Monday, September 29, 2014

Dealing with Diversity by Jo-Anne Berthelsen

I’m going to say it up front. I think authors are a courageous lot! In fact, any creative person who risks putting his or her work out there for others to peruse or assess or admire or love or tear to shreds deserves a huge dose of heartfelt encouragement, in my opinion.

In recent weeks, the first draft of my second memoir has begun the rounds of my three manuscript readers/editors. In conversation with one of these good people, I saw again how diverse our reading preferences are, let alone our approach to life in general.

‘I would never want to be as open about things as you are,’ she told me, ‘but if you’re fine with it, then that’s all that matters. I guess that’s one reason I don’t like the whole genre of memoir very much. I prefer to live in the moment and get on with things rather than dwell on the past and think about everything in such detail.’

‘That’s okay,’ I told her. ‘We’re all different. But I would still value your comments. And I’m happy for you to mark any sections where you feel I've been too introspective or made too much of certain incidences in my life. After all, I don’t want to bore anyone too much.’

Later, I remembered the reception my first memoir, Soul Friend, received two years ago. Many faithful readers of my novels loved it. Some encouraged me to write more non-fiction. Some did not give me any feedback—and their silence spoke volumes. Some did not buy it because they prefer novels. Those who never read fiction were delighted I had finally come up with a memoir instead of yet another novel. I gained a whole new group of readers—but I lost some as well. And through this experience, I decided there was little point in trying to please everyone.

Then, in preparing my memoir writing workshop for the Christian Writers’ Conference next month (see http://www.christianwritersconference.dx.am/), I decided to read a few more books on memoir. Lo and behold, I discovered thoughts about memoir I had never even considered when writing my own—let alone agreed with. As well, I read a variety of memoirs and, in the process, found myself quite bored with several of them. They were far too inward-looking, even for me, with one or two almost becoming bogged in that mire of introspection and description of minutiae. Yet some had received glowing reviews. And some had even won prestigious awards. In the end, I realised again that, even within one reasonably narrow genre, we cannot hope to please everyone.

So, what’s to be done? First and foremost, let’s make sure our security lies in who we are in God and not in what anyone thinks of our work. Yes, we need to listen to all those writing critiques, take on board what we need to and improve as much as we can. But let’s remember we will never please everyone. Second, let’s learn to listen well to God’s Spirit, the Encourager, speaking to us in that still, small voice every moment of the day as we write. And third, as faithful companions on this crazy writing journey we have undertaken, let’s keep on encouraging—that is, ‘putting courage into’—one another in whatever familiar or diverse way we can.


Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.

15 comments:

  1. Hi Jo-Anne,
    Thanks for this reminder that we deal with diversity in readers as well as in writers. It's so true that we may always expect mixed receptions. The different feedback, and those silences you mention, will always be forthcoming from some, no matter what we write. If our security did lie in feedback from other people, our emotions would be all over the place!

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  2. I really appreciate that last sentence of yours in particular, Paula. This is often an issue for me whenever I speak somewhere, even more than with my books. If people don't comment much about my input, for whatever reason (and it could be they just have to rush off somewhere), I can go home and fall prey to all sorts of negative thoughts and feelings. Over the years though, I have learnt to guard my heart a little better, live in the reality of God's love and put those notes away, knowing I've done my best.

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  3. Thanks for that Jo. It's a great reminder that we need to worry more about what God thinks and what He directs us to write than trying to please everyone. I'm a recovering people-pleaser and need to remind myself of what's most important. It's great to get feedback from others, but we have to filter it through God's perspective. It's great that you've been able to pick up new readers with your memoir and hopefully there'll be some cross-pollination too in that some of them will now pick up your novels. Looking forward to seeing the new book.

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    1. I'm looking forward to seeing it too, Nola! I'm still reflecting on comments from my manuscript readers and thinking through a few issues but hopefully it will see the light of day sometime soon.

      Re the cross-pollination point you make, I think it's quite intriguing how some people tell me they don't read novels so will only consider my non-fiction, yet there is so much truth and real life experiences in my novels. Oh well!

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  4. Hi Jo. I think what Nola said about being a recovering 'people pleaser' is probably true to most of us writers. And even more tricky when you're writing a memoir...hey, it's all about ME. What will people think when they they read I felt like this, or I reacted this way? Yes comment before being published are critical, but like you say we've all got different tastes. And after all, as someone once said:
    "I have to be ME, because everyone else is taken!"

    Looking forward to reading through more of your life's journey. And remembering if the Lord celebrates diversity so should we.

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    1. Thanks for those comments, Rita. And yes, I agree that 'everyone else is taken'! A similar quote from Rob Bell I like to use is: 'Somewhere in you is the you who you were made to be. We need you to be you. We don't need a second anybody. We need the first you.'

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  5. Hi Jo-Anne, I'm a fan of your novels and blog posts, but I haven't read any of your non-fiction work - yet. I absolutely agree that we need to feel comfortable with what we believe we are called to write. I think as Christians we often feel we have to please everyone. Mind you, I am discovering the value of building a relationship
    - albeit an 'online' one - in supporting an authors week. Having said all that, I'm considering the memoir line myself and am looking forward to your presentation at the conference.

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    1. That's lovely that you enjoy my novels and blog posts, Susan--very encouraging. And it will be great to see you at my memoir workshop at the conference--I hope it doesn't clash with anything else you need to be at. If that happens, I will make sure you get my workshop notes at least. And keep thinking about that memoir!

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    1. Thanks, Ian! A few of us seem to be writing along similar lines recently, for some reason.

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  7. Great post Jo-Anne. I am fully with you. Yes, we need to be faithful to what we are called to do and yes, we cannot please everyone all of the time. And that's OK. Looking forward to reading your next memoir! Blessings on all your writing too.

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    1. Thanks, Anusha--always so encouraging. God bless you too in all your writing.

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  8. Enjoyed your post Jo-Anne and looking forward to reading your next non-fiction book.

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  9. Thanks, Susan. This next one's still in process but hopefully I will be able to submit it to the publisher by early December.

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