The first book chosen was “Chapter by Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams” by Heather Sellers. When I wrote my earlier blog, I said I was taking it as a message from the heavens that it was time to get serious. And I did!
When the package arrived, I ripped into it as if it were a new carton of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (yum!). It’s a gem of a book, a small hard-cover volume with a whimsical illustration on the cover of a woman aiming a bow and arrow into a night sky. Shooting for the stars–how appropriate! The inside design only stoked my appreciation–eye-catching graphics on a rich, cream-colored background, printed on luxuriously heavy paper.
I held the book for a moment, feeling its weight, and stroked my fingers over the satiny paper. Hope surged. Surely something this lovingly conceived would hold magic within its covers.
I settled into the corner of my couch with a big mug of my favorite tea at hand and turned the first page, certain I’d stumbled onto a treasure.
Sellers, an English professor at Hope College in Michigan at the time of this printing, is an elegant writer, the kind whose prose sounds effortless to the reader, although we know it probably wasn’t. But despite the grace in her syntax, her messages pack a punch.
Right from the beginning, Sellers showers tough love on her fellow writers, delivered in a series of stories derived from her classes and seminars intended to illustrate what to do, or what not to do, to fulfill your writing dream. A lot of the content talks to the mind set needed to devote yourself to this task. It makes you ask yourself: Do you really want to write a book? Are you sure? Why?
Okay...makes sense. Knowing why you want to write will help you with your ultimate goals, whether it’s to see your book on Amazon, or on the racks in your neighborhood Walmart.
But the lessons started to lose me in the second chapter, entitled “Limits.” The first sentence reads:
“The number one reason books don’t get finished is this: Writers say yes to other things.”
Well....yeah....I suppose that’s true. At least for myself. I have been spending what little free time I have doing a lot of non-writing things...like taking online marketing classes, and creating hopefully cute/funny/thoughtful/meaningful memes for my Facebook page, and rehearsing for the Christmas and Easter cantatas at church, and getting ready for my son’s wedding, and watching TV with my hubby in the evenings. (I have to have a life...don't I?)
I turned back to my lesson, where Sellers went on:
“Successful book authors are very rarely also: historical society presidents, garden club secretaries, book group members (O, the irony!)...”She continued with a lengthy list and concluded that successful authors don’t have the time, in essence, to have a life outside of writing the book.
“Writing a book is exactly like love. You don’t hold back. You give it everything you have. ... You don’t hold some of yourself in reserve. It’s all or nothing.”
According to Sellers, to be successful at completing your project, you must make the book the main (only?) focus of your life for the duration of time it takes to finish it– a year, more if needed.
Okay, okay, I got the point. And what that meant to me is that, by those standards, I’ll never be “successful” because I can’t muster that intense level of focus, not and work a stressful, full-time job, and have a life...at least not right now.
Still, rather than throw the gorgeous book against the wall, I checked into the Goodreads discussion group. The moderator had arranged for us to send Sellers questions in advance, and she had responded. This exchange mollified me, a bit:
“Q. What was the most meaningful thing for you that you learned from writing Chapter After Chapter?
“A. In writing the book, I wanted to have a meaningful anecdote in each chapter. As I collected stories about teaching writing, I realized how much I learn from my students every day. ...
“When I look back at the book, I’m also humbled. It is so easy to tell other people to make sacrifices and spend more time writing and less time with other endeavors.
“Now that I’m older, I am much more aware of how it’s really very difficult to make choices about where to put one’s energy. I’m less likely now to make it sound fun or easy. In fact, often it just isn’t possible in a life to spend a lot of time writing—there are just too many other responsibilities or life stresses....”
I like that. Writers are people, not robots.
So I decided to keep reading. I’m now halfway through the book and am enjoying the stories. But better than that, I’m starting to feel motivated. I’m starting to feel like a writer again. For me, that’s a big step forward.
And even if my books never make it to those shelves in Walmart, if I can entertain or touch a few readers, and if I can get back to enjoying the creative process, I’ll count myself successful.
Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil, and the power of love. Learn more at her website, or stop by her Facebook page (she loves visitors!) where she occasionally posts cute/funny/thoughtful/meaningful memes.