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National Novel Writing Month Recap

Hey, all! I’ve got some interesting tidbits about Stormlight Three to share, relating to what I’ve been writing this month.

Before we get to that, though, I do want to draw your attention to the items we have in the store. In addition to the Elantris leatherbound, as usual we’ve got most of my books for sale, signed and personalized, shipped to your door. This includes the brand new hardcover double of the novellas Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell and Perfect State, which we just put up. (We also have both Legion books, with new covers.) We also have a couple of new T-shirts, Mistborn and Stormlight lanyards, a new Roshar map poster, Bridge 4 jewelry, and all the usual fun stuff. Have a look! And do please note the holiday shipping deadlines!

It’s rare that I get to fully participate in National Novel Writing Month. (The month of November, for the uninitiated, is a kind of challenge month for writers. During November, participants try to complete fifty thousand words of material, which is roughly 200 pages.)

The true spirit of NaNoWriMo is to start a brand new story on the first of November, and write on it all month. The life of a professional novelist doesn’t lend itself well to this kind of schedule—you often have revisions due at inopportune times, or have to be on tour in November, etc. However, when I can, I like to participate in spirit by trying to write the 50k words—even if I don’t begin a new project at the start of the month.

This was a year where I was able to do this, as I had minimal touring this month (only two events) and no big revisions due. (Though my editor is still waiting on Alcatraz 5, which I’ll need to get to ASAP, now that the month is over.) It was a fun year to do NaNo though, as it was very nostalgic for me.

You see, thirteen years ago in 2002, I was doing NaNo as an unpublished author with many of my writer friends. We posted our wordcounts on a forum we all frequented, making a friendly competition of it. The book I was writing? The original draft of The Way of Kings.

One of the images from that time, burned into the back of my brain, is sitting in the guest room at my mother’s house on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which fell very late in the month that year. That Saturday was the last day of NaNo—and I hit a frenzy of activity. While I hadn’t started a new project during the month (even then, I didn’t really need challenges like NaNo to get me moving on my writing) I was near the end of one.

I finished The Way of Kings that night, writing more in one day by far than I’d ever written up to that point—and more than I’ve ever written since. My wordcount ended up being so high that I severely underreported it on the forums, to not make others feel bad. (Which reminds me of the time when in high school, during the very early days of image manipulation before most people knew it was possible, I edited my report card to wipe away all my A grades and make them much lower—all to trick my mother.)

That time in 2002 was a special time for me, one I’ve talked about before. Writing The Way of Kings was a relieving experience for me, as I was writing exactly what I wanted rather than worrying about what the market wanted to read. I still feel it’s no coincidence that a year later I got my first book deal. After writing Kings, I was ready.

Well, this year I’ve been working on Oathbringer, the third volume of the Stormlight Archive. It was both nostalgic and exciting to be at my mother’s house again, thirteen years later, working with the same characters as a much more mature writer (and in a much more mature version of the world).

This month, I posted my wordcounts on Twitter and Facebook, rather than on a forum with my friends. I managed to get the 50,000 words done, though I didn’t have any crazy wordcount days. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m actually much slower now than I was all those years ago. There is a lot more to watch for in these books now, a lot more continuity now that I’m actually releasing them for the public. The writing just doesn’t go as fast as it did when I was more carefree. That said, here are some quick facts about NaNo this year for me:

  1. Writing 50k words in a month is still hard (in fact, it’s harder) as a professional. There are a lot of demands on my time these days aside from writing. Having a family is certainly one—but so is touring, answering emails, doing marketing meetings, talking to my agent, and signing huge stacks of books to fill orders from the store. (Not that I mind.)
  2. Quality doesn’t suffer from adding a few extra hours of writing a day. I’d already known this, as there are times in the past when I’ve written longer than I do now. But it’s still nice to know. In fact, I’m more fond of many of the scenes I wrote this month than I am of many I wrote earlier. Which leads me to my next point.
  3. Being very focused on one project, eliminating distractions, can really help me figure out tough scenes. This month reminded me of the days when I was first working on the Wheel of Time books—where I had a single-minded focus, and was determined to nail the project and do right by the fans. There’s a certain excitement to times like this, and I fully intend to keep this focus on Stormlight 3 as I roll forward. (I don’t have anything else I have to do, other than the revisions on Alcatraz, until Stormlight 3 is done.)
  4. I really love these characters. There’s a reason I have been writing about Dalinar since I was fifteen—there’s something about him, a voice I need to share. It’s great to be back on Roshar, and I’m having a blast.

So where do we stand as this month ends? Well, I got my 50k, but the book is still sitting at only 137k words. That’s roughly 1/3 of the way completed—assuming it’s around the length of Words of Radiance, which I’m hoping will be the case. (I’m not sure how much longer Tor will let me go.) There’s still a great deal of work to do on this book.

I can’t really project a release date. Peter and Isaac have been very clear with me that we need more time for editing, revision, continuity, and art than we had on Words of Radiance. We’ll make a call on release dates sometime around when I turn the book in next spring or summer. It could be out next year, but Peter and Isaac want you all to be ready for a 2017 release instead. We’ll know more once I actually finish.

As for other projects, I’ll do my yearly State of the Sanderson post sometime around my birthday (otherwise known as Koloss Head-Munching Day) late December. That will catch you up on everything I’m doing.

Either way, I hope that those of you doing NaNo benefited from seeing my daily wordcount posts. Writers make up a grand (if somewhat neurotic) community, and I’m proud to be a card-carrying member.


BONUS: I recently dug up the notes I took when submitting the first chapters of The Way of Kings to my graduate writing class while getting my Master’s. I’ll transcribe them here, though be warned, they were reading an earlier version of the book from the one that got released. In this draft, the opening chapter was a battlefield seen through Dalinar’s eyes, showing him and Adolin using their shards to defeat an enemy army.


  • Compound words. They complained that there are a lot of them. (NOTE: Yup, I still use a lot of these! I think all the talk of Shardblades and Shardplate overwhelmed them.)
  • They had a major gripe with the fact that there were a ton of characters to keep track of. It got really hard to keep track of who was who. They complained that I would introduce a character for a paragraph, then he would drop out. (NOTE: They weren’t ready for the “epic” part of “epic fantasy” I guess. To be fair, this original draft of KINGS did have too many viewpoint characters—but that was a problem for later in the book. These early scenes weren’t nearly as bad as the published version for keeping track of names. I’d love to see what the class would say about THIS version, with four different main characters in the first four scenes.)
  • They liked it when I gave give a character a philosophy. Wanted to see that a little more. Also, they wanted more physical descriptions—they wanted to reconnect with characters through their physical characteristics. Wanted a physical quirk for everyone.
  • They suggested I consider writing a piece with an adviser to the king. They think that the way I write would work well with a character like that. (NOTE: I have no idea what’s going on here. I’m assuming they were confused, and were suggesting a new character to be viewpoint to the sequence. This is why it’s best not to offer solutions to writers, only outline problems. I suspect that adding a new character, one who is not participating in the action but standing around describing everything, would not improve the book in the way the class thought.)
  • They would like more of the big monsters. Chulls. (NOTE: Chulls were much larger in this draft, capable of pulling huge siege equipment. And really, who wouldn’t want to see more of that?)


  • They liked this better, because I didn’t summarize as much and it had more action. They still wanted more visual details.
  • Steve wanted to know more about the ‘nifty gadgets.’ Wanted me to flesh the ideas out. (NOTE: I think this references Shardblades and Shardplate, like the next note.)
  • They ask: Where did the armor and swords come from? (NOTE: This is a good sign. It doesn’t mean I should answer it here; it just means they were curious, which is what I want.)
  • Fighting styles were very cool—wondered if I could do more with it. They wonder if I could spent more time on the battle—a couple more chapters.
  • Horse stuff. Hair on the hooves, black, stout forehead.
    1. Give physical characteristics.
    2. Use more senses.
    3. More graspable feel of the world’s battle tactics and philosophies.
  • Blood in mouth from biting tongue.

There you go! A glimpse back in time to before I’d sold any books. It was always an interesting experience submitting my work to these graduate courses, as nobody really knew what to do with me. Professors would tell me not to write fantasy, and I would anyway, telling them to fail me if they thought it was bad. Students would have critique sessions where for one piece, they’d discuss some short and obtuse poem—then move on to this enormous (and maybe obtuse) epic fantasy novel.

Don’t get me wrong—I loved being in the program, and felt it was well worth my time. But the critique sessions could sometimes go interesting places.

|   Castellano