In case anyone is wondering, I’m still working on my memoir, but it’s no longer going to be titled “My Year of Living Fearlessly.” That was a title that was suggested to me by an editor and I thought it was saleable and what I was supposed to be writing. But after manufacturing a structure to the book that involved five antidotes to fear and submitting a book proposal to said editor as well as several agents, I hit a brick wall with the writing. I think more aptly, I felt like the Holy Spirit prevented me from proceeding with my plan for the book, much as He prevented Paul and Silas from preaching in Asia. Acts 16:6.
I decided that I needed to read some other memoirs to get a better idea of how they are written and what makes good memoir. About the time I had decided this, a friend posted a link on Facebook to Seth Haines’ new memoir Coming Clean: A Story of Faith, which was available on Kindle at the time for only $1.99.
I bought Seth’s memoir primarily to learn the craft of memoir writing in preparation for writing my own. I got so much more out of this wonderful book than I had bargained for. On the surface it is a story about overcoming alcoholism and Seth’s first 90 days of sobriety. But what is below the surface is relevant to anyone who is using some earthly crutch to mask the pain we all inevitably experience in this world and to hide from a God we sometimes aren’t sure knows or cares. I thought I knew all I needed to about forgiveness, but this book opened my eyes to the many ways I still need forgive and let God be in control.
One of my favorite lines in the book is when Seth quotes Buddy Wakefield, a spoken-word poet, who said, “Forgiveness is releasing all hope for a better past.” When writing memoir, one must necessarily face the past and accept it as unchangeable. This is why my new working title (who am I kidding, it’s going to be the final title if I have any say in the matter) is You Can’t Go Back to Tuesday. As I’ve pondered this, and started on my next memoir to read, God is teaching me more and more what that means for today.
I had the pleasure of meeting Seth a year ago at the Faith & Culture Writers Conference and he encouraged me to write exactly the book I’m determined now to write. Having met him, I shouldn’t have been so surprised about the depth and honesty of his writing. If you’re looking for a formulaic answer to your problems or a nice neatly organized, chronological story, you won’t find it here. But you will find the heart of a man who loves God, loves his son and family, and struggles like the rest of us to understand suffering. This book is well worth the price (even if I’d paid full price) and the time it takes to read. From the day I started it I could hardly put it down.
The double blessing is that I also learned something about how to write great memoir, which was my goal in the first place. I learned that great memoir happens when the author writes for themselves and for purposes of their own growth and understanding of their circumstances. If you try to write what you think others want to read or what you think a publisher will buy, you’ll never write great memoir. If you try to impose some formula—like five antidotes to fear—then you won’t help yourself or resonate with your potential readers.
Seth wrote this “journal” for himself, and in the process shared honestly with us in a way that resonates deep in the soul. I hope and pray I can do the same.