Nine Signs You’re a Neurotic Writer

You subscribe to eight journals but only read the contributor notes when they come.
*
You are on page 50 of the first draft of your novel but have rewritten the opening sentence 60 times.
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You write an angry letter to the editor who has held your story, essay, or poem for six months without a response. Then delete it and decide you will call instead. You decide a phone call is too uncomfortable for you, so you rewrite the e-mail. You decide to reread the story, essay, or poem before you send the e-mail. You further decide the editor is right even though you have never heard from him. It’s shit. You get up the next day, rewrite the e-mail, threaten silently to send it, and then delete it. You reread the story, essay, or poem again. You can’t admit to anybody how much time you’ve wasted doing this.
*
Your author’s photo for the planned first novel, of which you are still stuck on page 50, is now four years old. You had it taken, well . . . in anticipation and just because you looked so really good that day. You spend the morning talking on the phone to your best friend about whether you should update the photo or not. “Do you think it still looks like me?”
“Have you finished the—“
“Never mind,” you say, cutting her off. And hang up.
*
You send an e-mail to yourself convinced that those same editors you are mad at have failed to contact you because your server is down. When your e-mail goes through, you delete it, and then stare at the empty space.
*
Your spouse, partner, child asks you, So what have you been up to today? and you answer, “What’s the point? What’s the goddamn point! Fine, you want me to quit, is that it! Okay, I quit, satisfied now? Are you goddamn satisfied? You want blood? Is that what you want? I’m fucking slicing my arm right now. Happy? Happy?”
*
You have an idea. You will read aloud the first fifty pages of the novel that you are stuck on and finally determine whether it’s worth ever finishing. You close your office door so no one will hear you, stand at your desk, pick up the first page, and commence reading in a strong voice. Suddenly it hits you. You know what’s wrong. You sit down and rewrite the opening sentence for the 61st time and never make it to page two.
*
One day, after checking your e-mail, you see a message with a subject line of your story’s title. You click hurriedly and the first word is “Congratulations.” You read on. Your story has been accepted for the next issue. They are very pleased to have it and thank you for sending it—they are thanking you! Proofs will be sent, and as stated they are paying forty dollars per published page. You’d given up on ever hearing from the editor after composing daily e-mails to him that you never sent. This is by far your best publication yet! The very motivation you need to get past page 50 on your novel. No one can deny the prestige of this publication. You go online to post your good news on Facebook. You see that someone you know from graduate school has just had a story accepted by The New Yorker. You cannot believe how disappointed you feel.
*
You get over your disappointment and write the editor a gushing thank you note. You tell him what it means to be published in his amazing, wonderful, venerable journal and how you never thought you’d ever have a story in such a good journal. You thank him again, promise to send your contributor note that you will spend two days writing and say once more how delighted you are. Then you add a P.S. It is only a small P.S. and will not take up much room in your otherwise grateful thrilled stunned message thanking him.
P.S. Would you mind reading the first sentence of my novel and giving me your opinion . . .



  • Emily Fox Gordon

    >Hi Steven — Ann McCutchan forwarded your blog to me, and I'm enjoying it!
    I laughed at these 9 signs, but was disconcerted when I read #8 and thought — that's neurotic? I thought that was normal! Also the one about sending emails to yourself. That had a ring of deadly familiarity.
    Just a quick reaction. I'll look around more in your blog.
    Hope all's well with you.
    Emily (Fox Gordon)