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.