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.
1. You feel a natural “high” after writing.
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.
2. You obsess about stories.
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.
3. Your writing has a special place in your heart.
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.
4. You communicate best through writing.
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.
5. You’re willing to make sacrifices to write.
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.
Is Writing in Your DNA?
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.