Why Am I Writing A Memoir?

Every story has value. Every story is as unique as the soul that lived it. These are the things I say I believe. But, when it comes to my own story…well, my actions prove my disbelief.

I have written 23,021 words about my life. My story. We call it memoir, but today it feels like garbage. I’m tempted to throw it all out.

A month ago I felt so excited about this project. I even hired an editor to give me some feedback, but today all the excitement is gone. Maybe I just lost the momentum. Maybe everything else in my life has clouded my view. Or maybe this offering of story really is garbage. I’m not sure. I hope not.

Yesterday I heard from the editor. She was very encouraging and gave some very balanced, specific and helpful feedback. But somehow her “It really is a great story, and the world needs to read it” felt a little like it was coming from my mom. It felt a little like that statement “every story has value”. I don’t want my story to have value because every story has value. I want it to be something more than that.

I guess I’m realizing that I don’t actually believe that every story has value and that every story is unique. I don’t actually believe that every story should be told, even if I’ve said it in the past. Even if I want to believe it.

After talking with this editor friend the biggest thing I’m left with is questions.

I’ve known for a long time that my story lacks focus, a core, a thesis. It lacks clear direction. The editor picked up on that as well and gave me a few questions to think about:

Who is your ideal reader?

What do you want your readers to take away from the book?

I have been wrestling with these questions for nearly two years since I started writing and I feel no closer to having an answer. But, they have stirred up another question in my heart, a more fundamental question… Why?

Why am I writing this book? Why have I spent so many hours putting words on a page? Why do I have 23,021 words strung out together? Why do I keep working on it? Why do I want it out in the world? Why?

When I look at that question, and feel the uncertainty of my answer, I want to just press delete on the whole thing. I don’t know why I’m writing this memoir.

I think it started because I needed a way to process through everything that has been going on. But, I can process in blog posts. I do process in blog posts. Why memoir?

Because people asked me to. That’s a pretty poor reason, but plenty of people have read blog posts about what we’ve been going through and have said, “You should write a book.” So, I started writing, but if the only reason for writing was because other people wanted me to I would never have written more than a few pages. So, why have I written 23,021 words?

Because I’ve always dreamed of writing a book and being an author. Truth be told, I have a lot of ego hidden under my shy disposition. I secretly (or not so secretly) have always dreamed of some sort of recognition and acclaim. I wanted to be an actress, a dancer, a public speaker, and author - do you see a little bit of a theme here? I had other reasons besides recognition that I wanted to do all those things, but under the surface there was that quiet…”what if this really takes off?” Then there was the sly little smile that followed the thought. But, if that’s my reason I should be writing something very different from this memoir. I should be writing some pop culture inspired novel instead. Why memoir? Why this story?

Because there’s something that life has taught me, something this battle with cancer has showed me about myself and God and life in general that I want to share. Now we are getting closer to a real reason, but this is where I get stuck. What is it that I want to share? What is it that all of this has shifted and changed in me? The truth is that the things I’ve learned through these difficult seasons are incredibly hard to put in words, they can’t be summed up in one nice neat statement. They can’t be tied up into a nice little bow of a lesson. They aren’t easily crammed into a three point outline. It’s not a lesson. It’s a shift.

It has something to do with openhandedness and grace, with the image of the tide and the cycles of the moon. With spiraling non-linear mystery. It has something to do with the crashing waves on the shore and the boswellia tree. Something to do with expectations and not being in control. Something to do with the story of the Israelites in the desert and the resurrected Christ. But, I can’t quite put it all together.

This week I read Bellweather by Connie Willis. It’s a short, brilliantly written story about a scientist, a sociologist to be exact. Throughout the book she is on the edge of something, a break through, she keeps skirting around it, almost finding it, but not quite getting there. The chaos builds in the story, until it finally breaks and the discovery is made, there is an answer to the questions that have been raised, or at least a strong thesis emerges.

“Poincaré had believed creative thought was a process of inducing inner chaos to achieve a higher level of equilibrium. But did it have to be inner?…Chaotic systems create feedback loops that tend to randomize the elements of the system, displace them, shake them around so they’re next to elements they’ve never come in contact with before. Chaotic systems tend to increase in chaos, but not always. Sometimes they destabilize into a new level of order.” - Connie Willis, Bellwether

I’m dancing around the thesis and focus of this memoir, but I can’t quite find it, just like the the main character in Bellwether was dancing around her scientific discovery. Somewhere in the chaos the answer is there, but the chaos hasn’t “destabilized into a new level of order” yet. I haven’t found the order in the chaos yet.

Sometimes I don’t think I want to find it.

When people tie things up in neat little packages, I can’t help but think they don’t really get it. “This is what I learned from that experience”. “This is the one thing God taught me”. “Here is my three point summery of how God revealed x to me”. Statements like this get under my skin, like sandpaper they stick and rub and irritate. Oh, God is so much bigger than that. So much more mysterious. So much more complex.

Last night as I wrestled with the questions - why I am writing this story, who am I writing it for, what is the focus, the message, the core - I had a deep desire to just hop in the car and drive to the beach. To sit there in silence and solitude until the answer finally came to me.

Today as I process through these questions again I’m struck with a different solution. Perhaps all I need is more chaos, not less. Inspiration and innovation, ideas and discoveries, they often come in the midst of chaos and life.

I can’t imagine how my life could get more chaotic, but if I want to find my thesis, perhaps all I need to do is start paying more attention within the chaos.

Perhaps focus for the book doesn’t need to look like a linear thesis statement, or a three part outline, or a one sentence summary. Perhaps the core and focus can be more like a spiral, more like chaos itself. I don’t know. I’m just gonna sit with the question for awhile longer and see where it takes me.

For tonight I’m choosing not to push the delete button, and instead believe that this story really does have value. Even if I don’t yet know and can’t yet figure out, what it has to offer the world.

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

writingBethany Stedman