Last year, I began meeting with a younger author at her request, in order to help bring her dream of writing her first work of non-fiction to reality. Her eagerness to learn was obvious from the outset. Whenever I referred to a particular book about writing, she would note its name and want to borrow or buy it. Whenever I mentioned an online writers’ group she might like to join or a writer’s blog she might like to check out, that is what she did. And when I told her about a Christian writers’ conference here in Australia, she was among the first to book in.
My young friend is a delight. I know she respects me and listens to my suggestions. But, much more importantly, she has a deep love for the Lord and is passionate about wanting her own experiences in life to count for the Kingdom. Believing God wants her to write her book, she has worked hard at mapping it all out systematically in a way I have never done with any of my own and has now completed some of her early chapters. I am in awe of her enthusiastic and thorough approach to it all.
But there is another way in which our writing approaches differ. I have discovered my friend is quite happy to show these early chapters to her writing group and to others who are prepared to critique her work, in order to receive as much feedback as possible. As we talked about this, she explained she has always been a collaborative worker, willing to use the skills and gifts of others to get things done. So she is happy to take on board any comments and criticisms, even at this early stage. I, on the other hand, cringed when I heard what she was doing. I felt it could be a little confusing for her and perhaps even hamper her from developing her own writing style.
But then I began to question myself. I had never shown my work to others in those early stages at least. Was it merely my pride and my inability to receive criticism that had caused me to keep my work to myself until it was almost complete? Imagine my recent relief then, when, on reading Dorothea Brande’s book, Becoming A Writer, written way back in 1934, I came across the following in a section entitled ‘Keep your own counsel’:
When you have completed a fair first draft you can, if you like, offer it for criticism and advice; but to talk too early is a grave mistake. (p 52, 1981 Tarcher/Penguin edition)
The author reasoned that, if we share our work with others while it is still taking shape, we have already received their responses and will be less motivated to complete all the developing and polishing our manuscript needs. Perhaps this then accounted, in part at least, for my reticence in sharing my own work too early and the shudder that ran through me when my friend told me how freely she was showing those early chapters to others.
How about you? Have you found it is good to show your manuscript to critique partners early on so you can fix any key problems? Or do you, like me, prefer to ‘keep your own counsel’ until that first draft is complete?
Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney, Australia. 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.