A Fish Full Of Stinging Insects Bites You In The Ass

My Sword (I’m actually in a pretty good mood today, so take this with a bit of a wink and a nod.)

(But don’t think I’m not still giving you people the Milky Stink-eye.)

(Milky Stink-eye!)

I’m here to bring the news. Seriously. It’s a newspaper wrapped around a fish, and in the fish is a bunch of stinging insects, and you open the newspaper up, and you’re like, “Oh, goddamn, this fish stinks,” and then the fish’s mouth opens, and all these stinging insects fly or crawl out, and next thing you know they’re on your hand, and they’re stinging the shit out of you, and then you you don’t even smell the fish anymore, because you’re like, “No! Holy shit! SNAARGH! Why were there angry insects inside the fish! Who did this to me?”

And then you realize. I did it. I did it to you.

People who call yourselves writers — I’m talking to you on this one. I’ve got three things I’d like to say. Actually, I’m going to yell them. Just imagine me yelling them at you. Flecks of spittle and all. I’ll spare you by not writing all in caps and using an unholy fistful of exclamation points, but don’t think I don’t want to.

Number One: You Might Not Actually Be A Writer

You fake writers have really fucked it up for us real writers. Yeah, I said it. I go and I tell most people I’m a writer, and they give me this kind of lame half-nod, this tiny curl to the lips, and part of me always wondered why that is. Their eyes laugh like I have a stain on my shirt. Do they so easily dismiss the profession? That’s probably part of it (even though writers are in all corners, writing ad copy and toaster manuals and shit), but the other part? There’s too many people out there who call themselves writers, when they’re no such thing. Oh, I know, we want to be huggy-feely-cushy-kissy blah-blah-blah, “Oh, everybody can be a writer, some people are hobbyists, some people are just unpublished, they’re all under our tent.”

Eff that ess, em-effers. This is my tent. Get out! You’re stepping on my comic books and you knocked over my drink. Seriously, when did we let hobbyists of this particular stripe call themselves writers? We need to put our boot down, Real Writers. We need to tell these people what’s what. We need to take their cookies and eat their cookies in front of them, with crumbs all falling out of our mouths in wasteful mockery! I don’t mean to rain on your parade, no. I mean to wildly urinate all over your parade, like an epileptic peeing mid-seizure. God’s Great Golden Shower.

Here’s the thing. I love playing with Photoshop. I’m getting pretty okay with some parts of it. I play with it for many an hour a night. But I’m not a graphic designer, and I don’t call myself that.

Last couple summers, I helped put up our fence, and helped cut and build our deck walkway. Am I a fucking carpenter? When someone comes up to me on the street, and asks me what I do, do I say, “I’m a fucking carpenter?” No, I do not, because if I did that, a real carpenter would pop out of a manhole cover and bury his hammer in my skull. (I had originally written, “bury his hammer in my ass,” but I didn’t want anybody to mistakenly assume I meant he got gay with me. Nothing wrong with getting gay, but I really wanted to be clear about violence, and not intimate that my carpentry poser maneuver earned me gay love.)

My wife and I played Frisbee the other night at the park. Maybe we’re now both Frisbee Champions? I mean, we both won. You can’t really lose at Frisbee. We’re Champions! At Frisbee! Fuck yeah!

No. No, we’re not Frisbee Champions. I’m not a carpenter. I’m not a graphic designer.

But writer gets some kind of namby-pamby wishy-washy artist-flavored miasma floating around it, like it’s a social identifier similar to “hippie” or “cat-lover.” Listen, I’m not saying the only qualifier for “writer” is, “I get paid to do it.” Except, it is. See what I just did there? Hah! Suckers. Seriously, you at least have to have aspirations to do this professionally, aspirations that you back up with exploration of the craft. Then, feel free to call yourself an “amateur writer,” or an “out-of-work writer,” or an “aspiring writer.” Fine. Okay. Yay for you. But don’t insult me and all the other writers who have scraped their knuckles raw climbing to our (admittedly meager) heights. Stop watering down our heady brew! Writers work really hard to be writers. Stop pretending you worked as hard.

You might be good. You may be great. You may deservedly climb higher. But do it first before you go claiming you’ve already done it. Dig? Dug.

Okay. I’m all tapped out. My faux-rage is waning. But I’ll be back tomorrow, blockheads. Tomorrow, I’m going to go against popular convention and tell you why Number Two: Shame Is Awesome. (No, not Shane. Though, that movie is pretty awesome. I’m talking “shame,” like, “I prematurely ejaculated on my date’s sundress, and now I feel a soul-crushing burden of shame.”) See you tomorrow!


  • Very true.

    There was a part of me that initially wanted to feel a little annoyed with this as I was reading it. It said some things people don’t like hearing.

    But then I realized, you’re right. Absto-toodle-lutely right in fact.

  • Anne Lamott suggested that most people who say they want to be writers don’t really want to be writers. They want to have written something and be able to airly wave their hand at their published book on the shelves, and they want intellectual cachet and maybe to hang out with cool people and to have their opinions taken seriously, but the actual sitting down in front of the empty screen and filling it? Nah.

    I would suggest that unless you are all the time DYING to get away by yourself and write, unless you “find time to write” the way alcoholics “find time to drink,” a writer’s life is probably going to be something close to a living hell.


    Who is, at this moment, procrastinating from writing. Dammit!

    • (Oh, and that Anne Lamott’s got it right, I figger. Too many people I know who said they were writers or who claimed to want to be writers were so often in love with the idea, but not so much the actual pedal-to-floor nose-to-grindstone execution of the idea.)

  • I’m kind of meh on this one, Chuck…not that you asked. I think you are a brilliant writer. So brilliant, in fact, that I cannot believe you are worrying about what other people out there are calling themselves. You don’t need to shove those people over there in that non-writer corner in order for your own talent to stand out. It just does…and that is true of any “real” writer.

    The proof is all in the work product…and there are plenty of non-writers who have books on best seller lists.

  • I love to write, but it’s the desire to have written that gets me past the confidence/procrastination barriers. I mean, it’s not like I’d keep my writing to myself if I thought it was good — so what does that make me? I think and argue and “break” stories in my head for me, but I write them down because I want to be taken seriously.

    Yes, it is sometimes a living hell.

    • Will: You’re a writer.

      Knittin (Jennifer): Well, first, thanks for the compliment. 🙂 I’ll disagree a little with your comment. I’ve had enough people at parties or whatever say, “Oh, I’m a writer, too!” as if we share that space in equal. This isn’t a matter of quality; it’s a matter of definition. People seem to mistake the phrase “I write” for, “I’m a writer.” It’s a wee smidgen confusing to have people insist that they do what I do — or what Will does, or Greg, or David, or Stephen King, or a guy who writes the technical manuals for toasters — is insignificant enough that I’m on the same plane as people who do haven’t committed themselves at all (originally mistyped as “themelves,” which makes me wonder what “elves” are doing here).

      It’s more funny to me than upsetting, though — it’s just not something you can get away with in other circles. If I walk up to a bunch of construction guys, and they’re talking the business, and I’m like, “Oh, hey guys, I’m in construction, too.” And they’re like, “No shit? Where at? Who do you work for?” And I’m like, “Oh, you know, I work for me. I construct things in my house and my backyard. I built an Ikea desk! From the Snargo set, I believe. Man. Those allen wrenches are a bitch. Am I right? Am I right? This guy knows!” And they’ll probably push me down a set of steps or beat me with a wrench.

      As for whether non-writers have books on the best-seller list? I dunno. You write a book, it gets published, you get paid, you’re a writer. Maybe not a good one. Maybe not a long-term one. But, you earned that Boy Scout Badge for your arm, I think.

      Mostly, people want to call themselves writers, hey, fine. They can call themselves Moon Men and go shit in a hat; I’m just making noise and banging pots and pans just to hear the noise and draw a crowd. While I stand by my post as something I believe in, I’m far less vehement than the post would suggest.

      • Another quick point, back to the personal —

        Obviously, I take photos. I have a pretty nice camera. I have some nice lenses. I take pictures damn near every day, and obviously a lot of them live on Flickr. I like to think I’m pretty okay with the snaps.

        But I’d never identify myself as a “photographer.”

        I wouldn’t do that to people who, y’know, actually are. They’ve earned it. I *might* say, “I’m an amateur photographer,” since I’ve had a handful of pieces get used across the web, and I’ve got a small lot up on Getty Images as stock photography, but even still, I don’t consider myself a photographer merely because I perform the act of taking photos.

        Maybe that makes sense, maybe it don’t. But that’s my soapbox, and I’m tap-dancing atop it!

        *tap shuffle*

  • I second Will’s thing about enjoying the having written. I don’t mind writing. Sometimes it can be a chore. But the part that fulfills me is having created something.

    Of course at this juncture in my life, I also have to work a full-time job. I’m basically writing full-time as well. I wish I could be writing right now, it’s better than the alternative.

    • David:

      I enjoy both the act of writing and the ejaculation of finishing (er, the writing!). Some writers hate writing. Some love it. I’m not overly concerned with that (at least as it stands in relation to this discussion; that’s a whole other conversation), nor am I concerned about any perceived eliteness of being a writer (“writer” isn’t any different from “mailman,” in my mind — I’m just talking identifiers, here).

      Don’t sweat having a full-time job. Some major novelists write their novels while having full-time jobs. I worked full- or part-time for most of my writing career. Writing isn’t a big dollar career, most times.

  • The only part of this I’m really not sure about is the implied dismissal of artists in the attempt to separate “real” writers and, er, “not-real” ones.

    As in: “but writer gets some kind of namby-pamby wishy-washy artist-flavored miasma floating around it, like it’s a social identifier similar to ‘hippie’ or ‘cat-lover.'”

    I actually think this is as big a problem for artists as it is for writers (themselves a subset of artists, really), if not moreso.

    • Chris: Ooh, never my intention to dismiss artists. I should’ve made it clear that yes, I think this argument definitely applies to artists.

      Though, I will say, I don’t think writers are artists, not even a sub-set. That’s a personal thing, and one that will come with its Very Own Posting. 🙂

  • “But writer gets some kind of namby-pamby wishy-washy artist-flavored miasma floating around it, like it’s a social identifier similar to “hippie” or “cat-lover.””

    I don’t think you intended to do this, but this line strikes me as sort of being offhandedly dismissive of visual artists in much the same way that you’re saying other people are dismissive of writers. Wouldn’t bother me really, except that I’ve recently been noticing a (hopefully) unconscious tendency for people in the RPG community in particular to treat art and artists as something inherently less valuable than writing and writers. The result of this is that, as an artist, I’ve been feeling frustrated in a way that is very similar to what I’m reading here. I’m also tired of not being taken seriously. I don’t think you meant to come across that way, but still, it’s something to think about.

    • Kat:

      Totally not my intention. Intention was, in fact, suggest that the same thing happens to artists — but, uhh, I just fucked it up. 🙂

      Visual artists, writers, any kind of creative/creator (photographer, designer, whatever) have to deal with the same issue, I think. You’re out at a party, and some guy shows you his napkin with a parrot on it, and he’s all like, “I’m an artist!”

      And because he can tell anybody he’s an artist, it makes it harder for you to tell people *you’re* an artist without lugging around a list of clients and a portfolio.

      Apologies for slagging your tribe. My tribe sends you a fruit basket!

  • Now here’s a little discussion question.

    When does a person cease to be a writer? If you were paid for a short in college, and you’re pushing fifty, are you still a writer?

    Because if the qualifier is pay, pay is often a one-time-per-piece situation. You may write something else, you may not. Sometimes, when you write, you’re not sure if what you’re writing is going to sell. Do you temporarily cease to be a writer while you wait to find out if the new piece sells?

    • David:

      If you were a paid writer, and still want to call yourself a writer, then I don’t see the problem. It’s on your resume. You can’t go back in time and change it, and if you could, I’d ask, why aren’t you hunting Nazis and riding dinosaurs? Answer me that, sir! Answer me that.

      Everybody Else:

      Having seen some of the comments here and emails, I’ll make a quick note:

      If you’re a writer, I’m not talking to you. Stop being sensitive, I’m giving you a high-five, not a kick to the nuts.

      If you’re an aspiring writer and think that I’m somehow slagging you, I’m not. I was once an aspiring writer, too. If you’re coming away from this feeling somehow dissuaded, somehow like I’m calling you out — a) I’m not calling you out, and b) If you’re going to listen to some jackass blog-face on the Intertubes (read: me) and decide that this derails your writing career, then that writing career wasn’t long for this world anyway. Writing is work, and it requires a firm skin and some guts to do professionally.

  • Good question, Sir Hill. I was pondering similar at almost the same moment in time. For me, it stuck on writing as a craft, not solely an “art.” A craft takes time to hone, even if you get the writing down, you may be wonky on proposals, summaries and cover letters. In the early days, slapping the title “Writer” on yourself, then having to put-up-or-shut-up may give one the gumption to succeed. I wouldn’t want to be the one to draw the line, nor am I qualified to do so.

  • Ahem.

    Maybe you should be calling the non-writer writer out? I sold my first serious short story not because it was brilliant, but because I worked my ass off to find a home for it. I read about the markets, what editors want, how to submit without looking like a jackass, and did the work to make sure that the story was readable.

    I don’t think it’s the writing or not writing that separates real writers from amateurs. It’s all the other fucking work that goes into it. That shit sucks, and it has nothing to do with the creative process. It gets in the way, makes you crazy, makes your yonni bleed. (True story.) But, if you want to get paid, if you want to be legitmate, it’s what you fucking do. If you want to be a ‘real’ writer you knuckle down, do the hard work (not the fun stuff,) and sell a fucking story or poem or article.

    I’m saying, if you’re offended by what Chuck said, buckle down, sell a story, and then post a big blog entry of your own saying FUCK YOU CHUCK, I’M LEGIT NOW! AHAHAHA!

    If you’re already in the process of doing that and not having good luck, well, keep fucking doing it. That’s what I did, that’s what we all did. (Oh, and if you didn’t work hard, if it just sort of happened for you, go die in a fire.)

  • RE: Can someone who sold something in college say they’re a writer.

    To borrow Chuck’s wonderful illustration above: if I used to be in construction do I still identify myself as a carpenter/roofer/etc? Probably not.

    HOWEVER, I do have a slightly better case when talking to others who are in construction that I know what I’m talking about.

    It’s simply a line of respect. If I’m in seminary I would never think to identify myself as a priest.


    It doesn’t mean I won’t be. Only that I’m not right now.

    Mind you this is the same guy who, when I told him I was thinking about giving up writing, quite literally asked if I was stupid or just acting that way. All I did was write. It wasn’t something I could give up anymore than breathing air. It is a part of who I am and what I do. Whether I ever got published or not.

    It didn’t make me a writer though.

    Not yet.

    And maybe for some, not ever.

    Chuck isn’t telling hobbyists, etc. to not take joy from what they do, or to stop flexing that muscle. Just stop claiming what you haven’t earned the right to claim.




  • For the above construction example, I was going for more of a job versus career thing.

    I fell a little short, let me addend.

    I used to work in retail. I don’t identify myself as a retailer.

    My brother in law worked through college as a roofer. He is not a roofer.

    The hypothetical person in question should not–if he’s being honest with himself–identify himself as a writer.

    Nor if he wrote for the school paper call himself a journalist, etc.

    However, he can bring something to the discussion as someone who HAS WRITTEN.

    As an aside, the firm I used to work for was filled with people who wrote all day. All day. Not a one of them considered themself a writer. They’re engineers.

    It’s anecdotal but within is a nugget of truth.


  • I enjoyed reading this a great deal. =)

    I also fully intend to use the term “penmonkey” from now on and baffle anyone asking me about what I do for a living (“You… write? Really?”) by using that expression . Ha.

    • Ann, I find that adding “monkey” into whatever it is you do is a good way to confuse people and have a good time doing it. 🙂

  • I stare glumly at my computer monitor for minutes in-between actual keystrokes. Does that make me a writer? =P

  • I’m going to keep calling myself a wordwhore. It’s been working for me for a while, and sums everything up nicely. 😀

    It was, oddly enough, my shrink who gave me some very valuable thoughts that – I think, at least – pertain to this. He heard me boxing myself, limiting myself with nouns; that’s what he said. “Stop using nouns, start using verbs.” He told me to stop calling myself ‘an artist’, ‘a loser’, ‘a snob’, and instead talk about what I do. To instead say that ‘I make art’, or a ‘I have lost’ or a ‘I am critical’. It’s a profoundly interesting mental exercise, at least it has been for me.

    Thing is? I *do* like to call myself ‘a writer’, but not just because I write. I’m less likely to call myself that to someone who supports themselves writing, but to random people, it gets across what I need it to: that I consider writing my job. I put the effort and hours and learning in, honing and working on it as a craft, something I’d like to be excellent in. The sort of writing I do isn’t something that gets paid. I’d like it to get some credibility, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime I’ll publish some things, maybe, or maybe not. I’d love money, and I’d love to be taken seriously…but really, I just want to write shit that other people like reading. While I do agree with you (and Filamena, too) that it’s annoying for me as an artist and caretaker to see people using those words lightly, I’m likely to modulate my opinion by how much time and effort and work they put into it, rather than if they’ve ever happened to get paid for it. If someone sits down and finishes a work, even though they have 100,000 things they could do – and then they sit down and edit and work at it? You know, I’ll let them be a writer. Me, I’ll just be Someone Who Writes. …a lot. An awful lot.

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