by Colleen M. Story
You enjoy writing, but does that mean you should be a writer?
This can be a difficult question. Most of us don’t know if we have what it takes to be successful writers, and we may spend years allowing that doubt to interfere with our writing progress.
We’d love to have some authority come along and tell us whether writing is indeed what we “should” be doing with our lives. We dream of hearing the words, “You were meant to be a writer. This is what you should do.”
But no one—absolutely no one—is qualified to say whether you’re “good enough” to be a writer. You wouldn’t want to give that power to anyone else anyway. The decision to devote your life to being a writer is yours to make.
Still, it’s often a difficult one, and we could all use some help. After all, no one wants to waste their time chasing dreams that have no chance of coming true.
To discover if you truly have a writer’s DNA, look for the following five clues in your life. They may not reveal a definite answer, but they will help you get a little closer to figuring out whether you were meant to write or not.
Writers love to write. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, writing is often harder for writers than it is for other people. But a person with a writer’s DNA will often (not always) feel a natural high after writing.
This is the feeling that brings us back to writing over and over again. We get a dopamine hit off of it. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain tied to reward and pleasure. It’s why an addict keeps seeking the next high, which isn’t good, but it’s also why a writer keeps coming back to the blank page—which is great.
Sure, we all have bad writing days, but on the whole, writing gets us high.
Writers are usually voracious readers, and they love stories of all kinds, even those about the neighbors. More often than not, they're the ones making up stories about the neighbors just for the fun of it.
While other people may enjoy a movie for the action, scenery, or the hot actor or actress, writers will focus on the story. If that's no good, the movie is unlikely to satisfy them. The same may be true of their time spent with family and friends. Writers love to listen to and tell stories and will linger long into the night as long as there are stories to be told.
Writers are the ones who used their childhood toys—whether those were dolls, action figures, or Play-Doh figures—to stage stories for themselves, their friends, or even their pets. May writers involved their pets in those stories, too (to the great chagrin of the cats).
Even if you didn't do any of these activities as a kid, your brain was likely telling stories from the beginning. Think back and you may remember.
Whether you become a bestselling writer or not, writing is likely in your DNA if your stories hold a special place in your heart.
Think back to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. What do you remember most? Writers will typically recall the scene where little sister Amy March burns the heroine Jo’s unpublished manuscript. That one hits us all with a gut-punch because we know how hard it would be to lose our words. We can never get them back again, at least not in the same way.
When asked what they'd take from a burning home, a writer will have some common answers, such as family photographs, computers, or musical instruments. But they would add their manuscripts and books to that list because they're that special.
We know the people in our stories. We want them to live on after us. We care about them. It may seem strange to a nonwriter, to feel so much for characters that aren’t real or a story that never happened, but writers understand it perfectly.
Given the choice, most writers would rather write than communicate in other ways.
We’re the ones who love emailing, texting, and the old-fashioned practice of writing letters. We enjoy giving and receiving cards for birthdays and holidays, and we excel at any job that relies on good writing skills.
Emotions we struggle to express through speech often flow out of us in writing. On the page, we feel like we can be our true selves and are less likely to get stymied by fear or anxiety.
We’re the ones who like to leave little notes of appreciation where our loved ones or even our colleagues will find them, whereas we wouldn’t get caught dead saying the same things out loud. We’re also more likely to write a complaint to a company or manager than to dress down an employee in person.
Whatever the situation, if it requires communication, we’d rather write it. Yes, we can communicate just fine by speech when required—and indeed, many writers make great public speakers—but we find our most authentic voices on the page.
Ask most people about their ideal lifestyle and they’d probably include a healthy income along with their other desires. Writers are no different, except that we can imagine giving up that income for more time to write.
We can truly imagine going without many of the things money can buy if we could gain the freedom to write as we wish. Whereas others wouldn't want to swap a healthy salary for hours to spend alone in a room with a laptop, writers would. Others would typically prefer a nice house, while writers can imagine living in a small studio as long as it comes with a desk or at least a comfortable, quiet corner.
Many writers actually do cut back to win more time to write. They may go without a second car (or any car at all), cut the cable subscription, stop eating out, or sell it all and live out of a camper or even a truck to pursue their writing dreams.
Other sacrifices can be just as meaningful, like choosing to stay in a house that’s bursting at the seams so you don’t have to work more hours and can use that time to write. Or going without the security of health insurance and a regular salary so you can have more flexible hours as a contractor.
Even giving up a couple of hours a week with your children so you can focus on your stories qualifies. And as many parents will tell you, can be one of the most difficult sacrifices of all.
If one or more of these clues sounded familiar to you, you likely have a writer's DNA, and you should keep writing no matter what. Even if you never make much money from it, it’s clear that it matters greatly in your life, and for that reason alone, you shouldn’t give it up.
For you, a life without writing is a poorer life.
Note: For more on overcoming self-doubt and deciding to be a writer no matter what, see Colleen’s new book, Your Writing Matters: How to Banish Self-Doubt, Trust Yourself, and Go the Distance. Get your free chapter here!
Which of these signs resonates most with you? When did you first know you had "Writers DNA?" Please share your story with us down in the comments!
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In her new release, Your Writing Matters, Colleen M. Story helps writers determine whether writing is part of their life’s purpose. Her book on author platforms, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards, and Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018. Her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews' INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers. Find more at her author website and Writing and Wellness, and connect with her on Twitter and YouTube.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
These are all so true, but especially number 1, the 'high' of writing. I'm so pleased to see that recognised! I have always felt it but could never get others to understand it, even my husband. The best way I can describe it is to say that writing is essential to my mental health. There is no other feeling like it. Great post!
That "high" is one of my favorite things about writing too, Sheila. And I totally get the "essential to mental health" idea and have read that from other writers too. We get it! :O)
The first three points are gems... I've tried to explain to family and friends who aren't writers about the "high" that I get during and after a good session of writing. I try to equate it to a "runner's high." They nod. Yet I wonder about the depth of their understanding. To want to keep writing to feel that rush and see the story grow. And to daydream about the story, possibilities of directions in which it could flow.
Yes, like the runner's high, but even better! So cool to hear we all feel this. Thanks, Dave. :O)
Great post! I do believe writer's get a dopamine hit after writing. I'm also a runner and when I'm faced with the two choices of writing or running, I always choose writing. 🙂 It's just who I am!
Ha ha. I can get your choice, Lisa. But as a health writer I have to say your exercise is so important. (Yeah, yeah.) You obviously have the writer's DNA! :O)
I agree. I try to exercise as often as possible, but it's real easy to skip a run when I'm in the zone with my writing. 🙂
My writer's high comes when I am watching the story happen and making it happen, all at the same time.
Yes it's kind of "woo-woo" when that happens, Anna. I love it too.
Thanks for the intriguing post. Here are a few of my "signs" ...
I drop a lot of eaves. Learning to write real dialogue just takes good listening skills.
I get a a high with an unexpected twist in my story. The other day I completely pivoted my protagonist's future by revealing a huge secret...one that even she didn't know until that moment!
I sometimes watch TV on mute to study body language, and that can really help when I'm editing a first draft.
Inspiration comes from a lyric in a song, a sappy line in a Hallmark card and even in a random magazine on an airplane. That happened yesterday when I read an article on an American flight about "book butlers." Ever hear of that? Apparently fine hotels have bell-captain-looking people handing our free books like appetizers in the lobby. What a cool job that would be...not to mention having your latest release being promoted among an influential audience.
I'll watch a lame/bad/boring movie until the end just to see how it all wraps up. Some terribly told stories can have amazing endings.
Oh, the writer's life....
So cool when your character does something you didn't expect. And I hadn't heard of book butlers! I need to stay in one of those hotels! (ha)
Uh oh, five out of five. 😀
I'm a fast drafter and typically average over a 100K words in November and December when I most often draft. The "high" leaves me exhausted, but it's addicting. The other ten months are about revising, revising, revising (I cycle through A LOT of drafts). I devote an insane number of hours every week, month, year to some aspect of writing and LOVE every minute of it. I never call it work.
I make sacrifices. I drive an old car and don't have cable, though I take in video by other means on occasion. All my characters, especially my protagonists, are family. Reopening a project to revise is like having them return for an extended stay. Our shared story is about reminiscing. In person, I'm an INFJ who either babbles, is mute, or thinks of the perfect response the next day (or all three). In writing, if I don't get my words right the first time I know the magic of revision will fix it.
I've literally tried to stop writing (it's been a long time) because I thought there was something wrong with me. At some point, though, be it age or not caring or both, I embraced it. If I never made a cent I wouldn't do a single day differently. Writing has already given me more than I could have ever hoped for.
Loved this comment, Christina. I'm with you on the multiple drafts, sacrifices (I think most writers are the same), characters being family, revision. And I've toyed with quitting too, but if it's in us it persists...thank heavens!
I resonate with all of the above, but probably the least with #2 since I rarely have TIME to immerse and obsess. But my husband and I have agreed - I am prettier, smarter, funnier and far more pleasant to live with when I am writing fiction regularly. Basically, I am more "ME" when I'm writing. 🙂
Oooo "prettier." I never thought of that one! Okay, writing as a beauty regimen. I'm sensing a new post there... :O) Totally agree. More "me" when writing! Thanks, Jenny. :O)
Ha ha. Confirmation for you, Denise! :O)
So true. Our writing lasts. Good point! :O) And yes, so much more worthwhile in the long run than TV watching.
Yup, 1-5. As much as I love riding my bike, I realized the best way to carve time was substitute writing into the majority of those hours. Both give me a high: when a ride's done, though, it's done. Writing, you've got that story to keep honing. And I cut my cable (and haven't streamed) not so much for the $$$, but I realized I'd rather write than watch almost every show, and I kept topping out my DVR with what I'd recorded and had no time to watch.
Thanks for pulling these ideas together.
These are spot on! I have a print archive of all my work, and a copy of it in my sister's hands in case of a disaster at my house!
Probably a wise idea, Elizabeth. Losing those words would be awful!
I think after a certain point in your writing career, especially after dumping Impostor Syndrome as unnecessary, the self-diagnosis is, "Well, duh!'
When you find you can't NOT write.
When, as Jenny said above, you are either able to write (and in a relatively good mood) or life and other things have kept you from writing, and you need to rip SOMETHING limb from limb.
It startles only other people how you can be this way, other NON-WRITING people. Your writer friends (if they are only online, you can imagine this part) nod their wise heads.
I am resisting a major task: writing a summary of the rest of my trilogy in case I do not make it to finish it. I don't want to admit that's a possibility, unwise for someone who is getting older. The rough draft is SO awful, I'd hate for it to fall into my daughters' or my beta readers' hands - my legacy might turn into ashes at that point. But at least they'd know I meant what I said when I wrote that the story is known in painful detail from first to last word - it is just the HOW of every scene that I'm discovering as I write them. I'm SO much better at it than twenty years ago when I created the outline from the story which fell into my lap.
One more of the recent medical adventures, and I'll have to write that summary. And that's with nothing wrong, really - it's just that they suck up every bit of my physical and mental energy for days and weeks, and the writing slows to almost nothing.
Being an adult is hard work. It gets in the way of my writing.
You obviously have a writer's DNA, Alicia, and you bring up a good point. Someday we all have to consider what to do with our unfinished work, as I imagine most writers continue right up until the end. Something I've never thought about. I'm wishing you every ounce of energy and stamina so you can get well and finish your stories. :O)
I WAS planning on living until at least 115, but this past year has been sobering.
Thanks you - if I finish the Pride's Children trilogy, I would be very happy.
My rather unflattering analogy of this is: NOT writing is mental constipation. It's uncomfortable and I get grumpy until relieved by tucking in with my computer. I hate it when life interferes.