I am absolutely thrilled for Alisa Bowman, a longtime friend of 168 Hours, whose memoir, Project Happily Ever After, has spent the past 24 hours on Amazon’s bestseller list. Alisa and her husband nailed their Today Show appearance yesterday. They told the story of how they were on the brink of divorce — to the point where Alisa was planning Mark’s funeral — and actually managed to save their marriage. I am sure their story inspired thousands of other couples to believe they can do the same.
One of the things that makes Alisa’s book so appealing to people is how honest and personal it is. We live in a reality TV culture, and beyond that, we are always drawn to personal stories. Gretchen Rubin, for instance, wrote brilliant books on people like Winston Churchill. Which of her books became a bestseller? The Happiness Project, which chronicled her own domestic and introspective life.
I know this, but I also struggle with it with my own blogging and book writing. There are a few reasons for this. First, I’m a pretty private person. Second, it’s a sense of fair play. It would be hard to write much about my own life without writing extensively about my husband and children, and I’d really prefer they not write about me (without my word-by-word approval or a very positive spin) someday. I tell some stories in 168 Hours. But I still think of myself primarily as a journalist, and I’d prefer to tell other people’s stories — people I have sought out and whose stories I can’t completely shape to my own ends.
I also struggle with the general flow of dramatic narrative. The best stories are conflict-rock bottom-redemption. Alisa’s marriage fits that narrative perfectly. I have a pretty even-keeled life. I don’t have a huge number of epiphanies. I am grateful for this in terms of my life going pretty well. Reading many of the best known personal finance books, I’m struck by how many authors talk about going broke and clawing back (e.g. Dave Ramsey). The closest I ever came to being broke was as a 22-year-old intern, but you’re supposed to be broke at age 22. And I really wasn’t. I had a very low cost of living, I freelanced to make extra cash, and I ended that year with more assets than when I started. This is a pattern that has basically continued through my life. Which is good for my credit score. But it does mean there isn’t a huge vein of material to mine.
And finally, especially as I write about money, I’m cognizant that the life of Manhattan-based professionals is going to be outside the broader norm for many reasons. Beyond that, while I’ve done well on my own, I also know that a big chunk of my standard of living comes through my marriage, something that one can’t remotely recommend as a universal path to wealth. So that brings me back to mostly interviewing “real people” and experts and telling these stories which, hopefully put together, will make for compelling reading.
But I know there are a lot of writers who read this blog, so I’m curious how you feel about mining your own life for material.