I first tried writing a book when I was in third grade. It was a time-travel fantasy, and I was really proud of it at the time. (I still have a copy, actually—I even posted it to my website, just for fun.) I’ve loved to read since I was little, although writing was sometimes a bit rockier. (In fact, my eighth grade English teacher encouraged me to gravitate more toward math or science, since he didn’t think I was up to the task of taking advanced English. That might be one of the reasons I ended up heading deeper into the subject—I’ve always loved a challenge.)
I wrote some attempts at novels in high school, but I never had the stamina to keep at it for very long. Writing a book is a long process, and you need to really be dedicated to it. There are times when it’s very difficult work, and if you give up, you’ll never get very far. But if you can push through those difficult times, it can be a blast.
When I got to college, I decided I wanted to be more serious about writing. I signed up for a creative writing class taught by Dave Wolverton. I really enjoyed it—loved hearing Dave talk about the experiences he’d had as a successful fantasy author. (That same class had several other students who went on to become professional authors, including Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells.) However, as much as I loved it, I ended up getting a B+ in the class. I know it sounds silly looking back at it, but at the time, I took that as a sign that creative writing wasn’t for me. I felt like I didn’t have enough talent to succeed, so I gave up. I put away my books and focused on studying literature instead of writing it.
That was the plan, at least. The problem was I couldn’t stay away. I just had to keep writing.
A year later, I took another creative writing class—this one focused on general literature, not science fiction and fantasy. I liked it, but my short stories all ended up being really depressing. I’d write about divorces or life crises. I loved writing, but I didn’t love the end result. When I took a Writing for Young Readers class from Louise Plummer, all of that changed. Suddenly I was enjoying what I was writing: a novel about a teenage girl who gets sucked into an alternate world full of talking keys, rumor magic and evil machinations. My writing wasn’t great, but Louise kept encouraging me, and I kept at it.
When I started my English Masters program at Brigham Young University, Brandon Sanderson entered the program at the same time. He and I both taught Freshman Composition, and I mentioned in passing to him that I was writing fantasy books. At the time, he had just signed a contract for Elantris to be published in a year and a half or so. He was looking for writing group members, and he invited me to join. Suddenly, I was around other people who were serious about their writing. Brandon writes like a machine—he cranks out words and approaches it like a business. We’re talking millions of words. Still a fan of a challenge, I followed his example—not managing millions of words (I was still writing young adult fantasy, after all—not epic), but finishing six novels. I would write 1,000 words a day, every day. It was excellent training, and I’ve been doing it ever since.