Something I found interesting between Brandon Sanderson and other writers. Peter Brett, for example, when he finished his Painted Man/Warded Man book—depending on which country you're in—his agent did like it, but he said that there was some things in it that didn't quite fit the market. So Peter went away, he read this book—Writing to Sell, I believe it was called—and he came back and gave his book back to the agent after having kind of revised it from this book. And the agent loved it, and you know what happened with that one. It's one of the most popular fantasy series going on at the moment. Something similar happened to Brandon. When he sent his work out to publishers, they thought it was good, but they weren't really sure how it met with the market's expectations. Brandon went away, he started writing stories that he thought the market would like, and in his own words, he thought it killed his writing. So, what I wanted to know from Brandon is, what is it about his work that means he can't write towards the market successfully; instead he has to, in his own words again, write from the heart to make his story successful.
That's an excellent question, and there are different viewpoints on this. For instance, I remember talking to John Scalzi, and he said, "You know, when I wanted to publish, I went and looked and saw what was cool, what was selling. And I went and I wrote my own take on some of that." And that worked fantastically well for him. And I think for me part of the problem was—now, one thing I'll add as a caveat to this: yes, write from the heart, but make sure you are reading widely. Read widely what you want to write, but also read a lot of things from varying different genres and whatnot.
I just found that if I tried to anticipate what people wanted, rather than writing what I wanted, I wrote terrible books. And when I gave no care to what people wanted and only gave care to what I thought made a fantastic book, I did a good job. And this might have to do with the fact that I was just bad at judging what people wanted. That could be it. But probably it has more to do with the fact that I naturally write... A lot of my books added a big, long epic length. And what people kept telling me is, you need to write shorter books. You need to write books like so-and-so. Or like so-and-so. And that was wrong advice for me. I didn't need to write books like so-and-so, or like so-and-so. I didn't need to write books like George R. R. Martin, as fantastic a writer as he is. I didn't need to write books like him; I needed to write books like me. And that's what worked for me.
Different writers will have different things that work for them. And certainly I can write...I can write things that...like for instance, I write on the Wheel of Time. And in those cases, I'm taking very...I'm taking a lot of pain to make sure that what I'm writing fits with the genre, with the stories that have come before, and what the readers expect these stories to be like. And so I can do it. But I love doing it on the Wheel of Time. And I don't know what the difference is between doing it there on the Wheel of Time and those early days that I spent trying to write toward the market and having a horrible experience.
For me, I need complete creative freedom; otherwise my books have no life to them. And even with the Wheel of Time, Harriet is giving me complete creative freedom to do whatever I think needs to be done to tell great stories. And I think I thrive in that situation. If I instead had come into the Wheel of Time and they would have said, "You have to do this exactly, this exactly, this exactly, this exactly," I think I would have done a poor job. I would have been the wrong author. But that's not what they wanted; they wanted someone they could turn it over to, who would really take ownership of it. In a small part; of course it doesn't belong to me, but you know what I mean. I take real pride and say, "I'm going to do this the best way that I know how." And not just write a book and be done with it, but say, "No, this is..." I can't even explain the difference. This is me now. The Wheel of Time, I am inexorably linked to it, and my soul is linked to it. And those aren't those books I wrote for these people. Those are books that I am deeply, deeply, emotionally involved in. And I can only, I think, do that because I've reading them for so long since I was a kid.