In The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr notes that divorce memoirs are the most difficult form to write. Why would anyone, myself included, choose to spend a good chunk of her writing life working on one? Friends asked, ”Why revisit all that heartache?” They warned me to think of the backlash I might receive because of the controversial subject of a “Christian divorce.” There are two main reasons we write memoir. One is to share with our family, as a kind of legacy. The other is to get it out into the world, either to amuse or enlighten.
Personally, I feel called to contribute to the conversation among Christians about how God views divorce.
I want to show how the Lord took care of me in my darkest hours despite the verbal stones some Christians threw at me, judging my decision to leave my Christian husband of twenty-five years due to emotional abuse. Since then, I’ve learned there are many divorced Christians who’ve experienced the pain of being rejected by their churches because of divorce, and I believe this is a topic many churches have yet to address. I hope to promote the healing of divorced people within the church.
I had little understanding of what a memoir entailed.
Although I’d been a writer for some time, I had little understanding of what a memoir entailed. My first thought was to choose the most important moments from the journals I’d kept during the last ten years of my marriage. I transcribed most everything into Word documents, and then began writing my story chronologically. I continued working on it off and on over the next few years. I eventually found a good critique group who hung in there through every difficult chapter until I finally reached the end, having revised after every critique meeting. Even though I did not agree with everything my critiquers said, their different perspectives opened my mind to different, and often better, ways of description or phrasing.
It was time to send my masterpiece to an editor. I found someone I thought might be a good fit and paid her a hefty sum up front, but I felt punched in the gut when I received her critique. It seemed to be all about what I’d done wrong and not much about what I’d done well. It stopped me cold. Three years passed before I was able to tackle the memoir again. But I had been reading other memoirs. I began to understand that this genre is more like fiction, with characters and scenes, and is often arranged around themes rather than chronological events.
I needed a major rewrite.