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Hal-Con 2012 ()
#2 Copy

Questioner

I'm a huge fan of the Writing Excuses podcast.

Brandon Sanderson

Well thank you.

Questioner

I always say it's like a master class in genre writing, so I thought you should—for aspiring writers who are in the room—that you should take a few minutes and tell them about the podcast in case they don't know about it.

Brandon Sanderson

Okay. So, what happened is, my brother was taking this class in college. My brother's one of these people who take like ten years to get an associate's degree or whatever it is. *laughter* You know, he's got a good job in IT. It's like, he doesn't need the degree, but he feels like he should have one, so he's like taking a class here, and taking a class there. I see people nodding; you either have done this or have loved ones who have done this, but anyway--

Bystander

Like doing this ourselves--

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, or doing this yourself. *laughter* So, he's taking this podcasting class for whatever reason. He's like, "Hey, you should do one of these, Brandon." "What? I'm not into podcasting; I'm not a radio personality." He's like, "No, no; you should do this." And he had this great idea—we wanted to do like this web serial that's adventures, like an old classic radio drama, and all of this... writing-intensive stuff, which is why he came to me. And I passed on it; I said, "No, I'm not gonna do that; it sounds fun but I just have too many things on my plate; there's no way I can write all of this for you."

But the idea for a podcast stuck in my brain, and I started listening to some podcasts—I really enjoyed a lot of them I listened to, but it seemed like there was this habitual problem in podcasting where it would be, friends sit around a table and chat, and then, you know, you turn on the podcast and it says one hour and thirty minutes, and you're like, "Ninety minutes, guys? Come on! Is there no editing going on? Can't you stick to a point?" Like, a lot of them are like, you know, the three-hour-long podcast where we're going to, I dunno, drive to Texas and talk about it. And they'll have this topic on, it will be like, "We're gonna discuss the new Batman movie," and I'm like, "Oh good, I want to hear what fellow geeks think about it." And then you see that it's a two-hour-long podcast, and you know they're gonna talk about Batman for like fifteen minutes of that, and then the rest is gonna be like what they had for dinner. *laughter* Because you know, you've been to lots of cons; you've been to lots of panels. You know how it goes; we get off topic. And every discussion of Star Trek turns into an argument of who's the best captain or whatever, and it's the same sort of thing over again.

So anyway, I was thinking about this, and thought, I really would like to do a writing advice podcast. So many people email me wanting advice; so many people would like to try to take my class but can't. Often my class has fifteen seats and I have seventy-five people showing up wanting to add, and we pack as many into the room as we can, but I wanted to do something that would let me give some of this writing advice. So I figured I wanted to do a podcast that was short and sweet. I wanted to organize it more like a little news program where you have one moderator throwing questions at people, and making sure that it stayed on topic, and did it in just a short period of time—I thought fifteen minutes was the right amount of time; just a quick, on-topic podcast—but I can get kind of dry. I've got this university background, right? I just kind of blab—you've been watching me; I do this—and so I'm like, it'll be better if I bring on people who are funny so that people can laugh—that are glib and all this other stuff—and so I went and got the two funniest people I know, which are Howard Tayler and Dan Wells—a horror writer and a comic book illustrator and writer—and I figured that would also give some diversity to the podcast.

And so we started doing this podcast, and it really took off—it was very popular—and so we eventually added a fourth member because we realized that we were not as diverse a cast as we could be, considering we were all three white dudes from the same town. *laughter* So, we called up Mary [Robinette Kowal], who has a very different perspective on life than us, and had been the best guest on the podcast that we'd ever had, and we figured at that point, the podcast now had a sponsor—Audible—so we could afford to fly Mary out, because we do it in person. We can't—this whole Skype thing, you just don't have the same chemistry. And so we started flying Mary out, and so for now, two seasons we've been doing with Mary, so it's the four of us doing writing advice, that we just tackle a topic every week and go at it, and we've had a lot of fun with it. We recorded a bunch of episodes before Dan moved to Germany for a little while, and we did cool things like, for instance, we each brainstormed a story—one episode was for each of us—and then we're all writing these stories which we will then post the rough drafts, and then we will workshop them on an episode, and see the evolution of the story, and then we'll do revisions. I actually, when I worked on my story, I grabbed one of the screen capture technologies—what's it called?—Camtasia, and I recorded myself typing the whole thing. It's like, wow, this is me at the computer going for six hours; maybe we can speed it up or something. But I had screen captures of me just typing the whole story, and then I will do screen captures of the revision process, and then post those so that people can watch a story being built, and watch it evolve, and watch all this sort of stuff. So, it's pretty cool, the podcast, so if you're interested in writing and reading, or if you just want to hear us sometimes be funny, feel free to listen; it's Writing Excuses.

Sasquan 2015 ()
#3 Copy

Questioner

How did you get started with Writing Excuses?

Brandon Sanderson

So Writing Excuses. My dopey brother, who barely reads any fantasy or science fiction or anything-- he's a computer programmer, I love him, but he is not a big reader. Who now has a Hugo award *laughter* He came and said "You know I'm taking a podcasting class, these are getting really popular. You should do one of these. You and Dan should get together and do an old-school radio drama and I'll record it." And I was not interested because "This is just like writing my books. I'm not interested." But I thought about that for several months and thought "You know--" I started listening to a lot of podcasts and thought "You know there isn't a really good writing podcast" I couldn't find one. Now since then I've found others who are good. But I wasn't able to find one, particularly one that had the quick and efficient style that I wanted. A lot of podcasts, I love them but they ramble. They just go on. You just listen for hours and hours and they sometimes get to the point. I wanted something focused. So I called up Jordan and I said "What about a writing podcast? People ask me for writing advice a lot. I have this degree, I've been trained as a teacher but I don't teach very much. What can I do to help people with writing?" And so I pitched it to Dan, got Jordan to do all of the editing and producing, and then went and grabbed Howard, who we didn't know that well at that time but I had seen him speak and knew he was clever and fun and I'm more of the dry professorly type. So I could play straight man and having Howard kind of be-- he calls it "I'm the bonehead I don't know anything" but he does know what's going on, he's just good at playing that role. And then we added Mary after we realized we were three white, Mormon dudes *laughter* with kind of the same view on life. Now granted Howard and Dan are insane so that's different *laughter* So we brought in Mary, who we fly in, or we fly to her, we don't like the Skyping podcasting thing so we do them in person. Just to make sure we were adding more variety to the podcast. Plus she had been the best guest we had had on, her puppeteering episode was great. So that's kind of the evolution of it.

This year is the year we decided to give it a different sort of structure. "Okay we've done this now for nine seasons, let's try something new with each subsequent season."

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

little_wilson

If the gang from Writing Excuses were put in a horror film, obviously Dan would be the killer. But what order do you think everyone would die in? And how would they die? (The victim list includes: you, Howard, Jordan, Pemberly, Stacy, and Peter.)

Brandon Sanderson

Ha! Well, let's see. If Dan were the killer, I think he'd try to take out Howard first, since Howard is obviously the most dangerous of us all. Though he sees me more often, so he might try to get to me first. I'd put it in this order:

HowardMeJordoPeterPemberly (he'd leave the women for last because he's a very gentlemanly killer.)

And then Stacy would take Dan down in a surprise ending. She'd edit him out of the script or something.

Calamity Austin signing ()
#7 Copy

Questioner

I'm really confused about how you, as a male with three sons, how you create <believable?> female characters.

Brandon Sanderson

Practice. Number one, practice. Number two, talk to women. So, write... you're a teenager, it can be hard, but write a scene, give it to women, say "What am I doing wrong?" And then see, it's even better, back up a little bit, start thinking of characters as their passions, and their life experience, not just by their role in the story. That's a big a problem that a lot of people run into, it's that they go "oh, this is the romantic interest", and so you make them the romantic interests, and so you don't give them a full spectrum of emotions and characterization like you do to the protagonist. And so, try those things. Have you listened to my podcast?

Questioner

No.

Brandon Sanderson

Okay. Podcast. Start in January '15, but also look for podcast about "Writing the other", we have people come on and talk about this sort of thing. Alright? You can just push Play on a browser, you don't have to do a podcast thingy.

Footnote: Brandon likely refers to S7E40: Writing the Other (http://www.writingexcuses.com/2011/09/11/writing-excuses-6-15-writing-other-cultures/), of his podcast Writing Excuses.
Boskone 54 ()
#8 Copy

Questioner

Thank you so much with all the work you guys have done with Writing Excuses. I’m just starting to get into your fiction, I haven’t read much yet, but Writing Excuses I’ve been listening to for a few years and it’s helped me a lot.

Brandon Sanderson

You can blame it on Katherine Kurtz, the fantasy/science fiction writer. I met her at a con when I was 18 and she sat down and chatted with me for like half an hour one-on-one about how to be a writer. And I’m like “Oh, that told me so much!”. I’d never gotten that sort of thing before, and it made me realize, becoming a writer is one of these weird things where you can’t learn it except from other writers. You can teach yourself to write, but actually getting published and how to approach problems when you run into them. So many people writer’s block, I feel, because they hit something, they don’t have personal experience dealing with it. Working through that on your own is just really hard, but if you can hear other author’s perspective, you can try those tools and find something that works for you.

FanX 2018 ()
#9 Copy

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Where do you come up with your names for books?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

It really depends on the book. Sometimes I'm using a real world culture's linguistics as inspiration, sometimes I'm building a linguistic trick for them, so it really depends. Listen to my podcast, Writing Excuses, look for the episode on, we're doing one on con-langs or naming. We've got some episodes on that.

Sasquan 2015 ()
#10 Copy

Questioner

Have you ever thought of teaching at Clarion West?

Brandon Sanderson

Have I ever thought of teaching at Clarion. The reason I teach the class I do is because I can drive to it and it's one night a week for three hours. *laughter* They work very much around my schedule. The other thing I like about it is they put it in a lecture hall so I mentor 15 students, I read their writing and things like that, but then any student who wants to take one credit-hour of "you get a free 'A' for listening" can come sit-- So I can have like a hundred people in my class while still mentoring 15. The university really bends over backwards to make it work for me. So I might consider doing Clarion or something but man it takes a bunch of time out-- Peter what did you--

Peter Ahlstrom

There is the cruise.

Brandon Sanderson

There is the cruise. We do a Writing Excuses cruise which is Clarion-like a little less workshop focused than Clarion, Clarion is very workshop focused. But yeah we do the Writing Excuses cruise. So if you sign up for that when I'm going on the cruise, which I can't promise I'll do every year, but I'm doing this year, then you get the opportunity to come hear the lectures and things like that.

Firefight Chicago signing ()
#11 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

I love Writing Excuses and I'm actually going on the Retreat this year. I think the cruise is a good idea.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

See Mary did the Steampunk cruise, and she just kind of asked "Wait a minute, what are people paying for this?" and it was less than we had to charge them for the retreat at her house, because of all the food and stuff we had to do. We were like "Wait a minute, you can do this for the same price or less? Why are we doing this at her house?"

Questioner (paraphrased)

Cruises are a blast.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

I've been on several and I've enjoyed everyone of them.

Questioner (paraphrased)

The Alaska cruise has been one of the best experiences of my life. So it's going to be good for writing and inspiration.

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

My cruise story is the Taravangian interlude [in Words of Radiance] was written on a cruise with my family. I sat on the little balcony to our room typing while everyone else went off and did stuff where there were people. And I was by myself and it was great.

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

Dreamer129

Are there any useful exercises you could give to a writer who's trying to improve their technique? I've heard the one about four different people describing the same place, but I was wondering if you had any other good ones.

Brandon Sanderson

Try to describe an extended scene, with various things happening, four different times, once with a focus on visuals, once on scents, once using touch, once using sounds. See if you can evoke a different feel each time, using the same scene but different senses.

Practice both discovery writing and outline writing. Meaning, practice writing stories where you just go off on whatever strikes you, and practice writing a story where you spend a lot of time on an outline. Try to figure out which method works best for you when trying a specific type of story, and perhaps try some hybrids. Anything that helps you write better stories more regularly is a tool to keep practicing.

Try a dialogue scene, where you try to evoke character and setting using ONLY dialogue. No descriptions allowed. (This is best when you're focused on making the characters each distinct simply through how they talk.)

Finally, listen to Writing Excuses. ;)

Google+ Hangout ()
#13 Copy

Kim Mainord

I was wondering, when you're recording Writing Excuses, how often do you ahve to stop and take a break because of how hard you're laughing when Mary pulls out her puppet voices?

Brandon Sanderson

Usually, we don't ever want to stop. There have been a few times where we descend to laughter to the point that we end up having to cut things. But usually if we're descending into laughter, we feel that's a good thing because part of what makes Writing Excuses work is we try to be really genuine, we try to be ourselves. Hopefully an entertaining and snappy version of ourselves, but really just us.

And you know we try to make it quick and fast but also genuine and so we're laughing like that, those moments are ones we love and as long as it's genuine laughter, we can't replicate it. There's some times where something goes wrong technically and we don't end up catching on the audio something that was just awesome and we can never replicate it if it happens, if we try to, so we like to trying capture those moments live. We don't usually stop to do that. What we'll usually get together to record three or four episodes and then we we'll take a break and we'll try to do something to help with the creativity. Meaning, maybe sometimes we'll go out to write, often times we'll go out to lunch and just start chatting and throwing things back at each other, helping each other with stories and then we'll come back and do four more and then do that again and we find that helps us keep the rhythm and the energy for the podcast.