Beginning writers need instruction on the craft–characterization, plot, dialog, exposition, endings. There is a ton to learn about how stories are put together. Once a writer becomes proficient, (finishing stories regularly, maybe publishing them) a whole new set of concerns crops up. Advanced writers may have mastered the craft, but there is a ton to learn about living a writer’s life. CHAPTER AFTER CHAPTER is not so much a writer’s how-to as a writer’s how-to-be.
Sellers quickly debunks the myth that writing novels can be sandwiched into an otherwise overflowing life. Writing–if one is going to be a success–can’t be treated as a hobby. It has to be a priority.
Much of Sellers’ advice centers on this idea. A writer sticks with the writing, while at the keyboard and while away from it. Writing inhabits our daily lives, even if we have day jobs. It needs that intense focus, otherwise it will creep away. Other things will come in to take the writer’s time and attention until there is nothing left for the book.
In the chapter called “Surround Sound,” Sellers shows how to think about a book every single day, and explains why desire is more important than talent. In “Alone Together,” she teaches writers the social skills we need to survive the assault of other people on our writing time. In “Taking Baby Along,” she discusses how to travel while writing, either by taking the book with you or planning book-related activities while you are gone.
My favorite chapter was called “Positioning.” Sellers advises keeping in close touch with your work-in-progress. Every single night before bed, look at your manuscript, read some of it, remind yourself what you plan to write the next day. It’s a bit like laying out tomorrow’s clothes the night before. Sellers insists that it made all the difference while writing her short story collection, and the whole collection came easily, in what felt like one sitting. She also “lost” a novel, one which remains unfinished to this day, when she did not do her nightly positioning. I love this idea, and have tried it a few times. It helps.
Other chapters cover common writing pitfalls. Sellers is honest and vulnerable, here. She shows the readers where she stumbled in hopes that they will not. There are chapters on how to get unstuck in the middle of a book, why you should finish what you start, how to shut up your internal editor and why your book is probably not done when you type “the end.” However, even in these chapters, the focus is not on the craft itself. Since writing is such an all-consuming activity for Sellers, she does not separate life from art. She maintains that problems on the page are, more often than not, caused by problems in a writer’s life.
While I agree with her to a certain extent, I don’t come to a page of writing with quite as much intensity as Sellers does. Sometimes life–plain old not-writing life–really does get crazy, and it has nothing to do with the story-in-progress. Likewise, sometimes writing is just writing. Still, I understand her obsession with her fictional world, and agree that the more the writer lives in that fictional place, the better the work.
CHAPTER AFTER CHAPTER is closely related to WORD WORK by Bruce Holland Rogers. However, Rogers deals almost exclusively with a writer’s life outside of writing. Sellers doesn’t separate the two. Writing is her identity, and Sellers generously shares that identity with her readers. I’m glad I had this book by my side as I wrote my own chapter after chapter.
This book is best for advanced writers.
I recommend this book.
rating: 4 stars