Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why I Write: The Thursday Afternoon #MINI


The person sitting next to me was just the person you didn't want to be sitting next to on a five-hour flight; overly curious, just old enough not to care about what anyone thought about her, and slightly redolent of cat urine. She pointed an alabaster finger at my computer as the captain announced we had reached cruising altitude, meaning we only had four-and-a-half hours flying time left.

"Whatya doing?"

In truth, I was trying to finish up the edits on my latest manuscript, but I just shrugged, hoping she would go back to staring out the window, below which the green majesty of the Northern Forest crawled past.

"Looks like you're writing a book?"

I nodded.

"You some kind of author?"

Indeed I was, the unpublished kind, the kind of author I was going to remain if I didn't get these edits into my literary agent.

"Trying to be."

She pushed her pince-nez glasses back against her sharp, thin face and leaned against me to get a better view of my screen.

"This isn't erotica, is it?"

I assured her it wasn't.

"My friend Mabel reads erotica, but I don't touch it."

She reached over my lap and twisted the laptop toward her, squinting as if she had just sucked on a lemon. After a few minutes she straightened back up in her seat.

"It's not half bad, although I don't think Mabel would like it, not steamy enough for her."

I went back to my editing, conscious of her gazing over my shoulder at the computer. 

"Have I read anything of yours?"

I explained to her that I was still unpublished, after a solid decade of writing, editing and querying. Her thin purple lips curled into a snarl; or maybe she was smiling. It was hard to tell.

"Can I ask you something?"

A hundred responses tumbled through my head; I didn't utter any of them, nodding instead.

"Why are you bothering?"

It was the same question I used to get all the time, before people stopped asking me anything at all about my writing. My wife has asked me this question--many, many times--my friends have asked me, and my patients have grumbled it, sour-faced, usually after having had to see one of the other providers in my office. 

"You say you've been doing this for more than ten years, and you're still not published?"

I nodded; the angle of her lips steepened, giving her a look of sheer incredulity.

"Why don't you just give up and do something else?"

I'll give her one thing; she wasn't afraid to say what was on her mind. I had a strong suspicion she was going to recommend I take up Canasta, but she lapsed into silence instead, and fell asleep a moment later, her breath coming in soft snorts and chortles.

Letting out a sigh of relief, I opened my laptop and got back after it--or tried to get back after it, that is, as her words reverberated in my skull. Why don't you just give up and do something else?

In truth, I've tried to give up a handful of times, usually after a flurry of rejections or--even worse--no responses from the agents and/or publishers to whom I had sent material. One rejection is bad enough, but five in a few day's time? That's soul-sucking.

But I don't stay away too long. The truth is, I like to write. That's pretty much all there is to it. If you are wondering why I woke up at 4:30 am for an entire year to write my first manuscript, it's because I enjoyed doing it. I thought things had changed after I signed with a top-notch literary agent back in 2013, but they hadn't, I was just hoping they had. (I hoped that) Writing had become a profession for me, something I was doing because I had to or because I had been somehow ordained to. But this was merely a fanciful notion, one that was dispelled for me by the score or so editors who passed on my manuscript. 

One of the editors (who worked for a major, Big 5 publishing house) was enthusiastic enough about the book to pass it up the chain, but in the end it was still a no. There were other positive signs as well: the first being that the concept and pitch had garnered as much interest as it did, having been requested by more than two dozen mid and major houses; the second was the significant amount of optimistic feedback the manuscript had garnered along with the rejections--an unusual thing and a very good omen according to Liz, my agent. 

But in the end it was still a no, and I remained a guy who enjoys writing, not a published author. It was a distinction of which I was acutely aware for several months, and one that kept me from lifting the lid of my MacBook for a good long while.

When I finally got back on the horse to start working on an idea that had been flitting around in my head, it wasn't that I had thought of a story that just needed to be written, or created a character so real and so original it just had to be fleshed out on paper. Rather, I realized I missed the process of developing a story and creating characters by writing words down on paper. And so I got back on the horse and started writing what has now become my third novel, which I have tentatively named The Intern.

Soon, Liz will be shopping The Intern to editors and publishing houses, some of them being the same ones that rejected me four years ago. To be honest, I'm nervous about it. There's nothing quite like the feeling of having someone say they are not interested in something you have spent four years writing. 

Why do I continue? You know the answer. I enjoy the process of writing. The only piece of advice I have for people who are considering taking up writing is just that: By all means do write, but write because you enjoy the process of writing (and editing and re-writing etc.). Don't write because you think you need to, or because you have to tell a certain story, or because your style is so original or unique, or any other reason than you enjoy the process. 
Think of it this way: If you really, truly enjoy the process, you can never be unhappy with the outcome. Was I over-joyed that my last manuscript didn't clear the last hurdle prior to being published? No, I wasn't; but was I glad I spent countless hours creating it? You bet, and I would do it again. (In point of fact, I am doing it again.)

"Did you finish?"

My friend has awoken; she's staring at me with the same look, the one I can't tell if it's a smile or a sneer.

"Yup."

"Good, I'm getting tired of the same old authors."

Cheers, peter


Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include THE INTERN, a novel based loosely on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of The Book Stops Herethe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of three tribes on Triberr, The Big ThrillFiction Writers and The Book Shelf. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and fouchildren--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at peter@peterhogenkamp.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at liz@kimberleycameron.com.