How can a boomer know if you are really a writer

We’re only guessing, but between having more time on our hands and more experiences under our belts, we think there are more writers these days from our baby boomer generation than from any other. That’s why we like this piece by Dorset, England’s Chantelle Atkins, herself the author of four books. It tells you How to Know If You Are Really a Writer.

They say that everyone has at least one good book in them. Does that make you a writer? Or is it more than that? Is it something you decide to be, something you learn to be, or something you have always been whether you like it or not?

writing_typewriterThe following are what marks a writer. What distinguishes writers from others. You don’t have to agree with every statement except the last one. They all explain why I am a writer:

You stare into space. You gaze out of windows. You fall into trances. You drift away. Reality jerks you back. People get impatient and roll their eyes. “Get your head out of the clouds,” they said when I was young. They told me to stop daydreaming. Don’t stop daydreaming.

Your concentration is variable. Sometimes it is like a dog with a bone, fixed and savage, eyes narrowed, teeth clenched, hands like claws, fingers pounding at the keyboard. Nothing can break you. You keep going until your back aches and your neck cricks and your bladder protests. People want your attention but your mind is somewhere else. Sometimes it is because words, images, and voices are forming and joining in your head. You have to sit back and be patient. Don’t try to force it.

Real life gets in the way. This is annoying. Especially when you are on a roll. Housework, real jobs, phone calls, driving places, and shopping can all interfere with your writing. You’ve got to do all these things, because real life dictates that you must. But these things are often a chore, something you resent and rush through. Just to get back to the story.

Bookstore Santa Cruz in California. (photo by David Henderson)

Bookstore Santa Cruz in California.
(photo by (c) David Henderson)

You can’t sleep at night. Your head is full of it all. All of the time. It is relentless. Their voices are getting louder. They want their turn. When is it going to be their turn? They’ve told you so much now. You know what they look like. You know what they sound like, how they speak, what slang they use, what their mannerisms are. You know their stories and their dilemmas. You just want to get some sleep! But you can’t, not until it is done. Not until things are settled. They are in control and they know it.

[Chantelle Atkins is the author of four books. Her latest is The Mess of Me]

Inspiration comes at strange and wonderful times. Dialogue springs into your head. Characters grow and change, becoming more real. They sneer and jostle and roll their eyes and seep inside your consciousness. Plot twists you never knew you were capable of dreaming up. Oh my God! Where did that come from? But of course… that would be brilliant… that would work, that would tie in and make sense… and then… and then… You need a pen. A phone to tap into. Anything. You must not forget. You must not lose it!

A café in Paris - a great place for people watching. (photo by (c) David Henderson)

A café in Paris – a great place for people watching. (photo by David Henderson)

You people-watch. It is not on purpose. You are often a loner, an introvert, someone who carries things around, cradles them inside until writing sets them free. You think people are not for you, not really. But they are. Because they are the life and soul of the stories. And they are everywhere, doing what people do. They are sloshing drinks and swearing under their breath. They are wiping oil-stained fingers down their shirts. They are sighing in the queue at the store, biting their lips with some secret unknown worry. They are shiny with sweat, frantic with unrealized dreams and potential. They have whiskered chins and nicotine fingers, fat thighs, and newspapers rolled under arms; they have backpacks and are going somewhere, but where and why? They pass you on the street, they look through you, they are chatting on the phone, they are always living lives, secret and unknown. They could be anyone. They could have a story.

You suffer from crippling self-doubt. It has plagued you for years. Who are you to write anything? Who wants to know? Who will care? But you do it because you have always done it. One way or another. Sometimes life gets in the way and people tell you to wake up and stop dreaming. Make money, work jobs, pay bills, care for kids. They wonder why you care about writing. But you know why you do it. You do it because you would go crazy if you didn’t. Because the people inside your head would feel lost and let down, be voiceless and alone. Because of all the things you don’t say in real life, all the things you have stood by and watched and heard and felt and thought, because all those things need to come out. They need to be heard.

You write. Ultimately it comes down to this one fact: If you are a writer, you write. Whatever it is. Poems, fiction, non-fiction, blogs. Whether you share it or not, whether you publish it or not, whether you think you are good at it or not. You do it anyway, there is no choice.

Edited story used by permission of the author.

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  1. Having written four books and countless articles over the years, I find that writing is the best medicine for anything we may have on our minds. I suggest writing at least 1,000 words each morning. Don’t stop to edit or correct grammar. But, I always begin by asking myself, who cares?! If the answer if, well … just me, write!

  2. I agree with the last point. I came to writing a book by accident. I’d written all my life…but for work, not books. Stories didn’t swirl in my head. When the experience my husband and I had was something that intrigued family, friends, and strangers over and over, we decided we’d put it down in a book.

    It didn’t flow easily. It didn’t possess me, except occasionally when I was on a roll. But we’re both avid readers and we knew what makes a compelling story. (I think being a reader needs to be added to this list.) We joined a writers’ group at our local library. They not only taught us, but encouraged us, and the weekly discipline of having to present something made us finish it. We went to workshops and got professional a editor. And we have a book that we’re not just proud of, but that continues to get wonderful comments from readers.

    So now we’re working on another. I guess that makes us real writers.

  3. I am currently working through The Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron) and finding all kinds of realizations and fresh energy for my creative path. I have been avoiding writing a screenplay that I can see so clearly in my mind’s eye. I now realizze that the publication of my book in 2013 was just the first step in the goal of spreading the word in midlife to ‘be brave and try again…with humor and compassion’ Like David, I find that writing my morning pages has opened the doors to my own clarity about what I want to say and how I want to say it. As a recovering perfectionist it is easy for me to get in my own way! Thanks for your words, Chantelle!

  4. Chantelle — I wrote my first novel-length story when we lived in Winchester, just up the road from you. But with retirement that obsession, enabled by the Print-on-Demaned self-publishing revolution, has resulted in eleven books on my Amazon author’s page.

    I’ve settled into the space that comes most naturally for me — what I call October stories, relational tales about seniors seeking to overcome the loneliness of late-life lived alone.

    This was not a career move. It’s about having my books on my bookshelf and the freedom t write exactly what I want. I recommend it highly.

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