Wednesday, June 2

The Art of War for Writers - One

I like martial arts.  I was able to take a semester of intro to martial arts, where we spent half the semester learning judo (read falling on purpose [properly], pinning an opponent, and getting out of being pinned - great fun!), half the semester learning karate (yelling, kicking, punching, blocking, and katas [forms - a way to display the techniques one knows]), and a couple other martial arts for a couple of weeks, of which Aikido was my favorite (for it's simple defensive moves that make one's attacker defeat himself).

But that's not what The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell is.  Not exactly.

I'm reading this book, and I've gotten through the first four chapters in Part I: Reconnaissance.  It was given to me as a gift, and I figured it was high time I read through the whole thing.  So far, it's got some pretty funny and dead on tidbits, wake-up calls, and advice, perfect for writers.  Some of the things that have stood out to me in the first four chapters are the hero and fool comparison on pages 16-17, the writer's list on pages 11-13, and the short section of quotes to respond to on pages 13-15.

Know the difference between a hero and a fool.  Chapter 3 of a page and a half is a brief but useful and amusing comparison between the two states of mind.  It can be a nice reminder if you're not acting like the fool that you are on the right track, even if you don't feel heroic.  If you are acting like the fool, well, you'd better change that or you're in trouble.

The writer must understand the essentials of success for a long-term writing career, and count the cost accordingly.  To be a writer, you've got to want it.  Chapter 2 provides a list of characteristics that writers should possess or develop.  Some of it comes down to "if at first you don't succeed" and "never stop learning" - two bits of advice many of our parents gave us when we were children, but good advice to be reminded of nonetheless.

After the list of characteristics, the book offers its first interactive challenge.  Read the quotes from George Bernau, Phyllis Whitney, and Jack Woodford and respond in the text's pages with your honest reaction (writing in a printed book is not always easy for me - I used a pencil).

What say you to Jack Woodford's statement?  I'll be back to share my reaction.
In Boot Camp, tough sergeants deliberately try to break the morale of inducted men.  Those who break they send back to civilian life, or to some more or less ignominious chore in army life.  There are two or three hundred thousand 'writers' who 'write at' writing in this country.  Ninety percent of them make next to nothing.  The few who do get by are those who were not "broken" in the Boot Camp of their own wills, or lack of same. 
(Jack Woodford as quoted in The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. p14-15. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2009.)


  1. When it all comes down to it, I think, at least for me, "boot camp" is a state of mind. It's easy to get caught up in the money-making/sales aspect of writing, which is definitely great, (not to mention necessary for someone who makes writing their career), but if a writer stops writing primarily because they LOVE it, they've lost something invaluable. Boot camp is a combination of having the discipline to learn all you can and be the best writer you can be, motivated by the kind of passion that keeps you going after 10, 20, 100 rejections.

    Semper fi! ;)

  2. I love the advice. I agree that for a writer to be a success, he has to want it. There is just too much rejection and hard work to make it worth it without that desire.


  3. I took Holly Lisle's writing course How to Think Sideways. She's a big fan of Sun Tzu's Art of War. One whole lesson is devoted to Sun Tzu's words on gathering spies. She says a writer needs spies in order to gather intel. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing. :)

  4. i agree with the two comments above and i also think you can relate it to a writer trying their hand at a field because they think it will make them money, not because they enjoy the field. it's obvious in the writing. there is no passion, no flow and no success.
    sounds like a good read! nice post :)

  5. oop make that the three posts above. must have been away from the computer a little to long... :)

  6. Thanks, ladies! I enjoy reading your reactions. It's fun to see how we can each get something a little different out of the same thing. Good thoughts.

  7. New follower here. Love this post. Nice to meet you!

  8. Thank you, Matthew! I'm hoping to resume the post series in the near future. Glad to have you here.