Seventy percent of being a writer is claiming to be a writer.
It doesn’t matter that your brain has turned to mush and you haven’t written anything in years. You study the groceries and mannerisms of everyone who comes through your checkout lane, making up elaborate stories about each of them and convincing yourself that they will all someday be characters in your novel. You’ll default to answering almost every question with “I’m a writer.” Why are you 25 and still working in a grocery store? What are you doing with that empty Moleskine notebook you carry everywhere? “I’m a writer” is sufficient.
Ten percent of being a writer is not knowing how to answer the question “What do you write?”
Sometimes the words “I’m a writer” comes from your lips delicately and confidently – like the words on your Mother’s Day card, oozing with sibling-trumping charm and sentiment. More often than not, though, they’ll come up from your stomach, spill out your mouth and run for the door so fast you can’t catch them and shove them back. And when that happens, you’ll get asked what you write. The truth: you updated a WordPress blog once, but then never touched it again. But that’s not what you’ll say.
Instead, you’ll pretend working at your college paper was a real journalism job and make up a story about industry layoffs. You’ll say you’re “working on something,” or that you’re just “having a hard time developing this one character.” If that doesn’t throw them off their track, they may ask the next, most dreaded, question – “Have you published anything I’d know?” No, of course not. You haven’t published anything anyone would know, because you haven’t published anything, and probably never will. Defend your choice to not publish the works you haven’t written by saying something like “I’m still revising” or, if you’re feeling especially pretentious, “the world isn’t ready for it.”
Fifteen percent of being a writer is not being able to do math.
How much should I tip my bartender? Oh, fuck it. Have $10 for that one PBR I ordered. Thank you, Mr. Bill Collector. I did know my bill was overdue.It’s not because I wasn’t trying to pay you. It’s just that I don’t know how to add and I didn’t budget and now I – No, I’m not kidding, sir. I really don’t know how to add.
It doesn’t matter how small, stupid or insignificant, you simply won’t be able to figure it out. You’ll continue to justify your lack of math skills by telling yourself it doesn’t really matter. Still, though, you can’t shake the feeling that because of you, thousands of people are dead after you couldn’t figure out what time a train leaving Cincinnati at 9am going 90 miles an hour would collide with the train coming from Texas.
The rest is a hazy cloud of self-hatred and self-doubt. I’m not sure what that percentage is, though, because I’m a writer.