A Response to “13 Ways Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers”

I’ve often heard it said about writers that if you haven’t earned a place on at least one government watch list as a result of your internet searches, you’re doing it wrong. Many – many – fellow writers have shared this particular sentiment, and I’m definitely inclined to agree with them. Some of my Google search terms during the writing of ‘Nowhere to Hide‘ would cast suspicion on even the most mild-mannered and innocent of folks. Among some of the tamer searches were “How long would it take someone to bleed out?” and, “How does the temperature of a body change starting immediately after death?” The tamer searches, mind you.

So, the point is, if you’re looking at us from the right direction, writers do have a tendency to look a bit like psychopaths.

Fellow writer, blogger, and social media guru, Kristen Lamb, wrote about this phenomenon a while back in a blog post titled, “13 Ways Writers are Mistaken for Serial Killers”. I got a good chuckle out of it, so I thought that today, for fun, I’d do a response post to these “13 Ways”. So let’s get started, shall we?

(Note: this is all in good fun. I’m not really a psychopath. Please don’t send police.)

#1. Serial Killers/Writers Need Alone Time
I’m only assuming (logically) that this would be true for serial killers, but I know for a fact that it’s true for writers. By the time I finish a 12-hour work day I just want to crawl into bed with my laptop or a notebook and even the sound of other human beings existing makes my whole body tense up. Being alone is how I recharge, and as skilled as I often am at multitasking, trying to write an important scene while someone is talking to me is a rage-inducing event that only other writers can commiserate with.

#2. Serial Killers/Writers Often Hold Down a “Normal” Job
Indeed, just as every psychopath must hold down a job in order to pay those pesky dry-cleaning bills, so too must writers find gainful employment in order to stay alive and keep writing. It’s an unfortunate truth, since both parties would clearly rather be doing something else, but the overwhelming majority of writers are not able to pay the bills with their writing alone, so most of us are sitting right next to you in the office, slogging away the days with the rest of the mindless drones.

#3. Serial Killers/Writers Can Look Just Like YOU
I know, it’s totally crazy to believe, but it’s true. That woman in the clothing store picking out the same blouse as you? She could be a writer. The guy down the road who happens to drive the same car as your significant other? He could be a writer. We’re in your jobs and in your schools; we permeate every corner of your neighborhood. We are virtually invisible.

#4. Serial Killers/Writers Understand Law Enforcement
How would the police react to a body left in the center of town with a flagpole sticking through it? You probably never considered it, but a writer could tell you because we have to know. We can’t have our fictional police running around like chickens with their heads cut off, so we have to know how the real police work, what they would do, where they would go. We have to be intimate with their workings. But not too intimate…we don’t want them coming over and stumbling across our Google search history.

#5. Serial Killers/Writers Use Terms Like T.O.D.
This entry actually confused me because I wasn’t initially sure what T.O.D. stands for. I’m fairly certain now that it’s Time of Death. Regardless, in Kristen’s entry she mentions that writers never see just a freezer, but rather a containment unit for possible bodies. I can confirm that. Even when I’m not working on a manuscript that involves death and destruction, I see it everywhere and log it in my head for possible future use. My brain is especially morbid because I work in industry, where I’m constantly seeing opportunities for accidents (or “accidents”) that my fictional characters may encounter.

#6. Serial Killers/Writers Hear Voices That Tell Them Who to Kill
At the risk of sounding like a complete lunatic (you probably already think I am at this point anyway), I’ve had many schizophrenic arguments with myself over whether or not to kill a character. The human (*ahem*non-psychopathic*ahem*) voice says, “No! I love this character! He must live until a ripe old age and die in bed surrounded by grandchildren!” Meanwhile, the writer (*cough*psychopath*cough*) voice demands plot-based torture and turmoil that can only be achieved through the horrible death of a key character. And oftentimes enough, the evil voice wins.

#7. Serial Killers/Writers Choose Victims Carefully
The underlying message here being that writers kill those who displease them by creating fiction versions of them to mutilate.

I feel like I should play ignorance on this one because I don’t want people skimming through ‘Nowhere to Hide‘, trying to work out which real-life people I’d feed to a pack of zombies given the opportunity.

So yeah, I totally have no idea what Kristen is talking about with this one. >.>

#8. Serial Killers/Writers Plan Their Kills Methodically
Well, of course! You can’t just kill any random old person at any random old time! What if you realize later that you needed that person to further the plot? No, no, these things have to be planned out very carefully…

#9. Serial Killers/Writers Have a Timeline for Their Kills
Oh for sure. You can’t just kill someone and then go on with your life like nothing has happened. There is a definite timeline that involves moments of reflection on the act, thinking about what we could have done differently, and considering the consequences for the future. You can’t rush the flow of emotions that are involved in the aftermath of a new kill.

#10. Serial Killers/Writers are Narcissists
Kristen punctuates this particular point by explaining that serial killers think that they’re God, but writers know it. We’re the God of our own little world, sometimes benevolent, sometimes cruel, but always ready, willing, and able to smite any character at any time. We are narcissists because we are all-powerful. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!

#11. Serial Killers/Writers Take People Apart
I should think that this one would actually be a no-brainer. How can a writer become another person, tell another person’s story, without first tearing that person down into their most basic components? We need to know what makes that person tick, and the only way to do that is to get into that person’s mind, move the gears around, take control and see where it leads us. Actors would call it “immersion” or “getting into character”, but I like to think of it more as “character possession”.

#12. Serial Killers/Writers are Also Sadists
This is one that I couldn’t deny even if I really, really tried. My absolute favorite bits to write in any story are the same bits that make the reader cringe, quiver, or cry. I love writing the pain, the agony, the misery, the torture, the fear, the distress, the hopelessness. Call me a psycho if you wish, but there’s something about all those negative emotions that makes them a ton of fun to write.

Oh shoot, is that the asylum folks at the door? Pardon me just one moment while I pack up my laptop and crawl out this window…

#13. Serial Killers/Writers Struggle With Addiction/Compulsion
The obvious elephant-in-the-room with this one is that lots of writers struggle with drugs and alcohol. But a more common (and less depressing) example would be that tons of writers feel compelled to hoard “writing stuff”, even if they never seem to use any of it. I, for example, must have at least twenty completely blank notebooks because I want to use them, but I always end up just writing directly on my laptop because it’s so much quicker. But the compulsion remains…notebooks, pretty pens, organizers, colored markers… I’m like a goddamn zombie for stationary.


 

So there you go: thirteen ways in which writers are (apparently) like serial killers. If you didn’t fear us before I bet you do now, am I right? So tell me, which parts of this list creep you out the most? Do you know any writers whom you’re now going to keep a closer eye on? Have you actually thought about this before and come up with a comparison that Kristen didn’t? Please let me know, because your comments tame the voices in my head. Mwa ha ha ha…

The “right time”? What’s that?

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

91. The right time to begin a new project

This really depends on what kind of a writer you are.

For me, growing up and writing stories in my spare time, the “right time” was always whenever I got a new idea that I just had to get down on paper. But that was all just for fun, with not a concern in the world of what might happen to that story in the long run.

Professionally speaking,  the “right time” to start a new project is more likely to be when you’ve finished the old one. If you’re writing for a living and you’ve got agents/editors/publishers to deal with, they may not be overly impressed to find out that you’re playing around with a new project while they’re not-so-patiently waiting for you to hand over the old one that they’re paying you to write.

Then, there’s another way to look at this; that is, if we were to think of the “right time” as the literal “right time” for you – personally – to begin working on a new project. This can bring up all sorts of issues for each individual writer. After all, it might not be the “right time” if you just had a baby and have very little free time to yourself. It might not be the “right time” if your day job has become overtime heavy. It might not be the “right time” for any variety of reasons that keeps you from actually sitting down and writing.

So when is the right time? Is it when your kids are old enough to keep to themselves while you work? Is it when most of your debts are paid off so you don’t have to worry so much about finances? Is it when something drastic happens, like losing your job and having no other way to make ends meet? Is it when you literally have nothing else to worry about? Because if it is, I can go ahead and tell you right now that you will never start that project. You may as well just forget about it now, because it’s never going to happen.

Professionalism aside, the “right time” to start a new project is right now. If you haven’t guessed why yet, right now is the best time to do anything, the only time to do something important to you, because the future is unstable, unreliable, and unknowable. You might think that it would be better to wait for any of a million possible issues or distractions to be out of the picture, but the fact of the matter is that you will never have no issues or distractions. There will always be some financial issue, health problem, family mess, or personal obstacle to deal with. These are the kinds of things that we will never be free of, and convincing yourself otherwise guarantees that you will never accomplish anything you hope to accomplish.

There’s no point in waiting until tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. Start now, or you might never start, and if you never start, there’s no way you can ever finish.