In honor of Life, the Universe, and Everything, I will be doing a 3 part (at least) piece on the writing convention. I’m starting off with an interview with David Farland, a regular LTUE panelist and an amazing writer and teacher. (author note: now a 20 part)
This post is part 1 of 20. The table of contents for all LTUE posts can be found here
“I believe that storytelling can and should be a fine art, and that as practitioners of that art, we need to invest a great deal of ourselves into telling great stories, no matter what age our readers are or what the writer’s interests.“
I first heard of David Wolverten/Farland on writing excuses. Little did I know what a privilege it was to be hearing advice from such a prolific figure in speculative fiction.
Dave Wolverton/David Farland is a New York Times bestselling author with over 50 novels to his credit, most notably his Runelords series. He has won many awards for his work and is the lead judge for the world’s largest science fiction and fantasy writing competition, and has trained dozens of bestselling authors, including Brandon Sanderson (Wheel of Time), Brandon Mull (Fablehaven), James Dashner (The Mazerunner) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight).
Dave has also worked as a greenlighting analyst in Hollywood and as a videogame designer and scripter. In 1999, he set the Guinness record for the world’s largest single-person, single-book signing.
“All that you had to do was look at your story in every possible way that a judge might, and then try to make sure that it was excellent in each of those ways.”
Mike Bacera: The David Farland/Wolverten the empire is everywhere. I read your bio, and I didn’t realize all the things you are and have been involved in (StarCraft Broodwar!?) Tell us about your current projects and also maybe some new ones on the Horizon.
David Farland: Right now I’m trying to finish the last novel in my Runelords series, and I’m working on a movie deal with a studio, which will be based on the first book. I’m also busy at work as the coordinating judge on the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest, and I’m preparing to write three novels in my Nightingale Series. Then of course I teach writing courses and have some fifteen different appearances this spring and summer at various conventions and workshops.
MB: Yes! It was a great honor to meet you at FanX and go to several of your panels. Okay, so I’ve read a lot on Entrepreneur podcasts that the best thing we can do with our success is to give back to the community. Instead of seeing other writers as competition, we should think that the success of one is the success of all. I see that in your My Story Doctor, an online writing class you provide. Tell us about where new writers can get involved, and also why.
DF: You can learn about my online writing classes at www.mystorydoctor.com. I like to teach authors not just how to write, but how to write books that will be popular enough so that the author can make a living at his or her craft. Because of my focus, many of my students have become huge bestsellers. But I don’t just focus on writing bestsellers. I believe that one key to a great novel is that it has to have heart. It has to be about something more important than just making a buck, something bigger than just the characters in the tale or the twists and turns. In short, I believe that storytelling can and should be a fine art, and that as practitioners of that art, we need to invest a great deal of ourselves into telling great stories, no matter what age our readers are or what the writer’s interests.
MB: Talking about great stories, I remember that you had an interesting history with Writers of the Future and your writing submissions. Tell us about starting your career winning “Writers of the Future” and your philosophy on the submission side of the writing business
DF: As a college student, I began to enter writing contests as a way to make money. I decided early on that there was a way to win just about any contest. All that you had to do was look at your story in every possible way that a judge might, and then try to make sure that it was excellent in each of those ways. So, for example, I wanted my characterization, my story concepts, and my plotting all to be excellent. I developed a list of about 40 criteria, and then began entering contests–and won nearly every one that I entered.
My thought was that even if someone did beat me in one area, they weren’t likely to beat me in many, and so I’d have an overall advantage.
It worked well. One of my stories won the International Gold Award for best story of the year in L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, and at the awards ceremony in New York I met a number of editors and quickly got a three-novel contract with Bantam books. My first novel went on to win the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award and became a science fiction bestseller. A couple of years later, I was invited to be a judge for the contest, and in 1992 I took over as the lead judge in the contest. I took a few years off of that spot when I went to work in Hollywood in 2000, but I’m doing it again.
MB: Okay, and just like any good teacher, you can and do teach and help others to attain their own success. So among your illustrious students are Brandon Mull, Stephanie Meyer, and two of my personal heroes, Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson. Was there anything that really set them apart, innately that you saw. Or is it more, like you are quoted as saying, “anyone can learn to write”.
DF: Each of these students struck me as having three qualities that sets them apart: They’re passionate about what they do. They’re articulate. And they’re all brilliant.
MB: Perfect! And to round it all off, I usually ask this from every interviewee: If you could give just one piece of advice to new authors, what would it be?
DF: Apply your butt to your chair and write. Too many new authors don’t recognize the huge rewards that come with regular practice.
But of course, I can never limit it to one piece of advice. At www.mystorydoctor.com you can sign up for my “Kick in the Pants,” where I offer free advice about three times per week. I recently looked at he total page count of my advice column and came up with about 3500 pages!
The Writing Process
“Apply your butt to your chair and write. Too many new authors don’t recognize the huge rewards that come with regular practice.”
1. Practice, Practice, Practice:
I think this point should be obvious, but it is worth restating. A writer isn’t someone who blogs about writer. A writer isn’t someone who tweets with the hashtag #iamwriting. It isn’t someone who doodles, outlines, or dreams about “this idea I have for a cool story”.
A writer writes. And, standing tables aside, this usually involves putting your butt in a chair, and your hands on the keyboard. Also known as BICHOK method (as made famous by season 1 of Writing Excuses), the Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, is probably the only one guaranteed to work, Until verbal transcription technology gets way better and more accurate than it us currently. Hi Siri, write me a book…
2. Submit to the Judge, not to the Submission:
In Poker they say, “play the man, not the cards” or in sales, “sell customer, not the product”. I can’t really speak to much to this effect, because I am a horrible bluffer in poker, and not an extremely motivated salesman. But that doesn’t lessen David’s point here.
If you are planning to be published, then submit your work. Not just to publishers, but to online competitions. We live in a grand world where the demand for quality content outstrips the supply of content material being submitted. So submit! Get your name out there.
But, when you do start submitting, don’t just blind submit and hope something sticks. Research it! Submit to the Judge, not to the Submission. What does that mean? You write the story for the judging body. A Story that will work in Analog, will be quite different than one that works for the Inter-Galactic Medicine show, versus Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which will be different from Escape Pod.
If you want to be a successful contest submitter or content submitter, research the judges and the Magazine. Know what kind of stories get published in the imprint. If the judge is also an author, read what they write. Then you will know what they are looking for. If your piece is clearly not appropriate for the sub, then don’t do it! Save your time and work on something else or submit somewhere else.
” I like to teach authors not just how to write, but how to write books that will be popular enough so that the author can make a living at his or her craft.”
I’d like to thank David for the awesome honor of both meeting him and interviewing him. David encompasses the ideal that you give back to the community, something that every author should do once they are setup and successful. Well, I mean, at least I intend when (or “if” I am being pessimistic, which I am not) I make it.
Some people think more successful authors means more competition, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Because a successful author inspires readers to read more, especially in their genre. So write and help others write.
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