What I Learned About Motivation from James Scott Bell

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Don’t Leave Me, Try Dying and Watch Your Back. His novella One More Lie was the first self-published work to be nominated for an International Thriller Writers Award.

Under the pen name K. Bennett, he is also the author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series, which begins with Pay Me in Flesh. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writer’s Digest Books, including: Revision & Self-Editing for Publication, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense.  Look out for his last two thrillers: Don’t Leave Me and Blind Justice. You can find him on Twitter (@JamesScottBell), and on Facebook.

I first met James Scott Bell at a Writer’s Digest Conference, where he was speaking on the revision process. Aside from being a charismatic and engaging speaker (little surprise given that he almost pursued a career in theater), I was especially impressed with the volume of work he has produced. From suspense novels to novellas about vigilante nuns, from zombie legal thrillers to books about the craft of writing, it seems like Bell is not afraid to tackle almost any subject.

How does he do it? How does he hammer out all those words and stay motivated? Here’s a technique he shared. It might sound familiar because it’s what inspired the Ten Percent Rule in the HABITS method featured in a recent DIY MFA video. Bell says:

“Get a blank calendar and black out all time obligations. Choose your writing time and set a weekly quota of words you can comfortably manage, then up that by 10%. Make that your goal each week.”

Probably my favorite book by Bell is The Art of War for Writers, in which he takes inspiration from Sun Tzu and adapts it to the writing life. That book helped me get through the process of writing my thesis, and should be on every writer’s shelf of go-to books on craft. Full of clever pieces of advice that every writer could benefit from hearing, such as “Whining will not help you win the battle of publication”.

As for the books that inspired him, Bell was pulled into the world of suspense with the book The House on the Cliff, one of the Hardy Boys novels. Though he also enjoyed getting into the classics, through the classics illustrated graphic novels. These may have been his early inspirations, but since then he has widened his list of admired authors to include Stephen King, John D. MacDonald, and Evan Hunter, all prolific writers. For extra motivation while writing, he surrounds himself with pictures of these writers.

Prolific certainly describes Bell as well. This year alone he has published Don’t Leave Me and Blind Justice, two thrillers. Creating engaging thrillers and complex plots seems to come naturally to Bell. When I asked him for advice I could pass on to DIYMFA, Bell had this to say:

“Produce the words and study the craft. Those are the parallel tracks upon which the train of your success will run.”  –James Scott Bell

I am delighted to announce that James Scott Bell one of the speakers featured at DIY MFA’s Lit Loft 2013. He’ll be speaking on plot, but given the breadth of his expertise, I’m betting he’ll have tons of insights to share on other areas of writing as well. I am so pleased to be hosting him at Lit Loft this year and can’t wait to reveal the rest of the Lit Loft line-up these next few weeks.




James Scott Bell will be discussing Plot at Lit Loft.
Are you ready for Lit Loft? Register today!



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