Write About Dragons online

Brian Sanderson has a student so enamored of his teaching that he (the student) took it upon himself to record and post Sanderson’s Creative Writing lectures online (Write About Dragons). So far it seems focused on novel writing (with a sci-fi/fantasy bent), but he makes the great point that really you should only be writing something that you regularly read. Short stories, mysteries, romances, whatever; regular reading gives you an ear for the genre and style.

Intrigued by this generous offering, I’ve started out with the first lecture. You can’t actually read what he writes on the whiteboard, but it doesn’t matter, since he states everything quite clearly (and often opinionatedly :) ). So I’ve been listening to it as a good companion while I do other things, like put together a puzzle or dust my new bookshelf.

His first lecture emphasized that good writing is about skill, which comes from practice. Interestingly (to me), he de-emphasized the value of the story idea (compared to raw writing skill) and claimed that a good writing can spin gold out of the humblest straw. He also encouraged his students actually taking the class (who faced the daunting task of writing 50k words over the semester) to start fresh with some new idea, rather than trying to re-write that novel sitting in the closet that’s already been tackled 15 times and never gone anywhere useful. This was a nice reminder that it’s always possible to pick up some new project and come back to one you’re not making progress on later.

I mentioned 50k words as a challenge. Not coincidentally, National Novel Writing Month also sets the bar at 50k words. The difference (in my view) is that in this class you are generating writing you actually want other people to read. NNWM is purely focused on volume, explicitly instructing you to ignore quality. (“Don’t worry, it’ll come out in the editing process,” which is a bit like “Don’t worry, that red wine stain will come out when you wash it.”) The class is organized around small groups that provide each other feedback, so you’re obligated to share with, and to read the products of, your classmates.

He also identified two major categories of writers: discovery-based (or “gardeners”) and outline-based (or “architects”). I like exploring and discovery as much as the next person, but (unless prompted by NNWM) I’m unlikely to ever just start writing and see where it goes. I want a plan. I want signposts. That makes me more of an architect by nature — and therefore vulnerable to architect foibles, like never actually starting the story because you’re trying to perfect the clever planned plot twists or the world-building. Gardeners, on the other hand, suffer from writing along until they figure out what the story is about, then going back to ret-con the earlier material to match, then writing more and figuring out what it’s REALLY about, then circling back to ret-con some more, and never finishing for entirely different reasons.

After concluding with some tips about how to contribute productively to a critique group (as critiquer or as person on the spot), Brandon exhorts students to go off and create a LiveJournal account to make sharing their material easy. Get out there and get writing!