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Bestselling author Brandon Mull says inspiration and time are key elements to successful writing

Brandon Mull stands behind a computer at a podium. Behind him is a projector screen with a photo of his book "Dragonwatch."

Brandon Mull, a New York Times bestselling author, spent the week of Nov. 4 at BYU–Hawaii sharing how inspiration can come from random words and family members and how giving himself time to get published helped him improve as a writer. Mull encouraged students to turn their passions into a possible career and livelihood for the future.

Mull is well-known for writing “Fablehaven,” “Dragonwatch,” “Five Kingdoms,” and more. He came to BYUH to be one of the four judges of the Great Ideas Competition on campus and also was a key speaker at events like dinners, podcast interviews and showcases.

Joseph Plicka, associate professor of English, said Mull “is here for the Great Ideas Competition sponsored by the Willes Center. He is a guest judge, so he has a lot of stuff going on with that.

“We would like to think, even though he is here with the business program, this is his spiritual home, right here with the fans and the English folks.” Mull said he wholeheartedly agreed.


Inspiration

As Mull described where his inspiration came from, he said the list ranges from his own family members to random little details. One example he gave was how his brother inspired the “Fablehaven” character Seth Sorenson. “My brother Bryson was a recklessly curious kid. He always had a camouflage shirt, which is why Seth wears a camouflage shirt.”

Showing a picture from his childhood, Mull shared, “Dangling from [Bryson’s] belt is a granola bar emergency survival gear, the kind a kid would make with rubber bands and a magnifying glass. I put a lot of those details into Seth. My son Chase aged up into a Seth, so now I get some inspiration from him.”

At other times, Mull said his inspiration for characters comes from the most random, and sometimes, the most unusual places. “Muriel the witch [from “Fablehaven”] is actually a really great illustration of how unpredictable where my stories come from can be. My sister was reading how there was a word in Arabic associated with witchcraft and witches. It could be translated into ‘one who blows on knots.’”

He said his first thoughts when he heard this was how creepy it was. He shared how he thought, “That’s kind of wrong in this interesting way. I really need to tell kids about this. Let’s have a witch in ‘Fablehaven’ who is imprisoned by a knotted rope and can’t get free unless she gets every last knot untied.

“No matter how hard she bites and tears at that knot, it just won’t come untied. If someone blows on the knot, makes a wish, and the wish comes true, the knot will unravel. She is one knot closer to freedom.”


Why fantasy?

Mull said fantasy helped him learn to love to read, starting with “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Before this book, he shared how he was always trying to find excuses not to read, but when he read this book, the story came alive in his head.

“For me,” he explained, “the big imagination of that story made me understand what a story could do, and reading could be fun. After that, I began reading lots of fantasy stories, which led me to read all sorts of stories. Usually, I like a story with an adventure. Whether it is fantasy, real, in a time of war, or historical fiction, I like it to have some adventure."

Mull always wanted to end up in a fantasy world, he noted. “I wanted to cross into another world, be king of the monsters, rule that place, and be very celebrated. When that didn’t happen, I started doing it in my head. I started daydreaming about adventures and going to other worlds. This is what started the storytelling engine in my mind.”


Becoming a writer

“As I got older,” Mull continued, “I kept on daydreaming. The stories in my head got cooler. It reached a point where the stories in my mind were like seeing a really awesome movie. They were better than a lot of the movies I had seen. They were better than a lot of the books I had read, but I had no way to share them.”

This is when Mull decided to try to write his stories down, he shared. At first, he said he couldn’t figure out how to get the stories in his head to translate to the page, so he turned to his favorite authors for advice and inspiration.

“Little by little, I got better at it. This is a process that took years to even get decent at it. It is a process I am still trying to get better at. One of my whole premises for my life is there is always a better story to tell and always a better way to tell it.”


Getting published

Mull said after five years of hard work, his second written novel “Fablehaven” was finally published. He shared how after his first novel was published, he was able to have an easier time with writing and publishing his writing.

Mull also shared he was able to market his books successfully due to his past career in entertainment marketing.

Jaedon Schafer, a BYUH alumnus from Canada, conducted the podcast interview with Mull. He said Mull had a big impact on him because he studied marketing here. “I was honestly blown away by the fact that he was so well-versed in publishing and his work, but also in the marketing and promoting he does for his work.”

After “Fablehaven,” Mull went onto write and get published the “Five Kingdoms” series, the “Beyonders” series, and the “Dragonwatch” series, along with various other writings.

Another reason Mull was able to succeed, he said, was his readers. “As I reduce [stories] down to words and give it to a reader, I hope the reader can bring it back to life in their minds. Reading a story is one of the most creative forms of entertainment.

“The story doesn’t live on the page. It only comes to life in the mind of the reader. It is a beautiful medium because you get rewarded for being smart and having a good imagination.”


Give yourself time to succeed

Based on his years of trying to get “Fablehaven” published, Mull shared how his main piece of advice to prospective writers and entrepreneurs would be to allow time to progress to your best self.

He said giving yourself time is not a sign of failure or weakness, but a sign of progression and letting yourself become the best you can be in your chosen path of life.

Mull said giving himself time to hone his writing skills benefited his work in many ways since his writings when he was 15 and twenty-something, for instance, were not as good as his writings at 33 years old.

With this idea of taking time, Mull said students need to relax instead of rushing through work. He said the only way to truly be successful is to simply allow time for it to happen and to work hard.


Passions turned commercial

Admitting writing is a risky career to go into, Mull shared he kept his day job, leaving writing to be his beloved hobby.

Mull said he realized he was okay with not being paid to write yet and decided to spend his spare time writing and working on his skills.

His main piece of advice in this area was students need to find a way to make their hobbies and passions commercial and profitable.

Mull shared after he became a published author, his job turned into providing fresh and exciting content to his new following of readers. He said in order for books to become successful, they should be worthy to be recommended to a friend from a friend.

He shared although this is easier said than done, it is up to the individual to be creative in how they turn their passions into a possible career and livelihood in the years to come.