Memoir Judge: Cathy Rentzenbrink
Cathy Rentzenbrink is the author of The Last Act of Love, A Manual for Heartache, Dear Reader and Everyone is Still Alive. Her latest book Write It All Down: How to put your life on the page is published in January 2022. Cathy regularly chairs literary events, interviews authors, reviews books, runs creative writing courses and speaks and writes on life, death, love and literature. Despite being shortlisted for various prizes, the only thing Cathy has ever won is the Snaith and District Ladies’ Darts Championship when she was seventeen. She is now sadly out of practice.
What you would say to your younger self?
Stop giving up. Learn to stick with it through the ups and downs. Falling out of love with the manuscript is not the end of the relationship, just part of the ebb and flow. Any creative endeavour is hard work. It’s not coal mining, but it is hard. Don’t think about whether it is any good, just know that if you get some words down you will work out what you are trying to do and be able to make them better at a later stage. Keep on keeping on.
What do you do when you’re stuck?
Sometimes it is fear and I need to push through. Sometimes I am tired and I need to rest. But fear is sneaky and will try to hide as exhaustion so I struggle to know what I need. I don’t sit and stare at the screen when I’m stuck. I get up, go out for a walk or a swim. I try to work out what is bothering me and talk to myself kindly but firmly, lowering my expectations of the work and offering some privacy: ‘This doesn’t have to be any good, and you don’t have to show it to anyone, but you will feel better if you make progress towards finishing it.’
Have you ever felt like giving up on writing?
Often. I struggle with the enormity of carving a book out of air. And I get lonely and am prone to fantasise about an office full of stimulating colleagues with whom I could share water cooler moments and feel part of a team. I take on lots of teaching and events work to give me company and stimulation but then can end up over-stretched. It’s a balancing act I have yet to perfect. I’m not sure I will write forever. There might come a time when I feel empty and then can switch to a full-time job facilitating other people’s books. I don’t dread that but rather look forward to it.