Saying It Out Loud

by Karen L. Hogan

In 1976, I took an eight-week trip to Europe to prove I was more than a 27-year old divorced administrative assistant with an English degree.

In Arles, I met and fell in love with a Canadian. He was going through a divorce; I was a few years down the road from mine, but still confused. We both liked Hemingway.

He followed me to Paris where we drank scotch and smoked little cigars and strolled along the Seine in the footsteps of Papa Hemingway. The night before I left to return to San Francisco, wrapped in sheets in a Latin Quarter hotel, I wept at the beauty of our love. He burst into tears. He hadn’t left his wife because she stifled his Hemingway-inspired commitment to grace under pressure. She had left him. And he was still in love with her.

Here’s what was good about that trip. Somewhere in the South of France, as I wrote in my journal, I had a revelation that I was a writer. I had something to say, and I wanted to find out what it was. Back home, by day, I was still an administrative assistant, but at night, imagining myself in a Paris apartment, I drank scotch, smoked little cigars and wrote about romances going badly.

I never have been very fond of hard liquor. And I don’t smoke. I ended up with headaches, bad breath, and drafty drafts.

But, it’s what I had to do to convince myself that I was a writer. I had a steamer trunk full of a family-given identity that I carried with me: girls weren’t writers. Girls cleaned kitchens and took care of everyone else. What could they possibly have to write about? But wasn’t it cute that they tried. Now get back to the kitchen.

I continued to write over the years, became a bartender so I could write during the day, and then a technical writer. But still, I whispered the word writer in sentences that began “I am a …”

In 2005, married to a loving man to whom I didn’t have to whisper writer, I finally got the nerve to send my writing out into the world. My husband asked someone he know in the industry if he could recommend an agent for me.

Sure, the man said. Have her send me some of her writing.

I did.

Two months later on an otherwise lovely Sunday morning, I received his email. There was nothing compelling or original about anything I wrote, he assured me. He was truly sorry my mother had ever been born because if she hadn’t been born then I wouldn’t have been born, and he would not have had to read my meaningless drivel.

Okay, he didn’t say that stuff about my mother in so many words. But he implied it.

Two days later, I scraped myself off the floor, printed his email, put it through a paper shredder and, with love in my heart and peace in my soul, listened to his screams as I imagined him burning along with the shredded paper I threw into the fireplace.

Here’s what was good about that episode. I faced my primal fear. He told me I had nothing to say. I didn’t believe him. I did have something to say. I went to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival that summer, and then returned each summer for five years. It taught me how to own myself as a writer. And so I became a better one.

I was sailing along, comfortable in my skin as a writer. Then, this past year, I listened to a Bill Moyers’ interview with Louise Erdrich. Here she was, a successful writer who had endured years of rejection letters. How, he wondered, could anyone continue to write after getting rejection after rejection.

It plunged me into a funk. How could I call myself a writer if I wasn’t published, and how could I ever get published if I wasn’t willing to go through the gauntlet of rejections. I was on the verge of whispering writer to finish the sentence “I am a …”

Instead, I asked myself three questions.

Am I a writer? Since I write, I answered yes.

Ah, but am I a successful writer? I thought, well, I write the stories I want to tell, and I write until I get them right. So, yes, I am a successful writer.

So, why do I want to get published? And then it came to me – because I have something to say, and I want to share it.

Here’s what was good about that dive into the abyss. As clear as the revelation that I was a writer enlightened me in the South of France some thirty years ago, it came to me that while getting rejection notices might deter me from sending things out for publication, it would not stop me from writing. Getting published is just a matter of beating the odds, a chore to complete. Send enough pieces out and eventually, something will be published. And then I will be a published writer. My life will be pretty much the same as it is now.

I write because I feel compelled to write and I write until I get it right. That makes me a writer. And, I can say it out loud.


Karen Hogan writes short stories, literary nonfiction, essays and poetry. She is currently working on her first novel. She has hosted a literary salon for the past seven years, a place where writers come to read their own writing and listen to others. She has published five anthologies that have come out of the salon. She has directed and performed in  staged readings of short stories and The Vagina Monologues, and has appeared in The Diviners. As she wrote in a poem several years ago, Karen writes to make herself right with the world, to feel the truth that life is neither just, nor right, but a story unfolding in the order just right. You can read more of Karen’s work at the Writing Shed.

14 Responses to Saying It Out Loud
  1. James
    December 9, 2010 | 1:43 AM

    Never get discouraged by retarded people they can’t be described in any worst way possible. i also recommend do watch “Pursuit of Happiness” starring Will Smith, and we all are human and we all need to learn to grow and become successful.

  2. @fearofwriting
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    December 9, 2010 | 9:30 AM

    I felt I was indulging in something wonderful as I read this. You even had me in suspense, wanting to find out what conclusions you came to. I’m so glad you concluded that you’re a writer for your own reasons. It’s something many of us need to keep rediscovering throughout the journey. It was helpful in a timely way for me to get this reminder from your post.
    I love the way you structured this. I didn’t think about the word ‘structure’ as I was reading, but I did notice how deftly you handled the unfolding of your theme – including repeating certain phrases and types of stories to make it effective.
    I especially loved the romantic opening! How fitting that you made me feel I was reading a romance. Besides being in tune with the writing you’ve done about the man-woman type, the way you’ve evoked romance in your opening paragraphs speaks volumes about your love for your own writing.
    I clicked on your blog and feel eager to read more. Thank you for this beautiful guest post.
    ~ Milli

  3. Marta Szabo
    December 9, 2010 | 11:13 AM

    Liked this alot!

  4. j
    December 9, 2010 | 11:21 AM

    Milli tweeted “The romance of writing. The romance of self-belief.” That says it all. (You two make a great team, Milli and Karen.) I absolutely adore this piece. Like I knew I would.

  5. Lois
    December 9, 2010 | 11:56 AM

    To someone who can’t seem to sit still long enough to edit, let alone get published, this is very encouraging. I seem to go from idea to idea to idea, but that’s been it. I’m finally sitting down and working on revising my latest novel, and, come Hell or high water, I am determined to see it through to the final draft.
    Thank you for sharing this! You are a model of persistence and determination. 😀

  6. Karen Hogan
    December 9, 2010 | 2:36 PM

    Thanks, James. I’ve been meaning to check out that movie, and now I will. Walt Whitman said (a bit paraphrased), dismiss that which insults your soul and your very body will be a great poem.
    Good to remind ourselves of that.

  7. Karen Hogan
    December 9, 2010 | 2:41 PM

    Milli, thank you for taking the time to tell me what you liked about the post. I spent a career day at a middle school where I spoke throughout the day to 8th graders about writing as a career. Most hated writing. But one teacher had her class send me thank you letters. The boy who was determined to not be interested at the beginning, said I sucked the least of everyone. I took that as a compliment. My favorite was a student who wrote that I had showed him that the best thing about writing is that you can say whatever you want to say. It provides the forum for that.
    Makes me love writing even more.

  8. Karen Hogan
    December 9, 2010 | 2:42 PM

    Marta: Thank you for reading it and taking the time to read it. Onward with writing.

  9. Karen Hogan
    December 9, 2010 | 2:44 PM

    Thanks, girlfriend and fellowess writer. Writing this piece took me out of my doldrums. Thanks for asking me to write it.

  10. Karen Hogan
    December 9, 2010 | 2:47 PM

    Lois, I actually love to rewrite. It’s kind of like a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day — I get lost in it and feel at home as I work to try and really articulate what I want to say. I call writing a dowsing tool, we use it to discover the pools of feelings, emotions, and wisdom we carry. Keep on keeping on.

  11. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    December 9, 2010 | 2:55 PM

    “So, why do I want to get published? And then it came to me – because I have something to say, and I want to share it.”
    I love that. It can be so hard when you are so invested in a piece of writing because you know you need to share it and someone “important” (an agent, editor, publisher) is dismissive. But you do need to stick with it, and your paper shredder trick is great, I’m going to try that.

  12. Karen Hogan
    December 9, 2010 | 3:15 PM

    Patrick, yeah that paper shredder trick is the bees knees. It feels great to shred bad juju. Sticking with it is my new mantra. Thanks for the encouragement.

  13. […] “Saying It Out Loud,” Karen L. Hogan, Fear of Writing: This post will help and inspire any creative looking to put their work out into the world. Oh, and you get a peek at a steamy love affair the author had in Paris! […]

  14. Susan
    December 11, 2010 | 1:12 PM

    Nicely done. I enjoyed this. Thank you.

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