Reading About The Craft Of Writing

was something I avoided for quite a while after I started trying to write fiction (mumble-mumble) years ago.  I suppose I was afraid the authors of such books would tell me I was doing it all wrong.  And I probably was, but at least I was trying.

In the mid 90s I joined a local multi-genre writers group, the Bay Area Writers League, but I knew I wanted to write novels.  I didn’t know I wanted to write romance novels until I discovered what was then called “futuristic romance,” the infant subgenre that eventually led writers to science fiction romance, urban fantasy, and various other branches of paranormal romance.  So I joined Romance Writers of America® and the local Houston Bay Area chapter.  Through those groups I attended workshops and conferences, and met the wonderful BK Reeves.  Her encouragement (and classes) gave me confidence, and showed me that books on writing could be both entertaining and helpful.

Since then I’ve read a lot of craft books.  Some I agreed with, some I did not, but I learned something from every one of them.  I certainly learned that you can read the same idea over and over again and barely notice it until one day that idea is exactly what you need.  I’ve given some away over the years, but I still have several bookshelf feet of craft books that I want to reread, or at least refer to from time to time.

My current favorite craft of writing author is James Scott Bell.  I have not read his fiction (he’s known for legal thrillers), but I have his books on Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing on that bookshelf, and The Art of War for Writers, a collection of essays and blog posts, on my Kindle.  When Amazon informed me (they know me all too well) that Bell had a new book out on Conflict & Suspense, I downloaded that, too.

I don’t really like reading craft books on my Kindle.  I don’t know what page I’m on, or where to go when an author says “more about that on page 165.”  I can’t flip back and forth to find some neat idea I want to reread.  On the other hand, I can pull the Kindle out of my bag and read through lunch, as I did this afternoon, or while waiting for the oil in my car to be changed.

So I can’t tell you what page to look at, but somewhere around the 65% mark, in Chapter 14, “Tools for Conflict,” I found a Really Neat Idea, one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas (for which Bell credits Sue Grafton, one of my favorite mystery authors–I’ve been a fan since A Is for Alibi was published).  Bell calls this the Novel Journal–a notebook (or computer file) used as a preface to the day’s writing, for recording bits of the writer’s life, stray thoughts from the middle of the night, ideas for the next scene or anything else that comes up, a place to gather all those loose ends that don’t fit into an outline or synopsis.  Grafton calls this an “interchange between Left Brain and Right.”  Bell recommends it for both OPs (Outline People, or Plotters) and NOPs (No Outline People, or Pantsers). 

The Novel Journal certainly ought to work for someone like me, who falls somewhere in the middle.  I’m going to pull out a fresh  spiral-bound notebook and try it.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. samuelshall
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 00:41:35

    Sounds like a fantastic idea! I may have to try that one.

    It’s always great to pursue and research an area that you are truly interested in when it comes to writing. In terms of getting there and pushing it, Ira Glass has a lot of fantastic quips about his own experience and advice. Here are a few that have helped me to stay above the writing ruts:

    “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    “It’s hard to make something that’s interesting. It’s really, really hard. It’s like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that’s written or anything that’s created wants to be mediocre. The natural state of all writing is mediocrity… So what it takes to make anything more than mediocre is such an act of will…”



  2. JanCCrow
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 07:30:12

    Kay, I must admit I hate reading craft books no the Kindle too. It’s harder to highlight on the kindle because I can’t flip pages and find what I’m looking for later. Yes, I can get a list of highlights, but there’s just something about picking up the book, flipping pages and finding what I was looking for.

    The spiral sounds like a wonderful idea. I’ve been reading James Scott Bell lately too.



  3. JanCCrow
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 07:31:31

    …on the Kindle. I shouldn’t post until I’ve had all my coffee.



  4. gerrybartlett
    Feb 26, 2012 @ 11:31:09

    His idea sounds a lot like the Morning Pages from the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I used to do this religiously and got a lot of angst out of the way before hitting the work. Interestingly, I did put down plot ideas too but never have used any of them. I dream plots but if they are big enough to need their own story, they usually haunt me until they work their way into a book. Maybe I’ll try the morning pages again. I used a legal pad and folded up the pages. I still find odd yellow packets when I’m cleaning out my filing cabinet. Makes interesting reading since they are about ten years old now and there is a lot of water under the bridge since then.



    • Kay Hudson
      Feb 26, 2012 @ 11:47:12

      I’ve never read Cameron, although I know a lot of people swear by her. My problem is that I never quite know what to do with all those stray ideas, too formless for any sort of organized recording. A notebook (which I might not even look at again, who knows?) might be the answer. I’ve kept a daily journal for many years (I’m having increasing trouble cramming the full notebooks into the filing cabinet drawer), but I rarely refer to it. Jo Anne says that’s how I process my day.



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