Stepping Away from Publishing Altars

I love reading book reviews, especially the highs and the lows. Some of the lows are funny – along the lines of, I haven’t read this book and hate magical realism so I give this book one star! But, the highs are often similar. Once, while looking at a newly released memoir of a well-known Christian author, I read, I haven’t read this book but I’m giving it 5 stars. I love everything by this author and I know I’ll love this one. Can’t wait!!!!

Writing reviews can be difficult, especially when the book is a memoir. (And, there are so many essay-driven memoirs out!) It’s hard to separate the fact that I’m rating a person’s book – what they’ve chosen to release to the public – not their life. When giving a memoir a 2- or 3-star rating, I’m not saying their value as a person or their life’s experience is only 2- or 3-stars. But their writing style or how they chose to release this part to the public? That’s what I’m “rating.”

I actually do love memoirs. It combines what I love about nonfiction (learning, discovering new ideas) with the empathy one gets from fiction or memoir. When done well, they are powerful at connecting a variety of experiences and ideas. When done mediocrely, it’s glaringly obvious.

There’s a movement to write memoirs as altars: The experience might not be finished or there may not be years of perspective between the moment and the publication, but the author is using the memoir as a way of remembering this particular time.

The problem with this, says Lore Ferguson Wilbert, is that when stories are published right away, there is no time for God to work in and through an experience. She goes on to say,

“…sometimes (not always) the best thing to do is to be silent. To listen. To hear. To experience emotions without immediately finding a place for them. To resist the urge to make a story with a beginning, middle, and end out of our ongoing brokenness and frailty.” “Save Your Soul: Stop Writing” CT Women: ChristianityToday.com

Wilbert continues to remind us that we need to give space for our stories to develop, often in the quiet that is not published. That sometimes, a book or article will come from the experience but sometimes it’s best left personal. And that’s ok.

I experience this is my small space here. Essentially this blog is a series of altars: Grappling with the moment in life; Processing and remembering where we’ve come and what we’ve learned. Of course, I don’t share everything – not nearly! Things we’re still working through, I keep to our family. Moments that will forever are too personal will be kept private. Writing in a public space doesn’t mean living a public life.

It’s also made me reflect on the goal of this blog. I didn’t start it to publish a book, and I don’t feel that I have a book in me, at least, not right now. Reading memoirs that seem to have been published prematurely has reminded me of this. I want to take my time with this space, to reflect responsibly, to respect where our family is on this journey.

As a maximizer, my desire to take a good thing and make it better sometimes translates to doing nothing. At least nothing that can be seen. Sometimes it means sitting back, resting, and letting my experiences fully form before seeking to grow.

Don’t get me wrong. I think sharing and processing is important. But it’s where and how we do it. I process motherhood in the safety of my MOPS group; life and everything with my friend, Robyn, with my mom, with Frank. My real life support team can support me because I share the gritty process. We need that. But that’s the balance, even when we live life offline. Who needs to be part of the process? Who will best help us grow? Ultimately, what’s appropriate?

If you’re a writer, how do you decide what to share publicly? Even in your daily life, do you share your stories with others?

livin

This post is Day 10 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

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10 thoughts on “Stepping Away from Publishing Altars

  1. This is a very thought provoking post. To be brutally honest is very trendy, right now. Fully processing a life changing event before openly publishing our feelings is very prudent. I wasn’t really ready to talk about my homeschooling experience until more than a decade passed with my children out and launched. During those years they also processed the experience. Now, with time, I’m more able to see the good and bad.

    1. I’m all for honesty, but I definitely think we need time to simmer, to let God use our experiences before we make our own connections and conclusions. I think there’s a reason “hindsight is 20/20…”

  2. I appreciate the thoughts and questions you share. I’m a writer and I love Jesus. Pushing my ego agenda in other arenas in the past usually led to great mistakes. I didn’t begin sharing my story until I’d done years of the quiet processing with god and my feelings which you describe. So when or if the day comes that I do get published I’ll be prepared for critics and opinions regarding how I told my life story. We’re suffering a lack of emotional and spiritual maturity in America evident perhaps in the kind of ‘talk of the moment’ hurried publications and reviews you mention. So and so who knew someone who had an experience gets published. Where is God in that? One of the things I struggle with is often the lack of substance in Christian literature. We cannot get real with our writing until we’ve gotten real with God and ourselves.

    1. I think that’s the bravest thing about sharing publicly: It’s a small piece. Hopefully by waiting, that piece is a bit removed from our core. I need to remember that when I read memoirs – this is that person’s experience. Hard to judge, right? But, when an author waits a bit, I think a broader audience is reached because of that time to reflect.

      1. I so agree Annie, when we wait and have fully formed our thoughts or the true message of our experience, the meaning is more universal. Yes! It seemed for years I was composting my experiences and feelings, restless at times and hungry to share and connect but far from ready. I imagine part of your struggle is contemplating a piece of work in which you can clearly see that person still has healing or growing to do and yet still being tasked with ‘judging’ or rating their writing. I don’t know enough about your role but it sounds like a book review and mentoring? are separate but I can see how you might feel pulled in both directions. What a gift for writers to put the shoe on the other foot.

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