I remember back when the highly unscientific quiz posing as a very scientific quiz was a staple of the ladies' magazines by the checkouts in stores. It seems to me a couple of 70's or 80's sitcoms used the prop of a wife taking one of those quizzes (usually about her relationship to her lout of a husband) and seeing how bad she had it as a way to drive the plot for 22 minutes. In that spirit, I now publicly take the 12-question quiz posed by former Bartleby Snopes editor Nathaniel Tower, "12 Signs You Aren't Really a Writer." May it lead to as much whimsy as a classic episode of The Ropers.
Here we go:
1. You always force yourself to think about ideas to write about
What Nathaniel says: It’s fine to think about writing, but take a fucking break once in a
while. If you’re always forcing it, then it isn’t real. Real writers
don’t spend every waking moment straining to find things to write about.
Jake's answer: The last sign in this survey is going to suggest the opposite: that if you think you don't have enough experiences for a story, you're lost. Writing primers are always saying that everybody has enough experience for a story, that a story can come from any little scrap of life. This is one of those times when one can utter two similar phrases, but only one is true. "A story can come from anywhere" is true, but "A story can come from everywhere" isn't. Maybe one sign of maturation is the ability to let some ideas go if they don't seem to be yielding anything after a while.
Conclusion: Point me. 1-0 I'm a writer.
2. Criticism hurts your feelings
What Nathaniel says: Sure, a bad review of what you thought was your career-defining work
will get you down, but if you can’t take any criticism, then you aren’t
really a writer. This is especially true of constructive criticism. If
you’re the type who thinks every little critique is an attack on your
skills as a writer, then a writer you are not.
What Jake says: I take criticism very hard. It helps that now I'm a reader who helps decide what we keep and don't keep. I realize the tough odds I'm up against and how often very good stories get rejected. But that doesn't always make me feel better. Sometimes, it makes me feel worse to think that I'm just another guy on the scrap-heap of almost-good-enough. I'm not entirely certain that some level of dislike for criticism can't be good. Michael Jordan seemed to still be carrying around some bitterness about rejection from his younger years in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He did okay. It might have helped fuel his fire. But fine, I do still get down when I get a rejection, I'll take the hit on this one.
Conclusion: Point to "not a writer." 1-1.
3. Rejection gets you down every time.
What Nathaniel says: Get over yourself. Rejection is part of being a writer. Sure, some
rejections sting more than others, but you eventually just have to
accept it. When real writers are rejected, they do one of two things:
submit somewhere else or revise their shitty writing. Oh, and maybe
drink themselves into oblivion.
What Jake says: Although, upon the advice of a good friend, I've begun to drink more than I used to, I still don't like to drink that much. So I'm left to feel the sting every time. It doesn't hurt as bad as it used to every time, but it does still hurt.
Conclusion: Point "not a writer." I'm down 1-2.
4. You think you’ll lose it if you don’t use it
What Nathaniel says: It’s fine to write every day. It’s cool if you want to set aside time to
write or have daily word count goals. But if going a day without
writing makes you feel like you’re going to lose something as a writer,
then you aren’t a writer. It’s like riding a bike. You don’t forget how
to write because you go a day or two without doing it.
What Jake says: I don't write every day, nor have I ever felt I should. I do start to get antsy if I haven't written for a while, but this is probably one of those need-to-find-a-balance things. You can't be always writing, but you do need to write a lot to be a writer.
Conclusion: Point me. 2-2.
5. You don’t recognize your own bad writing
What Nathaniel says: Do you think everything you write is good? You’re definitely not a
writer. Even great writers have a fair amount of shit in their
repertoire. The best writers in the world publish less than 25% of what
What Jake says: Let's say I'm "in development" on this.
Conclusion: A draw. Still 2-2.
6. You think everything you write is bad
Flipside of the last one, which means this is a draw, too. I have days when I think I'm brilliant, and days when I think I should have been a locksmith.
7. You’ve never made any money off your writing
What Nathaniel says:You don’t have to make a living off writing in order to be a writer, but
if you’ve never made any money, then you aren’t a writer (yet).
Especially in today’s world where there are so many opportunities to
make a few bucks here and there as a writer (hell, self-publish on
Amazon and sell one copy to your mom). Shooting free throws in the
driveway a few days a week doesn’t make you a basketball player, does
it? Oh, one more thing. Just because you have made some money
off your writing doesn’t mean you are a writer. Getting called in to sub
for your cousin with a broken arm in a pick-up basketball game on the
playground doesn’t make you a basketball player either.
What Jake says: I find this criteria confusing. Is it enough to have sold a self-published book to my mom or not? I do have a job where writing in a very boring, methodical way is a big part of what I do. Does that count? If not, I once made $20 on a poem, and I was offered $25 for my story that won Story of the Month at Bartleby Snopes. I gave the money back as part of my "I support the journals that support me" pledge.
One could argue that in a very literal sense, shooting baskets does make one a basketball player.
Conclusion: I don't know. Still 2-2.
8. People often tell you that you can’t make it as a writer
What Nathaniel says: I often hear people tell these horror stories about all the people
who’ve told them they’ll never cut it as a writer. Not to be an ass, but
no one has ever told me that. If you’re hearing this all the time, then
you probably aren’t a very good writer. Hey, if it doesn’t quack like a
What Jake says: I don't know that people have an opinion one way or another about this. I happen to believe I have very little chance of ever supporting myself fully as a writer. That wouldn't make me different from the vast majority of writers out there who need to moonlight.
Conclusion: I don't know. Still 2-2, now with four draws.
9. You get really mad about other people’s book deals
What Nathaniel says: Yeah, it probably ticks you off a little that 50 Shades of Grey
sold millions of copies even though it’s widely considered to be utter
shit. But some shit sells. If you get really mad about everyone else’s
book deal, then you aren’t a real writer. Instead, you should spend more
time figuring out what actually sells.
What Jake says: "Why do the wicked still live, Continue on, also become very powerful?" Job asked. It's an ancient and respected impulse to be angry about the success of those who don't deserve it. With literature fighting a tough battle to stay alive, it is sad to see the few mega-hits go to books that are just terrible. You know the people who bought that book were often buying the only book they were going to buy that year.
Conclusion: Fine. Guilty. 2-3 against me.
10. You create conspiracy theories about publishing
I can leave out Nathaniel's explanation. I harbor no such conspiracy theories. What publishers like is such a mystery to me, I wouldn't pretend to think I could explain it with a theory.
Conclusion: Point me. 3-3.
11. You spend more time wondering if you’re a writer than actually writing
Nathaniel says: Writers write. If you’re always sitting around thinking, “Oh, woe is me,
am I writer?” then you aren’’t a writer. Just shut the fuck up and
Jake says: Ouch. This blog started out pretty much as a place to wonder if I was really a writer. It still is, in some part. But I have written more actual fiction since I started this blog than I have blogged about my doubt about it all.
Conclusion: I have 9 stories out to editors at 20 different journals right now. Point me. I'm up 4-3.
12. You think you’ve never had an experience worth writing about
What Nathaniel says: No matter what type of writer you are, you need some real life
experiences. Poets, fiction writers, journalists. Everyone has to be
able to draw from something. But guess what? Even sitting in your room
without doing anything for five years is an experience you can write
about. If you can’t find any inspiration from your own life, then you
aren’t a writer.
Jake says: This is the flip side of "sign" #1. I do think I've had enough experiences to write about. But then again, I've been a lot of places and done a lot of things. If there is something that makes me violate "sign" #9, it's that a lot of what I read seems to come from people with rather thin experiences.
Conclusion: Point me, and I win 5-3. I'm a writer. Barely. I think the fact that I have a hard time with failure doesn't mean I'm not a writer, it just means I have temperamental traits which make writing challenging for me.
I think if you know that you are going to be undone by rejection, and you are, in fact, undone over and over by rejection, and you keep writing anyway knowing you will keep facing that rejection, you might be a writer.