The Power of Pause

Last weekend I read Faith and Will, a spiritual book by the iconic writer Julia Cameron.  In case you are not familiar with Julia’s work, she is the author of numerous best-selling books, blockbuster screenplays, and even several Broadway musicals.  In the writer’s world, she is one of the most influential teachers of the last twenty-five years.  Her seminal work, The Artist’s Way, inspires aspiring authors around the globe. If you have not read it yet, you should.

Faith and Will is about the quest to find God in the midst of the stresses of mid-life.  It is hauntingly beautiful, deeply personal, and one of those books that stays with you a long time after you finish it.

However, there was something very strange about this book.

It had no chapters.  The book started on page one and continued for more than 200 pages without a single chapter break. There was no explanation for this unusual format in the book.

Additionally, the material was presented in a non-linear fashion.  A concept was introduced and then revisited later on in the text in a slightly different way.  It felt like traveling in a labyrinth, going round in circles until the core of the material was uncovered at the center.

While the information in the book was wonderful, the lack of chapter breaks was disturbing.  This experience showed me how important it is to give readers a pause with regular chapter breaks.

Chapter breaks serve several important functions in a book.

First, they give the reader a logical stopping place.  Few readers can consume a book in one sitting.  When the material is broken into chapters, readers feel they have permission to put the book down and return to it later.

Chapter breaks also give readers the opportunity to pause briefly and consider the material before moving on to a new topic in the next chapter.  This pause makes the process of reading the book more enjoyable.  Without the opportunity for that mental pause, the information can begin to feel heavy and a bit stressful.

Research reveals that readers feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish a chapter.  Then, they pause slightly and decide if they should read the next chapter or stop reading and come back to the book later.

Now that you know the importance of chapter breaks, what’s the best way to insert chapter pauses into your book?

For most books, aim for a chapter length of approximately 10 pages.  Literary researchers found that today’s non-fiction readers respond best to chapters no longer than 10 pages.

If you have a chapter that is much longer than 10 pages, look at your outline and find a way to break the material into two chapters.  If that is not possible, cut out some of the information and save it for blog posts, articles, a class, or your next book.

Once you have your material divided into chapters, look for 3-5 places where you can close the chapter with a logical invitation to visit your website for a free checklist, recording, or worksheet.  These invitations, or book seeds, give your readers the opportunity to expand their experience of you and your material. Plus, they help you build a list of readers who resonate with your work so that you can offer them additional services and products, making your book an asset to your business.

If you are like most readers, you may have taken chapter breaks for granted in the past.  Now you know how important they are to your reader and to building your business.

That’s the power of the chapter pause!

How does this information inspire you?  Share your comments on the blog.

Comments 10

  • Pause is necessary in reading because it tires one’s eyes to see a page of solid text. Just today I read an e-mail message with no paragraph breaks. So pause seems necessary even in one-page articles.

  • This post particularly caught my attention because I’m a big fan of a wonderful book called “The Power of Pause” by Terry Hershey … in life, in books … pausing is important! I also enjoy Julia Cameron’s books and will make it a point to look for “Faith and Will” – thank you!

  • The journey is divine. Our companion is the muse.

  • I recently finished reading GILEAD, a novel that also has no chapter breaks. The book is a letter or diary from the dying narrator to his young son, so the format made sense. However, the author did use space or line breaks. SOME kind of breaks are necessary, for all the reasons you state.

    In NF especially, chapter breaks help make a book useful as a reference. Many readers don’t read NF books cover to cover as they would a novel, instead going to the chapters that directly address their problem or interest. If they do read the book straight through, they may still want to come back to certain parts later on. Without chapters or sections clearly defined, this becomes an annoying task.

    Thanks for the insight and tips!

    • Great point Ally. It’s so important to make sure that we make our non fiction books easy to skim. Readers are so busy these days.
      Thanks for your comment.

  • To make your book into an e-book, you have to remove all headings and chapter breaks. (so people can set different font sizes) That way, while reading a Kindle you don’t get lost. Also there are no page numbers. Again for the font size to work. I think she may have made an e-book first, then she had her book published. But, I’m with you, a trade book needs chapter breaks. One thing the Kindle does for you is remember where you were in the book.

  • I so agree with you Lynn. Reading books are in the top 5 most important, pleasant, relaxing and revitalizing experiences in my life.
    Also, with regard to chapters, I too agree that we need a pause. Our brains actually learn better in chunks of information. It gives us a place to stop and ponder; and then see how the information makes sense to us.
    After all, the best writing (and every other kind of story, no matter what kind of media) is about character development – either the character about whom we are reading, but even more important, how the work helps OUR character development!

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