The Weirdness of Writers

Old Man

I’m an old geezer so I can say whatever’s on my mind, right? Isn’t that how it works? Since I’m a writer, I can even make it all up.

This is the weirdness of being a writer. Here are the details:

We live in our heads. That’s right. Forget the world outside. If it’s worth the experience, it lives in here, upstairs. OK, there’s also some intrigue out there. Lots of inspiration from the real world. But, it all needs to get sucked up, rolled around, re-worked in our heads. That’s where we find the action. Doesn’t everyone?

We think in images but cannot draw. Just like you, we see pictures in our heads. We probably can’t express them in a better way than words. A few of us are multi-talented and can do more. These are the true artists. For the rest of us hack writers, making those pictures come alive in words is where it’s at. Descriptions count, a lot. The more vivid, the better.

We like word sounds. Words make sounds. Sounds make pictures, pictures make words. Get it? We like to describe sounds, often in vibrant detail. Check out your favorite writer. See all the sounds he or she describes? Sounds have character. Sounds set moods. Sounds are everywhere. How could any worthy writer ignore sounds? People, too. We call them “characters.”

We’re not that fond of reality. Sure, the world is good. But the attic is better. No cumbersome reality upstairs. Time doesn’t matter. We can do whatever we want up there and nobody can touch us. We create worlds, destroy them, rebuild them, morph them all over the place. That’s our reality. How could the outside world ever compete with that? If you don’t like it, just re-write it.

Nothing is static. Make it once, overhaul it, throw it away, resurrect it, revise it, revamp it and do it all over again and again. Everything changes when you write. Without change, writing is just work, just another four-letter word. Mountains breathe, rocks walk, creatures come and go. It’s a fast-moving landscape up there. Never boring.


We need quiet. Well, sometimes we need music. The point is that we aren’t too fond of excessive stimulation from others. We need space. We need solitude. We thrive on that special peace that offers the challenge of working alone. Move the quiet times to the front of the line. It’s best to not mess with us when we’re writing.

We are all romantics. We want the world our way, even if we end up destroying it. We thrive on the feelings and moods behind our words. We tend to be very passionate about the people and things in our heads. So, we romance our heads, our unconscious, our moods and feelings. Isn’t this romantic?

English: True Love Couple

We have very understanding mates. If we’re living with another, that person must be very special. Who could even consider living with a writer and still maintain a “normal” life? The weirdness of a writer naturally spills over into the reality of living. Anyone who lives with this strangeness deserves the Lifetime Award of Extreme Tolerance and Understanding. Otherwise, that mate must be another writer and all hell is on the horizon.

We are obsessive. We just can’t stop writing. Period.

You Want to be a Writer? What!

cow in mouth (who's crazy ?)

You want to be a writer, eh? Better think about it for a while. Consider all the reasons why a writer’s life is, uh, very strange.

You want to be normal. If that’s your goal, stick to your day job. Writers are nuts. You have to be a tilty-boogle to pursue this course in your life. All the writers I’ve known over the years, and they are legend, are a bit wacko. Some more than others. I know. I’m a wacko writer. So, if you’re after the American dream of normalcy, try something else. This is not the life for you.

You want financial security. It’s the wholesomeness of a regular paycheck, the backbone of social progress, the lynchpin of stress-free living. Forget about it. If you want to write for a living, dump the idea of security. It just won’t happen. Sure, you may do well. You may also starve. Either way, you better lose the idea of ever achieving a “fixed income.”

You enjoy the quiet times. If you’re a writer, things are never quiet. Your head is constantly thrashing around, usually on the fine edge of implosion, always noisy. Sure, it may be peaceful in the sanctity of your writing space but it’s always chaotic in your head. Have you ever tried to get away from your head? Hard to do.

You don’t want to be weird. You can’t be serious about being a writer unless you’re seriously weird. Writers just don’t think like normal people.

You like regular hours. Yikes! A writer’s schedule is like drinking colon-blow with your coffee. Maybe you’re one of those lucky writers who can stick to a predictable writing schedule. I’ve heard about these folks, and I envy them. It’s just never worked for me. Day becomes night, morning follows evening, the calendar is all funny-looking, watches are never set correctly. Only deadlines matter.

English: Crazy stuff

You like to control stuff. Oops, that’s it. Game over for you. Writers control nothing, not even their own characters. Actually, the characters take over and usually lead the writer around on a leash. You can’t control your time, your income, editors, publishers, publicists, readers, media, any other bump or any living entity in the entire golly-bang universe. If you have control, you’re not a writer.

You value your ego. It doesn’t matter what you write, someone is going to be upset. Maybe most of your readers are happy and enthusiastic. Still, there are always a few out there who will launch doo-doo all over your head. Nature of the beast. If you want to write for a living, give your ego a regular dose of sleep aids and keep your head down. Better yet, forget the prophets of doom and gloom, the critics, and the forever malcontents. They’re just along for the ride. There’s no point in trying to impress others since you’ll never be able to pull it off.

You want to be understood by others. Nope, not going to happen. Try some other profession. No one understands the career writer, including the writer himself.

You like to dress well. Maybe a few writers can pull this off, but I don’t know any of them. Writer’s don’t do well with fashion. I have no idea why this happens.

You like parties and social events. These are the worst for most writers I know. Chatter, chatter, inane dialogue, noise, boring and repetitive yaddle, whatever. Give me some quiet!

You like to work with others. Writing is mostly a solo business. I mean, who wants to get inside your writing head and crawl around? People can be very distracting. They can be fun when you’re creating characters or doing research. After that, they need to go away and let you get down to work, by yourself.

You are secure, well-balanced, well integrated into society. So, by definition, you’re not a writer. See the “normal” argument above.

Still want to be a writer?

When Great Writers Vanish

GeezerBeing a geezer writer has its advantages. Decades in the business makes for a slice of clarity, a broader understanding of why some writers make it while others fail, or just choose to disappear. It’s usually a strange and toxic mixture of life ingredients.

It often doesn’t have anything to do with talent.

Some of the best writers I’ve known simply walked away from the trade. These were gifted people whose work I admired and thought was outstanding. But they gave it all up. They just vanished from the scene.

It’s not easy to wrap your head around this problem. Still, there are some common themes, scant threads that seem to surface with these individuals. Even though they disappeared as writers, a few of them stayed in touch, a few gave explanations. There are lessons.

Feedback fail. Many of the writers I’ve known needed a good deal of feedback. When you write for a living, especially at the start of your career, that just doesn’t happen. You are working in a vacuum, for the most part. Sure, you may get some feedback from friends or a trusted draft-reader, but many writers are looking for much more. They want reader feedback, the kind of notice given by those unknown but appreciated readers. Beginning writers can’t get that feedback, and some of them wither under the wish. They walk away before they’ve given themselves a chance. If you can’t stand lonliness, writing is the wrong path for you.

Life interferes. This is a rough one. It’s something that all beginning writers need to face. It takes a long time, if ever, for your writing to pay off. Throughout that stretch, life moves on. How can a writer balance it all? It’s not easy for anyone but it’s particularly gruesome for someone not yet established. You need the tenacity and drive to make your writing work itself into your life, to weave its place around the necessities of living. Sometimes, life just takes over and there’s nothing you can do about it. During those times, writing takes a second seat. It’s hard but you’ve got to tough it out. Reach deep and pull out the draft, even if it’s just to add a word or two, just to read a few lines. When the flame flickers low, don’t let it blow out. Patience helps, always.


Rejection. Too many talented writers die on the words of rejection letters. It’s an understandable reaction. You work your butt off for nothing but the love of the word. You spend years perfecting your trade. Then, some editor blows you off with a tight rejection. Others follow. Suddenly, you’re drained. Too many rejections, too little reward. Wrong feedback. We’ve all been there. But rejections are nothing more than opinions. Editors and publishing houses have a long tradition of making stupendous blunders about writing talent. Opinions are free and common, and often offered by individuals who have never spent the time or effort to perfect their own art. Ignore them and move on. Mourn if you must, but only for a moment. It’s easy to say and hard to do. I understand that. But what choice do you have, if you truly want to be a writer?

Luck. This sounds silly but it’s a factor that’s brought many good writers to their knees. It really applies to traditionally-published work. In the world of publishing, there are limits to production. Publishers set an early and tight schedule for themselves. In other words, there are always more writers than there are slots in the publishing schedule. So, luck sometimes wins out, especially if a number of talented writers are working the same small market. There’s not much you can do about this. It’s best to remember that luck smiles without a winked eye, when it smiles. Your turn will come. The trick is to just accept this randomness and work around it. The best answer to luck is to improve your writing skill.

Timing. Hot genres come and go. If you’re writing for the short term, you need to get into the hot genre and get there quickly. It’s a mad rush toward a narrow doorway, though. Expect a lot of bumping and bruising. Personally, I don’t like this approach. It’s too chaotic, too nuts and too stressful. Why not consider looking ahead, working toward a genre that has more legs? Let the others rush. Take your time and make your work all it can be.

It’s not for you. Great writers don’t always want to be writers. I suppose that sounds strange to those who write for a living. I’ve met a few individuals who fit this category. They were brilliant writers, really good. But that wasn’t their life-ride. They enjoyed writing but also wanted to taste other life pleasures. They tried it, did a good job, and walked away. I have a lot of respect for these people. It’s not something I could do, just walk away from an obvious talent. They could. They had a bigger vision in life. Good for them.


The pain is too great. I get it. There is nothing simple or easy in a writer’s life. The rewards can be outstanding, no doubt about it. However, the journey is anything but comfortable. In fact, I think you need to be a little nuts to make it your life’s work. Writing can be miserable but also exhilarating. It’s like any other creative process. The ups and downs are extreme. The potential for a reasonable reward is small. The work is downright tough. It’s enough to drive anyone to find another way through life. It’s just too much for some people and they walk away, regardless of their talent. Only the word addict remains.

Art grows. I’ve know a few writers who have moved on to another art form. These people are truly interesting. It seems they can conquer very different arts, each with aplomb. I have no idea how they pull this off. I’m in awe of these people, probably because I have only a single art. I love these artists, the ones who walk away from writing and straight into another art form they easily conquer. Wow! If that’s the reason you walk away from the word, you’ve made a great decision. You are more than a writer, you are an artist. You are my hero.

I suppose there are all kinds of other reasons why these word masters walked away from it all. Back in the early years, I wanted to walk away. I just couldn’t do it. Like many of my writer friends, I had a major word addiction.

I still do, even though I’m old enough to know better.

The Writhing Artist

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palu...

Living to geezer-hood is pretty cool, mostly. Once you adapt to the usual failings that are natural partners of old age, once you settle into a good place with it, there’s lots of time to consider bigger issues.

Like, what about all those crazy artists? The writers, painters, sculptors, and an endless litany of other artisans? Why are so many of them just nuts, at least to the rest of the world? Why are most of them way out of whack with the common social universe?

Let me define the term a bit. I’m thinking about those individuals who don’t merely pursue art, who don’t simply love it and have a special talent, but who chase their art form throughout their lives. Those who just seem to be from another planet in the day-to-day world of routine-ness. I’m thinking about those people who would simply cease to exist without their art.

You probably know at least one of these creatures. I know that I’ve met many over the years. They live complicated lives, in their heads and hearts. There’s nothing simple or easy about the path they’ve chosen, or been driven toward. They spend much of their time in a peculiar world of pain reserved for only them and those of their ilk.

See if these qualities and quirks fit your definition as well as they fit mine.

Out of sync. The artist can’t keep rhythm to the marching music no matter how hard he or she tries. Usually, they don’t even hear the same music. Maybe they were born old, maybe they just can’t grow up. Their dance steps are all out of whack and you just can’t help noticing it when you meet them. The more time you spend with the artist, the more profoundly you realize they are always just a little out of focus, walkers out of time and place. They don’t have to work at this kind of uniqueness. This brand of un-sync-ability comes naturally. Most of them don’t thrive on the difference. In fact, they are usually not comfortable with it. Doesn’t matter. They are just out of whack with the world. They were born to their fate, or so it seems.

Emotional blender people. Artists are emotional beings, even when they’re not trying to express those emotions. Usually, the quiet ones are the worst. They are constantly awash in emotional themes, strong opinions, reactions, feelings, and sensibilities. Their emotional engines are constantly running at the red line maximum, even when they haven’t spoken a word in two weeks. If you have an artist as a friend or lover, you know this too well. You can feel it around them, encircling their life and often spilling over into yours. It’s the ham in their sandwich, the fuel in their engine, and it’s mostly uncontrollable even when it’s not expressed.

Halloween in New York

Socially maladjusted. Sure, there are exceptions to this little observation. But, not too many. Artists don’t usually do well socially. They tend to live at the extremes of social behavior. They may be flamboyant or just as easily become complete, speechless wall-flowers. Sometimes they are both in the space of five minutes. What they cannot do is get into the social rhythm of the reigning group of the moment. For whatever reason, they fail to put their square peg in your round hole. This is mostly unconscious. Many of them take to this mantle of awkwardness because, well, they just feel downright awkward in most social situations. They know it’s a threat to their otherwise semi-controlled, partially understood view of the world. But they just don’t know how to make themselves a part of the stage play. Secretly, they just want to go home or back to the studio and do their art. After all, that’s what life is all about anyway.

This side up. Yep, they’re fragile, these artists. Sometimes, very fragile. They remain vulnerable because they’re always listening and waiting for their muse, because their world is one of extreme colors, sounds and textures. They are an open door, even when they’ve shut themselves away from the world. Approach carefully or, if it suits, stay away until you have that invitation in hand. They can be easily damaged and remain in a critical state for years on end. Tread lightly, please.

Mouth malfunctioning. The artist is usually not a great orator. In fact, he or she will often be a master at putting hoof to mouth, stirring up doo-doo, and generally making comments or observations where they just aren’t needed. Remember the emotional component? Well, hoof-to-mouth has a lot to do with letting passions get ahead of sensible speech for most artists. They have an affinity for ignoring the most important conversations or interjecting silliness or randomness into otherwise “normal” exchanges. There is only one exception to the rule. Artist-to-artist conversations work perfectly. From an outsider’s point of view, the conversation may seem disjointed and nonsensical. To the artists inside the conversation, everything makes perfect sense. They are held together by a common passion and unspoken drive that has always been reserved for just them.

Love or hate. The true artist cannot leave you untouched once you get to know them, even a little. You will either love them or hate them. Well, perhaps “hate” is too strong. You will either find them interesting or you’ll just want to avoid them the rest of your days. They can easily grab you with their own passion and just as quickly give you a headache with their screwy ideas, inappropriate behavior, and disjointed view of your normalized world. The artist knows this also. In fact, the artists I’ve known often secretly fret about their unique ability to polarize the world around them. Some thrive on it, sometimes, but most wish there were an easier way, for them and you. It’s the nature of the beast.

The Old Man and the Sea

Head and heart lock-down. They’re locked inside themselves, these artisans and miscreants. They’re working from the inside-out while most of the world is doing things in a more civilized way. Their hearts are beating overtime, their brains are often on fire, they are in artist lock-down mode. They rarely come up for air. In many cases, they never escape the lock-down, not for an entire lifetime. That’s the central soul of their art and they dare not stray too far from their personal prison. If they should escape, the world outside would not suit anyway.

Happy or not. At some level, most are happy only when they are creating. The rest of the time is spent in discomforts small and great. It’s only in those moments of pure creativity, their tools in hand, their hearts and minds completely absorbed, are they truly happy. The rest of the time is spent trying to get to that secret place again and again.

So, do you know someone like this? Someone who is a true artist, born to run that race and only that race? You probably do. The next time you stumble across him or her, take a breath and a big patience pill. The world needs these artists and so do you.

If you can put up with the true artist you may have a friend or lover for life. They can give you that special kind of attachment reserved only for the artist. It’s passionate, determined, meaningful and usually forever.

They can just as easily drive you crazy, just like them.

Tickling the Muse

Hesiod and the Muse

The muse is a fickle, subversive partner. Seasoned writers will tell you that chasing her around your head is a lifelong addiction. Catching up to her is a ticklish dance, a kind of special romancing that demands subtly and, sometimes, trickery.

She comes and goes, her own way, in her own time. She’s always in control of the relationship. But without her, your art goes up in smoke. With the muse, you are always the junior partner.

Tickling the muse has its tricks, though. They aren’t written down anywhere. They aren’t the same for all writers. Over the years, I’ve stumbled on a few of them, mostly by chance. Some of my fellow writers have shared their muse-romancing secrets.

Here are a few tickle-tricks that seem to work.

The muse doesn’t like crowds. She’s shy. For this writer, she’s just not a party animal in any way. Go to a party, lose the muse. In fact, she doesn’t really like any company at all. It’s a one-on-one thing for my muse. Three is a crowd and she just vanishes. More than three and she’s likely to pout for a while. It’s always got to be her way, and her way is that she wants center stage, all alone.

The muse likes quiet. Too much noise gives the muse a migraine. If there’s clatter and chatter, she goes back to her cave and waits for the world to calm down. She doesn’t mind music, though. In fact, she likes it. She seems OK with the sounds of nature or things that go bump from far, far away. But, up close, keep things quiet. She wants to be heard. Since she doesn’t like parties, you can imagine how she reacts to voices.

The muse whispers, never shouts. And this is why she doesn’t do noise. She always whispers. Her voice is soft and alluring, most of the time. Attention-seeking behavior is not in her genes. Actually, she’s passive-aggressive. She knows how to grab all of a writer but she does it with subtlety. If you can’t hear the whisper you’ll miss the message.

shape shifter

The muse is a shape-shifter. The muse is likely to pop-up anywhere, any time, and in any form she chooses. She has many faces. You usually won’t know she’s on your shoulder if you go looking for her. She comes first with a bare whisper. You need to follow that soft voice to find her. Then, when you finally see her, she’s always changing her looks. It’s best to not even worry about her appearance. Just listen.

The muse will make you talk to yourself. When she has your attention, the muse can get really pushy. She wants to take over, flood your head with her message, push your possibilities. The muse, for all her shyness, can be powerful and often overwhelming. She has mystical powers that take you off in different, usually unexpected, directions. She will make you talk to yourself, out loud. She loves to surprise you.

The muse lives in the back of your head. That’s right. She’s always there, way in the back of your head, somewhere you cannot scratch. You can’t reach her most of the time, but she’s still there, hiding and waiting for the perfect moment. Sometimes she’ll pop out for a peek in your dreams. Other times she’ll push you from behind with a fresh thought or a compelling mind-picture. That’s how you know she’s back there, hanging out for her own time and place. You can’t grab her and drag her into the open. She is much stronger than you. You’d better learn how to tickle and tease her, just the way she likes to romance you. It’s an endless dance and you’re never in the lead.

The muse wants your complete attention. She tolerates no competition, no interference, no contention. When she wants you, she wants all of you. If you can’t give her all the props she needs, she’ll fly back to that secret place in your head and leave you holding the bag. That’s no fun at all. When she comes knocking, drop everything and answer the door.

I’m guessing there are many more muse-tickling rules. There might even be a secret society dedicated to muse tickling. If so, I haven’t been invited. Like my fellow writers, I’ve stumbled along the path of muse-tickling until I found a few tricks that worked.

If you want to share your musings about the muse, you know where to put them.

The 1963 Novelist

beat generation

It’s a blessing that the old days are behind us. Back then, writing was strange, life-altering, completely crazy and not very healthy. I think today’s writers have found a better way. Still, it’s fun to remember.

Do not try this silliness at home. Ever.

I’m thinking 1963 or so. Near the end of the Beat Generation. I’m remembering how it all worked, the protocols, the habits and customs for chasing the muse. Looking back, it seems bizarre and downright alien. I’m surprised so many of us survived it.

The protocols were known to most writers, adored by many, but mostly useless to real creativity. They served a purpose unique to that generation and time.

The Beat Generation

Get loaded. Step one was critical. Get stoned, drunk, flocked, strung-out, zipped, flayed, and buzzed. At least one of those was necessary. The great writers, the real inspirations, did several at once. It was a regular ritual. Of course, we all knew we would never die, so why not let it all loose? The point was to unleash the muse so you could a-muse yourself and stun all your writer friends with unanticipated feats of creativity.

Get together. After the zipping came the get-together. There were haunts. Secret places that only writer-artists frequented. Well, there were a few artists on the scene. The rest of us were wannabes. But that didn’t matter. We could talk the talk, walk the walk with the best of them. Coffee houses were primo spots. Similar hangs. Anywhere the muse would gather with intensity. It had to be dark, flooded with cool music, and stand apart from all tourists and normal folk.

Bitch about the world. You had to be dissatisfied to be a real writer. There was no point in being happy about the Universe, except when you were super-duper-loaded, which was considered uncool. Bitch, moan, groan, grumble and mumble. It was the secondary fuel to get your writer friends talking. Since talking didn’t come naturally, the zippy state of mind and the secret haunt would always do the trick, if you could whine effectively. If you didn’t have a stick up your posterior, you just weren’t cool. If you weren’t cool, you weren’t an artist. The key was to be dissatisfied. You could never be an important writer unless everything was wrong.

The Beat Museum on Broadway Street in San Fran...

Get a little higher. Now that everyone was gathered, time to refuel. Whatever it was that got your high going, it was time to do more of it. That usually meant drinking. We weren’t all that experimental back then. That came later, when the hippies took over and gave us all the boot. Forget wine. Go right to the hard, and do it hard. If you used water or ice, you were a wimp. Wimps could never be real writers.

Spew crappy ideas. This was key. Throw out some really stupid writing ideas. The crazier the better. There was a twofold purpose here. First, you didn’t want to give away the real thing, that special story line you knew would change the world. So, you threw out pure doo-doo. Second, it was a special test of artistry. Back then, really dumb ideas could become really popular, overnight. Sometimes they actually weren’t so dumb. Sometimes they were innovative and ground-breaking. So, throw it out there and see who bites. But always keep the really good stuff in your back pocket. This was not yet the Love Generation. It was Beat or get eaten.

Destroy the crappy ideas. You guessed it. Next was the Roman-style death of all ideas. Each one had to be addressed. Each was torn apart, ridiculed, dissected and usually impaled. If the idea wasn’t all that dull, it got the slightest head nod from the group just before it was put to death. That didn’t happen often. It was usually a feeding frenzy. Nothing was spared.


A little more juice. Time for refills, all around. Getting late now. Gotta keep the muse alive and jumping. The desperate group-search for the next extraordinary idea has, once again, fallen on its backside.

Out come the notebooks. Everyone scribbled for a few moments. Nothing was legible but it was vital to scribble, to seal the deal by doing what all important writers were known to do – take notes. Everyone had these little blue notebooks, the kind that could easily slip into a jacket pocket. If you didn’t have one of those, you were an outcast, unclean, never destined to be a successful writer. So they all scribbled. Never show your notebook to anyone. Never.

Weed time. The bold ones go around the corner and smoke. The others order one more from the well. A huge act of defiance out there with the weeders. They were bold, avant-garde, the real deal. Inside, the last round for the rest of us, so go out with mucho gusto. The muse is somewhere else, trying to get sober.

Back to bitching. Just for a few moments.

Getting drowsy.

Getting bored.

Time to go home and write something.

See you tomorrow.

Writers Workshop: Interview with a Muse

The MerovingianIt’s so difficult to catch up with a muse. Getting a muse to talk is even more rare. However, it can happen, if you’re sufficiently persistent. This muse reluctantly agreed to a brief interview and quick photo-op.

Why do you write?

Think about it for moment and you’ll see that’s not the right question. Do you ask a tree why it’s a tree? It’s like chewing bones, taking naps, howling and prowling. It’s just what I do. Silly human.

OK, let me try this: Fiction or nonfiction?

Easy. Fiction every time. I see no purpose in regurgitating too much reality. Like any other muse, I just want to have fun.

What’s your favorite genre?

I like spy stories. Also, stories about submarines. I like watching everything, pretending that I’m a spy. I also like to take a swim from time to time. Submarines smell pretty special. Have you ever tried one?

When you write fiction, how do you come up with your characters? What’s your inspiration?

Well, I like people. And, I love to sniff them. Sniffing gives me great images. I put those images together and, wholly-bang, there’s a new character. I also like animals. Good smells, good visuals.

What about story lines? Where do yours come from?

Everything I see around me and, believe me, I get around. Almost everything I do is a story, so it’s pretty easy to come up with something interesting. Watching people also helps me. They do some fascinating, entertaining things. They always seem to be doing something they believe is important but I’m not so sure. I think many of them are spies. Some of them live in submarines.

If you could pick one and only character as your favorite, who would it be?

The cat that lives with me. She likes to snuggle up when we sleep and she helps keep me warm. She doesn’t eat my food and I’m pretty much the boss, mostly. So, I’d go with her. Sometimes, I worry, though. When she’s mousing, I wonder if she’s a serial killer, or a spy. I don’t think she’s ever been on a submarine.

Novels or short stories? Which do you prefer?

Keep it short. My attention span has never been that great.

Do you have a writer’s sanctuary? What’s it like?

Sure. Doesn’t every writer? Mine is about six-feet by four-feet and outfitted with some cushy old rugs that smell really great. I spend lots of time in that sanctuary.

When you’re not writing, what do you do with yourself?

I nap a lot. Sometimes, I prowl around. Searching for food is a good way to kill a few minutes. Most of all, I like to spy on the humans that come and go throughout my life. They’re very entertaining.

Any final thoughts?

A muse is where you find it.

Writers Workshop: Writer’s Test

"Writing on the wood is prohibited."...

Although I’ve been writing for well over 40 years, that’s not my whole life. I’ll bet you have the same feeling about your life, right? Sure, it’s a big part of how we define ourselves but it’s still not the totality of things. I like to have fun, to smile and laugh, to be captivated by anyone who takes a slightly offbeat view of themselves and the rest of the universe. Don’t you?

So, let’s just have a little fun today. What can be better than taking a tiny poke at ourselves and our passion. Some of this is a bit on the serious side. Much of it is just for fun.

You are a soul-writer, if . . .

You see the world filled with colors, moods, interesting characters, endless questions and an abiding sense of amazement. Oh, yeah, and a healthy dose of humor.

You want to be published but, if you’re not, your writing continues onward. Perhaps you have a compulsion?

You think in images but need to describe them with words. The words never quite rise to the importance and vitality of the images. So, you do a lot of re-writing.

You want to leave your mark somewhere, somehow.

Your best thoughts are communicated by the written word and not by your mouth. The word is your muse. Your mouth is often an unreliable partner.

You would rather listen than speak. However, when you speak, you gush.

You just can’t stop that runaway imagination, and you really don’t want to stop it anyway.

You enjoy some quiet time, everyday. Boredom is not your enemy.

You like to read, broadly and for fun. You have genres that catch your eye, and your eye wanders regularly.

You have some itch in the back of your mind and, no matter how hard you try, it just won’t go away. Scratching just doesn’t seem to help.

You have learned to live with frustrations and make the best of them. Mostly.

Your intuition is pretty good and you listen to it.

You’re an artist but you just haven’t admitted it to yourself. Still, it feels good to repeat the mantra.

You have a big ego, or a little one. Your ego is not common, for sure.

You know you can write, you just know it! Why doesn’t everyone else know it?

Form-over-function works well for you.

You worry about commas far too much. Maybe you hate them. Maybe you’re drowning in them. Either way, you worry too much. They have a life of their own, so leave them alone.

You like to tell a story but you’re a bit uncertain about memorizing the lines.

They can beat you down, kick you around, sling you onto the dung pile but you just keep on writing. You can’t help yourself.

Writers Workshop: Writer Vs Author

Washington Irving

This is an old bugaboo of mine, a personal burr in my saddle. The question: “What’s the difference between a writer and an author?” What an ancient, persistent and mostly useless hack!

Here are a few answers from around the web, plus a bonus. I’ve avoided the typical cliches and standard online definitions. Instead, I looked for a small cross-section of answers and a few different presentations. If nothing else, these should tickle your sides a bit. Don’t take them too seriously because, well, they’re not that meaningful in relation to cosmic events. However, they do tell you something about those who wrote the words.

My answer is at the bottom of the article, taking its rightful place as last. Perhaps you have a favorite definition? I’d love to hear about it.

A writer is a person who writes a book, article, or any literary piece, while an author is essentially the person who originates the idea, plot, or content of the work being written. (

Someone asked me the other day to describe the difference between an author and a writer. I tried giving a basic definition by saying most people are writers at some point in their lives—even if all they write is a grocery list—while authors focus on writing as a career. But this person didn’t like that answer and persisted. So here’s my attempt at a deeper response: An author has readers. A writer doesn’t. (

An author is someone who has written anything published. Even someone who writes something in the high school paper is considered an author because their work was published. A writer, however, is anyone who writes. For example, I am a writer right now because I am writing. (

Writer’s Digest has a cool quote on the difference between writers and authors: Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”–Colette (

A writer typically writes for a living, often freelance, or on the payroll of a company large enough to have its own copywriting or journalistic department. An author, however, is a special breed of writer. Don’t get me wrong, all writers are special! But authors see a larger vision. They see the world through the pages of books. Nonfiction, self-help, novels, children’s, fairy tales-you name it; they see it in book form. (

Ego. (me)

And your favorite definition is . . .

Writers Workshop: The Established Writer

Cliché (album)

I don’t like cliches very much. Do you? Does anyone, other than profit-motivated, ad-related sites and stopovers? Well, I suppose infomercials need them to stay alive.

Among my least favorite cliche-phrases is “established writer.” What in the world of phrasing swamp gas does this mean? The definition of “writer” is easy enough, especially for a writer. But, “established?” What’s that all about?

Established by whom, by what? Who does the “establishing” in the first place? Is there a Writer’s Establishment God out there somewhere? A bureau of Establishing Writers that functions like some secret society? Holy bells and whistles, have I missed something for all these decades? 

I think not.

From my point of view, there is no such thing as an “established writer.” If “established” means “published” then it completely misses the mark. Being published is fun, exciting, potentially profitable and completely overrated. So, if the formula boils down to “established = published,” the inventor must have flunked some basic math classes. I think a more applicable word might be “oxymoron.” Or did I just make-up that cliche?

If you are a writer, I mean a person who writes and loves doing it, you are already established. You may have not yet been “discovered,” but that’s an entirely different issue that involves such meandering currents as good fortune and good timing, or just good luck. See The Undiscovered Writer for more.

So, the next time you read or hear the phrase, “established writer,” file it away with all those other useless cliches that already clutter our lives. It may be no more than a nice way of patting oneself on one’s back(side). Whatever the reason for its use, the thrill is short-lived and hollow. In other words, it’s meaningless.

You are already an “established writer,” so just go about the more important task of becoming better at your craft.

So, do you feel like an established writer? No? Why not!