Authenticity is Everything—in Writing and in Life

Laura Roppe Headshot~ By Laura Roppé

About six years ago, I became acquainted with a Grammy-winning music producer/songwriter with credits from Celine Dion to Aerosmith. At the time, I’d been joylessly practicing law for ten years and, on a lark, had just written and released my first music album. “Most of your songs are winners,” he told me. “The songs that aren’t are the ones where you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Always remember: The cardinal rule of writing is to tell the truth.” Although he was talking about songwriting specifically, I instantly knew his advice applied much more broadly—to how I should be living my life. You see, I’d been pretending to be someone I wasn’t in courtrooms for a decade—someone tough as nails and ready to rumble—and the daily inauthenticity had started to eat me alive from the inside-out. In reality, I just wanted to sing kumbaya. Or, really, just sing.

I’d always been a big dreamer as a child, certain I’d win an Oscar, a Grammy, and write the great American novel, too.  Singing and writing had always brought out the best in me, so, naturally, I decided to attend UCLA’s theatre program. By the end of college, however, the dreamer in me had been snuffed out, perhaps by my inherent need for familial approval and practicality, and I wound up following my father, and his father, too, into the “family business” of lawyering.

For years, I waged daily war over other people’s money, armed in a tailored suit and A-line bob, fighting for causes I didn’t actually believe in.  Finally, after a decade, a nagging voice that had initially whispered softly in my ear had begun shouting relentlessly:  “Reclaim your true self!”  But by that time, I was already a thirty-seven year old attorney, wife, and mother of two daughters, and it was too late to make a change.  Or so I thought.

And then, around the time of that enlightening conversation with the music producer, a second person said something even more life changing to me—something that made me rethink everything, yet again. That person was an oncologist, and what he said was “breast cancer.” And, shockingly, he said it about me.

Suddenly, authenticity became more than an abstract concept or a luxury reserved for artsy types—it became a mandate for my very survival. I decided that, no matter how long or short the rest of my life might turn out to be, I wasn’t going to waste a minute of it pretending to be someone I wasn’t.

The first thing I did was write a memoir. “I loved ninety percent of it,” my first beta-reader said, and I exhaled the breath I’d been holding. “But, ten percent of the time, I felt like you teetered on the edge of pouring your heart out, and then held back. And, of course, the very things you withheld from sharing were the exact things I wanted to read about.”

Actually, I knew every instance she was referring to—every place I’d sanitized or self-censored out of concern for hurting someone’s feelings (a constant risk when writing a memoir) or being judged harshly (because it’s better if everyone likes you all the time, right?) or coming across as melodramatic (even though I am, at times, quite melodramatic). In that moment, that music producer’s advice flooded me, yet again, and I knew what I had to do.

Later, when it came time to write that novel I’d always dreamed about, I initially disregarded that whole nagging “truth” thing. I mean, I was writing fiction, after all, an escape from reality—and a teen romance/coming of age story, at that. What did some half-baked search for the truth have to do with telling a story like that?

A lot, I quickly realized. A lot.

As it turns out, at least for me, if I want my words and ideas to move a reader—no matter the type of writing—those words and ideas have to move me first. And deeply. To tears. To laughter. To swooning. To wishing I could leap into the page. My writing, no matter the type, must give voice to the things I care deeply about—love and hope and overcoming and happily ever afters, chief among them—or else I’m just not being true to myself. And, really, what would be the point in that?

 Laura Roppé is an award-winning singer/songwriter, author, audio book narrator, dance-band frontwoman, and host of Amazon’s weekly podcast, “Kindle Love Stories.” In 2011, Billboard Magazine ranked her Number Three on its chart of the Top 50 “uncharted” artists in the world. Her new novel, Heart Shaped Rock, is a YA/teen romance/coming of age/family drama, featuring an accompanying soundtrack written by Laura.

6 thoughts on “Authenticity is Everything—in Writing and in Life”

  1. Hi Laura,
    There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to wake you up. Mine came at 38, and It was a game-changer. Once I looked mortality in the eye, I realized that my life, however long or short it ends up being, is mine to live. And I better not waste it living somebody else’s dreams. Since I came out of treatment seventeen years ago, my motto has been: if cancer comes back, I don’t want to look back and think that I’ve wasted one moment living less. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Cara

  2. Thanks so much for the post. I too was an attorney who seemed to be a professional success, but knew deep down that I was living someone else’s life. Keep pushing toward your dreams, it looks like you’re now on the right track!

  3. Hi Laura,

    I really enjoy your podcasts. You have a gift for mining out ‘the interesting.’ And your new book sounds fantastic! (Although now I’m thinking we need to hear you sing on the next podcast!! ;0)

    Thank you for sharing your journey!

  4. What an interesting post. I really felt your journey through your writing – well done. What a joy you’ve found – you!

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