Just Some Writerly Things The Writer In You Will Understand

A redheaded woman at a cafe with her laptop

So you’ve chosen to be a writer.

That means getting to know procrastination on a more intimate level. That means learning to doubt your work. Also, that means checking the word count after every couple of sentences.

But there are many other things that bind us all. We writers don’t need to stick together. We already do, through the weird things that make us uniquely ‘us’.

So how many of these writerly things apply to you?

Your search history is suspect

Are body parts sold on the dark web? Where can you shoot someone without killing them? Which anaesthesia works the fastest?

Those are just a few of your tamer queries, and the rest of your search history would probably have you standing alongside greats such as Ted Bundy. But hey, if it’s one thing writers do well, it’s research.

We all know that joke about having our best friends delete our search history when we die, but while normal people take that in jest (because who doesn’t surf porn without Incognito Mode?), you actually hope that your friends honour their end of the agreement—to throw your laptop into the furnace along with you.

Your trivia knowledge is… interesting

When the guillotine was first used, those sentenced to death would fight to be first before the blade dulled.

Also, one good reason why you (or your corpse, at least) should be thrown into the furnace along with your laptop is because bodies do explode if the coffins are sealed too tight.

“Why do you know about all this?” someone would ask. “Aren’t you a writer?”

And your answer will inevitably be: “Yes.”

Sometimes you try to keep things on the low. You bite your tongue when your friend mentions a recent break-in, before you utter something stupid like “That’s why you need to change your wafer lock to a tubular one” and have them stare at you like you’re the perp.

Writerly things: Woman wearing climbing harness tying figure eight knot for rock climbing

Here’s what you’re picturing when you share your knowledge of ‘knot tying’. Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same image for the term.

You can never get uninterrupted writing time

Especially in the work-from-home era.

You never really got enough sympathy for this one. Mention having no time to yourself and you’re often met with mock cries. “Boo hoo,” your friend would say, “Joe here has no time to write. And he’s home all day! How I wish I could stay home.”

But then COVID happened, and suddenly your friends take on a change of tone. Now they’re realising that just because their spouse sees them watching YouTube for three hours a day doesn’t mean they’re not working.

That doesn’t change the fact that you never have enough time to write though. Somebody’s always barging into your office (read: your kitchen counter) asking you inane questions right as you get a flow going.

This is why your search history contains queries like ‘which anaesthesia works the fastest’.

…but you don’t utilise time when you do have it

Maybe you decide to rent a hotel room for the weekend. Or you go on a retreat. Or you finally purchase that bottle of chloroform (please don’t). You now have the weekend free, and you’ll be damned if you don’t at least get one chapter done.

But then Saturday rolls around and you spend the day researching. And watching YouTube videos. And clearing your e-mail. You look up ways to plot, hacks to get you to write, and famous writers who’d succumbed to alcoholism.

Now having someone to bounce ideas off is sounding real good, and you’re wishing that your dog would nudge you to play fetch. And your hotel room smells like mothballs, while your ‘office’ had that calming scent of banana bread, or whatever it is your partner was baking for the day.

That’s when you realise that having all the free time in the world doesn’t guarantee your output. Not one bit.

Writerly things: An old school clock with protective bars on dial

You think time is the only thing that matters in writing? Think again. Photo: Zulfa Nazer

YouTube is for ‘research’

Yes, you don’t just watch YouTube to procrastinate, it’s also a legitimate form of research.

Some people use mood boards. Others have a folder full of images. You search for videos like ‘driving at night’ just so you can better describe a car’s elongating shadows as it zooms under a streetlight.

You shouldn’t have to do this. You should be able to turn everyday things into words on the page. Shame on you. After all, how many videos can you find about people just walking on streets?

A lot. The answer is a lot.

You write more backstories than actual stories

Ah, worldbuilding. You start by browsing baby names for your characters, and the next thing you know, you’re looking up political ideologies to design your civilisation’s economy.

Then you write thousands of words about a character going about their day because Hemingway said that the more important bits are the ones that don’t make it to the page.

So you interview your characters. You have coffee with them. You put them in weird situations, just to see how they react. You lay out every bit of lore related to your world, even create a whole new language.

Then you realise you’re 40,000 words deep but none of it has to do with your actual story. But hey, at least you had some fun, right?

Anyway, spoiler alert: you don’t finish your story. Because…

This new idea is going to be the one

If writing was an innuendo, then you probably don’t last that long in bed.

Because Shiny Object Syndrome is a thing, and you know it’s a thing, because you’ve just hopped onto a new idea after being stuck on chapter three. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that you’re on your fourth attempt. This week.

But this isn’t going to be like the other times. It’s different now. You can feel it.

This one little imagery of a robot travelling through time is the bomb. In fact, it’s going to be the basis of your entire novel. Series, even. You’ll be three chapters deep before you realise that this idea has been done before. Multiple times. But the one you had in mind was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And just like that, you’ll find your Shiny Object Syndrome standing at your kitchen counter, holding a shotgun, saying: “I’ll be back.”

C3PO robot from Star Wars

Bet you this wasn’t the robot you were thinking about. Photo: Lyman Hansel Gerona

You’re very familiar with generators

Not the type that runs on gas. For you, it’s the name generator. City generator. Job generator. Prompt generators. Plot generators.

The only generator you don’t need is a backstory generator. You’ve got that one down pat.

You paint yourself into corners, even though you’ve never held a paintbrush in your life

This is especially true because you’re a pantser. Everything’s fine until you change one teensy little fact, and now you have to overhaul your entire manuscript.

Because your ending needs laser beams to melt mirrors instead of bounce off them—a detail you didn’t know you needed until you reached the end. So now you go back and change every piece of lore you’d written earlier, every battle, every interaction with mirrors.

Then you realise that your fictional government shuns all things laser. It’s there in the political manifesto you decided to include in your manuscript. So now you have rewrite everything that you’ve just rewritten.

That’s when you hear a whisper in your ear. It sounds Austrian. And it reminds you of that time-travelling robot.

You live the writer’s life, kinda

Not in the artistic way, no. Instead, you’re a living meme. Your Twitter history is all about procrastination instead of writing. Hashtag amwriting.

You’ll have one drink, and that’s enough to get you tipsy. You post the picture of your old fashioned with the caption “Write drunk, edit sober.”

You also post screenshots of your Word document, usually the first chapter—just two shy away from ditching that idea and moving onto the next one.

Then you write. You truly, actually write, and it gives you one of the best feelings in the world. You’re doing it. You’ve finally achieved flow state. This is what writing feels like. This is what contentment feels like. And this will be the best seven minutes of your life.

Then it’s back to Twitter. Or reading nonsense posts like this one.

Two women sitting on bench drinking beers in front of theatre

All writers are alcoholics, amirite? Photo: Sangria Señorial

You can’t make sense of words

The more you write, the more you realise that for someone with your experience and interests, you actually know very little about words.

So the thesaurus becomes your good friend, because for the life of you, you couldn’t think of another word for ‘nonsense’.

But that pales in comparison to your realisation that you don’t know how to even spell. Words like ‘broccoli’, ‘fluorescent’, and God forbid, ‘diarrhoea’ trip you up all the time. And you’ve looked them up hundreds of times, but you still can’t remember how they’re spelled.

At this rate, you’d probably fare much better in any other job—most probably recommended by the job generator—than you would in writing.

But at the end of the day, there’s nothing else you’d rather do

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting that you’ll actually write. That means you’ll probably need to check into your nearest asylum pretty soon.

But that’s what makes it so fun, because you wouldn’t do it if it were easy. Plus now, you feel much more connected to your fellow writers through these writerly things.

And you know that no matter how hard it gets sometimes, you wouldn’t have it any other way.


You want to know how else you can connect with your fellow writers? By joining this writer’s newsletter. You’ll get exclusive content and I promise there won’t be stories about time-travelling robots.

168 thoughts on “Just Some Writerly Things The Writer In You Will Understand

    • Always love being called witty, so thanks for making my day :P

      Writing is writing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s for a blog or a press release, so I’m glad you can relate! Been a while since I last saw you, and am glad to cross paths again!

  1. The search history section made me laugh. For months, I was on the lookout for black helicopters circling overhead…all because my debut novel involved shoulder-fired rocket launchers. I had to know how they worked, right!?

    • Hahaha, that’s a great way to get on a list, that’s for sure. Searching for rocket launchers in this climate certainly ain’t going to win you any points with the CIA :P

    • And perhaps that’s the most important thing we should learn, eh? That no matter how different we are, we’re all still almost the same. Here’s to a great writing journey for you!

  2. okay… first of all… are you watching me??? LOL Because how did you KNOW!??! Especially the part about never having uninterrupted writing time (my work-from-home days I look like I work at the busiest call centre because I have a headset on but I am working on 3 screens, 2 of which for work and my laptop and I look nuts most of the times going between one to the other lol) and then not using the time I do have wisely LOL …. oyyyy the stresses of the night-before-writing for next day’s post LOL I know you get me! :D

    • Hahaha yeah, while I don’t do night-before writing per se these days, I do do night-before editing, and it seems like the work multiplies as the deadline nears.

      And wow, that sounds like a pretty hectic job you have there. Weirdly enough though, I write more on my hectic days than my free days. What is this sorcery.

      And yes. I’m keeping tabs on you. Next post will be about how to best stalk people on WordPress :P

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Definitely thought I was the only one who’d Googled the best international route to get forged antiques into the US via the blackmarket, what happens to a body left in water, and so many other suspect things!! Hooray for solidarity. Also I’ve never thought to use Youtube when I feel like I suddenly have the vocabulary of a feral five year old. Thanks for the tip!

    • Haha, your unique voice carries over even into the comments, and I really appreciate that. Also, hooray for solidarity too. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to stop by. I appreciate you!

  4. This is fabulous Stuart. Been there, done that with many points on your list. The real issue: the ego and its fears tries to distract us from enjoying writing and succeeding on a worldly level. But facing fear, dissolving the ego a bit and persisting reveals how again and again, we keep writing because we love it and there is nothing else we’d rather do.

    Ryan

    • So true! Sometimes it’s almost as if the ego has zero idea what’s really possible, and if we were to follow its whims, we’d never get anywhere. I appreciate your spate of thoughtful comments, Ryan, as they truly add to the posts. And I appreciate you as well!

  5. I so enjoyed reading this! The way humor makes it all the more enjoyable yet true is wonderful and, though I cannot agree with every heading you laid out, there were so many I am guilty of and have done! There is nothing else I would rather do but write, even if I am lazy about it sometimes and most of my stories are still budding in my head. :)

    • Lol am definitely grateful that you enjoyed the humour because it’s a super challenging element to convey through writing. And I envy your desire to write all the time, as I’m the type who can’t bring himself to write, as much as I love the craft. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. An interesting read, yes I became a writer without coherence or educational studies.
    As an amateur, one step past novice, I feel word clouds can unite us.
    Yup, so much for summations and book reports.

    • Oh yeah, in fact, I think writing is one of the few vocations where your educational background doesn’t matter—as long as you can string a sentence together. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. I had to take my PC in to the store to have it looked at due to audio issues. I had been doing some research for a paranormal book I was writing. The tech support girl opened up my YouTube without asking to check audio. I hadn’t switched over to my main account. The look on her face when she saw all demon videos on my search page…. lol. She should have handed me the keyboard. Too funny. My search history is definitely sus.

    • Lol, I can just imagine myself doubling down and acting as if everybody has searches like those, because explaining myself would just make things worse.

      Worst if they happen across my ‘how to kidnap people’ searches without me knowing, and for their entire lives they look at me as a legit serial killer, lol.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. Hi Stuart you touched on a type of insanity that writers appear to be prone to. When your life as a writer is less about how many words you have so far. Rather the search for that one word that you’ll know when you find. As it will uncover that beautiful simple truth making that sentence/ paragraph/ chapter sparkle and shine just the way you imagined it would.

    • I gotta admit, I’m still about that word count though. Because I’m an underwriter, and I always fail to meet word counts, lol. But you bring up a good point. And thanks so much for dropping your wonderful comment. I appreciate you!

  9. Pingback: Want To Sell Words For Money? These Are Your Possible Paths. | Your Friendly Malaysian Writer

  10. Really related to the names part. I hate using too much of the every day names so I found one of those name websites that also tell you the meaning and then it felt like a cool idea to have everyone’s name be in some way connected to their personality and then you end up searching random things cause none of the names showing up are ones you like and the meaning that’s supposedly supposed to have something to do with the character just keeps getting more obscured and then you end up just giving them a random name you pulled out of a hat anyway lol.

    • Lol, that sounds so much like ‘putting in a comma in the morning, then in the afternoon removing the comma again’. But you’ve shared the exact problems writers tend to face, and a funny one too, if not truthful. Loved your comment. Thanks for brightening up this post!

  11. Wow you just put everything out there Stuart. I was shocked whilst reading this post.

    I actually found it kind of hilarious when you said “You paint yourself in the corner even though you have never held a paintbrush in your life”

    😂😂 WOW! ARE THESE WRITING TIPS OR FACTS??

  12. I’ve just started a blog called Procrastinating Students lol
    Sadly I won’t be able to upload many posts to begin with as I’m a degree student (kinda in the name tbh 😂) and I’m also great at procrastinating (also in the name😉) so I’ll find any and all excuses not to study at times. I do plan on posting about once a week or so though and even more as each holiday, especially the “big holidays” comes up.

  13. So relatable, Stuart! Especially the procrastination part. Even if I have free time on my hands doesn’t always mean that I’ll be scribbling away. It’s those “7 minutes” which you mentioned are all I look towards. 😉 Cheers to writing more. 🙌🏻

    • Lol, us writers always self-sabotage like that. I imagine I’d have double the amount of work I put out if I just get a grip on my procrastination habits. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by! I appreciate your comment :)

    • Yeah, genres aside, I guess us writers have more things uniting us than we think. And yes, WordPress.com has the only community system that works well for blogging, that’s for sure. The self-hosted variety doesn’t offer this level of networking. Anyway, thanks for stopping by, Brad!

  14. Thankful that you’ve stumbled upon my humble blog and left a comment. Now, I discovered this treasure trove. You’ve such a way with words. It’s not everyday that I get a chuckle or two from something that talks about writing. I enjoyed reading this particular post so much from beginning to end. :)

  15. Senseless post? I don’t think so. This is real life for those wanting to record experiences in the written word. It’s a process! And such is life! I so appreciate you sharing and looking forward to more! Thank you for sharing, Stuart!

  16. I found so much of this funny…laughing out loud… and also so very true! …After five years in dog rescue, I am finally devoting this year to my writing which has been planned for some time but life and rescue continued to take precedence at that time. Although I still have ten dogs that are mine here at home with me, and it’s like having a house full of toddlers sometimes! 🙏🐾🤗🐾🙏

    • Wow, it’s so cool that you’re into dog rescue, and that you’ve set aside time to focus on your writing. And yes, having one is already like needing to care for a toddler, I can’t imagine taking care of ten! Anyway, thanks so much for sharing a piece of your life!

  17. Stuart,

    You know how you’d walk into a sermon and be ranting that the speaker picked on me? Reading this felt more like so.

    Still, I read till the end. To find out, if you, like the speaker, would spill all my ills. You did and it felt so good. So I wasn’t doing it wrong after all – the culprits reassurance.

    Better still, I guess you spoke for all of us grinding on ink.

    This is common ground.

    Thank you. 😊

    • That’s the best thing you can possibly say, because knowing that you feel less alone makes me feel like I’ve made a tiny difference in the world, and you have no idea how happy that makes me feel!

      I’m grateful that you took the time to comment that :)

  18. The amount of times I’ve googled how to spell a word is way too many to count. It’s funny when my friends ask me about words, and I just look at them wide-eyed, before answering “I’m not sure, let’s look it up.” Which is followed up with: “But you’re an English major/writer!” That might be true, but I also have the memory of a fish, so Google/Merriam Webster has become my best friend. Thanks for the fun read Stuart!

    • Lol, that’s a great share. I myself tend to type like ‘r u ok’ in my WhatsApp messages and show the most disdain for the English language compared to my non-writer friends. No, thank YOU for the fun comment!

  19. This was a fun post to read! Thanks again Stu. I literally went “ouch” when you said at the start how by declaring ourselves writers we are also declaring we know procrastination at a more intimate level! And that bit about never getting uninterrupted time? Spot-on and so much in line with my own latest post where I declare the only time I can really spin my writing wheel is in the dead of night when the fam’s fast asleep. Yawwnnn…oops I mean Yeah! Thanks bro…this writing fraternity is so reassuring — I’m convinced once again that I’m not alone as a writer. Not when I have your weekly encouraging posts & tips to live by. Thanks man!! O and a happy lunar new year if this season is one you celebrate! Stay Omicron-safe bud!

    • Lol, I don’t know why but I always see this celebration as Chinese New Year, and I know I should be calling it Lunar New Year but anyhoo, Happy Chinese New Year, Kelvin! Always good to see you here.

      And time is such a weird one. I know that I myself have gotten more done when I only had little pockets in the day to write. Then I get entire days off and all I do is twiddle my thumbs. What’s up with that?

      Great comment to wake up to as usual. Thanks once more!

  20. Woah, wait, what? Your comment prompt is, bar the terminator, identical to mine. We’re clearly on the same wavelength. Followed! :)

    PS

    for the life of you, you couldn’t think of another word for ‘nonsense’

    I don’t have that problem. The word is a self-referential one: ‘phlyarologism’.

    • Lol wow, that’s a mouthful. I’d love to have more words on standby in my mind, but it almost seems like I don’t have enough storage sometimes.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for sending that lovely email too! I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Colin!

  21. Pingback: Just Some Writerly Things The Writer In You Will Understand – Random Thoughts

    • Oh yeah, that’s the danger of writing with the internet. I’ve taken to using brackets with notes just so I don’t lose my momentum sometimes, like [this].

      The internet is so helpful, and I don’t know how writers used to do it without the internet, but at the same time, I also wonder how writers get things done with the internet, lol. Thanks for stopping by!

      • I use ###allonewordaftersoitdoesntaffectwordcount to make it easy to find and fix later, and I keep trucking past! But these are all my ‘Wasn’t her mom blonde?’, ‘What was that character’s last name!?’, ‘I thought she sat down’, ‘does book 1 contradict this?’, ‘make this character likeable!’ and my favorite ‘what’s another word for synthetic!?!’ type questions. On my very first draft, I’m writing on an Alphasmart, and I completely ignore spelling. Heresy, I know!

  22. Haha! Because what’s more fun than making fun of ourselves? I’m a decent speller (thankfully), but I still have to look up how to spell diarrhea every week. (Plenty of loose bowels around her.🤣) I don’t know about my trivia knowledge because that would involve actually remembering things. No, I’ll Google search it for the tenth time. That seems more time-efficient. Hilarious but true post, Stuart.

    • I’ve read somewhere that we’ve evolved from memorising things to knowing where to find said things. And that was a pretty interesting thought. I myself don’t bother with memorisation too. I’ll just look things up as I need them. Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

  23. ‘That’s when you realise that having all the free time in the world doesn’t guarantee your output. Not one bit.’ #truth I write far better on a tight schedule with a lot of background distractions. Why? I don’t know.

    ‘Silhouette’ is my word of bane.

    Loved this post because it’s both funny AND honest!

    • It’s funny how it works, eh? I suffer from the EXACT thing. It’s almost as if I write much more when I have just an hour in the day to write, versus when I have nothing planned. Taking things for granted and whatnot.

      Anyway, I appreciate seeing you here, Renee!

  24. That is so true. When I have a chunk of times, I just can’t write; while I want to write something, interruptions arrive too. LOL. So true. I wonder why this is the case.

  25. “t (because who doesn’t surf porn without Incognito Mode?), you actually hope that your friends honour their end of the agreement—to throw your laptop into the furnace along with you.”

    hysterical. Cat’s outta the bag Stuart.
    Great entertaining relatable post on well.. everything but the porn but now I’m gonna google you and see what comes up.
    . lol🤣

    • Nobody believes us. Especially when they go through our search history. So I guess it’s best we just stick to telling them fictional stories that they will believe, lol. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  26. I can relate to having the whole weekend free and accomplishing nothing, for sure. And having a very weird Internet history. Although most of that has nothing to do with researching anything but my imaginary cancer symptoms. By the way, I enjoyed your first newsletter! Have to start thinking of a word… imagine being so lazy that it’s hard to buckle down and come up with literally one word.

    • The worst part is actually looking forward to said free time. ‘I’m gonna crush all my writing tasks’ is a typical thought leading to the day. Then I piss the entire day away looking up new shakshuka recipes. Dammit.

      Thanks so much for the kind words on the newsletter! Perhaps you’re bogged down by perfectionism. So maybe you can start off with a less-perfect word such as ‘try’?

      Wishing you all the best and thanks for visiting, Hetty!

    • I never ever thought I’d write about humour, but I seem to be falling into this niche, which I appreciate. I also appreciate the lovely feedback that you’ve left here. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  27. this was one of my favorite posts of yours; full of humor that is sometimes real life. I need to keep that tip in mind about deleting my search history :)

    and I’ll have to try that write drunk part…

    • Lol that’s such a great thing, to receive favourite status from you, Jim! But I refuse to believe you haven’t written drunk. That’s like the rite of passage for all writers :P

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

      • You’re right, I have written my blog with one or two beers. the problems is, I never edit my blog, sober or not. It’s one take, and hit the publish button..

    • I’ve tried it. Doesn’t work for me, I can’t maintain the flow because I can’t abandon the obsessive need to correct typos as I type, even when drunk. And because digits don’t co-operate with brain in that state, the net effect is that I get maybe one sentence done (if I’m lucky) before passing out.

  28. “You’ve finally achieved flow state. This is what writing feels like. This is what contentment feels like. And that will be the best seven minutes of your life.”

    Why did you have to go and call me out like this 😭

    This was too funny and relatable! Also the work from home struggle is real. Spouse and pets do not understand uninterrupted writing time AT ALL. (Apparently staring into space doesn’t look like writing time, or something)

    • Oh yeah. The number of times I’ve been called out for not working—back when I used to work in the office, all this was work for me. Now, I’m expected to be a beacon of productivity or else it’s free game to be interrupted. Dammit.

      But I forgive my doggo, because it’s usually me that’s taking time off work to cuddle with her, lol.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Erin!

  29. Ha! You’ve held up a mirror with the perfect reflection and I am enjoying the view so much I doubt I will get time to write!

    • Nothing makes me prouder than you telling me that I’ve managed to distract you from writing. I think this shall be my new benchmark for my blog posts :P

      Thanks for stopping by, Chris!

  30. This is so true, Stuart! All writers understand all of these points. This manuscript idea will be THE one — yeah, right. I’m loving your blog, and have a great week Stu 😉

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Olivia! Great to see you here again. I myself have managed to avoid shiny object syndrome, but always fall victim to procrastination. Anyway, thanks once more for stopping by!

    • The trenches is quite a demoralising place to be, but I also wouldn’t have it any other way, because I suspect I wouldn’t pursue this craft if it were easy anyway.

      And thanks so much for stopping by! Always great to have someone of your caliber and experience to share your thoughts :)

      • :) Just cause I keep myself on task, doesn’t mean it’s easy—it just means, I face different challenges. As writers grow, these moments change. I love seeing other writers’ experiences, and these funny posts about the downside of building your writing practice are always entertaining.

  31. I actually found myself in this situation yesterday. I got up and finally showed my house the attention it deserved and then I got a call. Will you keep the grandkids. Of coarse, I can never say no. I occupied them with tasks and cartoons and sat in my office trying to add words to my chapter only to hear, “MiMi” over and over again. I slid my chair back and realized it wasn’t the time to write. Night time came, kids were gone, house became quiet, so I sat in my chair once more. Only able to add 100 words to the count, I found I was completely exhausted.

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