Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Book's First Reader

When Charlotte Brontë had finished Shirley in August 1849, she wrote to her editor W.S. Williams that the writing had helped her get through her period of grief. Her three surviving siblings--Branwell, Emily and Anne--had all died within the previous year. She wrote that the writing of Shirley had kept her busy and had taken her "out of dark and desolate reality to an unreal but happier region." She explained to him that even though her eyes had suffered from the work, she preferred committing wholeheartedly to the novel: "you can write nothing of value unless you give yourself wholly to the theme, and when you so give yourself, you lose appetite and sleep--it cannot be helped." Williams would be Shirley's first reader. Fortunately, he liked the story, so a month later Brontë wrote back to him thanking him for his positive response. She shared with him the anxiety that every writer feels upon delivering a manuscript to the 'first reader.'  For a non-writer, the experience can be likened to any moment when you first present your work, whether a painting, a piece of carpentry, a song, or an idea to an individual for feedback about your efforts. Who wouldn't want to hear something positive and encouraging? The anxiety, of course, arises from the fear that the individual will be negative and not constructively critical. In Brontë's case, she had sat alone in a room without ever showing her work to another soul, so she had "held no consultation about plan, subject, characters or incidents, asked and had no opinion from one living being, but fabricated it darkly in the silent workshop of [her] own brain--such an author awaits with a singular feeling the report of the first impression produced by his creation in a quarter where he places confidence, and truly glad he is when that report proves favourable." The best advice, therefore, is to place your work in the hands of someone whose judgment you can trust and whose support you can count on. We all can benefit from constructive criticism that focuses on the work itself and not on the person creating it. The distinction is an important one. Also, we can never know for certain what challenges were in place while the author or artist plodded through his or her creation, but to have completed the work is an accomplishment worth a word of congratulations. That kind of support can give a writer, as it did Charlotte Brontë, "great pleasure."

1 comment:

  1. What about a guestblog + giveaway of your book on my site? I'd love it.
    Have a look at FLY HIGH (http://flyhigh-by-learnonline.blogspot.com/) and let me know if you're interested. Write me at learnonline.mgs@gmail.com