The Hazards and Rewards of Writing Autobiographically

Josh and I went to a house concert for Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken (they are incredible live if you ever get the chance to see them).  The smaller venue of someone’s living room made the song intros feel like a conversation.  At one point, when talking about a song he wrote years before he met his wife, Derek said,

“The thing about being a professional autobiographer is that sometimes you realize later that what you said wasn’t true.  It happens.  Unless you aren’t saying anything of worth at all.”

Derek went on to say that although he wrote the song for some other girl who turned out not to be the one for him, the feeling of wanting to be loved by someone was true, and he now thinks of the song as one he wrote for his wife – he just didn’t know he was writing it about her at the time.

It strikes me that this is true of any type of autobiographical writing, whether you write song lyrics, blog posts, diary entries, letters, or emails.  What seems absolutely the best advice or perspective can turn out to be incorrect.  You often have to eat your words.  You realize later that what seemed black and white is actually shades of grey, or vice versa.  If you’re an opinionated person, it can make you consider erasing your archives.

Sometimes, it seems, it would be easier to just close up shop.  After all, lots of people don’t write blogs.  So when those blog-less people come to find out that cloth diapering is actually kind of horrible sometimes, or that the curriculum that rocked in September is not working out at all in March, when the diet doesn’t work, and the book had a dreadful flaw, and quitting that job was a mistake, they can shrug and not look like idiots.

On the other hand, knowing I have a blog to answer for forces me to think more deeply about my choices and to examine how and why my views on things have changed over time.  It reminds me that I can’t please everyone, and that pleasing everyone is a fruitless goal anyway.

Best of all, writing autobiographically reminds me that there is truth at the root of my changes.  If we ever have another baby, I won’t be cloth diapering.  But I cloth diapered before out of love for my family and conviction that economizing that way was serving them.  I probably won’t ever make bread on a regular basis again, but I proved that I could, learned a new skill, and gained some valuable insight into my personality by baking for a few years.  I know now how to be a good mom who fights to keep growing intellectually when I’m only working a little bit here and there from home, and how to be a good mom by negotiating a  full-time schedule that works with my family’s needs.  The desires at the root of these seeming contradictions – to thrive spiritually, intellectually, and physically, and to see my family do the same – have not changed, even as my understanding of how to best work them out in my life has shifted.  That’s a valuable insight for me when I am too close to my situation to see how the narrative thread of my life is working out.

For me, writing autobiographically serves as reminder of who I am and an impetus to keep thinking deeply about life as I strive to live it better.  I don’t always love the permanent record of my various follies, but I value being able to see the progression of my life in what I’m reading and considering.

Do you write autobiographically?  If so, do you ever find yourself changing your positions or reaching new conclusions on things you wrote stridently about before?  Do you find that process of change helpful, or embarrassing?

2 thoughts on “The Hazards and Rewards of Writing Autobiographically

  1. I’ve taken a ‘stick to the facts ma’am’ approach to blogging. I tend to write about what we ‘do’ rather than what I ‘think’. On the rare occasions I have got on my soapbox about something it tends to leave me feeling rather vulnerable and exposed (perhaps that’s my natural British reserve). I’m rather glad I have taken this approach as experience is a great teacher and I have changed my opinions about many things since I started blogging five years ago…particularly with regard to parenting! If having three children has taught me anything it is that no two children are alike and that what works for one won’t necessarily work for the others. If we ever have another baby, I will know not to have any preconceived notions as to how feeding, sleeping, play and discipline will work with that child!

    I have to admit that I do sometimes allow myself a wry smile when I read the blogs of young women with one young child who dish out parenting advice because they think they have this parenting lark all sussed out 🙂 I’m not judging them…my first child was very easy, so when my very spirited second child came along it rather threw me. I just wonder how they will look back on their words in a few years when experience and more children have exerted their influence!

    Having said all that, I do think that having a blog does give you some accountability. Perhaps we sometimes find the time and energy to complete that project, or bake that cake, just because we blogged about it.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever written stridently, but I’m sure if I were to look back over the years I’d find things that I no longer do or think.

    I’d hate to think that I was never growing and changing to develop new opinions or methods actually! So yes, if someone wants to call me out on a change of opinion, then I’m sure they’re right. How sad it would be if I never changed my mind on anything.

    I do try to never speak too absolutely or imply that how I’m currently doing something is the way that it should always be done. While I do think there are some absolutes in life, most things aren’t.

    But I do love the accountability of blogging, and writing in general. It does help me to be more thoughtful about my choices and decisions, and that’s never a bad thing.

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