When I was nineteen, I wrote a full book-length memoir called Life Starts Now. It's taken from a Three Days Grace song, because I was trying to communicate that it "wasn't like those other memoirs."
Spoiler alert: it's exactly like those other memoirs.
Someone at my licensing interview for my denomination made the comment: "You had a fully lived adolescence." And that pretty much summarizes what I wrote down.
I was pretty naive, as are most nineteen year olds. The piece tried to blend a rigid form of Christianity with gritty realism. There were more f-bombs in it than in Pulp Fiction (literally - I did the math.) I hung out with some pretty blunt street kids back in the day. But what made it strange to read was that it endorsed a borderline legalistic form of faith with a slew of profanity and partying.
I didn't fully understand how grace transforms people, or the depth of God's love and character. I'm not a prude about my stories, but at least my beliefs and theology are wide enough to consider how God works in that brokenness.
I also didn't have the insight I have today to understand what was going on during those years. High school kids do stupid, reckless things. Working at a Boys and Girls Club showed that to me so many times. That's just life. If I were to try to tell the story today, it would be more about how God was faithful to me during that period.
And that is 100% why I'm grateful that every agent or publishing house I tried to submit to turned me down. The Christian agents especially.
Even the version I rewrote in college is a version I disagree with today. My theology changed dramatically through studying Quaker history and Scriptures, with the inclusion of my encounters with peacemaking and community development. My faith grew to understand the wider picture of what God was doing in the world, and what He was calling me to do.
There is a ton of wisdom in giving pieces of work, or even a letter, time to breathe. I wrote a few short memoir pieces down recently about what it was like to minister in 2020, and then I put those pieces away. I won't touch them again for three years, because I know by that time I'll have a more sober perspective.
And memoir is one of those tricky things where it's not necessarily supposed to be history as it happened - but rather it's an exploration of life with certain themes in mind. Even so, with that understanding, I want to make sure I have a good grasp on what was really happening in my life - no matter what the period was.
I don't think it would've become a bestseller at all by any stretch of the imagination, but I also look at people like Joshua Harris whose own toxic purity culture theology led him out of faith. He was 21 years old and the publishing industry, and fundamentalist churches, absolutely took advantage of him. Then there's Bret Easton Ellis, who was 19 when Less Than Zero was published. He was suddenly thrown into a fame he wasn't ready for, and almost ruined his life because of it.
There's wisdom in recognizing your own limits, and considering the thought that maybe you don't know as much as you think you know. And when it comes to writing about your own life, I've learned to let time do its job and allow me to get a wiser perspective before touching anything. I love memoir as a genre, but I think a piece of advice I've rarely heard that I've learned myself is that it takes time to get a wiser perspective.
I don't regret writing down what I wrote down. It's an amazing accomplishment for a teenager to do. But I'm also so, so glad that I didn't have the confidence to try to query it around further than I did or self-publish it. Of all the things I was cocky about back then, it never occurred to me to be cocky about that.
I consider that a God thing that it didn't happen. I think it's the unanswered prayers that we learn to be the most grateful for in the future.