07 June 2013

The Art of War for Writers, A Review

The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell stands alone in this series of reviews thus far.  Bell has developed a book that is so straightforward and filled with such useful yet broad advice, that it's hard to classify it.

The Art of War for Writers makes writing feel more epic, which is something that all of us need now and then.  Seamus Heaney isn't exactly sitting over our shoulders, churning out verses of our heroic entanglements with the Grendels of our own doubts, you know?  Now, if in fact Seamus Heaney does do that for you, we should maybe hang out sometime, if you're not too busy.  (Please?)

Seriously however, James Scott Bell delivers advice drawn from his own experiences as a prolific writer as well as other greats as John D. MacDonald (mystery writer extraordinaire) and Stephen King.  The main thrust of this book isn't actually how to make one better at writing, but how to make one self a better writer in the professional sense.  Bell offers strategies and tactics on how to develop the discipline and will necessary to become a real writer - in the published sense.  The fact of the matter, he argues, boils down to one thing: professionalism.  Basically, agents and editors don't invest in books - they invest in careers, so while you're out querying that new masterpiece that is absolutely the best book that you can produce right now, you ought to be also working on your next project.

James Scott Bell's advice also focuses on strategies for expanding one's craft, from utilizing pseudo-cut-up techniques (William S. Burroughs style) to closing one's eyes to squelch the inner-critic.  You won't be disappointed by this seemingly strange advice, if for no other reason than it forces you to reexamine your work in a new way.

This would be an excellent text for graduate and upper-level undergraduate writing classes, not because of the advice on developing craft (although The Art of War for Writers offers some excellent tidbits on that as well), but because it will instill the necessity for looking at writing as a career - that means one is in it for the long haul.

"The trick is not in becoming a writer, it is staying a writer" (Harlan Ellison, excerpted from The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell, 12).

Thanks for reading, now get to writing!
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