I went to a book signing last night to see Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite authors, and got a double header: Peter Orullian, who I wasn’t familiar with, was also part of the event.

In addition to being incredibly nice, approachable, passionate folks, they both said some things that I wanted to get down right away — and share with you, because while they were speaking about writing, some of what they said also applies to GMing.

Sound advice from two very smart guys

The first thing to jump out at me was a comment Peter made just as I was walking in. He has a day job at a software company, so he works 10 hours a day and commutes an hour each way. Yet his first novel was just published — so how does he do it? He gets up at 3:30 in the morning to write. That’s passion, and it humbled me just to hear it.

Paraphrasing George R.R. Martin, they both spoke about gardeners and architects when asked about how they write. Gardeners are more free-form, letting the story and the characters guide the worldbuilding and not necessarily doing much up front; architects do a ton of worldbuilding before they start the novel.

Peter is a mix of both: He does some worldbuilding, but also creates the world organically as he writes. I found myself nodding at that; I also enjoy worldbuilding through writing fiction. (One quick aside, here: I’m a writer, but I’m not either of these guys — and I’m not comparing myself to them.) Brandon said he does a ton of worldbuilding up front, and then outlines what he wants to happen — but that it doesn’t always happen as planned, or in the same order; so he gives himself wiggle room.

Sound familiar? All four of those approaches — gardener, architect, Peter, and Brandon — are perfectly valid ways to run a game and address worldbuilding in your campaign. I thought that was pretty cool.

Peter also brought up a Heinlein quote: “The first million words don’t count.” And he meant it literally: Write a million words, and then you’re ready to consider publication as a novelist. In other words, writing is like anything else: you have to practice. The same is true of GMing.

Similarly, setting aside your early work is okay. Just because you wrote it, doesn’t mean it’s worth publishing — and that’s fine. Peter also tied that into being willing to fail big, and to sometimes ignoring everyone’s advice and just doing what you think is right.

Making mistakes is a big part of GMing. You’re going to make hundreds of mistakes over the years — thousands, if you’re anything like me. And they’ll make your games better.

Asked how he keeps track of such sprawling, epic worlds and stories, Brandon said that he uses a wiki — specifically, WikidPad — to organize the hundreds of thousands of words he writes about the world outside of the actual text of the novel.

That’s more worldbuilding than most GMs need, but the approach sounds very useful for gaming. I use and love Obsidian Portal, and I’ve found that it really shines during prep and after long gaps between sessions.

The Mistborn RPG

During the Q&A, I asked Brandon about how involved he had been in developing the Mistborn RPG (which I preordered yesterday). I half expected him to say that he wrote the short story that’s included in the book, but was otherwise not that involved, and I was thrilled to be very wrong.

Not only did he have several brainstorming sessions with the folks over at Crafty Games, but the book is about 50% game and 50% Mistborn worldbook. On top of that, Brandon said that he’d just been sent the whole game and was now reviewing it to make sure everything was right. It’s not due out until November, so it’s awesome that they’re handling it this way.

He’s not a game designer (and he explained that he left that to Crafty), but I love that he was that involved in a project that some authors might not really care about. If you’re a fan of the world, I suspect that will pique your interest as well.

A little diversion

Today’s the final weekday of GenCon, and our readership goes way down during the con. It seemed like a good day to play a bit and do an article that’s not 100% GMing-related. This signing — which also featured Isaac Stewart, who did a lot of the interior illustrations, and the maps, in Way of Kings, and who was also a great guy — was fantastic, but also sobering.

It was sobering because I left thinking two things. One, I want to be Brandon Sanderson. He’s a dad, a fantasy fan, a nice guy, and an amazing and successful author; he does exactly what he wants to be doing every day. And two, if I want to be him I’m on the wrong path. If I want to be a full-time author, I need to start writing and discarding novels until I hit upon one that could succeed.

Funnily enough, I asked Brandon to write something that one of the main characters in The Way of Kings might say in my copy, and he was kind enough to oblige. Here’s what he wrote: “Keep at it. They can only kill you once.”

From the writing advice to the GMing advice to the self-reflection it prompted, this signing really had an impact on me.

In any case, if you get the chance to meet any of these three guys — Brandon, Peter, or Isaac — I encourage you to do so. Thanks for putting up with this diversion — and hopefully, like me, you found some GMing advice in it after all!