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.
Another great book that I just read is Write Naked by Jennifer Probst. I felt I read it right when I needed to. https://www.amazon.com/Write-Naked-Bestsellers-Secrets-Navigating/dp/1440347344
Leah, I joined that group, too, and bought the book. That's as far as I got prior to releasing my latest book. Then I started on another WIP in progress, so I haven't had time to read it. I didn't know she was a prof at Hope, right here in my backyard. I can see what she means about the dedication and focus. Yes, it's necessary, but you also have to have a life. Dedicating a certain time each day to writing helps. Watching TV with your spouse is very important, too. So is playing with grandkids, having a social life. So I'll never become a best-selling author. I figure being published and enjoying the time I spend on my books is just fine for me.
Leah, interesting that the writer of the book you're reading is saying 'don't waste time reading my words, just write!' It's a conundrum, hamster-cage kind of dilemma, for sure. Many activities that take us away from our writing are about how to write better. I AM in a book club, but they also serve as readers of my drafts, and they've become my best friends/supporters. I DO also lead a book talk group for Sisters in Crime, but they also serve as gems, because they review my books. Balance is tough to find, but life has to be lived fully in order to find things to write about, I think. Mush on, my friend...you will find your personal balance.
Exactly, Leah. I gave up writing what I wanted to write for myself when life responsibilities became overwhelming. Putting an exceptional product out there, i.e. a good book, is one thing. When no one seems to know, or care, is the hard part. I guess we all have live, and work, in a way that suits us. Glad your motivation is starting to warm up again. I learned I so enjoy the process of writing a book, if the recognition and $$$ don't get here, that's okay.
Thanks Chris. I'll take a look!
I think "having a life" is important if you're going to write about life, too, Diane. And I think you're doing great!
I thought the same thing, Rolynn! Sounds like you have some fantastic support groups in place. That's wonderful. Thanks for your encouragement. :-)
Thanks, Margo. I think I'll make my way back there. It helps to have a great group of friends to share my woes (or whines). :-)
I feel like I'm living up to her demands. I probably spend way too much time writing. My paycheck job is undemanding (the reason I have it) and only requires a warm body for most of the time I'm there. So, I write. At home, I ignore housework and write. I did watch The Bachelorette last night. But since that's about romance, can it be considered research? LOL Sometimes I fear I'll burn out. Sometimes I think I need to get a life. But I enjoy my time at the keyboard. I think we all have to find the balance that works for us, and sometimes that balance changes. Good luck finding yours!
Good point, Jannine, about finding that balance. I think that's my main struggle. I am so tired when I get home from work, half the time I just want to get in my PJs and go to sleep! I wish I had your focus and drive. I'm glad it's working for you!
I've always liked the expression "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." Best-selling author or not, none of us can control the demands life throws at us (e.g. hubby, kids, paying jobs, illness), but we can control voluntary commitments (e.g. PTA treasurer, Girl Scout leader, bake sale coordinator). Those are the things we don't have to say yes to, and if we can control those factors, I think we have a fighting chance to finish our manuscripts. I know you can do it!
You are right, Diane. I've been a joiner for years, and I do have a hard time saying no when asked to help out. I might have to start referring people to my husband. He won't have any trouble saying no on my behalf! :-) Seriously, I think once I start enjoying the process again (I hope), finding that "no" should be easier. Thanks for stopping by!
I was looking forward to your first report on that book, Leah, and I think her comments are spot-on. She baldly states what I've known in my heart about my own writing situation. When I was working, I was also writing with the same focused concentration, and I was much more productive. I thought when I retired, "Oh, how wonderful! I'll have so much more time to write." Instead, I've reveled in my unstructured free time. I stay in bed until eight. I took up photography. I (horrors) joined the garden club.
I think she's absolutely right that the root issue is: how badly do you want to be a successful writer? After writing six books and facing the realities of the current publishing world, I've re-defined success on a personal level. Enjoying my life--all of it--is more important than how many books I write or how many copies I sell. That said, I do plan to keep writing, and I'm about a quarter of the way through my current WIP!
There are times I think being a writer isn't worth the sacrifices. And then I consider if the sacrifices are what I'd rather be doing and usually they aren't. I could crank out a good many more books if I didn't take time for the things I want to do. These last few months, I wrote like a maniac for a self-imposed deadline. I really don't want to do that again. Balance is the key. And as we grow older, I think it's doubly important to do what we want to do and let the rest pass us by.
I bought the book, too, Leah and read the first four chapters. I wondered who she was writing it for. LOL I laid it aside. I made a list of all the writing projects I have lined up and I have eight. Then I'm slowing down. Have you heard this before about my slowing down? I feel as if I'm lying every time I say it. I love writing. I wish I did it better, so I keep trying to learn. I'll never be a best seller. As long as I can please myself and my small band of readers who enjoy my craziness, I'll be happy. Oh, and help pay for Ryan's tuition at MIT. I just sent a check off yesterday thanks to my writing. Two more grandchildren to go. Helping with their education costs brings great joy.
I wrote my debut novel while I was unemployed. I spent the morning writing and the afternoon looking for a job. Except for needing money, it was heavenly. You do have to develop discipline, for sure. I think my brain is too frazzled right now. I've decided to stop fighting it until after my son's wedding in July. Hopefully that purposeful break will help. I'm glad you're working through ypur distractions, Alison!
I've had the same thoughts, Brenda. But then I think of that feeling of accomplishment when a plot or phrasing comes together just how I want it to, and know the hard work is worth it. And I love writing. I love the process of finding those perfect combinations that fit together with perfect rhythm. I need to remind myself of that each time I sit down to write. Finding the balance that works for each of us seems to be the key.
I think her audience is the person who says,"I should write a book about (whatever)" but has no clue the amount of work and dedication required. You certainly don't fall into that category, Vonnie! And I think you're doing a phenomenal job keeping your many fans happy, doing something you love while helping your grandchildren with college. What a blessing for them. What a great example you're setting for them...and for other writers!
Leah, I was thinking the other day about how totally focused I was when I brought out my first book--the book signings in CO (I live in NY), the 'professional' media kit, being totally set on getting that dang book out and writing every day. And then what? Stuff happened. Breast cancer. A broken shoulder. A wedding to organize. And I think what I've found is exactly what you say. If I can amuse a few people with my stories, that's good enough for me. Today the latest anthology I'm in hit No. 1--a real thrill. But not enough to stop me from believing the rest of life matters just as much.
Congratulations on the success of the anthology, Andi! That's terrific news. I did the same thing as you did for my first books. I traveled to NJ (from VA) for my book launch, wrote customized press releases, etc. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in my feelings these days. (On a side note, I hope you're planning a wedding update soon!)
Wow, great post, Leah. I've also enjoyed all the comments. What it boils down to is, we each have our own path, our own priorities, our own definition of and level of success. I could never not write, so I'll keep writing, but it's not my only priority, never has been and never will be. I could definitely say NO to more things and have more writing time. I'm working on that, really I am. :) Can't wait til the wedding's over and your back to full tilt writing!
Post a Comment