Author Archives: mnj23

Pretty Good

Megan Norris Jones

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule, which states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. This notion is both encouraging and discouraging. It’s encouraging because it means if I practice, I can become good. It has inspired me to dedicate time to my craft and consciously cultivate the skills I lack. It’s discouraging when I consider how long 10,000 take to rack up when I squeeze writing time into 15-30 minute increments. This is going to take a while.

Then I heard a TED Talk by Josh Kaufman, and he introduced me to the 20-hour rule. In it, he argues that, while it might take 10,000 hours to master a skill, 20 hours of deliberate practice can make you decent at most things. Continue reading

The Rest of Life

Megan Norris Jones

I heard Kate DiCamillo speak at a book festival last year, and she described getting a job at a warehouse when she first got serious about writing. The job gave her time to write, but it also gave her the mental space to write. She spent her work day using her body and then her writing day using her mind. It created a balanced life.

That kind of balance is hard to come by, but it’s vital for a writer to produce good work. And it’s a concept I’ve been learning the hard way. Continue reading

Make Your Scene Better by Making It Worse

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones

I’m not a risk taker. I’m not drawn to danger. I always look before I leap. My prudence has brought me a pleasant and happy life. But pleasant and happy lives, however great for living, do not make  great fiction. So, when I am writing, I have to fight my own instincts to do things the careful way. My characters are not my children who need to be protected. What they really need is a spark of danger to get their story going.

I have been working on a sequence in my work in progress that I thought would be lovely and enjoyable, but instead it was stagnant and just plain dull.  I finally realized that I was being too careful with my characters. Instead of bringing them conflict, I was working to protect them. Continue reading

An Optimist Learns Objectivity

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones

As an optimist, I assume the best about my writing. Of course I’m writing (almost) every day. Of course my manuscript is coming along beautifully. I’ll be finished in a couple of months.

When I completed WriteOwls’ Write by Midnight in February, the most useful tool in the whole month was the daily writing log. And it’s because I’m an optimist.

When I actually recorded my daily writing progress, I could no longer simply assume the best. If I didn’t write one day, that day had a big blank line beside it. And that objective record forced me to be realistic instead of just optimistic about my writing. Continue reading

Books for Improving Your Craft

Megan Norris Jones

Megan Norris Jones

I’ve been reading a number of books on writing lately, so I’d like to share a few recommendations with you.

1. The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield.
Most of the books on writing that I have devoured over the years have looked at putting together an entire novel, but this book drills down to the level of the individual scene and delves into what makes these building blocks of a novel work. It’s a thoughtful and insightful guide to this aspect of storytelling, and I learned a lot in the process of reading it that I’m looking forward to incorporating into my own writing.

2. Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison.
Pattison taught an intensive course on revision at the conference I attended in September, but I couldn’t get up there a day early to attend it, so my sweet husband bought me the book as a consolation prize. It’s as much a workbook as an instruction manual, so wait on this one till you have a finished draft in hand. I already have a running list of things that need to be improved in the next draft of my manuscript, but digging into Pattison’s perspective on revision gave me a solid approach to the process.

3. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
Written by two editors, this book gives great advice on improving your own writing that can take it from mediocre to exceptional. My favorite aspect was that most examples came from manuscripts the authors had actually edited, so I could see how to apply the advice in real life. A passage that sounded just fine to me would be taken to the next level with their editing techniques.

What books have you found most helpful in developing your craft?