Each year, a group of BYU students crowd around their computers in anticipation, waiting to apply to the English 318R workshop class — a highly sought course taught once a year by the notable high fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Sanderson.
Sanderson is a BYU alumnus who received his bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in creative writing. He has been teaching the English workshop class since 2004.
Due to Sanderson’s tight schedule, he only has time to teach one section of creative writing each winter semester. According to his website, he enjoys helping aspiring writers.
To apply to the class, students are required to submit the first chapter of a novel they are currently working on along with some information about themselves. They have one hour to complete and submit the application.
According to Sanderson’s website, of all the applications received, a random 65 will be read, and from those 65, 15 applicants will be chosen and accepted to the workshop.
Students who don’t formally get accepted into the class can audit the course and attend lectures in the winter semester, but they will not receive a grade or receive help from Sanderson.
Sanderson also uploads all of his courses to his YouTube channel, which is free for the public to watch.
Reagan Larsen, a junior studying cybersecurity and an aspiring author from Twin Falls, Idaho, applied to the course but was not accepted. Larsen will be taking Sanderson’s audit class in the winter semester.
“He’s what I would consider one of, if not the best, in his field. He’s a very well-known, established author. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written and I’ve just loved it,” Larsen said when explaining why he decided to apply to Sanderson’s workshop class.
Larsen described how there are high expectations for the quality of writing for those who apply and are accepted into the course.
“What you do is submit the first chapter of a book you are working on and it’s supposed to be almost ready to send off to an agent for publishing. That’s kind of the quality they are looking for,” Larsen said.
Larsen explained most students who get accepted into the class have already written multiple novels before applying. He has written two to three novels and is planning on publishing his first novel.
When Sanderson graduated with his bachelor’s in 2004, he had written seven novels that he struggled to publish due to the length of the manuscripts.
Sean Lundgren, a BYU English alumnus and author of the Shadow of the Hero series, shared insights into the publishing industry and why multiple publishers may have rejected Sanderson.
“It’s one of those things, by rule, publishers really won’t publish books with words over 100,000 in your first book because it’s a big risk, and it’s a lot of time, money and effort,” Lundgren said. “When you get more well-known, then you can do it. But Brandon Sanderson broke that rule of the industry by keeping to his larger book format that he wanted to write in.”
Lundgren mentioned Sanderson is now working on publishing those rejected manuscripts he wrote during his undergraduate years.
Since his time as a student, Sanderson has found incredible success. As of 2023, Sanderson has published 71 books with more on the way. Some of his most popular novels are Elantris, the Mistborn series and the Way of Kings series.
Lundgren said Provo has become a hub for the sci-fi author community, noting that Provo hosts an annual sci-fi/fantasy writers convention, “Life in The Universe and Everything” each year. He stated LTUE is the largest convention in the U.S. for the genre.
The prominence of sci-fi/fantasy authors in Utah has led many people to question why Utah specifically has produced so many authors in this particular genre. Lundgren believes it is largely because of the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Utah communities.
“I think that it really builds up in this area. It’s a little more fostered and welcomed here,” Lundgren said when giving possible reasons as to why creativity is encouraged in Utah.
Thousands of people have taken Sanderson’s workshop class since he began teaching in 2004. Many students believe his class had a great influence on them and their writing careers.
Sarah Adams took Sanderson’s class in 2009 as an English major and said taking his class helped her become a better writer.
“Without a doubt he helped me become a better writer. I learned to avoid a lot of pitfalls new authors tend to get hung up on. I felt encouraged in what I had already written, and feel like I was able to improve in a lot of ways,” Adams said.
She explained in the class she was able to work in groups with other aspiring writers and with Sanderson himself. Sanderson encouraged students to peer review each other’s work and would also meet with each group throughout the semester to read and critique stories himself.
“It was so helpful and encouraging and created a wonderful space to be creative and share what you’ve written,” Adams expressed.
Many if not all students who take Sanderson’s workshop class have desires to become fantasy, sci-fi writers and are serious about their work. However, many also choose to audit his class because they want to learn from an author who inspires them.
Andrew Hansen, a junior studying mechanical engineering from Spokane, Washington, audited Sanderson’s last fall and said although he has no intention of becoming an author, he simply appreciates good writing.
“Brandon Sanderson is one of my heroes because of his books. They’re not just great stories, they have a lot of meaning behind them,” Hansen continued. “They have definitely helped define who I am through those stories, and they’ve helped me get through some difficult moments in my life. I wanted to see and meet first-hand the person who gave me those things.”