How honest can you be on the page? When you read a non-fiction book (but not a memoir) how much do you really want to know about the author’s life?
A few months ago, I felt like God was telling me to give my family a flippin’ break (that may not have been God’s exact words) and stop writing about them for a while.
I’ve got amazing teenagers that I actually enjoy, I didn’t want to jinx that. Like every marriage, mine has both joys and challenges. My kids and husband applauded my decision. I began writing books when my children were one and three—they’ve provided anecdotes for books and blog posts ever since. Because family life has taught me much about God. But I just sensed God telling me to just live with them and find other things to write about.
Um, what else do people write about?
Just kidding. Sort of. This sabbatical from self-disclosure, or rather, family disclosure, has been freeing. I still take notes in my journal but I am free to simply enjoy my family. I think not writing about my husband has strengthened our marriage.
This self-censorship also brought a revelation. Previously, when people asked me how I was doing, I would talk about how well (or not) my kids or husband was doing. If they were okay, I was okay. By keeping them off the page, I also began keeping them out of conversations. Instead of complaining about what they were or were not doing, I began to focus on positive things that I was doing with my work, my friends. I began to focus my energy on my own growth: in my spiritual walk, in my career.
But this week, as I mentioned in my previous post, I received the edited manuscript for Deeply Loved. Written before my resolution, it came back from the editor with a request: in places where I’d written about others, I needed to get their permission. Turns out I had stories about my dad, my brother, my daughter and my husband in this book. They’re good stories, but the editor wanted signed permission slips saying it was okay to write about each of them.
I also realized I wrote this manuscript last fall and winter (such is the long, winding road of traditional publishing) during a particularly difficult season of our lives. So while the stories of my dad, brother and daughter are positive, several mentions of my husband allude to his unemployment at the time, and how that impacted our lives. They are stories of how God provided in the midst of a needy season, how challenges forced us to rely upon God, but still…
We’re in a different season now–a much better one.
So do I take out those parts of the book? Deeply Loved is about knowing and experiencing the love of Jesus, personally and individually. Those challenges forced me to trust God more, pushed me into his strong and loving arms. In a difficult season, I saw God provide for us: spiritually, emotionally, even financially.
But how much of the struggle do you reveal? If I say “trust God” without at least mentioning some of the challenges, will readers say, “easy for you to say, you don’t have the same challenges I do!” As readers, when an author writes about how they have come to trust God even when things look bleak, do you want to know about the specifics?
Wow, what a decision to work through Keri. How do you know what’s enough detail and not too much or too little? I suppose that’s what a good editor is for.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for an example of how to strike the right balance, today’s piece is it. Nicely done.
I think this is a good decision. I think sometimes we get comfortable with how we do things (like with you-maybe you got comfortable with using your family as what made your writing successful. So the we rely on whatever is is we are using for “success” and God taps us on the shoulder and says, “I want you to go deeper or maybe trust me to get out of whats comfortable and go a different direction.” Continue to walk with God and He will lead you in what to write about.
Tim and Dan, thanks for stopping by. Dan, welcome to Deep Breathing for the Soul, I think this is the first time you’ve commented. But your words echo what God’s been whispering to me about a different direction.
tim, as always, you are so encouraging! Thanks.
I had a great day with my kids today, which I am NOT going to write about. I feel so free just knowing that. I think that’s something to pay attention to. 🙂
I’ve read somewhere in one of the many writing articles that yes, you do have to get written permission from subjects/individuals when you use them as sources, regardless of how you use the material in your writing. Funny how we don’t think about needing that written permission from our family members. I find it interesting after all the books you’ve published that your editor is just now asking for this. (Maybe odd is a better word.)
That said, I think I would pursue getting permission. Approach it sensitively (not that you wouldn’t) and prayerfully. If they say no, it may be there are other stories God wants you to focus on. If they say yes, it’s affirmation that you have done God’s will. (Perhaps that’s a bit simplistic, but it’s what is on my heart at the moment.)
Bless you for continuing to write!
I find it useful when people share the details of what they went through. I have recently gone through some tough times and I found books where people shared their hardships very useful. (They were Grumble Hallelujah by Caryn Rivadeneira and Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist)
I feel like there is little place to lament in our church cultural context (my particular context is Australian baptist … but I am sure most Western churches are pretty similar). So I found these women honestly sharing their tough times so useful for me. It helped me understand that these times are normal.
Wherever you end up drawing the line, I am excited about your next book.
I can really identify with you there Keri. For me devotional writing – and I supose all of life – needs to be rooted in reality. And what is more ‘real’ than our families? I’ve got around this- rightly or wrongly – by stepping back one step sometimes. So John might be my husband and Sue myself and the example I give wold be in the 3rd person. I always put a disclaimer at the beginning of the book that all the examples are true/really happened, but sometimes names and exact details have been changed to protect privacy. Is it enough to ‘sit with them by the Rivers of Babylon’ until their pain is your pain and you can write ‘as if’? Would you ever do that?
Looking forward to reading the new book anyway, and praying that you’ll have fresh and anointed eyes to see anything that needs changing.