Half of all the people who want to write never put down a word on paper, and half of those who do never finish anything[note]According to acclaimed writer/teacher Robert J. Sawyer’s analysis of Heinlein’s rules. Read it, it’s really good advice![/note]. So how do you know if you’re meant to be a writer?
TL:DR[note]Too Long, Didn’t Read. As in Internet.[/note] answer: you don’t. But you can see the signs that you’re not meant to be a writer. Here are the 7 biggest ones:
1. You Don’t Read
Every writer reads. Every single one. I’ve never met or heard of a writer who didn’t read. In fact, the one thing I’ve found in every writer I’ve ever met or read about is an overwhelming love of the written word.
Some writers read novels like a choco-holic pops M&Ms. Others will read the newspaper with a fanatic loyalty, or dive into the non-fiction section at their local library the way an paleontologist[note]That’s a dinosaur researcher, in case you never watched Friends.[/note] dives into a pile of old bones.
You don’t need that kind of love to write. Perhaps you’re driven by a need to express yourself that’s stronger than any distraction. But if you never read, if you reading is a chore to you, then you might want to look for other ways to express yourself.
2. You find No Sense of Accomplishment in Writing
A lot of us start out being ashamed of our writing. We compare our first, stumbling drafts to the polished products of the great masters (regardless if we mean Jonathan Swift or Stephenie Meyer) and our drafts come up lacking. That’s normal. It will pass when you learn what a draft is for.
But if you never, ever feel a sense of accomplishment, of having achieved something when you finish your writing, then you probably aren’t motivated by a will to write. You may be motivated by wanting to have written, which is a very common motivation indeed, but in order to be a writer, someone who writes, you need more.
If all you want is your name on the cover of a book, or your story told, you may want to look for an easier way to do it, such as hiring a ghost writer.
3. You Never Experience the Joy of Writing
Writing is hard, lonely work – but it can also be an amazing joy, a play with words, a moment when everything comes together, when you feel like dancing because you can’t contain the bubbly-happy-bursting feeling inside of you[note]No, I don’t mean that type of happy-bursty feeling, you pervert you![/note].
Sure, some writers get stuck, sometimes for years. Some writers pound out their works in anger, or fight the words to get them on the page. But they are in a minority – most of us like to write. We find that writing gives us something that nothing else can quite compare with. For some this is a nearly meditative experience, a great calm and elation. For others it’s a case of the giggles, when your lips stretch into a mad grin on their own accord, or a sense of freedom like riding a bicycle down a wooded, summer lane. Whatever it is, it’s a pleasure.
If you’ve never felt that way, if you’ve never been happy when writing, you may not be a writer at heart.
4. You Never Flow when Writing
Writing is a complex task requiring you to juggle multiple mental threads at once. You’ve got story, character, needs, obstacles, wants, and, of course, the actual typing or dictating itself. That’s like a recipe for flow[note]As in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of total, positive immersion. Get the book if you’ve never head of it.[/note].
I’m not saying that you always end up in a state of flow when writing (wouldn’t it be great if you did, though?). But sometimes, occasionally, when everything fits just right, you should. You should reach a phase where you don’t want to quit writing, where you aren’t able to quit writing because you aren’t aware of a world outside your writing at all.
If you’ve never managed to reach flow in your writing you may be doing it wrong. Perhaps you’ve never challenged yourself enough. Or you haven’t picked up the tools needed and you’re always fumbling around at a level that’s beyond what you’re capable of. Either way, it’s a bad sign: you may be putting words on paper, but you’re not devoting the energy you need to become a better writer[note]There may be a different explanation: studies have shown that some people have a very hard time reaching flow.[/note]. But if you do reach flow in other venues but never in writing, you might want to consider why you want to write.
5. You Never Sink Into a Story
Writers are, by necessity, daydreamers. Writing is the act of daydreaming in public, of putting your daydreams in a medium that others can consume. It is a window to escapism.
To be a writer you need to be able to appreciate that escapism. Some of us have had it since we were children, the need to sink into a story in our own heads. Others prefer to sink into a story on paper, or on screen, or in a computer game. It doesn’t really matter where you find your story, as long as you are able to truly get into it.
If you’ve never sunk into a story, if you’ve never seen the world through your mind’s eye, you may not be a writer, and you most certainly won’t enjoy being a writer[note]You may be a highly structured technical writer but we’re talking about fiction here.[/note].
6. Writing is Always a Chore
This really should be a no-brainer, shouldn’t it? Writing is hard, writing is difficult, and even successful, published writers procrastinate sometimes. But if you never look forward to writing, if you always procrastinate, then there’s something wrong.
It may be that you’re so afraid of writing that you can’t get going – that’s all right, the are ways around that – but you should, at some point in time, want to write. If you don’t, your motivation to be a writer can come from something else, and you may in fact not be a writer at all.
Are You a Writer?
What if you hit one or more marks on the list? What if you hit each and every mark on the list and still want to write?
If you still want to write, do so. Stop reading and write something right now. I don’t care if it’s “I have nothing to write” over and over again until your fingers bleed. If you want to write, go. Go write right now. Because in the end it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you, or what you think of yourself, or how many tests show that you aren’t a writer. As long as you put words on paper you are, and will ever be, a writer.