Four years ago, someone said something to me that, to this day, is crushingly painful. It makes me feel as though there is a massive weight in my chest, as though my heart is heavier than a brick. It makes me ache in my gut, but it hurts the deepest in my heart. She said, ‘Why do you want to be a writer. For what purpose.’ It felt as though she were saying to me, ‘Why are you alive. For what purpose.’
I have been trying to write a book for years and I’ve been making excuses because I’ve been afraid. I’ve been afraid of rejection, afraid of not being able to finish, afraid of not writing well, and afraid of not being able to tell my story in a way that is both honest and truthful.
I spent the weekend reading The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink. It was the story she needed to tell. She was honest about her experience without ever coming off self-pitying, self-absorbed, or attention-seeking. She simply – bravely – wrote the story she needed to write, and the story she wrote was beautiful.
There is always the matter of authenticity in biographical writing, and I as a reader was deeply touched by Cathy’s unflinching honesty. She lets the reader see her utterly broken, depressed, and unable to move through her trauma and grief. I recognized myself in that deep agony that feels impossible to climb out of, and the guilt that comes with wanting to be free and happy and feeling like she shouldn’t be.
Cathy’s story gave me a sense of understanding, hope, and meaningfulness; I could relate to her even though I had never suffered a similar experience or loss. I hadn’t been so personally affected by a book in a very long time. The story made me think of what had been said to me. ‘Why do you want to be a writer. For what purpose.’ This is why. To tell the story that needs to be told.
Writers don’t choose to be writers. They just are.