You Know You’re a Writer When…

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’

Not nearly as sophisticated. You can probably tell I had lots of varied and complex ideas when I was 4.

– 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. 


Author: SighOhJessica

I like stories, history, the bizarre, biographies, mysteries, justice, nature and mountains. I write about... not many of these things on my blog.

62 thoughts on “You Know You’re a Writer When…”

  1. Great post! Writing and reading are two of the best things to do. I read all the time when I was younger. By now I often stop reading a book when it doesn’t appeal to me. And when it’s a good book, it will cause some homesickness when it’s finished… Like the characters are friends you never get to see again. It’s strange how you can bond with books!
    Like you I have a diary to report and cope with what happens. Sometimes I can only write about something when I find the best way to write it. Not just ‘this and this happened, and this is how I feel’. What also helps me when being sad/angry, is to write a short story on something, doesn’t matter what, in which I can let go of that feeling. It feels like catharsis, writing stories.
    Which doesn’t mean I’m a real writer. Just for fun and sanity :).

  2. Haha! Very nice. I can agree with just about everything except the “crappy books” point. I have a very hard time not seeing something worthwhile in every book. Or movie, for that matter. I can only think of two books I thought were crap… one was Moby Dick (tried twice, still can’t finish it) and the other I have thankfully forgotten.

  3. “… 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.” I love that, and so true, along with always having at least one half-written story (or in my case, column) on my computer at all times. Nicely done 🙂

  4. I’m pleased to see similar neurosis/bad habits/good habits/strange behavior/modes of expression are common to other people. I feel slightly less crazy now. Well done. No seriously – I very much liked this entry. Witty, insightful, honest. Let me go rummage through your other work….

  5. As a child, I recognized my own tendency to narrate my daily life, as if it were all happening in a really good novel. I worried it meant I was crazy. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood that the writer in me was at work, constantly putting the world around me into just the right words. Great post!!

  6. OMG everything in this post is sooo true.The half written stories and notebooks. I’ve to the point where i don’t use them ( since i’m always near a computer) I keep buying them just because their pretty

    1. I also buy notebooks just because they look good, I had to stop buying them though as I have a stack of them and they’re not even full yet!

  7. Very interesting post. So much of it rings true. Especially the diaries, lots of teenage angst diaries still kicking about in the loft somewhere, I should probably get them down and have a read for inspiration!

  8. This is awesome. I think or do so many of what you enumerated up there I’m considering a restraining order… but seriously, I could comment on each of your points from my own experience.

    1. Haha, you don’t need one of those. I say from your backyard.
      It’s been really nice to know that so many people agree with a few or all these points. Thanks 🙂

  9. Sent your way through GK Adams…What a find your blog is! Long ago, someone told me a writer is someone who “can’t not write!” That would explain the tablet beside my bed, for those 2 a.m. flashes of brilliance (or gibberish, depending on how much wine I’ve had) that I can’t not write down! 🙂

    1. Oh why thank you! How nice 🙂
      I think that sums it up well – no matter how hard I try, everything is a story in my head. I do the same thing at night! Half awake, scrawling something that often makes no sense the next morning. Some great ideas have come that way though.

  10. I knew I was a writer the first time I saw my name on the byline! My reaction: “OMG! That’s me!” Then they sent money! My reaction:” OMG! They paid me!” How cool is that? Love your blog & thanks for following my journey into higher education.

    1. I was so sheepish when I was paid the first time – in fact the only time so far – as it was a friend who’d employed my writing! But it was fantastic.
      Sorry about the late reply and thanks for the comment, still following you and enjoying it 🙂

  11. Very well said! It’s so funny how when you are first developing as a writer, you somehow think you are alone having all of these tendancies. I have some mild traits of performance anxiety and fear of public speaking that seems to have fueled my writing all the more… I wonder how many other writers experience that as well 🙂

    1. That’s a good point! I’m sure there are more who put the things they’re unable to speak into words.
      The more writers you come to know, the more you realise how we all share some of the same struggles and joys but that we do all have our own individual little quirks.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  12. I would add that, for some writers, Dorothy Parker’s quote “I hate writing; I love having written” rings true. For me, the process can be like drilling for oil. You work and work, digging deeper and deeper trying to find something, anything, to tap the flow. Sometimes, you come up with nothing, while others times it gushes and flows like it will never end. Why couldn’t I be a dancer?

    Nice post. I will reblog at

    1. That is an awesome quote, and very true. I feel so proud after I’ve written something but sometimes sitting down to write can be painful if I don’t know what I want to say or how to make something happen.

      Thank you very much for reblogging and commenting! I’m sorry this is a late reply – I just took a look at this post and had about 10 comments I never wrote back to, sigh, I’d be a terrible receptionist.
      Thank you 🙂

  13. Ah I can relate so very much to this … Except one thing I have never been able to do is write a story from someone elses perspective … My daughter however makes up for it tho 🙂 like youbI love my books and bookshelves – they tell a story of my life 🙂 brightest blessings 🙂

    1. I always felt the same, and wasn’t sure how to tell a story from the perspective of somebody totally different from me. Then, my best short story (at least, in my opinion) is told by a mid-thirties, recently dumped man. So, that was surprising!

  14. Awesome post. I can totally relate to that characters-as-whiny-teenagers bit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat myself down, told myself I’m going to tackle a project the right way–plotting, planning, outlining, the whole shebang–and then proceeded to pitch those twenty-something pages of notes because my protagonist decided he wanted lemonade instead of Coke. Or something stupid like that.

    In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and I look forward to more posts in the future. 🙂

    Best wishes.


    1. Sometimes I try to force my protagonist into saying something but the words come out of their mouths all phony. It’s like the Sims – I make a character for the purpose of it being somebodies boyfriend / girlfriend and a doctor but they insist on being a loveless chef.
      Sort of the same minus the shame in telling people you play the sims. Hmmm.

      Thanks for commenting and I’m very sorry that I didn’t reply until now – I’m incredibly slack with these things :/


  15. Ah that’s me to a tee. Not so much the diary, though I keep one sporadically and do tend to write in it when I’m done. I adore books, the feel, the smell, the words, the worlds. I didn’t convince myself to start seriously writing until I was in my late 20s, but wrote my first story at 6 or 7 and always had ideas. I’ve published an ebook, but not traditionally published yet, but I’m on my third novel and, though, sometimes it drives me nuts, I love to write. I was the child who couldn’t see over my stack of books when I walked to the counter at the library.
    Enjoyed the post.

    1. Thanks so much!
      My diaries were also sporadic, I had the same two for many years and often there were huge gaps between entries, I think the longest being a year.
      I adore books too, I love just holding them, how it feels to open them to the page you left on…
      Congratulations on your novels! Good luck with getting traditionally published 🙂
      I was also the child who couldn’t see over her stack of books, if I had the money to spend I’d still be that person at the bookstore.

    1. I think when I was a tween, I wrote a big goodbye to my diary on its last page. What can I say, it knew the most about me.
      Sorry this is a super late reply! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  16. Was this 582 words? Hmmmmm…..

    Interesting and I’ll give you my take; I started blogging because I thought you had to in order to have ‘street cred’ when visiting other blogs. Even though I’m old school enough I used to write letters and enjoyed doing so, I never considered myself a ‘writer.’

    I didn’t have a journal or anything, so all the characters and moments are just in my head. However, and I might not be on the verge of a novel, but I consider myself a writer. It might be of a shorter version via the blog, but I’m committed to it and post on a regular basis.

    Your path and journey is obviously much deeper than where I am, but maybe we can end up at the same place someday.

    Thanks for sharing.

    PS – I have a question; how did you find me and my blog? Just curious…..

    1. Nah this was my long post. Or else this was a really long 582 words.
      And yeah, I think a blogger is a writer, it takes thought, you’re commited, it takes planning aaand it’s writing!

      How did I find your blog… hmmm… I believe you commented on something of mine a while ago which led me to click onto yours, and then you came up in the ‘writing’ tag. yesterday which I was having a look through 🙂

  17. From:

    I’m glad you didn’t google and read someone else’s list, you list is spot on! I too have favorite pens and journals, wrote stories as a child and would still have many of my books if it weren’t for a fire. Thanks for visiting my blog, I’m glad it helped me to find yours!

    [Edit Comment]

    jessicamittenssaid:September 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Oh thank you! I’m glad I found yours. It’s always nice to find other writers on here, and I’ll be sure to stop by your blog and check some stuff out. Sad to hear about the fire, be great if they made kids picture books flame retardant, or just everything precious!

    (just moving comment over from the reblog of this!)

  18. So many good points! I’ve been working with the same paragraph for four years and have yet to work it in somewhere appropriate.

    I just discovered my box of journals from school and wow…I’m amazed by how much I wrote.

    I have days where I *have* to write with my RSVP pen, and other days only a mechanical pencil will do.

    Anyway, great list!

    1. I have had the same one paragraph hanging around for two years now, I tried to write a story with it but it was just terrible.
      Maybe we’ll find somewhere to put them one day?? haha.

      Oh thank you for reading and saying so!

    1. I have some journals with only a couple of things in them, like grocery lists and plans and that’s it. And some notebooks are almost full. Me being the journaling kind seems to depend entirely on which book I’m writing in :S

  19. Three of your points that immediately struck a chord.

    First, that its okay to admit there are rubbish books. I’ve read several this year and still wonder why on earth I finished them! Then again it is subjective.

    Second, that its okay to ‘not finish’ a book. I have struggled many times with this, to the point of feeling guilty at putting a book down and promising to return to it but its still lying there a year later unfinished. Actually I did this with Birdsong, yes, that great literary classic. Just couldn’t get into it. Gave up in the end.

    Third, that internal, irresistible push to write. Especially when ideas pop into your head at 3 in the morning and you have to write them down there and then because its guaranteed you’ll forget if you don’t.

    Thanks for the post.

    1. Thank you for commenting 🙂
      I’ve put back classics before too, and then beaten myself up over it. You’re told that you should enjoy them, but sometimes all you can do is just appreciate the book for what it is and not finish it.
      I wonder how many others have given up on a book they thought they were supposed to read? I’m sure I’ll encounter the same feelings when I attempt more of my pile ‘should read’.

  20. Perfectly stated. I love this post and have to say I had the biggest grin reading about your special pens. You know how I feel about notebooks…but I also have a special love affair with my pens. Haha.

    1. Pens can be so important to a person, even though they’re just pens… haha. I date this back to when the other school kids used to borrow your pencils and never return them! That’s where the attachment starts.

  21. This is awesome- love it! Too many to note that I particularly like, but I will just mention this one: “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.”

    By the way, I just noticed in my dashboard, looking at your comment on my post, that your profile shows your blog as “thewritingofmittens,” which I assume is clearly defunct, as the interweb shows it to not exist. Might help to update that. 😉 Cheers.

    1. Thanks for that! Just went and changed it to the proper one. I was trying to change my url a while ago and I guess it only half worked, without telling me, which is always very useful haha.
      Thanks for commenting, I’m glad you liked it, and I just got your reply on your post and I hope your sneaky tactics work 😉

  22. I’m completely impressed at how many of these you nailed right on the head — very comprehensive. I can think of only one to add: you know you’re a writer when you proofread absolutely everything for grammatical and spelling errors — signs, newspaper articles, restaurant menus, whatever — and they drive you nuts when you find them.

    1. Haha thank you, and you’re so right! By the way please tell me if there’s any in this post! I proofread three times but there’s always just that one that slips under the radar.
      I constantly find spelling mistakes or extra words in my mum’s weekly magazine she reads. I guess the editor doesn’t care enough for stories about Brad and Angelina to read them all that carefully.

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