8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can

writerThere are a lot of difficult parts to writing. I mean, besides the whole write-edit-revise-rewrite thing. That cutting a vein and bleeding on the page can get touch-and-go at times. Channeling your muse at times gets someone you’d prefer to avoid. And it’s well documented that trying to make a living as an author is pretty near impossible unless your last name rhymes with ‘Fancy’ or ‘Brawling’.

Despite all that, it’s a profession people flock to, spend thousands training to be, and wouldn’t give up for anything. Widely-accepted studies show 80% of Americans have a book we want to share–despite the fact that industry stats show it takes five years to hone and deliver an acceptable novel. It may–or may not–surprise you to know that pursuing a writing career has less to do with that magical feeling you get from turning words into pictures and more to do with what writers get to do that no one else gets to do. Here are eight things we can do that no one else gets to do:

Create new words

We can–and are expected to–create words to fit a situation. Did you think only politicians, speechwriters, and Merriam Webster could do that? Writers are the original neologists. We get to turn nouns into verbs and the reverse (called ‘nounizing’ and ‘verbizing’). True, with our excellent command of vocabulary, we usually come up with the perfect word, but when we don’t, we create it. The Global Language Monitor reports that a new word is created every 98 minutes. No one will notice if you slip one in. Just the other day, I added the verb ‘Snowdened’ to the lexicon.

Stare at people with impunity

As a writer, people watching is studying our craft. We need to know exactly how everyday individuals react to common occurrences, so we watch them eating, reprimanding their children, walking their dogs, talking to the postman, fighting with mates–everything. When doing this, hang a sign around your neck ‘Writer at work’ so everyone understands you aren’t staring, you’re developing your craft.

Be quirky and call it cute

Have you noticed writers often are quirky dressers? In fact, if you see someone dressed like they’re going to play golf, but they aren’t, they may be a writer. We wear hats, bright colors, hair that’s too long for our age, lipstick that’s too loud for our age. Men can hang out with a roomful of women if they’re a writer and no one thinks it’s a pick-up line. With writers, quirky is cute.

Choose reading over anything else

The Huffington Post reported that 28% of Americans have not read a book all year. That’s amazing, considering as a writer, it’s part of our skill set. So why don’t people read? As an adult, reading is considered a leisure-time activity. Adults talk about reading as though it’s that finish line of a day they never get to. It’s something they strive for and rarely reach. My reward is to read. I’m going on vacation and planning to read.

Not writers. For us, reading is part of the job. We have to keep up with what others are doing, learn new words, recognize the consequences of flaws, research a topic we are writing about. While others are forced to drink, boy-watch, girl-watch, attend work-related events, we must read. If you love reading, this might be a reason you pick being a writer over, say, becoming a plumber or a politician.

Talk to people who are not there

We’re not talking to No One. We’re talking to our characters. They’re talking to us. We listen and respond. Sometimes, we fight with them, argue, cajole. Sometimes, we’re trying to find out why they did something or what-the-heck their plan is because we have no idea (it would be nice if they’d share it with their writer, but this is more complicated than it sounds).

Talking to individuals others can’t see is in the job description. Get used to it.

Be anyone we want to be

Not quite the same as ‘be all you can be’, but it’s a cousin to that. With a sweep of our pen, we create a whole new world, drop ourselves in as a brains-and-beauty heroine, save the world, or just save a puppy. Doesn’t matter. With words, we can be and do anything we want.

I love that.

Handle rejection

This we do better than anyone has a right to do because we get a lot of practice. Writers finish on average a novel a year (although Russell Blake seems to write one a month, but then, he doesn’t have many rejections to contend with). So every year, we submit to agents who reject us. My goal is one hundred query letters per novel before moving to Plan B. That’s one hundred times I hear No, F*** no, Are you crazy No, Don’t call until I’m dead No, What were you thinking No.There are dozens of ways to say No and I know most of them.

By the time we reach three novels (the suggested number required before new authors can find agents), we can quickly recognize, categorize, and move on with a minimal amount of tears.

I’m sure there are more great reasons to become a writer. What would you add to this list?

More humor about writing:

14 Things Writers Do Before 8am

How to Talk to a Writer

Labor Day Thoughts: Do You Really Want to Try to Earn a Living as a Writer?

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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How to Talk to a Writer

writerMy efriend, Kirk Allmond, had a hilarious run down of what NOT to say to a writer. Well, they were all true, but I still couldn’t stop laughing. Truisms like, “Leave a writer alone when they’re writing. You have no idea how difficult it is to enter the zone.”

So I decided to put together my own list of how to talk to a writer. See if you agree:

  • You can’t scare me. I’m a writer.
  • Patience and writing is an oxymoron
  • Patience and writers aren’t friends
  • Must. Remember. To. Eat.
  • Some days, writing looks a lot like work.
  • I successfully spelled ‘Worcestershire’ today in my book.
  • There are days I wouldn’t know a good plot twist if I woke up next to one.
  • Trying to write good dialogue is like trying to ignore a rejection letter.
  • Life after the 100th rejection is what Oprah might call a life-defining moment.
  • Understanding a writer who’s in the zone is like understanding the meaning of life.
  • Some days, I need a map to find my muse.
  • This is my writer’s face. This is my ‘go away’ face.
  • My head is like a bad neighborhood none of my characters want to live in.
  • Despite my past experience with agents, my mind is open to a miracle.
  • I keep a portrait of Mark Twain in my attic.

I have more pithy ideas for you, but I have a book to write. Well, I’ll just look in on Twitter…


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a weekly columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Computer virus crashes US sitcom script generator; TV networks fear creative re-writes

HOLLYWOOD, CA – In what appears to be a story ripped straight from the pages of fiction, a consortium of five major US television networks reported that a computer virus severely damaged the US sitcom script generator application ReWriteEm™ early Wednesday morning, now leaving TV networks and screenwriters scrambling to write new original plots.

“This is bad news for sitcoms entering their third season this fall,” said consortium president and noted television extra, Sean De’Mall in a telephone interview.  “Screen writers typically run out of creative ideas after their second season.  With mounting pressure from network executives to keep ratings high and the laugh tracks flowing, screenwriters have no choice but to repurpose scripts from prior series’, updating a line here and a character name there.”

Americans have a love affair with the sitcom.  Having deep roots in the radio era, the format transitioned successfully to television in the early 1950s.  Most episodes begin with a reveal of a minor disruption before the opening credits, with plot climax and resolution resolved in a mere twenty-two minutes.  And let’s not forget the beloved sidekick—usually single and always chubbier than the protagonist—who plays the key role of straight man to set up the jokes.

Industry analyst and creative writer Annie Bodie is concerned about the fate of ReWriteEm™ for creative writers everywhere.

“Without the tired plots, settings, and character templates, how else can creative writers polish their craft by examining what’s been done to death?”  Annie refers to the practice of creative writers carefully examining sitcoms to identify cliché settings, dialogue, and characters to avoid.

Annie continues, “Take swing-dancing for example.  How many sitcoms can you recall that showed participation in swing-dance competition at one point during the series?”

It’s unclear whether the consortium will be able to undo the damage that’s been caused as a result of the system crash in time for this fall.  But one thing’s for certain:  there are plenty of re-runs already in existence created with ReWriteEm™.  There’s a generous heap of fodder out there for creative writers to draw upon, and it means ditching the go-to elements of your stories like the held-at-gunpoint scenario, coffee shop setting, and of course, swing-dancing.

It’s not always easy to be funny

Live cat is funny. Dead cat is not. Unless it’s the other way around.

One of the perennial frustrations of my writing life is that I have an uncomfortably close connection with Schrodinger’s cat, or at least my sense of humor does.See, when I’m not trying to be funny, I can hum right along and say funny things, or at least say things that seem funny to ME. I can talk and talk, cracking wise and being silly to marvelous effect. The people I talk to and that read my stuff generally seem to agree. However, when I’m actively trying to write something funny… I get nothing. I can feel myself trying too hard, feel the phrases locking up as I try to get them down on the page, feel the kludge and clumsiness of them as they fall flat.

I’ve tried to trick myself into being funny “unintentionally” when I have something funny to write. There I’ll be, hammering out something that’s dry instead of wry, shitty instead of witty, and boring instead of something that rhymes with clever. Then, from out of nowhere, BANG! I try to surprise myself into being funny. I think of something utterly unrelated, like that part of a cow where the milk comes out. With luck, the shock of the non-sequiteur shakes loose some bit of mental gravel that will go banging about in the mental machinery, there to get ground into the magic pixie dust of humor. With LOTS of luck, this happens before the grit in the gears derails my thought process entirely.

The method is a bit like sneaking up behind Bruce Banner and pouring a glass of ice water down his shirt in hopes of getting the Hulk to come out and play. Come to think of it, the results are usually about as chaotic.

While there are some standard forms and methods to being funny, they’re only helpful when using them (and breaking them) is done in a natural way. This might be innate or it might be internalized, ritualized and habitualized through long practice. If you’ve been making people laugh for years and years, your sense of comic timing and comic word choice can appear effortless. In reality, this is no different than someone who is “effortlessly” charismatic, charming, masterful, or regal. Do it long enough, strive for excellence and expertise, use practice and focus to build on native talent, and you’ll look effortless, too. I promise.

What does it mean to have something be “naturally” funny? I don’t mean that it’s funny to everyone, since everyone’s sense of humor is different. For some people it’s nonexistent, but that’s another blog post. No, by “natural”, I mean “anything but forced-seeming”. I’m not quite there yet with respect to my comic writing. It remains, alas, far too heavily tinged with the patina of “please tell me this is funny”, and as yet possesses too little of the firm, confident brushwork that says, “this is funny, let me share it with you”. This is something I continue to strive for and to work on.

If Schrodinger had used a dog in his gedankenexperiment, I’m sure this wouldn’t be an issue. Dogs will laugh at anything.

Proposal for a New Year

Instead of resolutions, which I never fail to ignore, I would like to share with you some things I intend to accomplish this year.

1. I will not climb atop my roof for a barbaric yawp.

I will think about it though.  Likely I will spend quantities of time wondering what it might feel like to stand above my trees and pull the adventures and stresses and joys of the day across my stomach, my throat, my tongue, my teeth.  I will wonder what the neighbors would think of me.  I will resist doing it anyway.

2. I will be the monster in the playground.

I will continue to chase my child, and all who wish to be chased, up and over ladders, down slides, and round and round and round the trees.  It is fun.  It is freeing.  It is immediately exhausting, and I am not young, but I will not give it up.

3.  I will be a lazy bastard.

All crafts require tools, and these are mine: chair, computer.  Thus, my butt will be glued to my chair and my computer to my lap, as often as possible.  Except right now.  My butt is numb.

4. I will not continue on as if the sun strewing reds and oranges and pinks across the sky is just another sunset.  Even if it is, around here.

5.  I will learn manners.  I will properly introduce myself, or say goodbye just before I leave (even if I said goodbye 5 minutes ago, but we kept talking).  I will learn to listen properly, even if I cannot stop my brain from trying to share an anecdote similar to your anecdote, or pulling together all the random bits of facts we’ve tossed around and concluded that a character named Al, who was narcissistic about his high IQ but not functionally intelligent would be the only person to know all of things it took the two of us to share.