How did you become a writer?
I always wanted to write. In fact, always wrote. Made up stories all through elementary school. But then I got into sports in junior high and that took over. But a great high school English teacher got hold of me and told me I had talent and to keep writing.
In college I got into some writing classes, including one taught by Raymond Carver, and got convinced I didn’t have what it took. I mean, Raymond Carver? And I couldn’t plot. I thought writers just sat down and great plots flowed from their fingertips. I believed what I now call The Big Lie: you can’t learn how to write fiction.
I believed that for a long time. Then one day I realized I had to try to learn to write, that it was what I wanted to do, and I was darn well going to give it a go. And lo and behold I did learn. It took time and effort, but I began to figure it out. And sell my work.
And once I started selling I never stopped.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
Early influences were The Hardy Boys and Edgar Rice Burroughs. In high school, believe it or not, Richard Brautigan. He, to use the argot of the time, blew my mind. In college came William Saroyan, Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler.
Later, learning the craft, I turned to first to Dwight Swaine, Jack Bickham and Lawrence Block. I still love to read books and articles on the craft. My philosophy is if I pick up just one thing, or get a new spin on something I already know, it’s worth it.
When and where do you write?
I start at my home office in the early morning hours. I love getting up while it’s still dark and making the coffee for me and Mrs. Bell. Then I try to do what I call a “nifty 350” number of words. Sometimes a “furious 500.” That makes the writing day (and reaching my quota) so much easier.
What are you working on now?
I am one of these writers who has several projects going at any one time. I just turned in the third book in a zombie legal thriller series to Kensington. I have several projects in the works for self-publishing (I love that shorter fiction is back), and a thriller I’m developing with my agent.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Never have. I attribute that to what I answer in your next question.
What’s your advice to new writers?
The best piece of advice I got, right at the beginning, was to write to a quota. I write six days a week, and aim for a weekly quota of words. That way, if I miss a day, I don’t get riled up. I can do extra on the other days.
You do that day after day, week after month, you look up and there you’ll have a completed novel. That’s a very good feeling. Lather, rinse, revise and repeat.
James Scott Bell is the author of several bestselling books for writers, including Plot & Structure and The Art of War for Writers. He is an award-winning suspense author and a finalist for a 2012 International Thriller Writers Award for One More Lie. His website is: www.jamesscottbell.com