Friday 27 October 2017

That tricky balancing act

I believe all of us as writers can learn something from those highwire acrobats we see at the circus. If these performers lean too far one way, they will fall. And if they lean too far the other, the same thing will happen. Instead, they must stay perfectly balanced on that highwire, carefully edging their way along until they reach the other side.

How does all this apply to authors in particular? Since I started writing around thirteen years ago, I have found I often need to practise the fine art of balancing boldness and self-confidence with a good, strong dose of humility. As writers, we might consider ourselves to be amazing—but we might not be. Potential publishers might line up for our manuscripts—but they might not either. In fact, they might never even want to look at those words we have slaved over for hours, days, months, even years—particularly as first-time authors.

On one occasion not so long ago, I found myself chatting to a lady I had never met who proceeded to talk about herself at some length. Her story was interesting but, after a while, I somehow began to feel almost irrelevant or invisible. Finally, in response to a comment she made, I told her I am a writer—and it was at that point that her manner towards me suddenly changed.

‘Oh ... who’s your publisher?’ she asked eagerly.

I barely had time to answer before she rushed on.

‘I’ve written a book too. It’s taken me a couple of years, but it’s ready to be published now,’ she told me. ‘I know the exact publisher I’d like—and the exact literary agent I want too.’

At that point, I held my breath a little. Yes, it was good she had a clear goal in mind for her book—and that she was familiar enough with the publishing world to know whom to contact. But it worried me that she seemed to think the road ahead would be so easy and straightforward for her. And it also disturbed me that she seemed unwilling to listen to anything much I might say. So I simply stayed silent and let her talk.

Yes, we need to believe in ourselves and our writing—otherwise we would not stick at it. Yes, we need to be bold at times, as we approach potential publishers or agents and look for ways to promote our books after they are published. But we also need to balance this with an equal amount of humility. We all have more to learn, whatever stage we are at in our writing journeys. None of us knows it all. And that is why, this very weekend, many Christian Aussie and New Zealand authors are coming together at the Omega Writers’ Conference in Sydney—to listen, to learn, to teach others and also to encourage and support one another.

I’m still working on perfecting my literary highwire act of balancing boldness with humility. And as I do, I’m trying to apply the following:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 4:3
How about you? Have you too found this aspect of the writing and publishing journey a challenge?

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 the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and two non-fiction works, ‘Soul Friend’ and ‘Becoming Me’. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit


  1. Hi Jo-Anne, yes, very much so! I think as writers we often struggle with a healthy dose of self-doubt, no matter what stage of the journey we are on. And I say it is healthy because it gives up opportunity to stop and reflect, and to remember what small fish we are in a huge ocean; but also to remember that the beautiful thing is, we are known by name by our creator and His plans and His will are what we as Christian writers strive towards. I think that helps keep things in perspective, too. 🙂

  2. Yes, I agree, Catriona--it's the best perspective of all to have! And that's a great point that all that self-doubt lots of authors seem to have gives us the opportunity to stop and reflect. Hopefully, I will see you at the writers' conference this weekend!

  3. Hi Jo-Anne, that's a lovely analogy. I can't help thinking that when we've been writing for long enough, the whole process keeps us balanced that way. We can't escape those moments of humility. I wonder what happened to the lady you were talking to.

    1. Yes, on reflection, I think you are right, Paula, so thanks for that insightful comment. As for the lady I mentioned, well, that has yet to play out, but I hope she achieves her heart's desire and isn't disappointed along the way.

  4. Thanks for your post, Jo-Anne. It cab hard to keep that balance and easy to see-saw between crippling self-doubt and hubris. Wonderful to remember that the Spirit can give us wisdom and keep us grounded.

    1. Yes, we're a strange lot, aren't we, Jeanette, with all our self-doubt, yet also at times prouder than we should be! And I also am so thankful for those prompts from the Spirit that point us in the right direction--so much so that I often wonder how writers who do not have a vital faith manage to navigate this tricky, writing journey.


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