney Award for Best Novel of the Year. I was invited to attend the awards event, and was given a lifetime achievement award for my work in helping discover and promote new writers. As the spokesman announced the award, he asked members of the audience “Who among you has taken classes from Dave?” Perhaps 20% of the audience rose. He then asked, “How many of you have read articles or books by Dave?” and perhaps another 60% of the audience stood. He then asked, “How many of you have read novels by any of the authors who are standing?” and everyone stood.

It really brought home to me that my work isn’t just about writing. Sometimes it’s about teaching. Some of my students have far surpassed me in reputation. The incident reminded me that each of us is like a stone dropped into a still pool, and our influence reaches out and moves others, touches everyone, in ways that may never be aware of.

I was happy to take home two awards that day—one for my work as a teacher, and one for “Best Novel of the Year.”

Many authors know the thrill of seeing their first book in print, or getting their first great review, or hitting a bestseller list. But there are so many touching moments associated with this job, I don’t think that I could list them all. It’s not something that you can really talk about. It’s something you have to live.

Guest Writer Bio:

David Farland is an award-winning, international best-selling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and he has won over seven awards—including the International Book Award and the Hollywood Book Festival, Grand Prize—for his fantasy thriller Nightingale. He is best known, however, for his New York Times best-selling fantasy series The Runelords, which will soon be made into a graphic novel and, likely, a movie.

Farland has written for major franchises such as Star Wars and The Mummy. He has worked in Hollywood greenlighting movies and doctoring scripts. He has been a movie producer, and he has even lived in China working as a screenwriter for a major fantasy film franchise.

As a writing instructor, Farland has mentored dozens who have gone on to staggering literary success, including such #1 New York Times Bestsellers as Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), James Dashner (The Maze Runner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).

Farland judges L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future, the one of the largest worldwide writing competitions for new fantasy and science fiction authors. In the video game industry, he has been both a designer and a scripter and was the co-leader on the design team for StarCraft: Brood War.  He set the Guinness World Record for the largest single-author, single-book signing.

David Farland has been hailed as “The wizard of storytelling” and his work has been called “compelling,” “engrossing,” “powerful,” “profound,” and “ultimately life-changing.”

Never Stop Learning

I don’t think I can count the number of times I’ve heard people say that some aspect of writing couldn’t be taught. My personal favorite is that you can learn all the technique you want, but you’re either born with the ability to tell a good story, or you’re not. That you can’t learn how to tell a good story.

I personally think that the people who espouse these ideas have either spent entirely too much time dealing with writers who aren’t willing to put the work in, or we’re all a little confused on what, if any, difference there is between technique and telling a good story.

Writing is a craft, after all, and no one’s born a master of any craft.

Of course, we will probably never be utterly fantastic at every aspect of the writing craft. Some have fantastic world-building but a slow plot. Others great characters but not enough setting. Stephanie Meyer, for instance, has long been derided on her writing style, and has even admitted herself that she’s not the best writer, but she’s does a hell of a job weaving emotion into every scene and tugging the heart strings of her readers—which is exactly what her readers want.

The point being, just because you’re not the greatest at something doesn’t mean you’re not a good enough writer to be published. At the same time, ignoring your weaknesses because “it can’t be taught” is a total cop-out, in my opinion.

Like most everyone here, I dream for that day when I’m going about my usual day, doing something boring and what-not, only to happen upon someone reading a book with my name on it. I feel the despair that I’m not quite there yet and hear the clock ticking away the time that means there’s one more day I haven’t achieved my dream. And yes, I’m a realist. I know a good portion of that is fear of putting my work out there, but I also know I’ve still got some serious weaknesses that I need to address.

When I was a teenager, I had a choir instructor who explained that he taught people who were tone-deaf how to sing. It’s in understanding the real root of the problem that allows something like that to happen. With the tone-deaf people, they had to learn how the notes related to each other to be able to figure out how to go from one correct note to another correct note without wandering off, so to speak.

With writing, I think, it’s much the same. If you understand what the real problem is, you can fix it. You just might have to look a bit harder and be a little more creative to get the results you’re looking for.

My personal demon at the moment is plot structure. Something’s always escaped me about how to put one event before another and have it work to engage the reader, move the story forward, and still service the characters.

As a discovery writer, I lean toward minimal effort spent on deep planning before writing. Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling with a few stories that I have come to realize really need to be plotted before I start writing in earnest. So, recently I decided to dedicate a good portion of this year in workshops and classes specifically geared toward pre-writing. Currently, I’m doing David Farland’s online prewriting class at mystorydoctor.com, and while it has done a fantastic job in helping me learn how to plan a novel before I write it, it incidentally opened my eyes as why plot structure has always eluded me.

For me, there was one exercise in particular that helped me figure out what the real problem was. The idea was to establish circularity between characters in opposition to each other, by writing out how each character reacts to the actions of the other. This forced me to find the cause and effect of the conflict…and suddenly I know how my plot is supposed to work and how the sub-plots interact with it. Suddenly, I get it.

So, that’s my goal for this year, to focus on becoming a better writer by taking my weakness and working to learn how to get better at it.

I refuse to believe that there are things I can’t learn. The only thing I was born with was a love of stories. The writing portion is a work in progress.