Last week, I was a vandal. Or, at least I felt like one. A local bookstore is in the process of closing its doors and I helped give them a final shove by raiding their shelves. Schuler’s on Alpine Ave was one of my favorite places to go. My wife and I would go there on dates. We took the kids there so much that my when my oldest was one she would always pretend to leave and when we asked her where she was going she always replied, “to the bookstore!” every time.
While I was being a villain, I bought a copy of the book Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell. It is subtitled Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells. Now, I have never believed that you buy a book, follow its principles, and say hello to a monster book contract. But, I believe that you should always be learning and growing and not become complacent if you want to succeed at the craft.
Mr. Bell loves teaching about writing, this is very plain. One of the first things he did when he was in the process of learning how to write a great novel, is read with a notebook and pen. At first I thought it would transform the pleasure of reading into an arduous experience. I was wrong.
In the opening Mr. Bell talks about his grand scheme to improve his golf game. He decides to by videos, subscribe to magazines and learn all he could about the tips and tricks of the game. Though he did this, it did not help. He got really frustrated and nearly gave up because, though he had the theory down, he could not do it. Learning it was one thing, doing it another. Just as he was about to give up, he met a golf instructor that showed him how simple household items like brooms and coat hangers and the like could help him ingrain the natural movements in golf. Soon, he was better at the game. His body knew how a good swing or putt felt.
This is why reading with a notebook in hand is wonderful. You can write down your own tips as you read your favorite books. You get the feel of a great story or why a particular scene or character is so spot on. I’m reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and learning why it is so great. I am studying the chapters and the characters. I see the ballon of hope in Harry swell in three paragraphs, a one sentence paragraph plateau, and then three paragraphs tumbling him back to his horrible reality. I’ve learned how the technical part of dialogue and action followed by more conversation. And I’m better at comas.
There are endless things to learn about the craft and Mr. Bell is a great guide for fiction writers. I suggest if you want to get better, read a great work of fiction, and do so with a pen and notebook in hand.