Over the many years my husband and I have been married, he has learned to live with my many quirks that have come from being a writer. There is a certain creed of people that are writers and though we vary greatly in personality, walks of life, beliefs, writing style and preferred genre, there are some things we may have in common. It seems that with so great a span of differences that we should be well camouflaged in the general populace. That is true. But be assured, we are there among you. We travel on the train with you. We eat in the same restaurants. We frequent the same coffee shops. How can you tell if someone is a writer? At the risk of being black-balled by my fellow scribblers, I will share some of our little idiosyncrasies.
One aspect of my love for penning words is, well, quite simply, my love for pens and journals. Some girls are drawn to bling, some to shoes, some to purses. Writers drool over leather bound journals and window shop for the smoothest writing pens available. Some pens will fill us with joy, and others will have ink that blots strangely and push us over the edge. Even if the writer does most of their writing on a computer or laptop, there will always be a draw to a journal and pen.
Speaking of journals, many writers keep a journal. Not a “diary”, mind you. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked. A diary is frothy, lighthearted, immature scribblings of how cute Johnny is, or what Miranda said to Carley in the hallway at school, and did you see what Ashley was wearing? A journal is much more serious. Deeper thoughts and emotions, compelling poetry, short stories, even essays are written. Journal writing is done religiously whereas diary writing is whimsical. My children know that there are three things in which they never interrupt me. One: the first cup of coffee. Unless the house is on fire, you just don’t bother Mom until that first holy cup of coffee is integrated into her system. Two: writing in my journal. Don’t even think about it. Three: quilting while in the “zone”. It isn’t so much that this one is a “no-no”, but more of a friendly warning. Usually when I’m quilting on the machine I have my earbuds in and am on a listening binge of the The Piano Guys. Simply put, I just won’t notice you unless you blow an air horn in my face or stand on your head and gargle peanut butter.
Another way to identify a writer is simple: We tend to disappear during the month of November. We just POOF… disappear. We don’t answer calls. We don’t return emails. We don’t go for our hair appointments. The reason for this falling off the face off the Earth act is because November is National Novel Writing Month. My eight-year old knows this. Last October he asked one day what the date was. I told him it was the 31st. He looked me dead in the eye and said, as he was heading off to bed, “Good night. See you December first.” You can tell any writer who participates in the NaNoWriMo challenge because their grocery bill goes up a few days before November from purchasing copious amounts of chocolate and caffeinated drinks.
My husband has learned to take in stride my propensity for scribbling in a small notebook at odd times. Sometimes it is after a dream. I may wake up at 3 a.m. with an idea in my head and write it down. Sometimes it is during a date. We’ll be chatting away and I’ll whip out my trusty pen and notebook and start scribbling. This has happened an embarrassing amount of times. Sometimes writers like to sit by themselves, sipping coffee. We may have a news paper or magazine or book in front of us, but don’t be fooled. We are watching you. We love to see how people behave and note the little details of individuals. What little unique details are part of their gestures? Their attire? Their physical appearance? We learn how to make our characters more believable by watching others in real life and paying attention. We may also eavesdrop. We love to hear clever bantering, intelligent conversation, lighthearted dialogue. Anything we can remember in real life we can learn from and make our characters more believable and have more depth. And if we don’t think we can remember, a small recorder may be used. I can neither confirm nor deny the use of such a device personally. Ahem.
If you suspect someone is a writer and you are engaged in conversation, watch how they treat you. They will make eye contact, and appear to be really listening to all you have to say. At the risk of offending any readers’ sensibilities, let me assure you that it isn’t your brilliant personality that has the writer enraptured with your every word. They are doing a close-up study of character and dialogue, similar to what was mentioned above. Only this time, instead of sitting obscurely at a table, blending into the crowd, they have made a bold move to obtain a much more up-close study of a personality: yours. Try not to be offended, but flattered.
Sometimes the opposite happens, as my husband can attest. We’ll be talking and while he is blathering on about the latest Syracuse loss, I’ll drift off into some sort of plot twist that I am trying to work out. This is definitely one of the hazards to being a writer. We play a mental “what if” game with ourselves all the time, and that leads to rabbit trails of thought that sometimes make it seem like we are totally ignoring you. Don’t worry. We are. Sorry about that.
Some signs are much more apparent than others. We may at odd times say something like: “I have to write about that!” That clears up any misunderstanding, especially if it follows the above episode of wearing a blank look and ignoring whomever is talking to us. Again, don't be offended. It just means that something you said jogged our imagination and inspired us. Again, try to be flattered.
Someone may be a writer if you notice they use language. No, I don’t mean cussing. I mean language, as in literally. We may use words that you think are peculiar. I have a friend that says she never heard the word “wonky” before she met me. Apparently, I use it a lot, and whenever she hears it now she thinks of me. I would like to think it is because of the word, not the attribute. My friend pleaded the fifth when asked to clarify.
Writers can get cranky if they go too long without creating. You have to understand that to a natural born writer, it is literally in our blood. Writing is like a drug. Our syringe is a pen, and the ink is the substance that helps us to create. There is something about scribbling words and stringing them together like a necklace to make sentences. We firmly believe that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a word is worth a thousand pictures. We tinker with verbs. We audition nouns. We argue about the Oxford comma. We take Scrabble very seriously.
I hope this clears up how you view the writer in your life whether it be a spouse, friend, or the stranger sitting at the table nearby. Remember that we mean no harm, but love our craft and are trying to improve our skills. We may seem like we are spying on you, ignoring you, or stalking you, but in reality we are just trying to better our craft so we can entertain you. We have our idiosyncrasies, our quirks and our moments of crankiness. Just remember to be nice. Because if you make us mad we can always put you in a story and kill you off.