Authors are a varied and intriguing lot, I have decided. I have met many in person at writing conferences, seminars and book events, as well as online. And, after all, I am one of them! Recently, I saw afresh what a vast mixture of writing approaches and writing goals we have when I set myself the task of reading or re-reading several well-known books on writing. Out of all this, I came to what may well be some obvious conclusions.
Firstly, there is no one right road towards producing that literary masterpiece. There may be some things authors all need to do, such as drawing the reader on with that exciting narrative arc or creating characters readers care about—but how we do this will vary. For example, some of us may agree with Stephen King’s views on plotting:
I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless ... and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. (On Writing: A memoir of the craft p 163)
Some may also relate to Anne Lamott ‘s thoughts about characterisation:
Just don’t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t stay open to them. It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple. (Bird by Bird p 53)
But some of us, on the other hand, may revel in using those detailed plotting timelines and in-depth character studies or clarifying our thoughts via complex mind maps or some version of Randy Ingermanson’s ‘snowflake method’. We are all different. And that’s okay. That’s how God intended it to be.
I am bearing all this in mind as I prepare my upcoming workshop on memoir writing for the Christian Writers’ Conference to be held next month (see http://www.christianwritersconference.dx.am/). Yes, I plan to discuss the importance of working out the theme and structure of that memoir before we start—at least to some degree. But I shy away from advocating that authors follow one narrow path in it all. I hate being squeezed into any mould myself. And I am not even totally convinced about those rigid delineations between different genres at times. Where does biography become memoir or vice versa, for example? Where does memoir become ‘creative fiction’ when our memory might fail us or our perception of certain events differs from others’? There is a place for fluidity even here, in my opinion.
Secondly, we have different goals in choosing to write. Yes, we may agree we want to provide readers with good, uplifting fiction or non-fiction that honours God. We may all even hope to make a tiny profit in the process! But, while many of us will desire to encourage our readers in some way and perhaps even challenge or inspire them, others will aim simply to entertain and enable readers to relax a little. We may each also have underlying, even subconscious motives in doing what we do, I believe, which will usually colour our own unique writing voice. It may be that we feel we have to write—that this is what we were created to do and what we find most fulfilling. It may be that as we write, we are making sense of our lives. It may even be that, as we write, we are finding ourselves.
And that’s part of what makes it all so interesting, don’t you agree?
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.