RE Hengsterman On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer
An Interview with Kristin Marquet
Ignore the rules. Don’t get too caught up in needing an MFA or creative writing degree. I don’t have either and my writing may show a lack of formal education. But I still write. That said, good writing outweighs what the establishment defines. Fixed rules don’t apply to creativity. Step outside the box. The writing world can view you as an outsider if you wavier from the established guidelines or the defined path. But it’s additive, not reductive. Define your own craft, find your own voice.
Some writers and authors have a knack for using language that can really move people. Some writers and authors have been able to influence millions with their words alone. What does it take to become an effective and successful author or writer?
In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer” we are talking to successful authors and writers who can share lessons from their experience.
As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing R.E. Hengsterman.
R.E. Hengsterman was born in Virginia and raised in New York. An emergency room nurse, he began writing as an exercise in personal exploration. He lives in North Carolina with the family and on occasion wears pants.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My origin story comes from exhausting the rational approaches that speak to one’s inner demons. I tried the maladaptive ways to exist. They did not serve me well. To those in my inner circle, I was a storyteller. And several of those individuals told me I should write my experiences on paper. I am lucky; I have a career as a nurse, but writing was my genuine passion. Writing became an anchor for normalcy. When I can’t write, I become unhinged and self-destructive. I spent a lifetime as an emergency room nurse. During my struggles, I was trying to understand who I wanted to be. I am both a nurse and author.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Interesting, yet come. Humiliating, that’s happened. Early on, I crafted (spent hours) an inquiry pitch letter with the premise that submitting to literary journals and publications was an act of self-flagellation that exposed the raw, human soul. The editor wrote back that my submission query was offensive and unnecessary. An embarrassment to the profession. The moral of the story: keep your queries short, sweet and to the point. That said, don’t avoid sprinkling your personal story within the brevity.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a writer? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
I suspect, as with most writers, it’s finding the time to write. Distractions are inevitable. Families, outside responsibilities, internal pressure. If there’s a crumb on the floor, it can sidetrack me. I question whether I’m in the right frame of mind. I try to make the opportunities to write without being too rigid. And to write across the spectrum of emotions (anger, loneliness, aggression, depression) to expose the writing to an array of mental mindsets.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once Google, “How do I become a successful writer?” Try it. See what results. The lead article had a picture of a writer in a coffee shop. I look back in disgust. It was desperation. My advice, whatever you find, ignore that advice. Don’t work too hard to fit the aesthetic profile of a writer. Work hard on writing. The defining details will fall into place, and you will become a writer. It’s not something you can force into the universe without doing the work. Everything finds its level, including good writing.
In your opinion, were you a “natural born writer” or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Natural writer, no. Storyteller, yes. A natural born explorer, manipulator of my personal experiences. I narrated my life through an internal voice. The voice was of a father, son, liar, cheat, lover, and flawed human. I told myself many untruths in designing that narrative, and when offered the opportunity, transcribed that narration on pen and paper. This is something we have. A natural (internal) storytelling voice. It takes the right opportunity to bring that voice forefront. I found an opportunity amid self-inflicted life struggles. As for the actual writing, I work very hard to produce something palatable.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
A second short story collection titled THUMP. I love the short story format. It fits with how I view the world. I’ve dabbled with the idea of a novel, and someday will pursue the idea with greater impetus. But for now, it’s the shorter works that appeal to me.
Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer”? Please share a story or example for each.
(1) Develop your own voice. No one else has that. Don’t mimic your favorite writer. Honor them with your interpretation of the world.
(2) Don’t be too rigid. If you can’t set aside time to write, don’t worry. Write when you can. If you try to force your writing, you may struggle. The human mind is fickle and moody. Your job is to recognize your personal window. It’s not every day between noon and when your kids get home from school or whenever a blog on the rules of writers says it should be. It’s on your time. Cultivated from your emotions and experiences.
(3) Allow for forgiveness. You are going to look at your writing, past or current, and think it’s absolute garbage. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. You are crafting a work from scratch. Allow yourself leeway to be imperfect. By doing so, you will get more words on paper. That’s the goal. From there, you develop the finer details. Getting the first words on paper is the hardest part. Beating yourself up can wreak havoc on your soul and leave your pages empty.
(4) Find a mentor. Having someone who has walked in your shoes can be very helpful. The tricky part is allowing that mentor into your life. You can’t search. The mentoring pairing needs to be organic and through your growth in writing. Searching too hard for a mentor is counterproductive. If you train, write, inquire, publish, excellent mentors will find their way into your life.
(5) Ignore the rules. Don’t get too caught up in needing an MFA or creative writing degree. I don’t have either and my writing may show a lack of formal education. But I still write. That said, good writing outweighs what the establishment defines. Fixed rules don’t apply to creativity. Step outside the box. The writing world can view you as an outsider if you wavier from the established guidelines or the defined path. But it’s additive, not reductive. Define your own craft, find your own voice.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?
The habit of accepting humility. Making honest and personal mistakes. Imperfections, personal flaws, vulnerabilities, and insecurities are the true genesis for great writing. I have a habit of making mistakes. A habit of being my worst enemy. The ability to persevere despite my faults gives me continued hope that I will find and develop an outlet for my voice. What contributes to any individual becoming a talented writer can vary.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
The short story. A well written short story can move you the way music can transform your mood. A single note that transports you to a specific time or place. Raymond Carver’s “Why don’t you dance” does that for me. One of my favorite short stories. Powerful, introspective, uncomfortable, and awkward. I find the characters real. Their angst, palpable and relatable.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Give everyone on the planet the ability of literacy. There is freedom in the written word. Well-crafted stories make us empathetic towards others. Reading can free us from our silos, our bubbles, by understanding others and their personal struggles with love, death, tragedy, suffering and those events tied to the human experience. Through diversity, we discover our similarities. We grow to accept our differences.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My work can be found at www.rehengsterman.com or @robhengsterman
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
My pleasure and thank you. I enjoyed it.