What Writers Are

It’s four in the morning, or something like that, and having found myself sleepless — no, I actually don’t have any idea why — I’m at my keyboard banging out blog posts, and wanting to work on the current novel, but the mind is foggy from lack of sleep.

And something from a video I watched about strategies for making it indie is running through my mind.  The gentleman, who only writes books about how to make it in indie derided the “write a lot” aka “the brute force” or “shotgunning” strategy as “Sure, it works, but you have to keep writing.”It took me a while to digest that phrase, it was so strange.

Come backs kept running through my mind:

“What did he think people did after they wrote a lot of novels? Go off and play golf?”

“What else would I do?”

Or even “And?”

So…  My name is Sarah A. Hoyt and I’m a writer.

I’ve tried to quit. Every time the field, the general craziness of gatekeepers, or my own inadequacy to accurately transcribe the stories in my head breaks my heart, I try to quit.  So, roughly once a week, give or take.

Some quitting is more serious than other.  I once made it two weeks not just without writing but avoiding thinking about writing.  In practical truth this meant I only thought about avoiding thinking about writing.

To compensate, I cleaned the house — ten times at least — and dusted or cleaned or bathed everything that held still long enough, kids, cats and husband included.

At the end of the two weeks, a delegation of the other inhabitants of the house, which included the cats and the then pre-verbal younger son, gathered together to demand I go back to writing.  Right straight away.  Or the day before, if possible.

The truth is being a writer, at least if you’ve worked at it for any amount of time, isn’t a job.  It’s a vocation, a characteristic of the creature, or perhaps an illness.  Writing: the creation of worlds and characters, the necessity to tell these stories to, at the very least, get them out of your head, weaves itself through your being, until you couldn’t figure out how to be without writing.

Jordan Peterson says that creatives who have somehow talked themselves out of creating often come to his — clinical psychology — practice with a fantastic variety of symptoms that amounts to “being a zombie.”  If he can get them to create again, they’re miraculously cured.

Writer is not something you do, it’s who you are.

Now yes, it’s possible to beat a writer so badly that he develops an aversion to writing.  This is sort of like those programs which beat people so badly they develop an aversion to food or sleep.  In the long run, it will kill you.

So if you — I — find yourself particularly disgusted with … various things, but mostly yeah, gatekeepers (and yes, there is an indie for that.  Working on it, okay) and have been beaten down to the point you can no longer work, be aware that this is not healthy or good.  You are in the position of the Spaniard’s donkey in the joke my mom used to tell me: There was a Spaniard sitting and lamenting by his dead donkey. When asked what had happened, he explained he had been teaching the donkey to stop eating. “And just when he was getting good at it, he up and died.”

I tried to take a day off on Sunday, part of a new thing I’m attempting: a day off without writing, which means a day off without thinking of writing, fighting to write (or not) or actually doing anything else to fill the time with no writing.  Just “a day of rest.”  This meant  couldn’t rotate the cat.  No house cleaning.  No gardening.  I was allowed long walks and other leisure activities only.

This made it clear to me how much of me is devoted to being a writer.  I can’t read without thinking of writing.  I can’t walk without thinking of writing.  Even watching TV (okay, okay, British Mystery series, because it sort of almost holds my attention, at least if Icrochet at the same time) makes me think of writing.

It is who I am.  If you’re a writer, it is probably who you are too.

My name is Sarah A. Hoyt, and I’m a writer.

I can’t break it, escape it or destroy it without destroying myself.

So I might as well write. Always.


  1. In one of the introductory essays to a story in one of Heinlein’s collections (think it was Expanded Universe) he talks about how he’d decided to retire from writing the first time Campbell rejected one of his stories*. Well, Campbell rejected one, so the essay says, and Heinlein stopped writing. Later, Campbell writes Heinlein asking why he’d not seen anything from him in a while. Heinlein reminds him of his intent to retire once a story was rejected so… Campbell, then asks to take another look at the rejected story, returns it with a request for a couple of minor edits. Heinlein then describes how he felt on rolling paper into the typewriter to make the requested edits, much better than he’d felt in some time. “Retiring” for the writer just wasn’t possible. He needed to write and had problems when he didn’t.

    He reprised this idea in his Penultimate novel “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls”. The main character is warning his soon to be or just married bride (again, been a long time so details are fuzzy) that he’s a writer and needs to write from time to time. She suggests psychotherapy to cure that addiction but he says he can’t chance it because another writer who tried it was cured of writing, but not the need to write…with appropriately dire results.

    *”Grumbles from the Grave” presents a different and more involved story of a falling out between Heinlein and Campbell so I don’t know how true this anecdote actually is.

  2. Taking a day off is a learned thing, when all your habits are for busy-ness and writing. Don’t worry about not making it the first time through; it takes time. Try it roughly seven days from the first, in the God-given example of resting on the sabbath, and gradually you’ll find ways to relax and enjoy the day. The first time you try a vacation, or a day of rest, after too long running flat out, the only thing you have to define it is “Not This and Not That.” So, of course, you spend all day thinking of nothing but how you’re not doing This and That.

    Gradually, you get the hang of relaxing, enjoying the day off, doing The Other Things just because you want to, instead of feeling a mere vacuum in the absence of This and That.

    You’re not alone: the first time my mother got to the beach, the trip was meticulously planned, packed, timed, and accomplished by my father. And then, about five minutes after he sat down on the beach towel, (after ensuring application of sunscreen and carriage of all items to the beach,) he looked at my mother, and said, “Okay, we made it to the beach. What now? Where are we going? What are we doing? What’s our plan for leaving? I’m ready to go!”

    I think Dad and I ended up walking the beach, looking for seashells, before mom rose up off her beach towel and strangled him. Relaxing, like prayer and meditation, is a hard-learned skill.

    1. We should all strive to be more like God. Work our buns off 5 to 6 days a week, and on the 7th, rest and relax.

      What does God do to relax?

      Probably turns the Universal Television to the Human Channel, and alternates between using his hanky to blot the tears, and laughing His buns off.

        1. LOL.

          We know God has to have a sense of humor. Nobody would seriously design half the animals on this planet the way they are. Especially the platypus and the camel. Or naked mole rats for that matter. In fact, I bet the naked mole rat was his prototype to making a naked ape.

          1. I love the Far Side cartoon of the Most High creating things. He’s making clay snakes the way little kids do, rubbing the clay between his hands, and thinking “I like snakes. Snakes are easy.”

  3. Is it weird that you are where I WANT to be? Is it insane to WANT to have this addiction?

    Instead, I have to work full time to pay the bills. 8 AM to 5 PM (well, more actually with overtime, not to mention an hour long commute). On top of that is feeding the family because the few people in my family who COULD cook dinner are too damn lazy and would rather wait for me to bring it, and there are those who can’t, so just not doing it isn’t an option.

    My oldest daughter (28 this year) and her boyfriend/fiance moved in early this year to save money because the company he worked for closed. She got a part-time job. Instead of getting a job, he decided to write and is releasing his first book in October. So, some kid I barely know is living MY dream, getting to write full time, in MY house… and yesterday I was informed that he isn’t a scullery maid and he’s angry about having to clean the kitchen… his ONE JOB in the house.

    Sorry… venting… Need to go write something… Except since I’m at work, it will be code to move bits of data around rather than words to move people.

    1. “So, some kid I barely know is living MY dream, getting to write full time, in MY house…”

      Not to be a wise-ass, but the dream is more fun than the reality. Writing full-time means sitting on your ass transcribing what lippy characters are saying to each other inside your head. Including when it is a nice day out, including when you’re bored of it, including when your inlaws are bumping around the house driving you crazy (you can’t hear The Voices when real people are asking you if you want a coffee) and so forth. That’s why the lippy kid is mad he has to clean the kitchen. Its driving him crazy to break the flow and do something else.

      Then there’s the pressure to Write Something when what you’ve got today is Nothing, and there’s a deadline…

      Its like being rich. When you ask rich people what its like having lots of money, they generally say something like: “Eh, its okay. Not as great as I thought it would be.”

      1. Yea… I’m sure you are right. “Beware of what you ask for… because you just might get it.” actually can be good advice.

        However it’s gotta be better than sitting here all day WANTING to write, but instead having to write code, dealing with constant interruptions from users complaining about issues/bugs, most of which either aren’t caused by MY code, or are inconsistencies in customer data. This morning it was a rash of random pipe characters in the data fields of pipe delimited data files. My best guess is that someone doing data entry decided that pipe characters are NEAT, and whoever wrote the export code didn’t bother to check for pipes in the data before exporting to pipe delimited files.

        I get it. It’s just like coding used to be fun for me. Finding just the right elegant solution for a tricky problem. Looking at a problem and figuring out how to solve it with six lines of code when I was sure it was going to take a hundred lines or more. I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, struggling to keep ahead of deadlines the whole time. It’s not so much fun anymore.

        1. “I get it. It’s just like coding used to be fun for me.”

          That is -exactly- it. You have to reach in for that thing that makes it fun when you’re having a crap day. Sometimes I have to reach in there pretty goddamn deep, let me tell you. And I don’t even have a deadline.

        2. “I get it. It’s just like coding used to be fun for me. Finding just the right elegant solution for a tricky problem. Looking at a problem and figuring out how to solve it with six lines of code when I was sure it was going to take a hundred lines or more. I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, struggling to keep ahead of deadlines the whole time. It’s not so much fun anymore.”

          After 30 years, I still enjoy the coding and problem solving. It’s all the meetings and management BS that stand between me and that.

          1. Once upon a time a person who I had figured as.. less than sufficiently capable.. confirmed it. Self-invited to meetings rather than carefully avoid them as much as possible.

        3. “We’re having some random restart issues with the new version of Model-3.14, could you look into this?”

          *** Time passes, NOTHING is found.***
          *** Continuous uptime tests reveal NOTHING. ***

          “Any progress on the random restart issue?”

          *** More time passes, second verse, same as the first. ***

          “Oh, uh… about that restart issue? Seems a backup battery doesn’t have obvious enough polarity markings and batch of 3.14’s went out it installed backwards.”

          * Virtual HeadDesk * (Horns,,, embedded.. a mistake unrepeated.)

    2. Peter is a full-time author. He still has to do the dishes and clean the catboxes, help with cooking and grocery shopping, and making the bed and running errands because having a full-time job doesn’t get him out of doing household work, or having to go to the gym.

      There’s nothing special about an authoring job that magically exempts you from all the regular chores of life. And your potential son in law better get his head out of his ass if he wants to be a contributing part of his relationship with his wife when they can move out.

      And, in truth, the regular chores of life help create a structure. Most humans are insufficiently capable of generating enough structure internally, without external reinforcements, and will start to get mentally disordered if they don’t have outside cues. (This is why putting people in solitary with irregular meal & light cycles is a recognized form of torture.) Therefore, giving them a stabilizing structure – now is when you eat. Now is when you write. Now is when you take a mental break, and go do that chore… this is incredibly helpful for maintaining mental health. I didn’t say he had to like it, but he darned well better get used to doing it.

      Otherwise, the stress and strain on the marriage of unsynced schedules, unequal chores, and unequal expectations, over and above the financial strain of freelancing/running an indie publishing business instead of receiving a steady paycheck, is going to be pretty damn disastrous to the relationship, much less the people involved.

      So speaking as half of a couple who’s living your dream… your daughter’s boyfriend better pull his head out of his ass right fast, and get to mopping that kitchen floor, if he wants to be a full-time writer.

      1. Some days it’s only looking forward to making a meal for my beloved that gets me through the hours I’m supposed to be writing, but can’t for whatever reason: tiredness from being ill, being demoralised, or plain despair from the way the world is.

      2. This is very definitely a Thing with the writing. You’re going for months and months, doing something that makes you cranky (several years in my case), and there’s nothing to show for it. No -thing- that you did, and no money. Just a big fat Word document.

        So you better not be a pain in the ass to your relatives, or you’ll be on welfare writing at Starbucks.

        This is a thing I’ve learned the smart way, from other people’s mistakes. The famous example is Harry Potter, which was literally written in a cafe when J.K. Rowling was a single parent on welfare. It worked out for her (hard to tell from the outside but the money was good anyway) but I am pretty sure I’m not writing the next Harry Potter.

      3. Be careful of overly structuring your life. That can be just as stressful as too little. And it doesn’t allow for the Murphy Factor.

      4. You are much, much polite about it – and more reasonable in phrasing and tone – than I would be.

        I would be “In this house, everyone has chores, it’s part of being in a family and household. My house, my rules.”

        Frankly, I’d be too ashamed to let my in-laws do EVERYTHING holy crap. We’ve trained the kids to recognize that visiting the grands = they result in more work, so at the very least, sweep the floor, do the dishes and help with the laundry, if not in the kitchen. Besides, that’s then more family time.

    3. The thing about writing is that it is solitary work.

      Solitary work that is self organizing can be really, really miserable.

      Why? Because one can get into a very disorganized mess.

      Sometimes the chores and other necessities that seem like they are a different sort of work are necessary for getting organized on the main job.

      I’ve recently discovered that I have much less tolerance for solitude than I thought I did.

    4. Gawd, what EVERYONE else has said! Especially Dorothy. Everyone should listen to Dorothy today.

      If writing is his full time job it does NOT excuse him from housework!

      I have a full time job. Am I excused from housework? I DON’T THINK SO!

      If writing is his full time job it does not excuse him from RENT and if he can’t pay for RENT with money from his writing, then he’d darned well better be paying for it from housework!

    5. “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

      King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (p. 102). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

      I empathize with your day job. I’m also a software engineer, of many seasons and languages, whose goal is to write powerfully moving stories rather than efficient code. Here’s the thing though, it’s never other people taking you away from your goal–not really. Sure, they can make it harder, they can be callous, unsupportive, etc. Sometimes writing just isn’t the most important thing to be doing any more than finishing coding that “cool new feature” instead of making it home for dinner. I’m not saying you are, but often people hide in their careers as an ego shelter from their failings or fears of other areas of their life. Kids are often neglected this way.

      Dorothy’s right, it’s about balance. And that balance will creatively inspire you. Interestingly, not having it will often reduce your creative drive. How do you write about life and it’s emotions if your not involved in it? A good writer can steel from any experience–even washing the dishes. If nothing else, tasks like that give you time to think.

      I’ve tried to quit writing and it doesn’t seem to work. I still enjoy writing, and I manage to do it. Find what time you can, without sacrificing those around you, and just do it. My time is 4:30 in the morning. I get about two hours on a good day before kids come with cheerful faces to “limit my screen time.” I wouldn’t miss their rescuing me for the world. But that’s all my writing career gets at the moment, and I’m still excited about it. My problem isn’t time, it’s learning the craft. If I miss my time though? I get cranky. Have you been missing your time? ;^)

      1. Ger argh… make that “you’re”… make that “steal”… Why can’t I edit these quick posts…

    6. Give him a list of chores he has to have done around the house. If he doesn’t do them himself, he needs to pay for a maid or handyman out of his royalty checks.

      1. Mike, I’ve encountered his kind before. Unless he thinks you’re serious about evicting his butt, he won’t do squat. And because there’s a blood relation in the mix, he’s not going to be convinced until he’s actually being physically taken out of the house.

  4. Its a collection of invisible, imaginary people demanding to be let out into the world.

    And very inconvenient at times, I must say. Sitting in a business meeting, and instead of the business at hand there’s a gunfight between zombies and robot spiders. In Amsterdam. My brain is deciding the caliber of the Gatling guns mounted on the spiders, and figuring out how they avoid shooting their own knees off. (Spinal mount. Yes, I know spiders have no spines.)

    I find when I write these things down the imaginary people shut up for a bit. This is called “writing.” I may actually sell some, someday, but that’s not why I’m doing it.

  5. “My name is Sarah A. Hoyt, and I’m a writer.”

    “Hi, Sarah!” resounds from every corner of the globe.

    In this space on March 1, 2015, you dug WAY back and pulled up a post from ATH 10/10/08, in which you spoke eloquently, and with greatly encouraging words, about the journey to becoming a writer. And one of the things you said was: “don’t burn your old work.”

    Naturally, I took that MOST excellent advice, and turned it 90 degrees in order to make it a better fit for me, and processed your word-for-everyone into a word-for-me, and came up with The Bonfire Also Illuminates.

    It was the final step that I needed to take to become a reviewer.

    Unlike you, I don’t have to rely on my writing income to buy peaches and protein powder, because if I did, I’d starve. However, under normal circumstances, I also don’t have to DRIVE myself to the extreme of imposing a seventh day of rest. I mostly interpose restful moments in with with read&review moments, as well as babysitting moments, grocery-shopping moments, and so on.

    Not under the circumstances I find myself in now. The small amount of time between the release of the Dragon Award ballots (August 8), and the awards (September 1), seemed PERFECT for me to impose a reviewing binge. So I did. At least a book per day: read, reviewed, and blogged, and that includes an Amazon review and a corresponding Goodreads review. I’m having frenetic fun, particularly as I watch time slip by, as I look for the lost remote control to my fan, and batteries for my track ball, and learn how to use a new glucometer, while considering how I’m gonna get that rear tire fixed.

    But, my name is Papa Pat Patterson, and I am a writer. And with this installment, I’m slightly ahead of schedule Dragon Finalist for Best Alternate History Novel: Witchy Winter.

      1. Actually, Dorothy, when I was a kid, my ideal job would to do what I’m doing right now: read everything I can find, and tell people about it.
        That is, if I couldn’t be James Bond leading a biker gang and having a harem in space between combat drops on hostile planets with pet dinosaurs, and driving a corvette across Route 66. If none of that worked out, then I was gonna have to get REALLY rich like Scrooge McDuck, so I could spend all my time reading, and not have to hide a flashlight and a book under the bedcovers until I’d used up all the air.
        Ummm….except for the rich part, I accomplished all the rest. Pretty much.

  6. Oh heavens yes. I’m either writing or researching writing. Or at Day Job, thinking about writing between rounds of “No, the Vikings didn’t worship Osiris, no matter what [videogame or Wiki] claims.” I have to write, otherwise I feel lousy, snarly, and grumpy, and like a failure because I have empty time that must be used for something.

  7. “I once made it two weeks not just without writing but avoiding thinking about writing.”

    I don’t know about anyone else, but that sounds more like you were in coma from a terrible accident. Whenever I’m doing housework, my brain’s going a mile a minute on all kinds of topics other than housework. If I were as smart as the paperwork says I am, I’d hook a Bluetooth up to my computer and dictate while I’m doing laundry, cleaning floors, or mowing the lawn.

  8. So, i need to decide between plotting and pantsing… sort of. I need to decide between writing scripts for my videos or just doing multiple takes of a combination of off the cuff commentary and reading stats.

  9. Everything that Dorothy said about days off.

    It needs to be learned and it’s *worth* sticking to it until you learn how to do it well. Taking the Sabbath off is a good start.

    As for writing and creating… I can’t not make up stories. Writing them down, however, is optional. 😉

    But lately I’ve gone through times of not being able to make up stories and its distressing, certainly, and no matter which side is the “cause” and which side the “effect”, none of it is good. And what probably has been most needed was *rest*. Emotional rest from various stressful events, and physical rest and not getting enough sleep.

    Oh, and failing to get anything done is NOT the same thing as *rest*.

    1. Indeed it isn’t. I didn’t really get anything done, per se, but yesterday… yesterday was exhausting, and it feels like my blood sugar levels are still out of whack. I’m trying to decide if I’m rested enough, because I don’t feel rested. My health has not been kind to my underselling it so I’m trying to be careful about getting enough rest/food/etc.

  10. Do you have a link to where Jordan Peterson talked about that? I’d be interested in reading further on that.

  11. Reblogged this on Lee Dunning and commented:
    Taking a day off from either writing or editing leaves me feeling guilty. That being said, I did play me some 13th Age this past Sunday and had a lot of fun unwinding. But I was back to editing today, and I’m making great progress. I’m about halfway done with editing the rough draft, which is pretty amazing considering I’m having to do some rewriting to clean up all evidence of the story lines I’m stripping out. I’m liking the changes. It’s reading much cleaner – flowing better. And I haven’t been hit with any sense of “Man, this sucks!” . In fact, I’m feeling pretty stoked!

  12. I really enjoyed this post – thank you, Sarah! I have linked it in a comment to a forum thread on the World of Woodturners site, in response to one of our members who often starts threads on where creativity comes from and why some are driven to be Makers. Different artistic field, same compulsions. 😉

    I call myself a woodturner, and over the years I have become very skilled at thinking about turning, and talking about turning, and finding all sorts of minor chores and “necessary” tasks and stress-relieving activities that take precedence over actually, you know, turning something. Occasionally they all fail to hinder me, and I spend a couple of hours at the lathe and come in with a nicely finished needlecase or a couple of cabochons for jewelry. And a deep feeling of satisfaction that yes, I really am a woodturner at heart.

    And I horde my stash of beautiful woods like a dragon hordes gold. Because someday, Real Soon Now, I will go out and just start turning stuff. Really.

    Your post is a nudge in that direction. Thanks!!

    1. I’m a furniture refinisher, stuffed animal maker and artist. When the words stop, something else has to take their place. Fortunately they only stop for a short while at a time.

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