Can you remember the exact moment you decided to become a writer?
Did you always know, or did this realization unfold over time?
As a creative person, you realize you’re quite unique–especially when you compare yourself to others, noticing the ways most people live their lives.
You’ve built a life around your art, carving out blocks of time for creative work.
And you’re never complete, are you?
Each project brings new challenges, and you rise to those challenges by pushing yourself, by developing new strategies as you go.
It can be frustrating and lonely at times.
But you know you’re in good company, that your struggles mirror the struggles of writers everywhere.
And this knowledge keeps you going.
So, take a moment to enjoy your path, to lighten your spirit, to celebrate those strange quirks that make you you, those traits that make you a writer.
You know you’re a writer when…
- 1 You can’t help scribbling plot ideas onto napkins, coasters, or the palm of your hand
- 2 You can no longer sit and watch a tv show or movie without looking for (and scrutinizing) the inciting incident
- 3 Whenever a good song ends, you begin constructing characters, spinning a future of tragedy, intrigue, and adventure for the song’s subject
- 4 You can’t read crap. It hurts…
- 5 You suffer trying to find the perfect word, phrase, or image, when you should be banging out your daily word count
- 6 You’d rather get up early to write than go to the gym
- 7 You’d rather curl up with a good book than go out to dinner with friends
- 8 You’ve thought unreasonably hard about keeping your birth name or adopting a more-appropriate pen name.
- 9 You’ve reread certain passages from your favorite books more than a dozen (hundred) times.
- 10 You consult a style or grammar guide more often than you check your text messages.
- 11 Your blood boils when someone omits the Oxford comma.
- 12 You’ve visited your favorite author’s website more than a few times.
- 13 You can’t listen to any song/anywhere without isolating and evaluating the lyrics.
- 14 You’re constantly listening to strangers’ dialog for a protagonist, an antagonist, for a fiction-ready moment.
- 15 You can’t help people watching to develop future character descriptions.
- 16 As a child, every time you heard the words “the end,” you begged your mom to tell you what happened next.
- 17 You gave stories and poems as gifts to your family members.
- 18 You find yourself Googling odd things.
- 19 You’re constantly torn between writing and reading.
You can’t help scribbling plot ideas onto napkins, coasters, or the palm of your hand
The muse never sleeps.
Actually, you’re pretty certain she takes long naps when you ask her for assistance.
And she reminds you, frequently, that she doesn’t do deadlines or writer’s block parties, either.
She does, however, whisper in your ear while you’re having dinner with coworkers, when you’re waiting in a sixty-person line at the DMV, when you’re finally settling in for some overdue REM sleep.
So, you stop what you’re doing, and you take notes: as-long-as-it-takes notes, written on anything you can get your hands on. You turn phrases into melodies, rehearsing them out loud in the car while digging for pens in the glove compartment.
You’ve scribbled notes on moisture-soaked bar napkins to avoid losing those big ideas. You’ve turned to crayons, to green highlighters, to eye liner to capture a moment.
And despite your pledge to carry a tiny notebook and pencil with you wherever you go, she plots the perfect time to catch you unprepared.
You can no longer sit and watch a tv show or movie without looking for (and scrutinizing) the inciting incident
Writing has ruined many of your favorite pastimes.
You can barely watch a sitcom—much less a feature-length film—without turning it into a learning opportunity, into work time.
And if analysis weren’t enough, you move on to evaluation: whether the scene works or not, whether you could somehow improve upon the details.
And you used to hate yourself for this.
But now, you know there’s little you can do about this creative quirk, so you embrace it.
And after you’ve thoroughly dissected that first, fateful turn on the screen, you move on to character arcs.
Whenever a good song ends, you begin constructing characters, spinning a future of tragedy, intrigue, and adventure for the song’s subject
Just like the sitcom and the movie, music is no longer sacred.
You’ve concocted a hellish karma kickback for Billie Jean, that awful girl who lied about poor Michael Jackson “being the one.” You know her age, her size, her weight, and her zip code.
You’ve written her future, complete with an abusive boyfriend, a beautiful, happily-married younger sister, and frequent bouts with painful, debilitating shingles. In a few days, you’ll add new characters to her constellation: Black Betty, Maggie May, and that Janie with a gun.
You can’t read crap. It hurts…
You’ll never buy another novel without first sampling a chapter from Amazon’s
“look inside” feature. Despite the book’s critical accolades, its position on the New York Times Bestseller list, you need to see for yourself.
You scrutinize the author’s word choices, sentence-level structure, dialogue, and organization. If they don’t trip any alarms or turn you off by this point, you just might head out to Barnes & Noble to sample a bit more.
Nothing aggravates you like committing to a read and discovering you’ve been misled. Reading time cuts into your writing time, and you’re determined to make the most of it.
You suffer trying to find the perfect word, phrase, or image, when you should be banging out your daily word count
You know you’re not supposed to be editing, and you pacify yourself by calling it something else, but you just can’t help drifting backwards, evaluating your prose for the slightest flaw, for a missed opportunity.
In truth, this is what drew you to writing in the first place: the power of the perfect word, phrase, or sentence. You realize the potential of a few perfect paragraphs, their ability to change lives.
So, you tell yourself you’re just doing your job, and you continue forward. When you’re not writing, you’re playing the scenes back in your mind, wondering whether you could have said something differently, whether you could have improved the last bit of dialogue in your morning draft.
You’d rather get up early to write than go to the gym
This just might be your only valid excuse for skipping the gym. You’d rather work out your mind than your arms and legs with free weights.
There’s something about the morning hours. You find the darkness, the quiet and solitude, the pure potential, intoxicating. On these mornings, you can’t wait to write, to see where the words take you.There’s something about the morning hours. You find the darkness, the quiet and solitude, the pure potential, intoxicating. On these mornings, you can’t wait to write, to see where the words take you. Click To Tweet
You tell yourself that you’ll take a walk later, that you’ll go for a run, as soon as you’ve met your word count.
And you never feel guilty because you know you’re connecting with the most important work of your day.
You’d rather curl up with a good book than go out to dinner with friends
Once you find a book that meets your standards, you obsess about reading and finishing it.
A night out with friends will keep you from those characters, from that alternate universe rising up in your imagination. When your best friend begins sharing her week, you’re thinking about your hero or heroine, about the tragedy unfolding when you last stopped reading.
You’ll sit there and wonder who will die, whether the antagonist will get his due. While trying to keep up with the conversation at hand, you’ll combine your friends lives with moments from the book on your nightstand.
And it’s frustrating, especially when you could be home in your pajamas with an almond-mocha-chip gelato, spending time with your new friends….
You’ve thought unreasonably hard about keeping your birth name or adopting a more-appropriate pen name.
You’ve spent considerable time writing out these alternate names to see how they look in print. You wonder if your family surname can sway the masses. Does it sound regal or professional enough for the binding of a book cover. Can you see it in the new releases section of your favorite bookstore?
Does it fit your genre? Or, does it sound clunky, too bland or too ethnic, unconvincing as a breakout novelist?
Most of the time, when you hear your name, it reminds you of your third-grade roll call in that dark, damp elementary school class that stifled your creativity.
Does it roll off the tongue? Can you imagine someone naming a cocktail or deli sandwich after you?
You’ve reread certain passages from your favorite books more than a dozen (hundred) times.
We all have a few favorite books– those books that become part of our essence.
When we need a lift, we open to that magical page, and we reread those paragraphs that changed us. Often, we know those passages by heart, yet we love to see them in print, to visit them for a few moments.
They stimulate our creativity, and they recharge our batteries. When we close the pages, we hope we can someday write this well.
Some people pray. Some people exercise. Some folks meditate to find their center. For writers, a few minutes spent with a favorite, familiar book is all we need to find equilibrium.
You consult a style or grammar guide more often than you check your text messages.
You keep a dog-eared copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style within reach of your writing desk (or dining room table). When you’re not supposed to be editing, you can’t resist the urge to look up a rule, to ponder a move before committing it to print.
From the corner of your eye, you can see your queue of text messages growing. You know you should respond to your sister about Sunday breakfast at your mom’s. Your spouse wants a heads up about dinner plans. Your first grader’s teacher wants to schedule a face-to-face meeting
Still, you look up the location for “Expressing Coordinate Ideas in Similar Form” with passion and purpose, convinced that the fate of the universe rests on resolving this issue.
Your blood boils when someone omits the Oxford comma.
Every time you read the news or an article on the Internet, you feel righteous and judgy about the lack of Oxford commas. And don’t let anyone get you started on comma splices.
Your blood pressure climbs when someone publishes without proofreading. Worse, you’re convinced the whole damned world doesn’t understand or care about basic grammar.
The horror and shame of it all.
When you need a boost, instead of reaching for a smoothie, a power bar, or a double espresso, you visit your favorite author’s website.
You click through to the blog, hoping for news of a new release or a sequel. You write long, pithy comments about his or her latest post, but each time—after drafting and editing multiple versions— you click delete.
You’ve Googled their names and relationship status so many times, it comes up in the auto suggest box when you start typing. You’ve Googled the phrase “what constitutes stalking” more than once.
You can’t listen to any song/anywhere without isolating and evaluating the lyrics.
As if spinning futures for song characters wasn’t enough…
You know you do it.
No matter where you go, when you catch a piece of a song, you can’t allow yourself to let go and enjoy it. God forbid, someone wrote a song for fun, for the sheer joy of singing the oohhhh, ayyyyyy, ahhhhhh of it.
No, not you.
You need to deconstruct it, to analyze the rhyme structure, to judge the writer’s command of prosody, symbolism, and irony. It’s maddening, isn’t it? You can’t enjoy the bass line or the syncopated beat without judging the lyrics.
You’re constantly listening to strangers’ dialog for a protagonist, an antagonist, for a fiction-ready moment.
You love listening in, but it’s not for gossip or pleasure. It’s research, correct?
That beautiful twenty-something girl with the balding sixty-something boyfriend catches your attention every time. You can just make out the details of the conversation:
She’s tired of the low-light restaurants, sitting in a remote booth near the kitchen. She wants sunlight, golden beaches, and crystal blue waters. She doesn’t give a hoot about his wife anymore. She’s threatening to tell the world about their little…
Oops. Err… Edit.
After the dutiful daughter finishes grad school, daddy will send her to Key West for some well-earned rest and relaxation.
You can’t help people watching to develop future character descriptions.
When the dialogue dead ends, the blond bombshell daughter morphs into the subject of a scandalous affair with an older man. They sit in the dark corners of out-of-the-way restaurants while the unsuspecting wife hosts charity auctions across town.
Or the young woman turns out to be his daughter from a one-night stand with a waitress in Dallas twenty-three years ago.
On your bad days, you turn your mother in law’s signature eye roll and chortle into markers for sociopathy. You imagine her burning holes in the ozone with her satanic stare. Tomorrow, if she’s gone by noon, you can turn her into a billionaire con-artist, running a pyramid scheme from her PC in the basement.
As a child, every time you heard the words “the end,” you begged your mom to tell you what happened next.
You couldn’t get enough of the bed-time story.
In fact, after “lights out,” you pulled the flashlight from your nightstand and went to work. Depending on your mood, and whether you were sleepy or not, the characters went on to rule entire universes.
If you felt crabby, they suffered catastrophic, incurable diseases until a mysterious, galactic shaman arrived to save the day.
Never satisfied with the classic ending, you’d spend hours spinning stories.
You’d share them with friends, but no one seemed to understand your need to revise all the childhood classics.
You gave stories and poems as gifts to your family members.
As a child, you were never satisfied with a store-bought gift. You’d spend days working on a short story or a collection of poems for your mother’s birthday.
You’d design a captivating cover out of construction paper and watercolors, punching holes down the left margin, threading the spine with yarn.
When the gifts went around the table, you couldn’t wait for her to open yours.
Counting the days until those stories would be read by millions, you’d sit there with your six-year-old arms crossed, smug and certain about your distinguished future.
You find yourself Googling odd things.
Ever worry about someone over your shoulder viewing the autocomplete search suggestions on your writing computer?
Do you conduct “research” on an incognito browser?
Come on. You know you have.
You have characters to create, psychological profiles to complete.
And your writing often takes you through dark alleys and side streets.
You can’t get through your next chapter without understanding the differences between a Brooklyn and a Queens accent.
You need to know whether your protagonist’s new love interest is a sociopath or a narcissist.
You need to know the full range of medications prescribed for schizophrenia.
You need to exactly know how long it takes for a body to ____________ in the trunk of a car at ___________ degrees Fahrenheit.
You’re constantly torn between writing and reading.
It seems like you’re always wrestling with guilt.
Every time you pick up a book, whether it’s for entertainment or research, you feel like you should be writing.
You understand how reading deepens your awareness, how digesting good prose adds depth and variety to your toolkit. As awareness expands, so does your craft.
So why is it so hard to allow yourself some well-deserved, reading time?
This difficulty stems from the treadmill mindset, the same mindset that drives people to work 60-hour weeks, depleting their energy reserves.
We don’t value or prioritize downtime. We don’t value preparation, either.
We value grinding out results, day after day, week after week.
Over time, we can’t distinguish between productive and destructive.
Reading keeps our mind and our tools sharp. We need to balance productivity with self care. If we truly wish to grow and evolve as writers, we must work on this balance.
Like revision and editing, we simply commit to the process.
I hope you found parts of yourself in this article.
And I sincerely hope you take some time today to celebrate yourself and the wonderfully creative work you do.
What’s your story? How did you know you were destined to become a writer?
Tell us about it in the comments below.