When Writing Is It

Some people ask, how do you know you’re a writer?

Answers vary: when I’ve finished the first draft of my first novel; when I’ve been accepted by an agent; when I’ve been published; when I’ve sold X amount of books; when I’m an answer on Jeopardy!

I think the answer is more simple and more complex than that.

As I’m sure a great many of you know, Terry Pratchett suffers from Alzheimer’s. He announced his condition in 2007 – notably responding: there’s time for at least a few more books yet.”

Pratchett also has recently become very vocal about assisted suicide and apparently has his own consent papers for Switzerland’s assisted suicide clinic Dignitas. But he hasn’t signed yet…”The only thing stopping me [signing them] is that I have made this film [Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, a BBC2 documentary] and I have a bloody book to finish.

Nowadays, Pratchett writes via voice recognition software because he can’t type anymore. But he’s still writing. Still telling stories. Still telling people where to go if they don’t like what he does.

And I think that’s what makes you a writer: when the world gives you a sh*t hand and you’re still at it. P.G. Wodehouse died with a pen in his hand. Mark Twain, suffering from horrid arthritis in his right hand, learned to write left-handed. Anne Rice’s daughter died and she created Interview with the Vampire – and a young, immortal character named Claudia. Let’s not forget Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who freakin’ blinked his booked The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

I think you know you’re a writer, a real writer, when you’re willing to write through anything: cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, losing your job, divorce, or whatever dark, horrible thing you can think of – and you know that writing will make you feel better. It has nothing to do with publishing or money or fame. Just telling stories lifts some of that burden up and off of you.

Sure. Eventually that other stuff might catch up with you…but in the meantime, there’s a bloody book to finish.

Mentors storytelling Terry Pratchett you know youre a writer when

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Wow. Well said.
    And it's much like Beethoven, who composed even though he went deaf, and VanGogh who kept painting through the darkest years of his life.

    I feel for Terry Pratchett, because losing control of your memory *and knowing it's happening* must be a terrible thing to face each day. I'm glad to know he's sticking to his guns about what he wants to do — and how he wants to go — and that he doesn't need to do it for a long time to come.

  2. You're right, Dianne. I think it's amazing how artists – of whatever medium – dedicate themselves to their craft.

    I feel for Pratchett too. I can't imagine what I would do in his situation!

  3. I do have to remind myself that writing will make me feel better. The bad stuff may knock me sideways, but if I have access to my computer or even a pen and a piece of paper, I can escape for a while. And when I get back, things never look quite so dark.

    What we do is so freakin' cool!

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