Writing a Memoir

As I kick off this new blog, I’ll be doing a sort of archive of posts from Pink and Blue Mummyland. Throwback Thursday will be a migration of sorts, re-sharing posts from years past.

Memoir is big business at the moment – people are inherently curious (if not nosy!) and like reading about other people’s lives. Christians in particular like testimony – there is power in it (1Thes2:8, Rev12:11) and it gives us hope, for ourselves and others.

When people find out I’ve written a memoir of my struggles with self-harm they are full of questions, some which pop up with monotonous regularity.

Was it cathartic?

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Yes and no. Researching, yes, writing, no. In some ways, revisiting 

the past, both in my thoughts and through the vast number of journals I kept, was healing. There was pain, and there was joy, and with the benefit of hindsight I

 was able to resolve things in my heart and mind. But when it came to writing the book, no – it wasn’t cathartic, and nor do I think should have been. My aim/calling was to get the message out, not to resolve it from within. I had to have done that before I could write a book that helped others. I had to have dealt with the issues before I could be an encouragement for someone else. Catharsis is for journals, not memoirs.

Was there pressure on you to be so open?

Yes, and no. I never felt under any pressure from the publisher or editor to be more open than I wanted to be. The pressure came from me, because I wanted to write something real. That said, I was able to choose how open to be. Just because I’m writing my story doesn’t mean I have to share every little detail. Being real doesn’t require full disclosure. There are some quite big events that I missed out, either because they would hurt or damage other people, or just because they are things I don’t want to share. That’s not to say the book isn’t authentic – everything in it is true, from facts to feelings. I don’t need to share absolutely everything to make something authentic, I just need to be true – to the writing style and the story. Even now, in the speaking e

vents and blogging that I do, I’m very self-protective.

Can you really write your story at only 24?

Well, yes and no. This is where I think there is a difference between autobiography and memoir. Autobiography, in my eyes, is a whole life story, and is normally written by someone who has led a full and fascinating life. I am not Helen Mirren or David Attenborough – no one is likely to be interested in what my house looks like or how I came to have a pet snake. Memoir, however, is about a particular aspect of one’s life, which can definitely be interesting. Self-harm is of interest to all sorts of people – sufferers, counsellors, carers, pastors. A memoir can be informative, hopefully exhortative, and occasionally inspirational – but normally only within a certain aspect of life. I love that people are comforted and educated by my story – but it isn’t a full story. Writing the story I felt called to write didn’t include when I lost my milk teeth and at what age I got my first car.*

Does it mean you’re better?

Um…. Yes and no. Better is a funny word. I used to think it had an air of finality about it – that better was this marvellous place I would eventually reach. In some ways that stunted my writing, because I felt a pressure to be ‘better’ before writing about my experience. I now know that ‘better’ is moveable – I am better today than I was a year ago, but am I ‘there’ yet? No way. The story isn’t finished just because I finished writing a book. Recovery doesn’t have such an obvious full stop as the end of that last printed sentence.

Is there a pressure on you now to be honest with everyone?

Yes, definitely. But then, also, no. My passion is to get people talking about these thorny issues, and the only way to do that is by sharing myself. But because of the way Secret Scars was written (and edited), when I’m at events people assume they know me, and can ask me very personal questions. It’s taken a while for me to realise I don’t have to be open with everything, all the time, and that I don’t have to share anything I don’t want to. That said, my whole ministry, not just through writing, but through being, is about being honest where other people might not be. This means being open about my illness, and trying to tell the truth about what it is like to suffer with a chronic mental health condition. But I still have the freedom to hold back, and I’m slowly learning how to do that.

The most important lesson

The process of writing a memoir taught me the most important writing lesson I’ve learnt – that when I write, a story stops being mine and becomes someone else’s. I love writing, and write for myself an awful lot through journalling. But once I intend my writing to be read, something changes. Whether fiction, memoir or fact, writing is a gift to someone else, and stops being mine as soon as it hits the page. Writing becomes a gift we give, not receive.

(*In case you are interested, I lost my first milk tooth at two, when I knocked it out falling off a gambling machine in a club, and I bought my first car at 19 – it was an Austin Metro with a faulty choke, and I called it Dorcas… Hey – maybe I am interesting after all!)


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