Thursday, April 8, 2010

Writing Improvement Program

Today's nugget of wisdom comes from James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers. I recently read and fell in love with this book, so this won't be the last time you see me mention it on here. I think it's a great read for new writers as well as published writers.

I love Bell's idea for a writing improvement program, although I haven't had a chance to develop one for myself. Once I stop popping out babies, I hope to have a little more time on my hands and engage in more deliberate craft studies.

Bell has a Writing Improvement Notebook, in which he has three sections. The first he calls Exemplars, in which he keeps paragraphs or pages from novels that really sing. The second is Outside Comments. In that section he keeps comments he gets from critique groups, readers, editors, etc. These are reminders to himself of what he needs to work on. And the last is Self Study. This is for overcoming weak areas in your writing by setting up a self-study program. The example he gives is this: might need one called "Creating Sympathetic Characters. Write out a
specific thesis question: How can I create characters that readers will bond
with on an emotional level

Suggestions Bell has are making a list of novels you've read where you connected with the characters. Select a handful of those, then re-read them with the study question in mind, looking for how the author accomplished this.

In my self-study section (to clarify, I've taken time to make the notebook, but have yet to put it to much use), I wrote that I wanted to create "bigger" and more interesting plots. So that's what I'll be working on.

Happy writing everyone!


  1. This is a really cool idea. When I have some spare time, I should really (a) read Bell's book and (b) do some more or this stuff. At this point, the lesson I keep hammering into my brain is "Don't be lazy--listen to yourself." Time and again my critters mark things that I knew sounded off but just hadn't fixed. I think once I can get to the point where I trust that "off" feeling, it'll mean less for the rest of you to do. ;-)

  2. I'm not a person who reads a ton of craft books, but I LOVE this one.

    And we usually see your manuscripts pretty early on. There's a lot of things in my manuscripts that sound off to me in the first draft, but I don't hassle with fixing it until the second one.