This was at Anderson’s Bookshop in Chicago last Friday. (And by the way, it is an absolutely lovely bookstore.)
So, what happened?
Well, it was a book signing.
First, he spoke for a while, mostly about writing.
At the beginning of the time he talked, he handed a girl a deck of cards and told her to shuffle them. Then he talked about how writing is treated differently than other hobbies. There are people who play basketball for fun and no one says “When are you joining the NBA?” But with writing, when you tell someone that you write, the response is “What have you published?” or “Oh, so you’re unemployed.” (Or something that certainly implies that.) We don’t need publication to validate writing. It can be a hobby. And if you want to get published, go for it, but it most certainly can be a hobby.
He talked about creativity. He asked for the deck of cards back and told the girl “Congratulations, you’ve just created something the world has never seen before.” He applied that to writing. There are only so many plots in the world, but it’s how it’s done that makes it new. Like for Mistborn, when he combined heists and the Chosen One failing. For the Stormlight Archives, knights in magic armor. For the Reckoners series, what if all the superheroes were evil? He said he takes something awesome and then creates a world around it so it can work.
He got his idea for Steelheart from a near car accident. He was driving to a book signing and running late. A car cut him off. He thought “You’re lucky I don’t have superpowers because I’d blast you.” And the thought horrified him, that he writes all these awesome people with powers who do good, but if he had powers, he’d be blasting people who cut him off in traffic. And that became a story seed.
For the rest of his talk, he spoke about his 0th of his Sanderson’s Laws of Magic, “Err on the side of what’s awesome.” And now, when someone asks him for writing advice, that’s what he tells them.
Err on the side of what’s awesome.
Then he took questions. Among the questions…
Are there unicorns in the Cosmere?
There are no plans for unicorns in the Cosmere.
What childhood books inspired you?
Brandon Sanderson was not reader until 8th grade, he says. His teacher gave him a fantasy book I forgot what book! and he was hooked. Then came Anne McCaffrey. And the rest is history. Eventually, he read The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He says he has no idea what he was getting into. And yes, a lot of people say that, but he claims to trump them all on that (he did end up finishing the series, after all).
Then, after reading his unpublished novella, he signed books. I got to talk to him in the signing line.
I told him my favorite quote from Mistborn (because he was writing it in my copy of Mistborn!) and I asked him a writing question.
I asked him how does someone know when a story is done enough to submit to an agent or editor.
Because, let us face it, no story will ever be perfect. So when do you know when to submit?
He told me that for him, he writes the first draft, then a second draft in which he fixes the problems he sees, then a third draft to clean up prose, and then it gets sent to alphas, which for him are his editor and a few others. Then he does a final draft and submits. He said “For you, I suggest getting a group of friends for feedback.” (Done. Hello, my awesome alphas!) And when I told him that I had really only started learning about writing last year (not the best way to put it but I was fangirling inside, so…) he said “Listen to my podcast.” (Also done.) Then I thanked him and went because he was done signing my books by then.
So, that was my meeting Brandon Sanderson. I’ve been inspired afresh to write and edit and ultimately, err on the side of what’s awesome.
And if you’ve never read anything by Brandon Sanderson, you totally should.
Err on the side of what’s awesome, my readers.
P.S.– I’d like to take a minute and thank my awesome dad for driving me to the book signing. I had fun on the trip and I hope you did, too, Dad. Love you.