“Writing Excuses” – A Podcast for the Aspiring or Established Author

Fifteen minutes long
Because you’re in a hurry
And we’re not that smart

As somebody who likes to read and write, I am constantly striving to learn, expand, and unearth more about myself and the art with which I work.  Two years ago, this inborn search led me to a short video series by Youtube’s channel Geek&Sundry known as “The Sword and Laser.”  After rapidly completing that book-lover’s extravaganza, I learned about a set of free, online writing courses made available by Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite fantasy authors.  These courses are fantastic and may also be found on Youtube under the channel Write About Dragons.  However, this still was not enough to satisfy the curiosity pouring out of my soul.  In truth, each of these series managed to only stir the pot of my desires.  My aspiration to write, at least in my mind’s eye, was growing quickly from a state of dreamhood to reality.

So through Write About Dragons I discovered yet another avenue for learning: Writing Excuses, an online podcast orchestrated by Sanderson and two of his closest friends, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler (http://www.writingexcuses.com/).  In the later seasons, they would be joined by esteemed author and master of puppets, Mary Robinette Kowal, to form the team of four who would remain for the duration of the series.

Each of these authors is deeply invested and respected within the contemporary genre fiction market.  Sanderson is best known for completing the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, as well as massive fantasy hits such as the Mistborn and Stormlight Archives series.  Wells specializes in horror, having produced books such as I Am Not a Serial Killer and Partials, with their own respective series.  Tayler does his share of prose writing as well, but is best known as the author and illustrator for Schlock Mercenary, a webcomic that specializes in humor but isn’t afraid to hit a little harder.  Kowal tackles what are generally more regal stories (though she dips her feet in many different genres) and pitches her writing notoriously as “Jane Austin with magic.”  Kowal is also considered something of the short-story specialist of the group, and some of her biggest works are Shades of Milk and Honey and Evil Robot Monkey (which has an amusing origin story that I, unfortunately, cannot explain right now).

WX-Hugo-win-photo-by-Andrew-Williams

Writing Excuses wins a Hugo Award. From left to right, it’s Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Brandon Sanderson. Dan Wells is notably absent from the photo (I believe he was on tour overseas at this time, but could be mistaken).

Among these four, diverse power-houses, a rich and vast wealth of knowledge can be found.  In hopes to keep the attention of their listeners, and to ensure they don’t get off topic, the podcasters compress every weekly installment (usually released Monday mornings) into roughly fifteen minutes–the perfect length for a commute to work.  They also play host to guest stars, of which dozens of different, helpful individuals have contributed to the podcast throughout the years.  Some of these people, to name a scarce few, are Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind), James Dashner (The Maze Runner), John Scalzi (The Old Man’s War), and Eric James Stone (That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made).

These episodes are chocked to the brim with humor, playful wit, companionable advice, writing of both broad topics and the extremely specific, and a strange–dare I say it–sense of adventure.  These are people who, on more than one occasion, expose you to the innermost parts of their hearts, and in a remote sense, after listening to them for so long, also act as mentors and friends.  They don’t stay cooped up in a little internet box.  When they can, they’ll take their show live to conventions and other large venues where thousands of fans gather, submit questions, and participate.  Nowadays, having won and been nominated for various Hugo Awards, Podcast Awards, and Parsec Awards, Writing Excuses has amassed enough of a following to hold full-blown writing retreats, which may last to up an entire week.  This year’s retreat is the biggest yet, as it will be held on The Independence of the Seas cruise ship.  A cruise ship.  For a writing workshop and retreat.

Guys, let me level with you for a second: there is some legit stuff going down on this playground.

If you’re wondering what sort of subjects they talk about, allow me to enlighten you.  Keep in mind, though, that as they have literally hundreds of episodes, there is far more material available than I’m going to share here.  There’s also a little bit of topic recycling every once in a while, but the episodes are kept so far apart, and vary so much in detail, that it’s hardly worth mentioning.

Some example episodes include:

“Hiding an Open Grave”
“Writing Reluctant Characters”
“What The Avengers Did Right”
“Abnormal Psychology”
“Writing Love Scenes”
“Man vs. Nature”
“Character Foils”
“The Hollywood Formula”
“Query Letters”
“How to Break Into the Young Adult Market”
“Four Ways the Industry is Changing”
“The Business of Writing Comics”
“World-Building Flora and Fauna”
“World-Building Communications Technology”
“Brainstorming Urban Fantasy”
“Steampunk with Scott Westerfeld”
“Visual Components of Storytelling”

And so… much… more.  They cover a spectrum including not only the nuts and bolts of how to make the story, but even what it’s like being a professional author, how to enter the writing industry, how to approach agents, how to understand royalties, understanding the health concerns of that career, and all of the other stuff that both aspiring and established authors can and should know.

The best part? Writing Excuses is clean.  The hosts strive to maintain a family-friendly rating, so any profanity or inappropriate comments are extremely rare (and often accidental if they show up at all).  That being said, you should still be mindful while listening, as they will sometimes refer to sexuality or violence in a professional manner.

A lot of their sponsorship comes from Audible, which includes them suggesting an audiobook every episode, often related to that week’s topic in some form.  I’ll admit, I was sucked into this ploy.  And thank goodness for it, because Audible, I’ve come to learn, is a miasma of butt-kickery (let’s pretend this is a word).

To wrap up each episode, as with icing on a cake, they present the listeners with a writing prompt.  Some of these prompts fall flat, often victims of inside jokes from that episode, while others are fascinating and engage the deep and curious parts of your inner author.

All in all, if you’re an aspiring author, or have thought about pursuing writing as a hobby, then I couldn’t recommend Writing Excuses more.  The detail to the art and personalities of the hosts merge in such an excellent way that you’ll want to spearhead the entire series from beginning to end.  If that seems like an overwhelming task, don’t worry, they address that very issue in one of the later seasons.  Writing Excuses shows no sign of going anywhere, so take all the time you need.  Absorb it, assimilate the knowledge and experience into your soul, and let it pour forth into your work.  Happy writing, ladies and gentlemen.

God bless, never give up, and always remember to smile.

P.S. The fourth of these following links will take you to Amazon where you can purchase Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology, a series of short stories as written by the Writing Excuses cast.

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Verse of the Day – Colossians 3:1
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.”

Song of the Day – “The Stand” by Hillsong

Cooper D Barham

Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'

4 Comments

  1. calligraphie on March 20, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a very good article… but
    what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

  2. silasgreen on December 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Awesome article! I’ve watched quite a few of Sanderson’s Write About Dragons lectures, and they were great. I’m definitely going to be checking this podcast out when I get the chance. In a sea of resources for aspiring writers; sometimes we need someone to direct us to the most helpful ones. Thank you. 🙂

    • Cooper D Barham on December 7, 2014 at 1:41 am

      As far as I’ve found, this is definitely the most helpful. Glad I could be of service. 🙂

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