Write, Learn, Repeat

Guest Blogger: James Scott Bell

Somewhere inside me lurks the shadow of Erle Stanley Gardner.

Gardner, of course, wrote the Perry Mason series. He was at one time, right up into the 1960s, the world’s best-selling writer. It was a testimony to two things. First, his dogged determination. He wrote something like a million words a year for several years before he broke out. Second, he became a master of the essentials of entertaining fiction: a Lead character you cared about and plots that tested him to the limit. Perry always got the seemingly impossible case, and Hamilton Burger was certain this would be the one where he would clean Perry’s clock.

Not so. Perry always found a way to win, using his inductive and deductive powers as well as his in-court technique. And readers lapped it up.

Gardner was prolific. In his early days he got paid a penny a word (which is why he always used two names with the characters. It was always, Della Streetwalked in, followed by Paul Drake. Perry Mason said, “Hello, you two.”) That way he made an extra penny with no effort at all.

We are in a new day now with e-book publishing and that is a boon to writers who like to entertain and have more stories to tell than can be published in print form. My first straight-to-e-book, WATCH YOUR BACK, is a novella and three stories. The e-book format is the only way it would appear. And so it has. There will be more.

I like the feeling that we’re back in those days when Gardner pumped out stories and pulp magazines published them. And then his novels, too.

Learn from Gardner. To make it as a writer requires a strong work ethic and a continuing learning curve.

When you write, write. Don’t be thinking about trying to make it perfect the first time. Give yourself a quota of words for every week. Find what’s comfortable for you then up that by 10%. That should be your goal.

Then look at what you’ve written and figure out how to make it better. You can read books and magazines on writing, get critiques, go to conferences. Keep writing all the way through those things.

If you do those things—learn and write, write and learn—and never stop, you have a chance to do well as a writer. Old Calvin Coolidge, not the most quotable of Presidents, once said, “Persistence alone is omnipotent.”

Prove him right.

James Scott Bell is the author of the #1 bestselling book for writers, PLOT & STRUCTURE, as well as REVISION & SELF-EDITING and THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS, all from Writer’s Digest Books. He is also the author of several thrillers, including TRY DYING and DECEIVED. A former trial lawyer, he now writes full time and teaches when he can. He lives and writes in L.A.

Be sure to check out Jame Scott Bell’s “Selling Your Novel and Screenplay Intensive” coming up June 4th & 5th in Los Angeles.


  1. Ah, James Scott Bell is always inspirational. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the kind word, Julie. Glad to help other writers.

    BTW, the photo of me was taken in downtown L.A., not far from the old Hall of Justice, which is where Perry Mason tried his cases on TV.

  3. Great post. And I love the idea of having the freedom to package a novella and three short stories as an e-book. Thanks James, and thanks, Janice

  4. Of all the ways I’ve heard writing advice delivered, I think “When you write, write” is one of the best ways of putting it. Good luck with the novella.

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