How can I be “private” and still write memoir?

privacyLast week a reader emailed me in response to my post about grief and how I tend to work through things privately. She asked,  “I understand being a private person, but I’m curious how that works since you write books and go on tours talking about things that have happened?”

It’s a great question.

My answer comes from the two different experiences I’ve had putting books out into the selfpublishingillustrationworld.

When things work perfectly, nothing I write gets published until I’ve had tons of time (years) to process it. There are dozens, even hundreds of drafts, time to acquire perspective and develop a sense of what the important moments were, and the chance to heal and move on. By the time He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not hit bookstores, I was past the rocky parts described in those chapters. They were no longer raw or real in that way that could still make me tear up or feel sick to my stomach. There was (and still is) awe over the whole thing, in a “Wow, I dodged some bullets!” and “That turned out better than expected!” kind of way. But awe is fun to share so that’s never been a problem.

In a less perfect world, a book comes out when you’re still in process. You’re FINE, but you’re not really okay, if you know what I mean. That’s what happened with A Maze of Grace.  The year before the book came out was filled with twists & swerves & craziness I never could have predicted.  Looking back, it seems like  I was tossing out chapters and writing new material at 2:00am right up until the minute my publisher hit “go” on the first edition. My editor had a personal emergency and left the company, so the only in-house content editing the book received was an email from my her before she left that said, “You can’t use the word ass. Christian bookstores & media won’t like it.” Which I kind of knew already.

So my second book went out with material that was still pretty live. I love the writing I did there and am so proud of MAZE now. But in hindsight, the launch year would have been MUCH more fun if I’d taken time to make sure I wasn’t going public before I was ready. Part of writing memoir is being willing to field questions from complete strangers about how you manage your life. And that’s okay, so long as you’re ready & plan for it.

Lesson learned :)

If you’re writing about your own life here’s what I recommend: Write away. If you can capture things as they happen, when emotions are vivid and coursing through you, do it. If you need to mull things over a bit to find the words, to figure out where the beginning, middle and end fall, that’s okay, too. There’s no wrong way to write.  But if, like me, you need a bit of privacy when life hits you hard, don’t hit “post” or “send” or “publish” on something that is still a live wire flying around in the yard of your life. Drafts are your friends – make a lot of them! Despite reports to the contrary, publishing and readers aren’t going to disappear. Chances are, you’ll have a chance to share your writing someday down the road, and I think you’ll be glad you gave yourself and your story a little extra space to breathe.

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