B. Sanderson’s Lecture 1


Goals of the Course

  • Learn your style: not all books are for everyone. Understand what makes you-you
  • Building good habits: things you can follow throughout your career as a writer
  • Practice with Writing Groups: They can make or break books & authors, so be careful who you work with. Bad writing groups seep authors, don’t join them, get out if you’re in one! Also, not all WG have to be writers, some can just be informed readers.
  • Write a new story: Writer’s write, they don’t have one single story to tell

Writing Group Feedback Guidelines

  • Descriptive not Prescriptive: Let authors know what you felt, not what you would do. Doing is their decision. Track your emotional responses as you read.
  • View in context of the book (Be careful not to compromise your beliefs in doing this)
  • If critiqued-say nothing-just listen. Do not explain, file it away and use that information to write better. Write it down.
  • Maybe ignore it: not all information is useful. Look for correlations. Start with small changes, lest you fall whim to another person’s story.
  • Beware of group think: People may start agreeing with one big personality. Don’t fall with the crowd and don’t always listen to one person parroted to you
  • Giving feedback:
    • Begin with good things
    • Move to big problems
    • Ask the critiqued to give clarifying/guiding questions

3 Parts of a Story + Conflict

  • Setting: This is what sets Sci-Fi/Fantasy apart from other genres
  • Character: Built off character conflict
  • Plot: The dependable backbone of stories
  • Conflict: Holds the three together

Spectrum of writers

On on side are Gardeners (Discovery Writers) and on the other are Architects (Outliners) you will likely fall somewhere between.
Gardeners <––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––[me]––––––––––>Architects


  • Protagonist needs an active role, not a reactive one.
  • Writing should be done with a last chapter in mind, so that you have direction for your novella/novel. Also, consider the impact of writing a first draft, then rewriting with that draft in mind as the bones.
  • Professionally, think in terms of word count
  • Writing Groups are terrible test audiences. For pacing, look to full beta readers to read the entirety of what you’ve written.
  • Lecture 1 link

Back to Lecture Selection

Notes From Brandon Sanderson’s Lectures

While taking Sanderson’s course on Creative Writing, digitalized thanks to Scott Ashton’s page Write About Dragons, I took extensive notes–ideas I found interesting, how-to’s that might help improve my writing and just typical notes of what Sanderson was saying. Even as I implement them in novels I had already written, I wanted to share them for everyone who needed a quick reference to the most useful of his lectures and content within them.

I’ve broken down his lectures with descriptions and extra resources he provides in the links below. Without any more preamble, here are the active links to my notes on Sanderson’s 2013 Lectures. I’ve included a bit about them as well in summary.

Writing Lectures

  • Lecture 1: Covers the basics of writing (Character, Plot, Scene, Conflict) and Writing Groups for critiquing
  • Lecture 2
  • Lecture 3
  • Lecture 4
  • Lecture 5
  • Lecture 6
  • Lecture 7
  • Lecture 8
  • Lecture 9
  • Lecture 10
  • Lecture 11
  • Lecture 12
  • Lecture 13
  • Lecture 14
  • Lecture 15

Other resources

Lighthouse Writers Workshop

Come April, I’ve found a Travel Writing Workshop in Denver. It’s run by the non-profit Lighthouse Writers and their faculty is impressive. When my traveling gets me to Colorado, I’ll update this post with what I learn over the four week course.

In the meantime, I’ll post my opinion on the required course material The Best American Travel Writing 2013 and I’ll add additional resources I find.

Best American Travel Writing 2013

Notes (Will be a TOC once I’ve read enough)

I’ve been up late reading the past two nights jotting down some thoughts or notes. There are a ten names I’ve written down for further research (that will give me a better understanding of the book), which I’ll add for you once I determine if they need to be included.

One that I’m positive does is Cartier-Bresson, who is pivotal to the anthology’s curator and therefore to me as the reader. More on him in a few days.

Of particular note is the attempt of this book to bridge the gap between journalistic and artful writing. Travel writing, to truly work, needs to be a bit of both-fact mixed with wonder.

Elizabeth Gilbert says (1) there are two facts to travel writing in the intro of this book.

  1. There is no story in the world so marvelous that it cannot be told boringly. There is no story in the world so boring that it cannot be told marvelously.
  2.  There is no story in the world so boring that it cannot be told marvelously.

(1) (2013-10-08). The Best American Travel Writing 2013 . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.



Who Sets the Bar?

90% of all writing is crap according to Theodore Sturgeon. David Farland agrees, expanding off that quote, and believes writers should expose themselves to the great 10%.*

I am 100% behind that idea.

But I’m left wondering who sets the bar for the best writing.

I’ll expand on that in a few paragraphs. First, I need to establish what writing reaches the upper 10% of this scale in my opinion. There are two ways to read a work.

  • Literally
  • Subjectively

There is no pretending that one could exist without the other. But for the moment, I’m mentally visualizing these two ideas as if they form a balancing scale. Every reader will weigh on one side or the other. Ideally, writing should create an equal amount of both.

  • Writing must meet some sort of literal quality; e.g. genre, structure or clarity.
    It also must mean something to the reader emotionally or at the very least agree with that reader’s perspective.
  • So, assuming that’s how writing is judged by readers, who does the judging? Trusted people? Writers? Critics?

I have AN answer, but perhaps not THE answer. First, I’ll break down the three with their pros and cons.

People we trust. They are: friends, family or random reviewers (let’s just say they review on kindle). They know what entertains themselves, putting them square under the subjective category, so their opinion has a lot of weight. If their buying the books, they clearly are willing to put their money where their mouths are, so they should be listened to. Except that people read crap. A lot! Just looking at the number of books sold that have a high emotional appeal but lack literary skill *cough* romance *cough* fantasy *cough, cough*. Don’t get me wrong, these two just serve as examples. But millions of copies of terrible books sell every year, based on trusted people.

Other writers guiding their readers. Clearly, if someone wrote a great book, they’ll recognize a great one. Right? Sort of. Writers understand their trade and tend to know when a book is badly written. So they’ve got an edge on the literally understanding that can be trusted. Yet, I’ve read books suggested by high profile authors and found they seriously lack in a connection with me as a reader. They are fabulously written and introduce excellent plots perhaps, but they miss my emotions by a mile.

Critics understand what sells. I’m actually chuckling writing this. *Disclaimer* I can’t stand most professional critics. Which will make this difficult to write objective. *End Disclaimer* Critics, technically, should be the most trusted. They read so many stories, they’ve got to know what they’re talking about, literally and subjectively. Ideally, that means they can select the best and act as an intermediate for readers, removing the crap and only allowing through the best. Yet, every bookstore I’ve been to, online or brick and mortar, books are covered by “rave reviewers and critically acclaim”. Even more then just false critics, true critics will get bored with plot lines, scenes and characters they’ve seen a million times. And they, often, judge writing not on itself, but off what has come before. So literally, writing could be excellent, but it doesn’t fit the “progress of the art” so it would fail their judgement. Subjective, emotionally impacting stories can be missed because they are “cliché” or “unoriginal” based on how much they’ve read.

So, my answer? You cannot fully trust any group. However, I find that I trust specific successful writers and people, online and friends, I know personally. It isn’t a perfect system, but it balances finding new writing that meets a high criteria and still enjoying the read.

What system do you use to find high quality writing?

*References Below

1: Theodore Sturgeon – Jan. 2015
2: David Farland – Jan 2015

2 Miles Above Sea Level

12,126 feet above sea level, I reached a dream. One boot planted on the watershed flowing to the Atlantic. My other planted on it’s opposite that flowed to the Pacific. I was straddling the Great Continental Divide almost two thousand miles from my home. And there was a moment of certainty. That all my private worries, uncertainties and problems were worth overcoming just to stand there.

Only a few months before, I was busy trying to restore my new home, an old airstream trailer. Additionally, I was working 40 hours a week. Driving an hour each way. Just married. So when my wife asked me if we would be able to fly out to Colorado like we’d dreamed of, I nearly said no outright. Too many things already begged for attention and finances were tight.

But that idea festered in my mind. I loved Colorado and had always wanted to visit the state, ever since I was a child. The Rocky Mountains especially captivated my imagination in ways that few other places could. Honestly, I wanted to go, but I was afraid of the cost, emotionally and financially.

Still, I took time off work. My wife and I bought tickets. We told her friends in Colorado, who I barely knew, when we would be there. Digitally rented a truck. Got our half-done home in a semblance of order. Then we endured the skeptical queries of others who thought we should have said no. Other’s perceived opinions weigh on me in a ways that most don’t notice. But, we both pushed on.

Getting to Colorado was stressful and difficult. And, when we stepped off the plane, our problems didn’t magically end. Our first adventuring steps took us to the car rental who didn’t have our reserved truck. They offered, laughably, a mini-van to accommodate all our gear. Worries and other’s skepticism threatened my mind again, striking doubt. But my wife pushed forward, finding another rental company and getting us the best truck we could.

Finally, we got to our destination and after several days, our friends helped us carve an ambitious drive through the Cottonwood Pass from the Denver area. We set out on a two day drive in the early morning, without even a place to sleep that night.

As we drove, my wife began to feel sick. Fifty miles later, she felt worse. One hundred miles and two tissue boxes later she didn’t feel any better. As we entered the pass, I realized she wasn’t going to feel better that day and I told her we would return to Boulder. Just over fifty miles from the divide. But she insisted we keep going and I love her for it.

Still threatened by skeptic thoughts, plagued by difficulties and obstacles, I nearly gave up my joy to experience the Rocky Mountains up close. But then, things began to change. Overwhelming yellows sprouted from white Aspen trunks, a cascade of vibrant color in the late fall. Driving higher, past lakes, sheer rock jutted from the earth and a forest grew as far as I could see. Crisp air heralded the snow that appeared in patches. Streams grew quieter, freezing the higher we drove. Then, finally, after hours of driving and doubting, I opened my door to stand in front of an old wooden sign announcing the Continental Divide. It might as well have said, “Bravo!” and offered me a toast.

An expansive vista of snow capped mountains extended around me. A moose ranged down by a lake a few hundred yards away. Slopes of snow gracefully slanted down the mountain in brisk powder. Sudden gusts of wind would send it twirling in the sunlight. My boots slid slightly on the uneven ice. And for miles and miles, I could see. Really see. A beautiful creation that stretched and called to me, “Isn’t it worth it?”

“Yes,” I murmured back.

And then it all rushed to me. My worries were something that I would always have. Uncertainties were something I needed to overcome to grasp my certainty that I was right where I needed to be. Problems were bumps in the road that tried to keep my wife and I from finding this incredible place.

Staying home was safe. But braving the unknown was success.

It was accomplishing a dream for me. To physically bear witness to the vastness of our planet that still exists. It was worth braving all those troubles to live out my dream. Nothing else compared to that sight the rest of our trip.

Wichita Wildlife Refuge

Something is serene about hiking beside a lake skipping stones. A four month old puppy trotting beside you, overturning every stone, trying to sniff out the critters in the dirt and mud.

I’m not certain what’s said, between me and the lake’s serenity. But it’s a quiet conversation – only punctuated by splashes, boots crunching along the stones and waves licking the shore.

Creation communicating thoughts that are peaceful, contemplative – fulfilling.

An afternoon well spent.