"Page after Page" Heather Sellers

Pros: Poetic, lovely, insightful, elegant, honest, open, helpful
Cons: Won’t be to everyone’s taste
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 4/6/2005
Review book courtesy of F&W Publications

Heather Sellers’ “Page after Page: Discover the confidence & passion you need to start writing & keep writing (no matter what!)” is a beautiful book. The language has a sort of poetic feel to it, and is extremely honest and open–both about writing in general and about Ms. Sellers’ own life and experiences, when she needs to use them to illustrate a point. She isn’t afraid to make some straightforward and, most likely, unpopular points that probably need to be made.

There is time in your day for writing–no matter how busy/important/stressed you are. You might not like me for saying this, but you do have twenty-four hours to spend. Same as everyone else.

Her view is that many people who say they want to write don’t necessarily want to do so. They want to tell their stories, or they’ve been told they should write, or they like the image of themselves as writers. But they don’t really want to sit down, day after day, page after page, and work on their craft. And so they make themselves busy with other things, qualify themselves for other jobs, and just generally go about making sure they never quite get around to writing.

On the other hand, maybe it’s fear that holds some of them back–fear of the unknown, of rejection, of the blank page. And others still try to go about writing in the wrong way, setting up regimented schedules and making themselves feel like writing is a chore rather than a calling.

Ms. Sellers is a teacher, and she has had many years of teaching others–and herself–how to develop a writing life. She believes that one should approach writing as though it were a lover. If you fall in love with writing, time slows down. If you fall in love with writing, you make the time for it. If you fall in love with writing, it’s easier to sit and pay attention to it. If you don’t love your writing, then why should you expect it to treat you well?

My writing life is the lover at the center, not the neglected cranky demanding millstone, my ball and chain. When you are in love, truly and passionately, you don’t have to write down in your daily schedule Spend quality time with Lover today. You can’t not.

In different ways these points have been made in plenty of other writing books–it’s a matter of priorities; you’re the one who decides what’s important to you. But Ms. Sellers says it in a way that makes sense emotionally. She makes comparisons that drive her points home like well-aimed blades. Some people might find it painful to read; they might find out they aren’t writers after all. But then, maybe they’ll find that liberating as well as painful.

You’ll find plenty of exercises in here, though they may not be what you’re used to expecting from a writing book. One of my favorites involves drawing up a rigid schedule for your writing the way so many other books tell you to, then drawing up a ten-year plan that progresses along the lines of, “year one: get feet wet.” People tend to jump into writing with both feet expecting to be fully-fledged writers immediately, but it takes time to develop the habits and skills that you’ll need in the long-term.

Ms. Sellers talks about beginning to write, balancing isolation with a need for input from other writers, the attention you give to your writing, what you really need to create a writing life, journaling, the question of whether or not to be a writer at all, managing anxiety, growing as a writer, dealing with the “I don’t want to write” mood, daring to suck and getting better, what to write about, how to set aside time, dealing with the interference of real life in your writing life, dealing with blocks, finding a mentor, handling rejection, and more.

I can even say I like rejection. It gives me an important window of time with my work. While the pieces are out there, circulating through the hands of busy, hopefully wise reader-editors, my words are in limbo. I think something important happens between you and the piece you’ve sent out, and you both come back together, smarter.

Not everyone will be able to appreciate what this book has to offer. Some people really do just want to approach their writing as a regimented thing, and they’ll scoff at Ms. Sellers’ romantic (though surprisingly practical, really) viewpoint. Not everyone who doesn’t actually want to write wants to hear that they really don’t want to write. People who are bound and determined to believe that they’re undiscovered geniuses whose work can’t be improved upon, and that the people who offer them suggestions for improvement or reject their work are idiots, might not like hearing that a different attitude could benefit them.

But for everyone who truly wants to get somewhere with their writing, who wants to enjoy the process, who wants to feel that passion as they sit down to work on their latest project, this is a gorgeous book. I’m very glad I read it, and it gave me some new insights into the ways I tend to handle my own writing. Already following Ms. Sellers’ advice to relax and not expect so much is helping me to do more, ironically.

So if you are in any way less than perfectly satisfied with your writing life, give this a read. It probably has something of value to offer you. And even if you are perfectly happy with your writing, you might read it anyway. It’s a beautifully-written book that’s a joy to read.

Postscript: When I was taking evening writing classes at Harvard some time ago, I had one truly amazing writing teacher: Alexandra (Alex) Johnson. After taking a style and voice class from her I actually took her memoir class even though I had very little interest in memoir-writing just because she was that good. So imagine my delight to find both her and one of her books mentioned and recommended, respectively, in this book.

Posted in Reviews, Writing

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