Taking a Chapter Break

by Addie Boswell
Published on: January 26, 2015
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Shelves in progress.

Shelves in progress.

Only waiting for the window seat.

Only waiting for the window seat.

This fall, I built a wall-to-wall shelving unit for my office/studio. Complete with power tools, pocket-hole joints, european hinges, doors, drawers, knobs, and lots of sawdust. For a couple of months, the shelves were my obsession. I can’t tell you how much I loved building those shelves– measuring the space, planning and drawing the dimensions, sawing, drilling, sanding, painting. For another Scriva, it was reupholstering her kitchen chairs. For you it may be organizing your pantry or planting a garden bed. Whatever your current alternate dream job is, you relish the joy of tangible goals, visible progress, and a purposeful and absolute outcome.

In opposition, of course, to the everyday business of writing books.

A work-in-progress is amobea-like. Gelatinous. Unending. Writing a novel is like navigating infinite space, corralling small children, filing the contents of a garbage dump. How do we progress in the face of such an aim? Which leads me to Chapter Breaks: Self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Places for the story to take a breath, the page to turn, the reader to begin again. From Writer’s Digest “An old-fashioned cliffhanger is not required (though they still work), but tension of some kind is essential. End not where the action lulls but where it is the most dynamic.”

We need chapter breaks in our books and we need chapter breaks in our writing: self-imposed, strategic (or sometimes arbitrary) markers of progression. Five thousand words. A printed first draft. A contest submission. A conference to attend. A vacation. A stay-cation. A pedicure. A set of shelves. These little deadlines are lifelines: not just how we get the work done, but how we keep our sanity.

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