On Getting Things Done

A few days ago, renowned fantasy author Brandon Sanderson passed through town on a book tour, and I stopped in to hear him do a reading and get a fresh copy of Steelheart signed. He spoke of many things both interesting and mundane, but one thing in particular has been echoing through my head ever since.

Brandon was talking about how frequently people are amazed at his output (I am one of those people, by the way). He’s ridiculously prolific, especially when you understand how much planning goes into his books, how many characters he has to keep up with, and the growing number of series he’s juggling. For Neptune’s sake, he was asked to come in and finish the Wheel of Time series, which is a considerable quagmire of plotlines and characters, and he still managed to work on a few other books of his own during that time. So it’s no surprise that people are always asking him how he gets it all done.

His answer was: “It’s simple. I just write every day. I put in a full day’s work, and the books take care of themselves.”

At first, this seems pretty flippant. After all, such a sheer number of words don’t just take care of themselves. But I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the underlying truth of how we look at books. Writing is work.

We think of books as products of inspiration. They just appear on our bookshelves, and we know in the back of our minds that someone spent plenty of time on it, but when it comes to doing it ourselves, it suddenly seems like a magic trick we don’t understand. Surely we don’t just sit down and squeeze it out.

But that’s exactly how it works. And that’s how Brandon Sanderson can have so many books from a career that is only seven or eight years old. He just sits down and does it.

Granted, he doesn’t have a day job. And he also said that he has a full-time assistant whose job it is to keep track of all the characters (in his own personal wiki). And he even mentioned that he doesn’t have some of the hurdles other writers do (addictions, mental and physical disabilities, etc.). But the fact remains that a book will never get written unless you put your butt in a seat and write. Regularly.

I think of myself as being reasonably disciplined, and I know firsthand what goes into making a book (i.e. many many hours of pain and anguish), but I still stand in awe of this guy who knows the real secret. Time. Just plug away at it, and eventually something happens. It’s not easy, but there is no magic.

Except patience … which isn’t that magical. So, no magic.

But if patience was magic, then Brandon Sanderson would be a level 98 Lightning Mage. Hmm, hang on, I feel an outline coming on.

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