Monday, November 17, 2008

writing, writing, writing

Good news: I met my writing goal for the day. That means I can write this post without feeling guilty that I'm not catching up to the NaNoWriMo pace.

Now, what was I going to tell you guys about?

Right, I promised a better account of dinner with the Writing Excuses guys back in October. Well, let me tell you, it was amazing. All three of them came to meet me at Chili's in Orem, UT. For those of you less familiar with Writing Excuses and the three authors who created it, let me give you a quick summary:

  • Brandon Sanderson: fantasy writer, author of the Mistborn trilogy among other awesome books, and the guy chosen by Harriet to finish The Wheel of Time
  • Howard Tayler: webcartoonist, author of Schlock Mercenary, which you can read for free every day at
  • Dan Wells: horror writer, whose first book is being published by Tor sometime next year

Every Monday, these three release a podcast at in which they give excellent advice to aspiring writers through a discussion that lasts roughly 15 minutes - and last month, all three of them took time out of their very hectic schedules to come have dinner with me as I was passing through Utah.

It was very surreal to actually have a conversation with writers I admire. Before last month, I'd only met authors briefly at book signings, just long enough to ask one question, and even those experiences had me incredibly nervous. A lot of you who know me also know how nervous I tend to get - especially you girls at NCBP, who know exactly how long it takes me to write emails. :) Well, my nerves didn't leave me alone this time either, which is another reason I was glad all three of them came. It didn't matter as much that I'm such an awkward conversationalist, because they're already so familiar with each other that the conversation never had a chance to lag. It wouldn't be possible to recount everything that was said at dinner, so I'll just list some of the advice I got from the three of them.

  • I should not get a writing job. If I spend all day writing for other people, I will burn out faster and be less motivated to do my own writing away from work.
  • I am not allowed to have a hobby. Working and writing seriously is the equivalent of having two jobs, which doesn't leave time for hobbies. This rule is reversed when I actually sell something and am able to make writing my full-time job. At that point, I must have a hobby. Pete, Andrew... Warcraft will have to wait until then. Sorry. :)
  • I need to start going to conventions. They provide good opportunities to meet people in the publishing business. Editors I meet will have a face to put with the manuscript that's been sitting on their desk for months, which will make them more likely to actually pick it up and read it.
  • When I go to said conventions and meet said editors, or agents, or authors I'm hoping to get advice from, it's always better to approach them with another person. This makes them more comfortable, as they feel like they're speaking to an audience rather than being subjected to a job interview.
  • I told them how I'm working on a pet project that's been in front of me for far too long, and how I wonder sometimes if I should just give it up and go work on something new. I also told them that part of me thinks if I do that I'll just hit another rough patch in my next project that I won't want to push through, and never end up actually finishing anything. They advised that if I do give up my current project, I definitely need to finish the next thing I try. I think it was Brandon who said if I just go ahead and write my pet project, let it sit a long time, and then come back to it, it might not be as bad as it first seemed. Dan said I might have to just resign myself to writing a bad novel, and let the experience teach me how to write a novel. I think Dan's right. In any case, I decided to keep my project.
  • I also asked a question about outlining versus discovery writing. I've never been an outliner, no matter what I'm writing. I could never even bring myself to outline a paper before writing it. I've made lots and lots of notes about my characters, the story, and the world it's set in, but I have no real outline. I have an idea about what I want the ending to involve, and I know some of the points I need to hit along the way, but that's about it. So, my question was whether successful writers tend to be outliners more often than discovery writers, because sometimes I feel like I should be outlining more than I do.

    I got lots of good information out of this question. The first tip was that many discovery writers who think they can't outline discover later that they really can. Part of my problem with outlining could be that I've still never finished a whole novel, and I'm still learning about how they need to be structured. It's going to be hard to see some of the things I'm doing wrong until I reach the end. Once I learn more about writing, I could find that outlines help me a lot more than I thought they did.

    Here was the advice I really loved, though - and I believe I can attribute it to Howard. He said that if I discovery-write my way through a rough draft, that draft can be treated like an outline. Through that writing, I can see what did and didn't work in the story, where it needs to change, how the characters developed... it basically becomes a road map for the next draft. I'd never looked at it that way before. It was really good timing to hear that, though, because I'd just recently gotten as far as I was ever going to get in my rough draft, and I was attempting to start what I keep thinking of as "a real draft". And it's very true: even though most of what I wrote from February through September will never end up in the story, it still has some valuable guideposts to help me through the draft I'm working on now.
So, all in all, it was an excellent evening, and I got tons of great advice from people who have already done what I'm trying to do. As an epilogue to the tale, I saw Brandon Sanderson again recently on his book tour, and got to chat with him a bit more, and also listen to him answer other people's questions about writing. I love listening to other people's questions; they always come up with stuff I never would have thought of. Anyway, I told him I was using NaNoWriMo as motivation to get through my next 50,000 words by the end of the month, and he told me to email him if I make it so he can encourage me to keep on writing that much. :) He's a very friendly guy. They all are.

In other news, Ruthann Continues the Job Search, and Ruthan Begins to Develop a Social Life. Stay tuned!


Poonam said...

I'm glad the dinner was so helpful and so much fun! Also, I can't wait to read about your social life since we didn't touch upon that during our last phone conversation.

meagan said...

That's so cool. When you said you were meeting them, I thought you meant like at a book signing. That sounds like a really amazing experience that I'd love to hear more about sometime.

And conventions, did you say? I've already got very tentative plans to head to the SF/F Worldcon in Montreal this August...

I still have yet to read your second chapter. (I have a good excuse though--I was in London.)

Yay to the social life, as well.

Give me a call some time. I'm around after 5pm EST most days... :-)