Since living in Idaho, I’ve become so much less aware of much that goes on in our area. This is mostly because I’ve become so busy with work and full-time school, not to mention spending time with my beautiful wife. However, my wife and I were in Idaho Falls a few weeks ago (November 28, 2014) and saw a wonderful thing: a poster announcing that Brandon Sanderson would be having a book signing at the Barnes and Noble there the following day. For those of you who don’t know, Sanderson is the author who finished The Wheel of Time Series for Robert Jordon and also wrote the New York Times Best Selling Mistborn Trilogy. A friend introduced me to Mistborn and from there I have become very attached to Sanderson’s works.
I have never met a famous person who was important to me. So I didn’t understand the significant impact it could have on me to meet one of my role models. As a result of this, I didn’t know if I would go. I had no real reason for not wanting to meet him, looking back on it my feelings made no sense at all, but thankfully I have a wife who pushes when necessary and she told me I was going. So I did.
As a plug in for Barnes and Noble, they did a great job of organizing the mob that could have resulted. By creating an alphabetical group system, everyone knew when to return to the store to get in line for the signing. My wife and I were in group “I” and so were able to travel around town to get some other things done while we waited.
Anyway, back to the real event.
I could tell you about waiting in line, the building excitement as we got closer and closer to meeting Brandon Sanderson, and my growing anxiety as I tried to think of what I would say to him; but I won’t ruin it with boring details. Though I do want to ask a question: What do you say to/ask a famous person? Remember you only have a couple of minutes to talk to him; so most conversation topics are discarded. I had no idea.
Again I am glad my wife was with me. As it became our turn, we walked up to his table and at that point my nerves were shot. We handed him the books to sign and he then began to ask some friendly questions. (At least I think he did, the event is a little blurry due to anxiety and excitement.) Unfortunately, my brain froze; I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. This was when my wife became my savior of the moment.
“He’s actually an aspiring author,” she said nudging my arm, “and he’s having some problems writing.”
To my joy and relief he turned to me with a new look of interest and asked me what was giving me trouble.
To be honest there are a plethora of things that are giving me trouble: finding the time to write, planning what to write, and creating realistic and dynamic characters to name a few. I decided I would mention my problem with characters.
I wish I had something to write with as he talked, but thankfully my brain latched onto what he said and tied it down.
His advice for the most important thing about writing characters is obviously to practice. A lot. Just practice writing scenes with character interaction or character development; try writing conversations you have with people or things you hear. With each time I do I will find new ways to delve deeper into a character and better ways to make them seem real. He then shared a story about when he played the trumpet and would see experienced musicians playing complicated riffs and patterns, yet whenever he tried to copy them he failed. Going to his instructor he explained his problem, asking for advice. His instructor replied that he needed to master the basics and then the complex pieces would become easier.
The thing about this advice is that, much like anything, it is far easier to say than do. I don’t know if this is the case for any of you, but it is for me because I’m impatient and want the basics to just happen.
After telling me this he gave me a card with information on how to access some of his podcasts and lectures on similar topics, which was great because I could use them to help motivate me at the very least. But before I left I asked him one last thing, which had been bothering me for quite some time: when do you start planning a book? To some relief he told me that he starts planning before he writes anything. The relief was because I had been taught that you write until you can’t write any more, and then you start planning. But that tactic wasn’t working for me.
He then explained that both methods are used and it really just depends on which one you prefer and what ends up working for you. One type of person he called a “planner” and the other he called a “pantser.” (I don’t know if I spelled that right or not.) Pantser stands for “riding by the seat of their pants. He said he made it up because he couldn’t think of anything better to replace it with, so it stays. Both were good techniques, but everyone has their own preference.
Overall, it was a very surreal experience. I’m very glad my wife pushed me to go and I’m glad I was able to meet him. Seeing a successful author in person helped bring home the reality of becoming an author as well as helped me see him as a real person. It sounds silly now that I’m writing it, but there is a separation between famous and normal people that can only be bridged when you meet them and that experience is all too cool.