Memoir is big business. People are inherently curious - if not nosy! 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 of which pop up with monotonous regularity.
Was it cathartic?
Yes and no. Researching, yes, writing, no. In some ways, revisiting the past, through both memory and journals, was healing. But writing the book wasn’t cathartic, and nor do I think it should have been. My aim was to get the message out, not to resolve it from within. I had to deal with the issues before I could write a book that could help and encourage others. Catharsis is for journals, not memoirs.
Was there pressure on you to be so open?
Yes, and no. Neither publisher nor editor put me under pressure to share more than I wanted. The pressure came from me because I wanted to write something real. But being real doesn’t require full disclosure - in fact I think that would have dulled the story. That doesn't make the book inauthentic - 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.
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, describes a full and fascinating life. A memoir can be informative, hopefully exhortative, and occasionally inspirational - but only within a certain aspect of life. I love that people are comforted and educated by my story - but 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. 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 thorny issues, and my whole ministry is about being honest. But, because of the way Secret Scars was written, people at events assume they know me, and can ask some very personal questions. It’s taken a while to learn that I have the freedom to hold back.
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. Whether fiction, memoir or fact, writing is a gift to someone else, and stops being ours as soon as it hits the page. Writing becomes a gift we give, not receive.
Abbie has been writing every since she could hold a pencil - her first self-published work was a short story about a magic key which was displayed on the fridge. After struggling with self harm and eating disorders for a number of years she went on to write a memoir ‘Secret Scars’ published by Authentic in 2007, and later ‘Insight Into Self-Harm’ published by CWR in 2014. In 2007 she launched Adullam Ministries, an information and support website and forum on self-harm and related issues.
She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland, tweets as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm, and is currently working on a book about mental health and the church. She lives in Rugby with husband John, two demanding children, and two even more demanding cats.