6 Signs You’re A Writer! : )
There is a sinister anonymity to most listicles. It is difficult to imagine a human being ever writing one. It is tempting to imagine some forgotten Nevada town, a labyrinth of two lane roads and warehouses, where all the shared facts and themes of listicles are hidden in some storage unit. It is tempting to imagine a lock box, or some ancient military-issue desktop computer from the Gulf War, with a forbidden master list of content. “Chris Farley was the original voice of Shrek!” “Trent Reznor says Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt is better than his!” “Bill Murray agreed to do Garfield because he thought the Coens wrote it!”
But we are all weak, and we have all probably read at least one of the listicles generated by that sinister Nevada algorithm. The SEO finds us in a state of weakness and it imprisons us, however briefly. My favorite recurring listicle, which jumps between websites every few months and reconfigures itself slightly, is the “Top [10-25] Signs You’re A Writer!” listicle. It is my favorite because it is the mostspectacularly, consistently wrong.
Here are two recent examples: one from Thought Catalog and another from a community contributor to Buzzfeed. There’s something fascinating about just how wrong they are. They have no grasp whatsoever of the realities of being a writer. They are fiction spun from fiction, written by someone who is not a writer, but has a friend who saw a Woody Allen movie.
They are bad.
Strange, outmoded clichés abound in these articles. The false idol of the “old typewriter,” the myth of the urban coffee shop as a productive writing space, and the damnable lie that Midnight in Paris was funny. I could go through these articles and tear them down, but why bother? The computer in Nevada will simply churn out more.
Really, it’s because the articles anger me enough to necessitate a response, so I will take up arms against the computer by simply creating an accurate list, in a voice consistent with the listicles that came before it. A list of honest signs that one is a writer, where going to coffee shops is a rarity and typewriters are the domain of antique collectors, as they should be.
1. Your Entire Existence Is Characterized By Doubt!
You will get up in the morning and doubt your skill as a writer. You will progress through the day doubting your current project, your previous project, and the honesty of the people who claim to take interest in either. The doubt will paralyze you at times. You will look outside the window and see the mailman and fantasize about a job with a steady routine and a steady paycheck until finally, you go to bed and night and doubt the validity of calling yourself a writer at all.
2. You Openly Fantasize About Selling Out!
The financial struggles of being an aspiring writer are not romantic struggles. There is no awkward counting of quarters at the coffee shop because there is no coffee shop when a can of Folgers is $8. Neither are there Amazon wishlists, nor thrift store hunts for decorative typewriters. And there is no need for “writing supplies” once you have a computer. A career in writing is a career in skirting the edge of homelessness. If you have artistic integrity, it’s the first thing to go in the quest for comfortably getting out of the physiological layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Much as we all want it to be otherwise, artistic integrity is not a financially valuable asset in post-Sputnik America.
3. You Desire Legitimization of Your Antisocial Tendencies!
As a child, you didn’t get along well with others. Your relationships have stalled and failed. You had little aptitude for sports and made no particular impression at school. But you lust for power as all humans do, and you know that running your mouth online is a shortcut to attention and a spotlight. Writing solves your problem. You’re a loner because you’re too special for the ravages of modern society – because you have Important Things To Say. Writing allows you to blunt your anxiety and fear through alcohol and call it part of your process. It allows you to articulate hatreds that might otherwise transmute into political demagoguery or actual violence. It explains your failures and wraps them in gift paper and a tidy bow. And as you practice and build up a reader base and hone your skill, this apparent power and influence becomes an intoxicant. Deficiencies of ego are swept away for a few minutes as people retweet you and your hit count lurches forward. Writing is a cure-all. For a few minutes.
4. Every Time You Finish A Piece, You Feel Like You Might Never Write Again!
Writing is a constant war with yourself against the ever-present desire to stop writing forever. The exhaustion and anxiety over a finished article as it is scrutinized in public makes you want to change everything about the way you live. It makes you want to do crazy things, like start over in a new town under a new name and become a truck driver. When creative drive is exhausted, it feels like it will never come back.
5. You Constantly Rationalize Loneliness Like That Sh** Is Crack!
Writing is inward and solitary to the point of pathology. Stripped of all glamorization, of dreams about coffee shops and what it would be like to have your own apartment in the city, writing is a career path where, for no money, you stare at an empty desk and look at a glowing LCD screen until your conception of time and space is muddled. That’s when dark questions creep into the corner of your mind, about personal brands and whether this new project is in character for you. And you turn around and there’s no one there to pull you back to earth. There’s nothing but the void and that desk and that glowing screen, which is the loneliest place on earth. And you’ll spend as much time rationalizing the void as you ever will typing.
6. Failure Is The Only Constant!
And when all is swept away, the loneliness accepted and the poverty tolerated and the blinds closed on the window by the mailman, there remains only failure. There is no great tangible success for the average writer. There are only more acceptable failures. So you “use it” in your writing, because that’s what your creative writing professor told you to do. And you sit down at the glowing screen, prepared for failure. Here we are now, at 3 a.m., remembering childhood traumas and dredging up memories spawned by loneliness and fear and the pet obsessions birthed by isolation, because we’re writers. Here we are now, using it.
It’s enough to go mad, this high-stakes emotional engagement building up to the conditioned familiarity of failure. Putting on a show can help – using external signifiers to tell people we’re writers, to rationalize the doom and the dread. Sometimes it means bringing a notebook to a coffee shop, or buying a typewriter. No it doesn’t.