Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is Writing All About?

James Scott Bell

Last month I received a lovely handwritten letter from a high school student (reproduced here with the writer's permission):

Dear Mr. Bell,

Thank you for your incredibly helpful books on fiction writing. "The Art of War for Writers" and "Revision and Self-Editing" have inspired me every time I open their pages. I first heard of you at a conference you held in Hilmar. I had an idea for a story at that time, and your "Art of War" book helped me realize what my idea could become. During my busy years in High School this story has been on the verge of death several times. Your books full of helpful exercises and encouragement helped me keep my story alive, and I am incredibly grateful. Your writing style is very natural and always leaves me refreshed. Thank you again, a hundred times!


How gratifying to get a letter (written on actual paper!) from a young lady who wants to write. She had come to a seminar I held in central California, and apparently my books have helped her.

That, to me, is what writing is all about. If I had to pick one thing to explain why I do this, it would be that I want to move people with words. If it's fiction, I want to create an intense emotional experience. If it's non-fiction, I hope to instruct and entertain at the same time.

All other things – money, awards, "fame," professional associations – are ancillary to this, because those things come only after you connect with enough readers, over time.


1. Why do you write?

2. If you had to distill what writing is "all about" in a sentence, what would that be?


  1. What a nice letter!

    As fortune would have it, while I was taking a brain-break this evening and surfing some writing related websites, I came across a few lines on Stanley Williams' blog that summarize perfectly why I write:

    "In reality, we cannot see forward or backward along our timeline or any one else's. But if we tell a story we can move through time and explain why things are, and how they could have been."

  2. The letter is not only kind and thoughtful but also punctuated properly. Attention has been given to spelling as well. I would like to shake the hands of the student, the student's parents, and the student's teacher. You just don't see that much anymore. Thanks for sharing, James.

  3. I began writing because there was a story I was burning to tell. I continue writing because the process of discovering a story is an intense emotional roller coaster ride...fulfilling and rewarding.

  4. Nice post, Jim. When I started to write my first book in 2003, I only had the thought of wanting to see if I could do it, to write something a publisher would take on. But I had no idea what writing would become to me.

    Writing has elevated my quality of life by opening my senses to the world around me, things I can see & not see. The world building, the emotional journeys of walking in a character's shoes, the challenge of storytelling, the amazing eye opening research--all of these things keep me addicted & definitely entertained. But I'm especially gratified when a reader contacts me to share why my book touched them personally.

    I've used the analogy that the writer's journey is only part of a circle. The reader completes that circle, but when the reader contacts the author to share their experience, that's a real gift.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jim.

  5. as jordan dane has inluded the reader in the circle...i would like to add a thank you for all the sacrifices of writers to make our discretionary time so much more wonderful. my husband says he's going to get a pic of me to attach to book covers so he remembers what i look like!!
    the only downside of so many great authors many books, so little time.

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  7. I started writing because I was really bored...really, really bored, but couldn't leave the job because it paid to well ... even though it was really, really, really boring. So I made up not boring stuff to keep me going.

    I keep writing, even though my job is not so boring anymore, because it gives me a chance to teach an object lesson, illustrate traits I think make the heart of a hero, and demonstrate the fact that anyone can strive for greatness.

    that and the fact that if I stop the edge of time will catch up and I'll plunge over the water fall at the end of the earth where the Langoliers will catch up to me and eat me.

    read a sample of my soon to be released new book Cold Summer here and meet one of the characters who defines my writing

  8. 1. It gives me a socially acceptable reason to be eccentric.

    2. It gives me a place to keep track of what the voices in my head are saying.

    3. It gives me an escape hatch from what, right now, is a pretty harsh existence.

    4. It allows me to connect with others, writers and readers.

    I had an ebook with a nano-pub and I'll forever cherish a one-star review. It was a little horror tale that poked some fun at wanna-bes and posers (vampires, witches, goths, etc.) I pissed off a pagan (I suspect a wannabe). Her review was scorching. What she didn't get was that in order to have some fun, I had to have a pretty thorough understanding of the subject. Her emotional state showed me that I had connected with her and gotten under her skin.


  9. Jim,
    I join this young writer in her words that say, "Your books full of helpful exercises and encouragement helped me keep my story alive, and I am incredibly grateful. Your writing style is very natural and always leaves me refreshed. Thank you again, a hundred times!"

    I write because it keeps me sane and on course.

    Writing is the fine art of story-telling, of reaching out through a page and capturing another persons imagination and then racing with them to the end for the sheer fun of it.

    Thank you again, Jim, a hundred times and much success to this young writer.

  10. I found your Art of War for Writers to be a great no-nonsense resource. I started writing because I couldn't hold a day job. I know it's a lousy reason, but I grew to love creating characters that my readers can't forget. To spark someone's imagination is an amazing thing.

  11. Thanks for the great comments and kind words. Good reasons all for the writing life, especially that bit justifying a touch of eccentricity (thanks, Terri). I usually have people in my workshops begin by turning to each other and saying, "I'm glad that you are as weird as I am."

  12. Writing for me is revealing a little bit of my soul with every story.

  13. I'm still not sure what writing is all about.

  14. I write because I have to. I'm in my zone when I have a few hours to write. Some can't be bothered with writing, others couldn't live without it and I'm just in the latter group.