Diagnosis: Writer

So many of my readers are also writers!

Nelson is serializing his book on his blog,

Jono just posted a sneaky two-part story,

Carrie Rubin has two medical thrillers published and is working on a third,

Nancy Roman blogs, writes for Huffington Post, and has written a novel,

Andrew will soon be releasing a collection of poems,

…And I know @SomeRandomGuy is over 600,000 words into the draft of his epic sci-fi fantasy, and others have mentioned works in progress or in planning.

So I thought now might be a good time for a diagnosis.  Are you or someone you know struggling with writer-itis?  Use this handy checklist to find out:


Symptoms:  Uttering random words at inappropriate times; unexplained giggling, crying, and/or scowling.

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer, Tourette Syndrome, or psychosis.

Tests:  Observe the subject’s behaviour after the outburst.


If the subject scurries off to write immediately after the outburst, they’re a writer.

If the subject acts as though nothing untoward has happened, they might have Tourette’s… or they’re a writer in the throes of plotting.

If the subject carries on an animated conversation with invisible companions, it might be psychosis… or they’re a writer planning dialogue.


Symptoms:  Unhealthy attachment to word processing programs

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer or computer geek

Tests:  Observe the content of the document.


If you’re still reading and completely riveted after ten pages, they’re a writer.

If your eyes glaze over after the first line and your brain explodes after the first page, they might be a computer geek… or a writer.


Symptoms:  Separation anxiety when leaving a computer; obsession with backups; paralyzing fear of data loss

Diagnosis:  Writer, computer geek, or conspiracy theorist

Tests:  Confiscate the subject’s data and destroy it before the subject’s eyes.


If the subject bursts into uncontrollable weeping and/or guzzles alcohol until they throw up and/or pass out, they’re a writer.  Or they were; before you destroyed the only copy of their life’s work and with it, their will to live.

If the subject curses you in Klingon and produces three redundant backups, they’re a computer geek… or a sci-fi writer.

If the subject sidles away with a furtive expression and disappears only to resurface several weeks later with a new name, identical data, and a blog decrying the censorship of the establishment and the oppression of free thinkers, they’re a conspiracy theorist… or a writer.


Symptoms:  Forgetfulness; changes in behaviour; social withdrawal

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer, dementia, or drug addiction

Tests:  Restrict the subject to a controlled environment for 24 hours, then provide a laptop loaded with a word-processing program.  Retest at two-month intervals.

Diagnosis:  If the subject breaks into a cold sweat and suffers tremors, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, and/or seizures, it might be a drug addiction… or they’re a writer.

If the symptoms resolve instantly when a laptop is provided, they’re a writer.

There’s really no way to differentiate writers from dementia patients in a single test.  Writers will forget to eat, sleep, and bathe; will walk away from stoves leaving the elements on high; will drop the keys in the sugar bowl; will wander away from home and get lost even in familiar neighbourhoods; and may even fail to recognize close friends and family.  Retesting is the only way to know for sure:  At some point, writers will likely resume more or less normal behaviour (at least until they start their next manuscript).


Symptoms:  Immobility and non-responsiveness when addressed

Differential Diagnosis:  Writer, deafness, or death

Tests:  Obtain a lightweight object at least six inches longer than the subject’s reach.  Gently prod the subject.

Differential Diagnosis:

If the subject startles, yells, and/or flails, they’re either a writer in deep concentration or deaf.

If the subject now responds when addressed (and particularly if they respond with creative expletives), they’re a writer.

If the subject still doesn’t respond when addressed, they might be deaf.  Or a deaf writer.  Or a writer in extra-deep concentration.

If the subject falls over and lies motionless, call the coroner… but the subject might still be a writer in extra-extra deep concentration.  Make sure the medical examiner checks for a pulse before starting the autopsy.


If you were reading this hoping you’d find a cure, well… sorry about that.  There isn’t one; there are only short remissions between manuscripts.  But the disease itself is so much fun, who’d want a cure anyway?

Do you have writer-itis?

* * *

P.S. I’m poking fun at myself and my fellow writers, but I don’t mean to trivialize the social and emotional consequences of dementia, Tourette Syndrome, mental illness, hearing impairment, or addiction.  To gain awareness and understanding of these conditions:

Tourette Syndrome

Alzheimer’s and dementia

Mental health

Hearing impairment


54 thoughts on “Diagnosis: Writer

  1. Too funny! I don’t suffer from any of these, which makes me want to re-think my blog … on the other hand, I’d hazard a guess that these are more indicative of fiction writing than other kinds of writing. Is that possible? I cannot for the life of me write fiction. My mind goes completely blank. I’m okay with other writing but I guess I have no imagination. I admire those who do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, don’t rethink your blog! In fact, give us a link so we can pop over and visit. 🙂 I think you’re right; these are mostly fiction-writing symptoms. I wrote technical manuals for years and never once stopped to plan dialog… okay, that’s a lie. I did sometimes imagine dialogs with the end-users and/or software developers, but those were generally unprintable.

      I always thought I didn’t have enough imagination to write fiction, either, until I realized that it’s not about making up everything in the story all at once. If you start with a single ‘what-if’, you can write a whole story around it by gradually figuring out how the ‘what-if’ would affect all the people involved. E.g. What if a bookkeeper met a spy… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I never thought of approaching it that way. Now I have to think about this some more!

        Usually my blog link is available through my name, but in WordPress it doesn’t seem to work that way. Here’s where I live in blogland:

        I just read your reply to That Random Guy below, about your 9th grade writing. That is a complete shame, and how unperceptive of that teacher to fail to realize the budding talent and sincere interest in front of her. I’m shaking my head here.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the link – off to visit your blog now!

          I was really disappointed in that teacher at the time, and even though I’ve tried to put myself in her shoes and feel some empathy all these years later, I’m still disappointed in her. I’m imagining her confronted by adolescent writing so godawful that she didn’t even know where to start, and she probably didn’t want to crush me with criticism. It would be a tough situation, and I do feel for her… but still. *sigh*


  2. Oh Diane you make me laugh. I think my husband would just accuse me of being deaf or not paying attention to him. Thanks for the chuckle. Your diagnosis seems to be leading to a very successful career!
    How is the construction going?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Uh, guilty as charged. I ain’t admitting to *which* ones, though. I’ll just say, er, several, and let it go at that.

    Will I talk about my work? I’ll tell anyone at all how much I enjoy the process. Gad, it’s such a rush to fire up the laptop, open up Word, and two heartbeats later find myself a zillion miles away, totally absorbed in that ‘other’ place, fully engaged in that society, and utterly oblivious to whatever might be going on back ‘here.’

    And that usually ends the conversation. Whoever it was who just said to me, “Oh, you’re writing a novel? How cool! Fantasy, you say? Wow! Gee, what’s it like to write a novel like that?” generally gets glassy-eyed at that point and finds some urgent reason to be elsewhere. So after watching that same scenario unfold, oh, I dunno, fifteen or twenty times in a row, well, I now just say something like, “It’s better than getting an eyeball gouged out with a rusty crowbar, but I haven’t quit my day job yet.” Or words to that effect.

    My wife, who is endlessly tolerant *and* patient with me while I work my way steadily through the various phases of my addiction, has not pestered me with any of the ‘What’s it about?’ or ‘Why did you do it that way?’ or ‘I would’ve said that *this* way!’ sorts of things. A couple of times, while she was cranked back in her recliner reading something, I’ve started giggling while writing a particular passage. Well, that’s happened more than a couple of times, but twice the giggling has escalated to full-blown guffaws. (Did I mention that I get fairly involved with my story? Just sayin’…)

    All the times before, she would just grin and roll her eyes and keep reading. But the last time, she put down her book and said, “Okay, I gotta ask. What’s so funny?”

    So I told her. Which necessitated some background history and a bit of insight into two of the characters involved. Which led to something else, and then something else, and so on. We talked about my story for over an hour. So now she knows the story line and sort of where it’s going. And why I was laughing. Bless her, she just ignores me when I’m weeping. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your wife is a paragon among spouses! I’m lucky enough to have one of those, too. (The paragon spouse; not a wife. Just wanted to be clear about that.)

      I can definitely relate to the reactions of others, too, especially if I’m trying to explain to the ‘others’ why I missed their important meeting or event. That’s only happened once or twice because I carefully set multiple reminders, but still, it’s difficult and embarrassing to explain that imaginary people made me late.

      But I love getting deeply involved in the story – like you, I’m in a whole different world when I write!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hilarious. Recognized many of the symptoms in myself but understand the answers were not writer in my case. I envy people who can invent from whole cloth. I have never deliberately written fiction. I am a reader though. Are they important to writers other than to sell books to? Seriously. Who do writers write for?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great question! For me, writing is a weird duality. I love the process so much that it’s safe to say I write for myself. And yet… it’s all about my readers.

      The questions, “How I can I make this a better story? What do my readers want/need?” are always in the back of my mind. I hate the thought that my readers might ever be disappointed by my work, and I spend vast amounts of time editing (minimum 25 readings of each and every word; often closer to 50) to make my books the absolute best I can. Without readers’ encouragement, I’m not sure whether I’d have written as many books as I have – it’s an immensely time-consuming (read ‘life-consuming’) process. But my readers make it all worthwhile!

      Liked by 1 person

    • “Never deliberately written fiction.” Reminds me of a funny–and quite true–story.

      My first gig as an engineer was in the early ’90s. That was when all the ‘procedural upheaval,’ as I thought of it, came about. That big change in my world involved the establishment of cross-functional teams of people from every involved department to work through and eliminate production bottlenecks and so forth.

      Me? I was the new guy, and I saw the benefits of doing those kinds of things immediately. I was all in, as it were. But a significant fraction of the rest of the crew stayed firmly in the ‘we’ve never done it that way before’ camp, and their buy-in was, well, somewhat less than unity, so to speak.

      Anyway, for one reason or another, I wound up on one of these teams, and I am glad to report that the results of our labors were nothing less than stellar. Our efforts made a huge and easily measurable and very positive contribution to the bottom line of the company.

      No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

      So I wound up on another one of the teams. And then another. And I still had to get all my own project work done. And I was a non-typist at the time. So I talked my boss into letting me take a typing course at the local Vo-Tec school. He was okay with it, and he let me fill out the reimbursement voucher for the course after i passed it. Cool! That made a huge difference in the amount of stuff I could get done in a week. And how much sleep I could get, too. Win-win.

      So after that, I asked if I could take a writing course to help me deal with writing up all the minutes for all these team meetings I had to attend. My boss said okay, but only if he liked the course description.

      All they had open that semester was a fiction writing course…

      My boss said, “Nope, I won’t pay for that. I’ve read your reports. You’re already entirely too good at writing fiction!”

      True story. 🙂

      I still took the course. I just paid for it myself. A truly dreadful experience, it was, too. That was almost twenty-five years ago. It’s taken me this long to get past all that wretchedness and finally just give it a shot. Gad, the time I’ve wasted because of that worthless mess.


      • That’s a funny story about your boss, but a sad one about the writing course. There are so many great ways to teach writing – it’s a crime when a course actually turns off people who were excited about writing in the first place.

        My “I’ll never write fiction” bad experience occurred in Grade 9. So I wasted over 30 years, if that makes you feel any better. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

          • You asked for it…

            Grade 9 was the year we were introduced to “classic Canadian literature”. I’d never read anything so incomprehensible, boring, and depressing in all my young life. Later in the year a short-story contest was announced, open to Grades 9-12, with a writing prompt something like “write a classic Canadian short story”. You see where this is going, right?

            I couldn’t fathom why they specified the “Canadian” part – I was Canadian, therefore anything I wrote would perforce be a “Canadian short story”; but whatever. By then I was a veteran of illogic in English class (such as being asked for ‘my interpretation’ of a poem and then being told I was wrong). So I deduced that they wanted a story similar to what we’d been reading in class, and I had a go at it.

            I intentionally wrote the most boring, depressing, incomprehensible story I could. Everything was grey; even the main character’s name was Grey. She was suicidal, and it rained all the time. I knew it was shit; but as far as I was concerned we’d been reading shit all year. I couldn’t tell if my story was the kind of shit that would be considered “classic literature”, or if it was just garden-variety shit.

            So I took it to my English teacher and asked for a critique. I didn’t really want criticism, but I decided I’d rather hear it from the teacher in private than send it in to the contest for all to see. And anyway, I really wanted to know how to make the story better.

            And the teacher said something like, “Oh, it’s okay, go ahead and send it in.”

            No useful feedback at all. I lost all respect for her that day. And I did send the story in, cringing the whole time because I knew how bad it was. Never heard anything back from the contest (which was probably for the best), but I still cringe today thinking about it. I’ll never forget the pungent reek of that steaming pile of words, nor the humiliation of knowing it wasn’t good enough but not knowing how to fix it.

            It took over 30 years for me to try writing fiction again, and the rest is history…

            Liked by 1 person

            • Holey Bovines, Diane! This just can’t be a coincidence. What you have described as your grade nine fiasco sounds freakishly similar to that dreadful fiction class I attended. You showed me yours; I’ll show you mine. So to speak.

              The instructor was a published author, an English PhD, probably about thirty years old. Three pubs to his credit, as I recall. Some pointless collection of essays that sucked both life and functioning brain cells out of the unfortunates who read them, a truly ghastly ‘first novel’ that even the author could not explain coherently, and another equally puke-worthy novel of similar ilk. The redeeming feature of all three works was that each had garnered some level of ‘critical acclaim.’

              Critical acclaim sounds good, at least to the uninitiated. After one has been around the block a time or two, one comes to understand that the term means that other similarly brainless, talentless nincompoops have agreed that the particular work meets the criteria that they have set that represents their highest literary qualifications.

              In other words, the work of morons has been judged by other morons and found to be, well, suitably moronic.

              The class was a ‘seminar’ class, which mean that one could repeat it as many times as one wished and receive credit for it time after time. Thus, one was expected to start and complete a finished novel in the class. If it took five years, that was okay.

              I was the only new guy in the class for four semesters, I think. So everyone already knew everyone else and had read much of their work. That part was okay. But if the new guy had the unmitigated audacity to offer any comment at all on the work of someone who already had the lofty sum of four semesters worth of head start…well that someone could expect a bloodbath of criticism when he submitted his first chapter for examination.

              Yep, it started bad and got worse. Oh, and one of the in-crowd was writing his novel from the standpoint of a necrophiliac. Another was about a Marine sniper in Viet Nam. And no, he was not a military veteran of any sort. Another wrote really explicit gay porn. Another wrote what were supposed to be murder mysteries. Mostly, it was just nonstop bloody sadism.

              Me? I just tried to learn what I could from the mess and survive. My end-of-the-course evaluation I wrote in triplicate. One to the teacher, one to the dean of the department, and one to the university president. Hey, one good bloodbath deserves another.

              I never heard a word from any of them. But they all knew exactly what I thought of the situation.

              And God save me from critical acclaim. That’s public notification that one can’t write one’s way out of a wet paper bag. So to speak.


      • Love your boss’s comment. As a consultant, I try very hard NOT to write fiction. I have read far too many consultant’s reports that were just that. They wrote what the client wanted to hear, I wrote the truth. Saved people a great deal of money but never got invited back.

        Liked by 2 people

          • The story on that is this: My meeting minutes and project reports were nothing but the truth. Each fact was checked scrupulously and verified from every possible direction. There were no exaggerations. When blame was due, it was reported, but no names were mentioned. In fact, the only times names were mentioned were when someone had done something worthy of open praise. It was all legit and on the up and up.


            Anytime at all that a bit of harmless humor could be interjected, well, it was.

            One particular case in point pertained to a persistent paint-peeling problem with pumps. Yeah, you can already see it coming. I crammed as many words beginning with the letter P as I possibly could for an entire single-spaced page while eliminating all other non-P words. And all the while, not one untrue statement was written. The whole report was completely accurate.

            That particular document became legendary. Which was both good and bad, as it turned out. These sorts of dedicated project teams were becoming fairly high profile within the company, and that was because of the very high rates of success each was enjoying. So the better we did, the higher the reports were circulated in the rarefied strata of senior corporate management.

            My boss told me about three weeks later to cease and desist with he humor. Just the facts. Or else. It seems that almost all of the senior corporate types were passing my reports around and laughing their asses off with appreciative comments of “Who IS this guy?” But, alas, there was one particularly humorless gent who said something like “Find out who this noisy son of a bitch works for and have him shut this guy up or fire him!”

            And there you have it. No fiction writing class for me.


  5. I have just giggled at this post from start to finish.
    I suffer from a few, and have never been too worried about myself.
    No idea if people have worried about me I suppose living alone has its advantages at times.

    My main problem is finishing what I start, life gets in the way alot. I found myself re-reading something I started to write months ago and starting to change everything in my head but before I got a chance to let my fingers dance over the keyboard I was called upon to babysit for a 1yr old who cried for about 50 mins before he fell asleep, bless him it was the cry of why are you here, I don’t want you i want mummy but don’t you dare leave me. I could not put him down or he cried, I had to carry him everywhere I went. And even when mum got back almost 5hrs later he wasn’t happy until I sat in my normal seat and mum was on the sofa in her seat.
    Kids love them but couldn’t eat a whole one and not sure I want my own.

    Needless to say the pages I read haven’t changed and I would have to start again with re-reading them and they will probably end up very different this time.
    Maybe that’s the reason I have more than a dozen started novels that will never be finished, I’m too easily distracted, I’m not a true writer I’m more a starter and I’ll get back to it. Maybe if I won the lottery or when I retire I will finish everything I’ve started.
    I still have stuff on 3.5″ floppys I had to buy a bloomin external floppy drive so I can still read stuff I wrote in my teens
    Maybe that’s another to add to the list Diane

    Hugs to all xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! “Kids: love them but couldn’t eat a whole one” – thanks for my belly laugh of the day!

      And of course you’re a true writer: writers write; and if you have a dozen novels on the go, you’re definitely a writer! Don’t feel badly about the process of editing over and over – that’s just your process. I do the same thing. Write once, edit a hundred times (and I often end up with the same thing I wrote the first time).

      Or maybe everything you’ve written will turn out more like essays that help you process your thoughts, and your next novel will be the one that pulls all those thoughts together. As long as you enjoy doing it… write on! 🙂

      That’s funny about the 3.5″ floppies! I had boxes of them, but before I got rid of my last floppy drive I copied all the data onto my hard drive and backed it up onto my external. Between Hubby and me, we filled an entire 4’x2’x2′ garbage bin with discarded floppy disks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I couldn’t get rid of the floppy discs even if they are covered in dust, I started backing stuff on to thumb drives but they are small and I have to confess I’m not sure where some of mine are.

        Glad you got a belly laugh, it’s something we say in the UK, if not all of it certainly the north east, my family have always said it, my friends say it. no idea where it came from.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. This has been happening to me more and more lately: Something happens to me and friends and family say, “I got a picture of it for your blog,” or “I’ve got a great idea for a poem.” The sad thing is that more and more of these encounters are ending up in my poetry collections and my blog.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, yes! The same happens to me – something funny will happen and one of my friends will say, “That sounds like a blog post!” I’m not sure whether they enjoy supplying inspiration or whether they’re beginning to dread hanging out with me because they never know what I’ll write… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  7. You should submit this to the DSM-5! You’re the first to discover this ailment so it can carry your name: The Henders Syndrome or Henders Disease. The fact you probably suffer from it too is of no consequence. In fact, it makes you all that more credible. 😄

    Thanks for the laugh and the shout-out. Both are appreciated!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I was glad to see the deaf writer analysis. The same responeses apply to partially deaf writers, especially those with unilateral hearing loss. My husband has to keep this in mind. On the positive side, I have only given him one bloody nose.

    Liked by 1 person

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