I’ve never had the desire to read The Art of War, the ancient Chinese how-to war manual written by Sun Tsu. It seems like something only military historians or the Michael Douglas character in Wall Street would be interested in. But when I saw the cover of The Art of War for Writers, by James Scott Bell, I was drawn to it. No doubt this was partly due to the bright red color and the cover image of a fountain pen crossed with a ninja sword. (We know which one is mightier, right?) But I was also attracted by its implied messages of strategy and strength.
I admit it. Sometimes, as a writer, I‘m a total wuss. My psychological armor is rusty, I have no eye of the tiger, and my battle plans usually involve ingesting a rather unhealthy amount of chocolate and then taking a nap.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Following Sun Tsu’s example, The Art of War for Writers is divided into three sections:
1. Reconnaissance: about the “mental game of writing, because what happens in your head affects everything else;”
2. Tactics: practical techniques for improving craft; and
3. Strategy: how to move confidently through the tricky world of publishing.
Bell makes it clear that this book is “not a comprehensive ‘how-to’ on fiction.” (He has written two other books—Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing—for that). Indeed, this book offers the kind of advice you’d want to get if you were paying for it by the word—short, to the point, and tremendously valuable. It’s great reading cover-to-cover, but it’s also a book to pick up for specific advice at various points during the writing process.
For writers needing an attitude adjustment, I would recommend the chapters entitled “Whining will not help you win the battle for publication,” and “Turn envy into energy and more words.” For motivation: “Write hard, write fast, and the fire of creation will be yours.” For plot: “Progressive revelation keeps readers turning pages.” For dialogue: “The clever use of narrative dialogue will avoid the sin of small talk.”
This is a fun book, a helpful book, indeed a “field manual for all writing wretches.” I am one of those wretches, and I’m grateful that this book has sharpened my mental ninja-writing-sword.
Do you have a battle plan for writing?