They say “laughter is the best medicine” but how do you apply that to writing a memoir especially when you have a challenging or difficult story to tell?
When Robin Storey was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she didn’t find it funny at all. During her cancer journey, Robin began a journal to make sense of her thoughts and feelings and after a few months realised that “there was a book in this.”
Making the Breast of It – Breast Cancer Stories of Humour and Joy takes the reader through her quirky worldview. In this interview, Robin shares how her cancer journey prompted her to become a full-time author and offers great insight into “embracing uncertainty” and writing tips on how to infuse humour into story.
Robin never considered a career in writing but was a bookworm and did some freelance writing for newspapers and magazines in the pre-digital era. In 2001 she wrote Perfect Sex based on her own experiences of internet dating. She says, “It was new and people regarded it with suspicion as if it was the province of desperados or deviates.”
Robin says that she was born with a witty sense of humour and can often see the absurd in situations. This humour is infused into all her books, even the ones that aren’t specifically comedy. Her six books include:
She really enjoyed the book writing process even though it was like a marathon. She vowed she would never do it again but she got such a sense of achievement through writing the book that she decided she DID want to do it again.
Making the Breast of It is a serious book but it’s not a difficult journey for the reader. It is real, funny and sad all at once.
When I asked Robin WHY she decided to write about such a challenging memoir she said she first began to journal to express her thoughts and feelings. She used the online journal PENZU which is an encrypted diary and it helped her to write regularly and deal with the emotional side. “I wasn’t even sure how I was feeling so it helped me to clarify my thoughts.”
After three months Robin realised that there was “a book in this” and because she saw the absurd in many moments of her cancer journey she began to research Breast Cancer memoirs but couldn’t find many humorous ones. She decided that her point of view could be “suffocating” so she included the experiences of others in order to widen the perspective and make it a more well-rounded book. While everyone’s experiences were different, Robin found that one thing they all had in common was the ability to see the funny side of things in order to survive the situation.
“Joy is everywhere when you start looking for it.” (Tweetable)
Meditation and Mindfulness helped Robin face her fears and anxiety over breast cancer coming back. She was able to consciously control her emotions and enjoy the moment.
Journalling was integral to the book writing process because it helped capture the events and her feelings. It informed the writing of the book because she decided to structure it chronologically so that she could take the reader on her journey.
“It’s amazing how much you can forget.” Robin also said that journaling helped her to get things out so that she could “move on.” She didn’t want to be defined by cancer and wanted to be able to move on to the next phase of her life.
Robin admits that it is hard putting yourself out there when writing a book, even a fiction book because “it’s you in the book” but with memoir it’s even harder. “You wonder whether people are going to think you’re crazy.”
The best advice that Robin offers to people who want to infuse their memoir with humour is to “just do it – if it’s you.”
I’ve often wondered – How far do you go when telling your life story? How much do you tell and what do you leave out?
Robin believes that if you are writing about yourself you can say what you like because you aren’t hurting anyone. She said that she uses a self-deprecating humour and is making fun of herself but not in a cruel way. She writes her humour in a way that makes people say identify with her or to be able to relate to her in some way.
Some people said, “I don’t find anything funny about breast cancer” but she believes that’s just the space that they’re in where they can’t see anything amusing about it. “I in no way am trying to minimise the trauma because we all go through it differently…I just about the way I saw it.”
The next piece of advice that Robin offers is that you can’t force humour. You can’t just insert a few jokes into your book or try to write it like a stand-up comedy routine because it has to come from you – from your worldview and your own flavour of humour. “I think everyone has a sense of humour and a brand of humour, so just go with what’s right for you.”
I enjoyed how Robin weaved her theme of “embracing uncertainty” throughout her memoir. She admits that she’s a planner and did write an outline for the book. “It was easy to do because it was chronological” and she took the reader through the various stages she went through on her journey.
Robin started with the “dreaded phone call” because it set up the conflict immediately and the theme of uncertainty because “cancer is one huge uncertainty.” She found Susan Jeffers book with the same title, Embracing Uncertainty to be very helpful. Robin says, “Everyone has uncertainty in their lives but we have to learn how to go along with uncertainty rather than resist it.”
The cancer journey is powerful because it gives one the incentive to live life in the moment and just go for it. Robin said that breast cancer changed her life because it made her think about what she really wanted to do. And that was to become a full-time writer.
For more information about Robin you can find her at https://storey-lines.com or buy her books from Amazon.com
Images are from Robin Storey’s website and Depositphotos