Jack Woodville London Talks About Learning to Write by Reading and Becoming an Instructor

Boulder writers group imageBy Judy Rose, Contributing Editor

Jack Woodville London’s voice is that of a southern gentleman. Smooth. His life transitions appear to be equally smooth. For instance, his transition from writing legal briefs to creating fiction.

At the memory, the longtime lawyer’s face breaks into a wry grin. “Legal writing gives you free access to the world’s most severe critics. The opposing side will exhaust itself to poke holes in your argument.”

Even with that ‘help,’ London acknowledges learning to write fiction is serious work. “It’s a whole other discipline.”

One might guess he was inspired to write by his famous relation, that other Jack London, who penned Call of the Wild. But no, like most of us, Jack W. London came to writing through his love of reading.

“I read a wide range of material. Good writing is good writing. Literary fiction, children’s novels, I read it all. You need to be looking at someone else’s work and saying, ‘I want to do that.’ If you’re not reading, you’re not learning how to write.” His website includes a number of reviews of other authors’ works. http://jwlbooks.com.

The Austin-based author was selected as the 2011-2012 Military Writers Society of America’s (MWSA) Author of the Year. Although London is working on the third novel in his WWII French Letters trilogy (working title: Children of a Good War), he sees himself as much more than a genre author. “One problem I often see in military fiction is pages of unit numbers and commander’s names, long comparisons of various weapons. I call it the Research Rapture, where the research becomes more important than the writing.  It obscures the story, tricks the reader into thinking the research is important but is really just a diversion.”

London’s own work avoids that trap. The first two books in his series (Virginia’s War and Engaged in War) received praise for meticulous research and beautiful writing. Little wonder, then, that the MWSA asked him for a series of articles on the craft.

Another graceful transition for London—this time from author to writing instructor. He’s become a regular on the conference circuit. According to London, it was the next step in his own development.

“How do doctors learn to do surgery? ‘Watch one, do one, teach one.’ We’ve got to be giving back. It’s how you improve yourself.”

London would like his students to grasp the big picture. “Writers need to be able to answer the questions, ‘Why do I want to write this story?’ and ‘What do I want readers to take away from all this?’”

He adds that would-be novelists also need to decide whether they’re willing to put in the effort to master the art and craft of writing. “It’s the 10,000 hour rule. That’s how long it takes to learn to do something well.”

Finally, on his list of things writers need to know, he adds, “Criticism is painful…but not dangerous.” One final transition, from conference presenter back to writer of non-fiction. His publisher, agent and website manager have encouraged London to capture what he’s learned about writing fiction in print. His book on writing, A Novel Approach, is ready for release, and coming our way sometime soon.

Smooth.

Judy Rose is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Boulder Writers Workshop. She’s the former Executive Director of the Colorado Dramatists and a past member of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Playwrights’ Forum. Judy has taught seminars on playwriting and marketing for playwrights, and served as a dramaturge for new theatrical works. Most recently she wrote and directed an Art-In-The-Park touring comedy, featuring middle grade students and funded by a grant from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District in metro Denver.

Miss is the latest work by award-winning writer Judith Robbins Rose. The book follows the story of a lonely 12-year-old daughter of illegal immigrants, whose family is jeopardized when she is paired in a mentoring program with a pushy, has-been celebrity.