I’m sure there are many lists out there on the interwebs that cover the same subject as this one. However, I made the diplomatic decision to not google “You know you’re a writer when” so that I didn’t stumble across an awesome list that includes things I’d never thought of for mine, or one that presents their points far more beautifully than me. I’m avoiding plagiarism really, I should probably get bonus points. (And if I’m in strong enough denial I might be able to delude myself into thinking this is the only list of it’s kind on the internet. Wow!)
– When you see somebody interesting you begin to think of a life story for them. You come up with their background, their childhood, what their personality is like, where they work, what their secret dreams are, turn them into spies, murderers, amazing chefs, etc. You also understand that ‘interesting’ can include a very long, varied list of humans that might not be interesting to others at all.
– You often find yourself narrating your activities in a voice that isn’t yours, but a character’s. Then you go a step further and start putting their spin / feeling on the activity instead of your own. And if you go one step further you’ll include why they feel that way about an activity when you give them a history.
– You read a lot of books as a child (if you were able to) and they were a great comfort, or love. You also still have your favourite childhood books.
– You wrote stories as a child. I’ve mentioned before my very first masterpiece (indeed my only masterpiece) “The Cat and the Dog” which was a short story about – you guessed it – meeting a cat and a dog I wrote when I was 4. I promised I’d find the book and post the pictures, but all I could find was my second work, ‘The Frog’
– When you were upset, depressed or mad, you often wrote about it. Nowadays it’s much easier to write a social networking status about our problems, but I think a true writer has a journal or notebook, or a childhood diary, full of these miserable moments that alternate between explaining the situation in full and beautiful prose describing the feelings over the event. Reaching for that notebook and pen when you were depressed and alone was like reaching for your only friend, and you felt release when the words were down. You won’t find the same feeling of peace after an angry status, trust me.
– There’s always at least one half-written story saved on your computer.
– You feel at peace perusing a book shelf. Sitting for hours pulling down books at random from every genre, having to painfully play elimination until you’ve got just the one or two you can afford. “This one is bigger so I’d get my moneys worth… but this one has a pretty picture on the cover…”
– Your bookshelf is your pride and joy. My boyfriend’s brother was talking about this; he explained it so much better than I ever could but I completely agreed (see? I agreed. Therefore it can be my opinion too, right?) A bookshelf is a very special piece of furniture – setting it up takes a lot of thought. There are some books you don’t want on your bookshelf because they ruin how it feels. Your bookshelf shows who you are, where you’ve been and who you want to become. Mine has sections: all time favourites, classics, books I want to read, and books I think I should read. I owe this revelation of how I stack them to that brother-in-law (ever more talented than I) as previously I did this subconsciously. Seriously the ‘crappy’ books I don’t want to admit I’ve read are in a box, the alright ones are stacked next to the bookshelf and the shelf itself is in a hierarchy from best to not as best. With some colour coordinating.
– You can openly admit that there are crappy books. None of this “no every book is special! You obviously don’t care!” stuff, you understand that in order for a book to be special there are factors: quality, feeling, author (perhaps the book was the reason you became interested them), where it came from, how you came to read it, when in your life you read it – you have a history with all your books, no matter how small.
– You understand that you don’t have to finish reading a book. One of the best moments in my reading life was realising it’s okay to put a novel down if I don’t like it. There are no rules saying you must finish every book you start. You only have to finish the ones that you want to, and if you don’t? Put it back.
– You have that one paragraph or two that is the best thing you’ve ever written… but it doesn’t fit in any story you try to write for it.
– Inspiration can come from any place. It might not lead anywhere in the long run but you’ve been surprised by some of the inspirations you’ve had.
– Characters sometimes refuse to cooperate or stick to the original plan for a story. They’re like the whiny teenagers who won’t submit to the ‘be home by 10’ rule at times.
– If you’re a fan of journals and notebooks you have many, and definitely a favourite. You’ll perhaps even go through phases with ‘special’ pens. Here’s mine, though I mostly type to save my hands from shrivelling up.
– Words often speak to you. By which I mean, every now and then you get the eerie feeling that what you’re reading was meant specifically for you, at that specific point in your life… You weren’t expecting to see yourself or your situation staring up at you from a page until it happens, and it’s always a little bit spooky. If you’re remembering a time that wasn’t a little bit spooky, then it hasn’t happened to you yet.
– It can be hard, painful, emotional, draining to finish a piece of work. But you can’t stop.
– Finally, it’s that indescribable internal push to write. You don’t really know why you have to, you just know that there’s an irresistible need to put pen to paper and create. It’s the ever moving gust of wind, or spirit that swirls inside, rushing you along and spouting from your imagination, lips, fingers. It’s the feeling that keeps you going, that keeps returning you to your literary work time and time again even if the rest of you feels hopeless. It’s the reason you chose to say “I’m a writer.” It’s different for everyone, and always just beyond the perfect describing words – which is ironic, considering our line of work.
This list will be forever incomplete. Impossible, to say the least, to nail every point that defines why we write. Beyond definition, and certainly not encompassing of every person who has picked up a pencil and sat down to create a story, then chosen to do it for life. Your own reasons, quirks or funny moments will vary from other’s; you’re welcome to include your own points for this list! No doubt I’ll be adding new ones.