You Might Be a Writer If . . .

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Photo by Jim LaBate

About 20 years ago, comedian Jeff Foxworthy became nationally famous for his series of one-liners that all began with the phrase “You might be a redneck if . . . .” Foxworthy — who later served as the host of the television show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? — actually had some great literary lines such as the following: “You might be a redneck if you stare at an orange juice container because it says ‘concentrate,’” and “You might be a redneck if you think Sherlock Holmes is a housing project down in Biloxi.”

Recently, as I was preparing to give a literary talk at a local bookstore, Foxworthy’s key introductory phrase popped into my head with a bit of a twist, and I came up with some key phrases of my own. Read through this list, and see if perhaps you, too, might be a writer.

You might be a writer if you read a lot. As a writing instructor at a community college in upstate New York, students will sometimes ask me, “What can I do to improve my writing?” and I think my answer surprises them. I tell them to “read as much as you can.” At first, they don’t see the connection, but I try to explain that reading allows them to subconsciously absorb the craft of writing. Then, to reinforce my point, I tell them about Stephen King. In his book entitled On Writing, King says, aspiring writers have to do only two things: “read a lot and write a lot” (145). King’s first exposure to extensive reading occurred when he was about six years old. Since he was sick at home for most of that school year, King claims that he read “approximately six tons of comic books” (27), and, eventually, he began to write his own stories.

You might be a writer if you cry a lot. Do you cry at the end of sad movies? Do you weep at weddings? Do you get choked up when you see people cry? If so, you may be an extremely sensitive person who empathizes with others who are experiencing life’s universal moments. At those special times, you may be recalling similar experiences or anticipating those moments in your own life. Socrates once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living” and when those tears hit you, you may be examining life’s eternal truths. Usually at those moments, you can’t find the words to express what’s happening, but therein lies the beauty of writing. Those speechless moments usually stay with you for a long while, and with time and with meditation, you can eventually express your feeling and your emotions on paper.

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Photo by Jim LaBate

You might be a writer if you can’t sleep at night. Do you wake up in the middle of the night and find that you can’t get back to sleep, even when you’re physically exhausted, and you need rest desperately? Most likely, that happens because certain thoughts are banging around in your brain, and the noise won’t let you sleep. When that occurs, you will always be tempted to roll over and try a new position, but generally, the banging doesn’t stop. You will lie awake and play with the possibilities until you finally have to crawl out of bed to jot down whatever you have at that point. If only a few sentences appear, you can be back to sleep in ten minutes, but if the ideas come in paragraphs, you could be writing for hours.

You might be a writer if your mind wanders during the day. Depending on your job, you may have only a little wandering time during the workday. For example, if you’re in an intense position that requires lots of human interaction, you may not have the opportunity to daydream. But if you’re performing a mindless chore — like stuffing envelopes or cutting the grass — you may use that time to your advantage. Instead of cursing the task, you might imagine how a particular character could enliven that activity, or you might imagine a similar setting where characters and conflicts easily present themselves.

You might be a writer if you’re somewhat shy and introverted. In his essay entitled “How to Write a Personal Letter,” Garrison Keillor says, “We shy persons need to write a letter now and then, or else we’ll dry up and blow away.” I, too, am basically a shy person, and I don’t think well or process conversations thoroughly when I am in the midst of them. Thus, I have to replay the conversation in my mind, and, if appropriate, I write a short note to the person, or I might turn the entire experience into a poem or use the conversation in a work of fiction. If you struggle to speak with others, or if you lack the confidence to speak in a group, you may want to keep a diary or write in a journal, anything to help you at least record your thoughts for use at some point in the future.

Photo by Jim LaBate

You might be a writer if you wonder about and appreciate ordinary things. Some people pick up the Sunday newspaper and immediately begin reading the comics, the movie reviews, or the business articles. These people never ponder all the activity that goes into producing that massive work. Others, however, like former 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney, took time to examine the things that most people take for granted. In fact, while Rooney sometimes commented on politics or controversial issues, most of his monologues focused on the truly mundane items of daily life like water, watches, and kitchen tools. Author Thornton Wilder also highlighted the mundane in his play Our Town. In Act Three, Wilder had Emily say good-by to “clocks ticking . . . and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up.”

You might be a writer if you have an opinion about important controversial issues. The opinion pages of most newspapers are filled with editorials and letters to the editor. If you read these pages and care about the key issues in your community and throughout the world, you may be prompted to write a letter or an essay. Most likely, you won’t write if you see your opinion expressed logically and coherently, but if your ideas are being ignored or misrepresented, you may decide to participate in this public forum.

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Photo by Jim LaBate

You might be a writer if you have an opinion about unimportant, trivial topics like sports. Even if you don’t care too much about the so-called “hot” issues, you might get worked up about an athletic team in your area, whether it is high school, college, or professional. In years past, these arguments about “who’s number one” were often confined to verbal warfare at the office water cooler or at the local diner or watering hole. With the internet, however, almost every fan can sit at a computer keyboard and participate. Most online sportswriters will allow you to post comments about their columns, and if you are a really dedicated fan, you can set up your own blog or web page.

You might be a writer if you buy blank cards instead of Hallmark greetings. The people who write for Hallmark do a wonderful job of expressing common sentiments for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones. However, sometimes, you may want to say something altogether different, or you may want to describe the unique relationship you have with one special person. When that moment occurs, you don’t want your loved one to be distracted by a funny picture or cartoon, and you don’t want your words to appear as an afterthought. Thus, you may have to buy a blank card and fill it with your own unique prose. Typically, too, those are the cards that get saved when all the rest are thrown away.

You might be a writer if you like to see your name in print. Let’s face the truth; most of us want to be remembered, and when we attach our name to something we’ve written, we’re grabbing a small slice of immortality, especially if that composition is actually published. Publishing, however, also brings additional benefits: dialogue and encouragement. When your letter to the editor shows up in the newspaper or when your essay appears in print, readers will often let you know they saw it, and they may want to discuss the subject with you. Others will write back to confirm or contradict what you have said. In both cases, your writing has stirred a conversation, and you may be encouraged to write even more. Yes, the byline is nice, but the subsequent interaction is even better.

So are you a writer? I’m guessing you are. If you started reading this article, you must be at least somewhat interested. If you read to this point, you may have even identified with one of the above statements, and said, “Yes, that line fits me perfectly.” So now, you need to simply take that interest and follow through on that particular characteristic or habit that will allow you to join the writing community. And even if you don’t consider yourself a writer or don’t relate to any of the lines listed above, I bet you’re thinking that I’m wrong or that I left out something. If that’s the case, well, you know what to do next.

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Jim LaBate works as a writing specialist in The Writing Center at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, New York.

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