K.M. Weiland and Go Teen Writers, to pick up helpful community with other writers. But this year I wanted to delve into more books about the writing craft, so I picked up James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers, after a glowing recommendation from a friend. It made for an enjoyable day's reading while working election polls.
Based off Sun Tzu's war tactic quotes, James Scott Bell puts together a classy volume of writing advice. He divides it into three sections: Reconnaissance (the mental disciplines required in writing), Tactics (tips on the craft itself) and Strategy (navigating the publishing industry). The basic common sense is surprising in its simplicity, but remarkably refreshing as well. It's written in a conversational style, like a one-on-one meeting you might experience at a writer's conference. A fast read, with some snazzy binding layout, it provides writers with the best of battle advice: that which is clear, and that which is necessary.
To be honest, I don't know if it would have helped me to read writing advice sooner or not. I picked apart what I liked in literature simply by reading good books and writing blog reviews. Then I wrote a story I liked. But I view writing advice as taking your weapon to a sharpening stone, or cleaning your gun. It gives you the encouragement of knowing you're on the right track, and provides a fresh round of ammunition for the next stage of the writing journey.
My favorite part was how short each chapter was--most of them being 2 or 3 5x7 pages. Easy to get through, boiled down to the cleanest, most pithy advice Bell could muster. Whether you're a mother, a student, or simply a busy stay-at-home daughter, that makes for easy read. :) I enjoyed going through a section and then thinking about it as I attended to other duties.
The best exercise was in section 21 when Bell has you take a few of the movies and books that have impacted you most deeply and pick apart the elements that you are passionate about. Including one or more of these elements in each project, he says, adds a deeper level to any book you take on. To keep a high quality of writing, he encourages readers to scan over this list every so often, to make sure they're not getting off track with their main vision. I found that passion points for me were justice, mercy, passion, perseverance, suffering, friendship, and heroes that set my soul on fire.
Another encouraging light bulb moment was in section 29, where he discusses making improvements outside your comfort zone. Sometimes, to really make a character pop off the page (especially for an introverted writer) you have to write their actions and thoughts more explicitly than you yourself would prefer. Bell encouraged writers to delve deeper into the emotions of the character and write it out clearly and vulnerably on paper. I found that to be a rewarding exercise in my last War of Loyalties rewrite. As Bell says, you can always scale it back later. A couple of times I did--but most times I ended up with a scene much better than the original, because I pushed myself.
One of my biggest insecurities was how my writing day looked like--if it was normal and efficient enough. In section 76, Bell collected a 'typical writing day' from a variety of successful authors, and it helped to see that mine really wasn't much different than theirs--especially during the editing stage, when it's basically scarf pizza, sleep, and walk around like a zombie.
Some of it is basic methodology that I had knocking around in my head but never bothered to put into words. This book is crisp, reassuring, and avoids writing fads (the biggest detriment to young writers). It gives experienced advice to avoid the worst tactics and pitfalls in the war of words. I highly enjoyed it, and recommend it to any of my writing friends.