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Shadows of Self Newcastle UK signing ()
#1 Copy


Utah is very, very far from here. Have you ever considered a seminar in creative writing here? In Europe?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, creative writing. My wife wants to live in Spain for a while, she speaks Spanish... and she actually really really loves Barcelona and so we are planning, like, 2017 or 2018, to come live there over the summer, and if I do that I'll try to teach my class at a local university, or something like that... And if I ever do that for England, which I could see us doing over the summers periodically, then I will ask if any local universities want to have the class. But if you want to watch my class I do post the lectures online. You'll find them on my website, and you can go watch my university lectures there. 

But yeah, I would love to do that at some point, it's going to take a little while 'til we figure out how to make it work, but my wife will be happy to know there's at least one person pushing for us to go to Spain. We were in Aviles and I loved that. Have you ever been to Aviles? It's up on the northern coast, it's great. They have a science fiction convention there, it's called Celsius 232-- whatever Farenheit 451 would be in Celsius.

Arcanum Unbounded Seattle signing ()
#2 Copy


Why do you teach and not just write full-time?

Brandon Sanderson

What a good question. So I only teach one class now. I used to teach full-time before the writing took off. There is a class called "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy," and I just can't let go. What we did is we moved it to one night a week for three hours instead of one hour three days a week and we moved it to a night class. So it's Thursday nights and it's only one semester; we cancelled all the other things of it. But I can't let go. There's enough of me that is a professor that I need to get out of the house and do something. I can't just sit in my room all the time.

Beyond that, I took this class in 2000, so 16 years ago. I took it from David Farland, who has come and signed here at UBooks before. It was so important to me as a writer because my other professors were good writers and they could talk about writing but they had never made a living as a writer. There's only so much, if you want to be a professional, you can learn from people who aren't themselves professionals. They know a lot about being a professor and they know a lot about writing good writing. They don't know about how to take that good writing and make a career out of it. When I took the class from Dave, when he said practical things like, "Here are tools you can use try and get past writer's block." I'd never heard that before. In my other writing classes it was things like, "If you have writer's block, seek your muse. Go sit outside and stare at the clouds." Things like this that you get from an art degree. And Dave's like, "Yeah, if you have writer's block, try writing longhand, that works for me. Take a notebook and write in it. Try writing a first-person viewpoint monologue from one of the characters talking about their frustrations right now in life." And it works really well. If you've got writer's block you're like, "Oh, let's talk through why the character's frustrated, have them talk to me." Or you've got writer's block, he'll say, "You know what? Try just throwing something against the wall. Try having ninjas attack." Stuff like this that you're not going to put in the book, but it's just to get you thinking and writing. Practical advice like that. He's like, "If you want to publish in science fiction and fantasy you might want to go to World Fantasy Convention and meet some of the professional writers there and get their advice." I'd never heard anything like that.

I feel it's important for me to continue this class. Dave moved off to try to make movies and they were going to cancel it because they just didn't have a writer to teach it. So I said, "Yeah, I'll teach that class". This was back when I had sold a book and they didn't know what to do with me. Here I'm teaching freshman composition, I'm getting my master's degree in creative writing and we're all dancing through flowers and talking about our feelings as you do in art degrees. Then I walked in one day and said, "Hey, I got a book deal." And it terrified all my professors they had no idea what to do with that. They said, "Well, that's probably gonna to be your master's thesis then, Sanderson." It was Elantris as my master's thesis. So having somebody there who writers can go and say, "How do I sell a book? What does an agent do? How do I make a character sympathetic?" People don't talk about those sorts of things. They talk about the prose, but they don't talk about those things. That's why I still do it.

Barnes and Noble Book Club Q&A ()
#3 Copy


Welcome and it is great to know that you live not too far from me. My question is this. I know that Orson Scott Card taught some Comparative Science Fiction class at BYU. Did you every take it and if so how much influence did it have on your wanting to write? I have enjoyed all of your books and at family gatherings they do get discussed.

Brandon Sanderson

I actually never got to take a class from Mr. Card, though I have enjoyed his books quite a bit. From what I hear, he has excellent advice for writers, but he wasn't teaching any classes at BYU when I was there. I did take a class from David Farland, which was extremely helpful. By then I was already a very dedicated writer (I had just finished Elantris) but didn't know much about the business at all. Mr. Farland's class taught me a lot about the nuts and bolts of getting published, and one could say that I owe my eventual publication—and a lot of my success—to what he taught and how helpful he was in how he taught it. Excellent person and writer.

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
#4 Copy


As Professor Sanderson, do you get situations where past students have success but you don't really care for it and how do you handle it?

Brandon Sanderson

That has not happened to me. The students who have gotten published, particularly lately-- To get into my class at BYU, you have to submit an application and chapters and there's a three-day window and we get a hundred applications and we take fifteen. These days, about a third of those students that get in tend to be what we call, "continuing education," meaning they are people who have gone to BYU and take only that class. Oftentimes, they move to Provo to take that class. So there's some pretty stiff competition and the writers who are in the class these days are really good.

But even in the older days, the people who got published, you can usually tell, and even if you can't, I mean, there's not a lot of writing out there that I can't read and say, "Wow! I understand how someone appreciates this," right? Part of, I think, being a writer and an artist is learning to appreciate things, even if you don't necessarily care for them, to be able to recognize, "This is good and someone is going to love this. This has craft, even it's not something that I particularly enjoy." But none of my students have even been there. All the ones that have gotten published, I'm like, "Wow, this is a great book." So, maybe someday I'll have to deal with that, but I haven't really had to deal with it so far.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#5 Copy


You were saying you were a professor? So it sounds like your writing process, that's a full-time job. Is it your full-time job, or has--

Brandon Sanderson

How do I balance all of these things? I am the least amount a professor a person can be and still claim the title. I teach one class one semester a year that is an evening class for three hours. I gave up all the other classes that I taught, once the writing took off. And it's really quite helpful for me to have that one night a week where I just go out and work with new writers. Because I think if you don't do that, if you don't see what new writers are doing, and things like this, then it's too easy to get crusted over in your little sanctuary and not pay attention to the outside world. But the professor part of Professor Sanderson has become very much less professorial over the years. Writing is my full-time job, and has been since I went full-time in, like, 2006 or so. So I really only had two years or so being a real professor before I became a fake one. But they still call me one, they claim me.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#6 Copy


I read on your website that, to come to your class, you have to submit a manuscript or something, that you read. Has anybody in your classes published works that you would recommend?

Brandon Sanderson

The way my class works-- By the way, if you can't take the class, which is kind of hard to do since it's in Provo, Utah. I do record my lectures periodically. There's three years of them online. I don't record it every year, but every three years or so I record the lectures and just post them on YouTube. A lot of my students have gone on to write books I would recommend.

Let's see if I can name a few. Jed and the Junkyard War. Which is a really cool middle grade about a kid who goes to a world that's completely a junkyard, and everyone scavenges out of that. It has some really good worldbuilding. That's a good book. Like I said, middle grade targeted, so if you know someone who's, like, eleven or twelve and they want a good one book, that one's great. Charlie [Holmberg] writes great books. I just read Chris Husberg's new book. If you like the epic fantasy stuff, he does a very good job with epic fantasy that deals with religion and politics and things like that. I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody. There are a lot of students who go on to publish things. Janci [Patterson] ...writes teen books with a lot of emotion and problems and messed up lives, trying to sort out messed up lives, short books, and they are fantastic.

Skyward Houston signing ()
#7 Copy


A question in general with your writing process. Do you learn a lot from your students that have gone on to become authors in their own right? Do you come back looking at their works and maybe saying "I can incorporate this kind of style into my writing?"

Brandon Sanderson

I would say I tend to learn more from the writers who were with me when I was breaking in who are around my age, 'cause we're all kind of going through the same things. So people like Dan Wells or Mary Robinette Kowal that are kind of my group that broke in around the same time, I try to talk to them a lot about writing. This is where my writing podcast came from, Writing Excuses. It was me just wanting to ask them how they fix thing, how they deal with this thing, how they deal with that. Certainly, some of my students have gone on to do really great stuff that is inspiring. Brian McClellan's Powder Mage books are great. Charlie Holmberg, who writes the Paper Magician, the Glass Magician books are great. Lot of really great writers. I don't know how much credit I can take from them. But I am inspired a lot by a lot of the books that I read. But I wouldn't say that group specifically. Though working with new writers is kind of inspiring in its own way. Less about the things they're writing, and more just remembering what it was like, and the passion you have when you're a brand new writer. That kind of fresh-faced innocence is handy for someone, the longer you go.