How To Tell If You’re A Writer

Are you a writer? You’ve no good way to tell.

I mean, this isn’t THE THING. You can’t just cook up the end of a coat hanger and dip it into a petri dish full of your blood. This shit’s not in your DNA. It’s in your soul.

Where it lurks like a worm at the heart of an apple.

Even still, you might be saying, “Dear Charles Q. Penmonkey, please tell me — what are the signs that I’m actually a writer? What crass, profane augury will present my ink-spattered destiny like a horny alpaca revealing its blood-engorged alpaca cloaca?”

I can help. Even though my name isn’t “Charles Q. Penmonkey.” Oh, also, alpacas don’t have cloacas. Only birds have cloacas. And Lindsay Lohan.

But then again I’m pretty sure she’s some kind of coke-brained sea bird anyway.

What I’m trying to say is, you’re just not sure if you happen to be a really truly honestly pinky-swear cross-your-heart motherfucking bonafide writer? That’s okay. I can help.

Look for these signs. They should stand out like turgid, necrotic erections.

You Proofread Everything

I proofread anything that crosses in front of my eyes. Diner placemats. Menus. Cereal boxes. The letter your Mom wrote me after I banged her sideways outside the closed-down Jamesway just past town. I remember reading a Chinese food menu some years ago and I was like, “Ha ha ha! Bef! Crap cakes! Sting beans! Ohh, haha, stupid language barriers, your comedy knows no bounds.”

But it goes beyond that, too. I’ll judge anything on its merit as a written story.

I’ll read a fucking classified ad and be like, “They could’ve trimmed the language there.” “Awk-ward!” *rolls eyes* “Oooh, poor word choice.” “Where’s the conflict? I mean, seriously. What is this? Amateur karaoke?”

Your First Friend Was Imaginary

Writers and storytellers live inside their heads. Our mindscapes are equal parts “desert oasis,” “distant moon prison,” and “comfy recliner.” But where it begins is with imaginary friends. I didn’t have just one. I had a whole unruly cabinet of the babbling invisible bastards. My cousin and I would act out these stories where we were constantly in contact with non-corporeal made-up motherfuckers — mermaids and morbidly obese people and crazy farmers and the list goes on and on.

Sometimes I think writing isn’t so much the need to tell stories as it is the need to lance our brain-blisters over and over again so that the multiple personalities have a place to go.

Of course, it doesn’t end when you grow up…

You Hold Conversations Between People That Don’t Exist

I literally do this when I’m in the shower (no, calm down, it does not involve soapy Onanism): I talk to myself. But not in one voice. In two. Or three. Some folks sing. Me, I host entire stage productions of dialogue sessions there in the shower. And these are characters who are currently in — or who will one day find their way into — my work. This isn’t healthy. If I did this in public, I’d be stoned. And not the good kind of stoned where I’m like, “Dude, that cloud looks like Jimi Hendrix giving birth to a rabbit,” but rather, pelted with unpleasant pebbles by suspicious townsfolk.

Writers don’t just talk to themselves. They talk to a cast of characters invented out of straight-up nothing.

You Are An Ink-Stained Notebook Whore

Me, I was always leaving pens in my pockets. Pens that got washed. Pens that, when washed, would explode and splurch ink all over my pants, as if I urinated the stuff. Oh, I also chewed the unholy shit out of all my pens like a rabid terrier. (Ahem, still do.) And it’s not just pens. Notebooks! So many notebooks. Some blank. Many filled. Heaps and piles and pyramids of notebooks. Some day they will excavate my home and find me — and seven dead cats — beneath them.

And I don’t even have any cats.

Writers are collectors. It’s not just about the pens or notebooks. We collect other books. Or iPad apps. Or technology in general. Or ancient Balinese facial dildos.

What, just me?

Whatever.

You Suspect Non-Readers Of Treachery Against The Human Race

John Waters — director, writer, weirdo, and all-around human kitschmaschine — famously said, “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em.”

Writers hate non-readers. You are our enemies in this world. We refuse to believe that information can be conveyed in any other way besides books (or movies, or comics). We see you, we think: “Is he a Reptilian? If I were to go over there and rake his face with this salad fork, would I see greasy scales waiting underneath?” It’s like in ingrained distrust. A deep, soul-born hatred.

“You don’t have books? Then you are dead to me.”

It’s nonsense, of course. But whoever said we had to be right about the crazy shit we believe?

Your Brain Is Tuned To Some Mad, Intrusive Frequency

Earlier today, I saw this tweet from Will Hindmarch, fellow penmonkey:

“Back from the doctor’s again, where inspiration struck in the waiting room, as it sometimes does.”

It does! It does. He’s totally right. You know how sometimes you end up getting accidentally subscribed to e-mails or snail mail that jacked you onto some invasive list? “Jesus, why am I getting e-mails from the Fainting Goat Association Of Slovenia? And I keep getting shoeboxes of anthrax from some unnamed source.” Writers have been accidentally subscribed to this constant stream of ideas. We are bombarded by them, like protons fired at our mind-cores. (Pyoo! Pyoo!) We can’t shut them out. No way to tune out the inspiration except to clobber ourselves over the head with a skull-crushing boat anchor.

I think it might be why writers secretly drink so much. To dim the frequency.

You Know How You Would Do It Differently

Watch a movie. Read a book. Page through a comic. If you do this regularly and say to yourself, “I would do this differently,” and then proceed to tell whoever is nearest — wife, child, dog, stranger on a train, Darkseid — exactly how you would do it “your way” (translation: the right way), then hey, guess what? You. Writer.

You Are Attracted To Mates With Health Care

Everybody has their own metric of attraction. “Nice eyes. Firm lips. Legs from here to heaven’s door. A set of breeding hips like the shoulders of a Brahmin bull. A vagina that looks like a majestic pink peony.” One’s own axis of attraction can go to more abstract lengths, too. “I like a guy who’s nice to puppies.” “I like a gal with a little rough-and-tumble in her.” “I LIKE TO BANG DRAGONS IN THEIR DRAGON BUTTHOLES.”

Writers, though, we can smell health insurance on a potential mate the way that other animals can smell pheromones. It’s like Drakkar Noir or bacon grease: in its presence, we cannot control ourselves. “Hot dang, Dave, this chick I’m dating? I think she’s the one. She’s got such a low, sexy… deductible.”

So, if you’re out wandering in a mall and you suddenly find yourself tumescent whenever you pass someone who is clearly fortunate enough to have health care, then you better check thyself forst you wreck thyself. Because you might have a long and unfortunate penmonkey career ahead of you.

Your Desk Drawer Contains The Following:

Flask full of alcohol. Altoids tin full of some kind of illicit-but-not-illegal pills. Fountain pen. Other pens. Mechanical pencil. Random notebook pages full of useless dream transcriptions. Highlighters. Permanent markers. A mix tape from 1996. Beer caps. Wine corks. iPhone charging cord to an iPhone you may or may not own. Lint that smells of flopsweat. Lip balm. A favorite paperback with a hundred dog-eared pages and a thousand underlined sentences. A Hemingway buttplug (the beard tickles!). Post-It notes containing terrible ideas. A handgun. A noose. A little satchel containing all your hopes and dreams as a writer.

You’re Drinking Right Now, Aren’t You?

It’s okay. I won’t tell anybody. As long as you pour me a glass.

You Fucking Jolly Well Write, That’s How

You know how you can tell if you’re a writer? You write. Maybe not every day, but often enough where it’s a dominant activity, a thing-you-do rather than a thing-you-really-want-to-do. You write not because you have to but rather because you want to so bad you feel like an asshole not doing it. You know you’re a writer because whenever you’re doing anything else, you’re thinking about writing the same way a guy thinks about sex or an addict thinks about whatever drug or monkey gland he’s hooked on. You’re a writer because, even now, the first thought going through your head is, “Holy shit, I should really be writing.”

Your turn, cunning linguists. What is it that makes the writer a writer?

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Chuck Wendig’s book about writing and the writer’s life — CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY is available now! Buy for Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), Nook, or PDF.