No one will knock on your door and ask you to write a book

ten years ago, I took a creative writing class in college taught by the illustrious Dave Wolverton, better known to most of you by his epic fantasy pseudonym David Farland. I talk about this class a lot, because he’s the guy who came right out and told me the truth: it is completely possible to make a living as an author. It is possible; there are people who do it all the time. No one had ever told me that before. I took him at his word, set my goals high, and worked like a maniac, and ten years later I’m a full-time author.

The foundation to becoming a professional author, he told us, is simple: write a book. “No one is going to knock on your door and pay you to write a book,” he said, “but if you write enough books and knock on enough doors of your own, sooner or later someone will pay you for them.”

Dave has a cool email thingy that he sends out called “The Daily Kick in the Pants,” which is an incredible tool for aspiring authors, and I recommend it to everyone. Last week he sent out a brief flashback to that class I took, which I have reproduced here completely without permission. All 20 students in that class wanted to be authors, but only three of them actually wrote and finished a novel. Who were those three? Read on:

The first one was Branden Sanderson, who turned in as his first assignment the first chapter of a novel called Elantris. I gave him an A+ on the assignment and made a note: “Finish this book, and there is an excellent chance that I will give you a cover quote.” He did, and I did. When the book came out, we went on tour together each fall for several years. It was a blast. But he will most likely be a number 1 New York Times Bestseller this fall, and so the poor lad will have to try to make his way across the book-tour circuit alone.

To my knowledge, the second person in the class to finish a book was Stephenie Meyer. Her novel Twilight has of course gone ballistic. She sold 8 million copies in hardcover in the first quarter of this year, and hit #26 on the Forbes list of America’s top-paid entertainers in June.

The third person in the class to finish a book was Dan Wells. He sold the hardcover rights in the U.S. for an average advance, but more than doubled it in the U.K. The Germans loved it and paid him a small fortune—enough so that he has gone to writing full time even though his first novel, I Am Not a Serial Killer, hasn’t hit the shelves here in the U.S. yet. (Look for it when it does. I think that Dan is a brilliant writer who is going to have a huge career.)

(By the way, Dave was the guy who taught me the importance of foreign rights. Thanks again, Dave!)

Three students from one class went on to become professional authors, internationally published. Is that because he was lucky and got three people who would have been authors anyway? I don’t think so. Is that because he’s an incredible teacher? That’s getting closer, but it’s still not the whole story. The real reason three members of that class have gone on to get published is the simple fact that we wrote books. We put in the work and made it happen. The only difference between writers and everyone else is that writers write; it sounds silly, but it’s true. If you want to write a book, do it. If you want to get published, do it.

All you have to do is sit down and write.

31 Responses to “No one will knock on your door and ask you to write a book”

  1. And to think, Meyer has said that she never took any writing classes. Talk about a lack of respect for a guy that helped give her a push.

  2. Bryce says:

    Stephanie Meyer was in that class, too? I don’t remember her–any idea where she sat? Was she back with you trench coatees? I was in the middle, second from the front.

  3. admin says:

    Technically speaking, I can’t be 100% certain that it was Meyer. There was a girl named Stephanie (I don’t know if she spelled it with too many E’s or not), and she wrote vampire stories. It’s the right university at the right time to coincide with Meyer, and when Dave and Brandon and I have talked about it we’re all fairly certain she LOOKED like Meyer. Dave is much more certain than I am, and he would obviously know his students better. Perhaps she’ll hear about this essay and come to the site and confirm or debunk it once and for all.

  4. Bryce says:

    I think I might know who you’re talking about, and if it’s who I thought, I don’t think it was her. But I could be wrong. And BTW–after reading your entry a bit more closely, I’d like to take slight umbrage to the statement that “All 20 students in that class wanted to be authors, but only three of them actually wrote and finished a novel.” Because I was in the class, I wanted to be an author, and I’ve finished like ten novels. Unless of course by “finished” you mean “traditionally published,” in which case, you’re right.

  5. Bryce says:

    Also, according to Meyer’s website, she came up with the idea for her book in 2003, three years after Dave’s class. That was her first book, and she was already the mother of three sons by then. She’s also stated that she never even wrote a short story before Twilight. I’m not calling the Mythbusters yet, but this claim is looking more and more debunked to me . . .

  6. Kaylynn says:

    I really don’t think Stephenie Meyer was in that class. But I was, and I have finished novels but not published any. Maybe someday.

  7. admin says:

    I think that fact that you were in the class and I didn’t know it is already, by itself, clear evidence that I didn’t really know the other students very well.

  8. Bryce says:

    :-) That’s okay–I was FOM (Fresh Off the Mission), and didn’t really talk much. Plus, you people wore fedoras. Fedoras!

    BTW–Do you think you could work out some sort of system whereby people who make comments on your blog can be notified when a response is posted? Would make it easier for readers to carry on some sort of a conversation–I forget sometimes whether I commented in response or not. So if I ever make a comment, and you comment back, and I don’t respond to that response . . .

    It’s nothing personal. :-)

  9. Steve D says:

    Well, if she was in the class, then she is in trouble. She stated on a talk show that she has never taken any classes on writing. Of course she also said her idea was completely original…

  10. Annette says:

    I read that in his newsletter and loved it–but then had to laugh, because Meyer has said in multiple interviews that she never had any writing instruction before writing Twilight. Busted! She had a KING of instructors. :)

    I was at BYU the same time you guys were–it kills me to think I was probably taking other English classes in the same building and could have been sitting there with you all–and the what ifs surrounding that. Hot dang.

  11. Tage says:

    I also take umbrage at Dave’s claim, but only because I took the class and *didn’t* want to be an author. Some of us were just there for fun.

    Also, as my two cents, I’m moderately certain that Stephanie Meyer wasn’t in the class. She graduated from BYU in 1995, which was when Dan and I were in high school, and long before Dave’s first writing class.

  12. admin says:

    So: first of all, apparently that class was positively brimming with people who I’ve subsequently met and become friends with, who have finished multiple books, and who I (and Dave) have just moded. I’m sorry about that. Also: do people still say moded?

    Second of all, I cannot give personal, infallible testimony as to whether or not the Stephanie in my class was actually Stephenie Meyer. When she says she had no formal training, that may well be true. If only she pronounced her name wrong, instead of simply spelling it wrong, this whole debacle could be avoided–because I’m pretty dang certain there was no “Stuh-FEE-nee” in any of my classes.

  13. Titus says:

    Meyer graduated in ’97 if that makes a difference. Wiki was wrong. (I know! *gasp!*) Assuming that the reference given on her page (an article from BYU Magazine) was correct. Of course, the same article implies that she _majored_ in English.

    “Millions of YA readers are flocking to books by Stephenie Morgan Meyer (BA ’97) and Janette Johnson Rallison (’92), two nationally renowned authors who have definitively answered the question posed by many a perplexed parent: “But, darling, what do you do after majoring in English?””
    -http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2155

  14. Christy says:

    I attended one of Dave’s workshops last year, and I have to agree that he is a fabulous teacher. At that workshop I realized that I could call myself a writer and beleive it. It was then that I decided that I could write novels and have them published. Thanks Dave!

  15. Jillena says:

    Sounds like we need an inside source at the BYU registrar’s office to look up who exactly was in that class and end this debate (assuming they keep records of that sort). Otherwise, it’d be great if Stephenie spoke up about it. When was it that you guys took that class?

  16. Daniel says:

    Sorry to break up the Great Stephanie Meyer Debate, but I truly enjoyed the post, with or without any ties to THE Stephanie Meyer ;)

    I am half way through writing my second book and advice like this is exactly what us aspiring writers need to keep pushing sometimes. I’ve read I am not a Serial Killer and most of Sanderson’s books and even though your writing intimidates me, I hope to be where you are within a decade.

    Thanks!

  17. Ari says:

    I was not in that class. I was probably still in middle school when it happened. I’m a published poet, but only by the most liberal of definitions. Still I have to think that Stephenie Meyers was not in that class. Why you ask? How could I possibly know? I would think, no hope, that anyone who took a class taught by such a fantastic author surrounded by at least two fantastic authors would be able to write with at least a mediocre ability. Instead of with poor taste, worse skill and an ignorant bastardization of vampire lore. Just my two cents.

  18. I was in that class too and remember no one from it except for Brandon, Dan, and Ben.

    When Dave mentioned this tidbit to Brandon and me in late 2008, I recall him saying that he saw a picture of Stephenie Meyer and said something along the lines of, “That looks an awful lot like the Stephenie with an e who never said a word in my class.”

    For those in the thread who were in the class and don’t think Stephenie was, how likely are you to remember the presence of someone who never talked?

  19. Jaime Theler says:

    I LOVE Dave’s Kick in the Pants emails. And I really, really wish I’d been in that class, too. :) *now back to writing another book*

  20. Bryce Dayton says:

    Wow, and to think all this started when I sent you that harmless little forward. Sorry, Dan!

  21. Kristy says:

    I was in that class, too. It was a fun class. :) I did want to write a novel, then. Now I’d rather write creative nonfiction–But I have at least finished something!

  22. Fiona says:

    Food for thought. I really liked this pep-talk, Dan – even if it is laden with Twilight misinformation (wink), I REALLY love a good pep-talk. I had a kick-booty creative writing class at SUU. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but actually sitting down and writing them all out and then polishing them up and sending them out takes so much more moxie. Trying to get published is like tracting. I hated it in Russia, I hate it now, but you just have to keep knocking and eventually you’ll get in.

  23. Jonathan (aka stu11926) says:

    No one will knock on your door and ask you to write a book?

    Isn’t that exactly what happened when Mrs. Rigney asked Brandon Sanderson to complete the Wheel of Time series? LOL…just sayin’.

    Personally, I’m extremely glad that happened because Mr. Sanderson is one incredible author and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of his work. I think he is going to do an outstanding job completing that series.

    As for Stephenie Meyer…if I were her professor, I wouldn’t want her admitting she had taken my course. That drivel she had published is written on a fifth grade level at the most. Her mindless “entertainment” fits well with the dumbing down of America that seems to be happening. Yes, I *DID* read all four books of the series. Most of them took only one day to read the entire book.

  24. SaintEhlers says:

    I don’t post often, because anyone who’s familiar with my time at TWG knows I tend to be involved with a lot of contentions. However, a couple notes:

    Jonathan: yes, Sanderson was asked to write a book, but only after he had something like a half dozen books under contract, several in print, and close to a dozen and a half other manuscripts written. I’m pretty sure the point still stands.

    As for all the Meyer bashing… No, I’m not remotely a fan of her stuff. But, well, I also despise Robert Jordan’s writing. Hate it all you want, she’s probably laughing at you as she takes that wheelbarrow full of money to the bank. If you can do better, then DO BETTER. Write your frigging book! Wasting time saying bad things about someone who’s put words on paper that people want to read only makes YOU look bad.

    And well, that’s the point, right? However disingenuous she is, however she may have disrupted your delicate sensibilities about the sacrosanct nature of vampires (which means you probably never watched Lost Boys), however unoriginal you may think the work is, well, let me separate it:

    She’s rich cuz she put words on paper that people want to read

    Whether you like it or not, that’s true. Write your book, then you can see what people say about your writing, and you can not care because of the money you’re making.

    Carry on.

  25. admin says:

    SaintEhlers makes a good point, one which we’ve frequently made on Writing Excuses: successful artists are successful for a reason, whether you like their art or not. Are people just handing Stephenie Meyer gobs of money for no reason? No, she is providing a product that people want, and as fellow novelists we would do well to figure out exactly what that product is. I can only wish I was able to right something in such a way that even the people who hate it read all four books–that is TALENT, and no matter what other problems we have with her work we need to be able to read and search and find that talent. Doing so will only serve to make us better writers, not because we can copy what she’s doing, but because we can analyze the principles behind it and find ways to apply it to our own writing.

  26. Jonathan (aka stu11926) says:

    Perhaps I came off wrong in my original post. In no way was I trying to demean Mr. Sanderson’s prior accomplishments because he was chosen to complete the WOT series. His works stands on its own. I have thoroughly enjoyed every I have read that he has written. I would like to think that I would have discovered his work without his being chosen by Mrs. Rigney, but that IS how I first heard of him. The point of my original post was intended as a joke, similar to the manner in that Indiana Jones movie where Professor Jones states that “X never marks the spot”, and yet, later in the movie, it does.

    As for Ms. Meyer’s books, they were obviously written well enough that I read all four of the series, and she is very popular and successful. My chief criticism is that her writing feels very “dumbed down” to me, which is likely why they appeal to the masses so well. My comments on her writings and their huge success is more of a comment about the general public and what passes for entertainment these days than they are about Ms. Meyer. I am not one of those that claim to be an expert on vampires and therefore have no “delicate sensibilities” to disrupt. Vampires are ficitional characters and can be portrayed in any form an author chooses. There is no right or wrong on the subject (in my opinion). (And I *DID* watch the Lost Boys…I think I was about ten years old at the time.)

    Oh, and admin (Mr. Wells?), if analyzing the principles behind the success of Ms. Meyer’s work and applying it to your own means over simplifying your writing to appeal to the masses, please don’t!

  27. Jordan says:

    Wasn’t Alan in that class as well?

    I only remember Dan, Brandon, Peter, Alan and Ben–mostly because I try very hard to forget you all and can never seam to.

  28. Sam says:

    I’ve been reading yours and Brandon Sanderson’s Blogs, as well as just recently I’ve stumbled upon your ‘Writing Excuses’ Podcast. I would love to take the class that you did, or something similar – I’m applying to BYU Idaho this year but I have no idea what their program is like.

    I would love to participate in a class where the teacher is showing how it is possible to make a living with my writing. If, once I get started at BYU-Idaho, I find that their classes are not as much aimed in that direction – do you have a suggestion on where to go? Is there a class that, even with a weekly commute, I could come to Utah that you would highly reccomend?

  29. SaintEhlers says:

    heh, only the first paragraph was intended directly for you, Jonathan. The rest applied to the discussion in general.

  30. admin says:

    Alas, poor Sam, I don’t know of any specific program to recommend to you, but I CAN tell you that the world is brimming over with writing workshops such as Clarion and others. Most of them focus more on writing than on the business behind writing, but it’s still probably your best bet.

  31. Arlene says:

    Wow. What an overblown discussion. Blah!

    I mostly just like being told that it’s not crazy to want to be an author. And why is it that “writing for the masses” is suddenly a bad thing? Isn’t that what Shakespeare did?

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