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  • Writer's pictureChristopher McHale


Check yourself before you sign up to become a writer.

I knew I was a writer in first grade. They published a story of mine. They printed it in the parish newsletter. I liked seeing my name. I lined the title. "How I Saved Jesus." Maybe my best title ever

Writing was never a choice. It was an addiction. A blank page was an opportunity. I could get lost. I could suspend time.

I come from a family of writers. And readers. Everybody in my family read. I’d stay up all night reading. I closed the book at dawn. I lived to read.

We had foreign correspondents visiting us all the time. I was raised in London. The journalists would set up their old school typewriters on the dining room table and write. Rapid fire. A million words an hour. My mother loved the sound. “Listen,” she’d say. “They’re writing stories of what they see. They see stories everywhere.” She’d squeeze my hand as we stood in the corridor outside the dining room. Rat-ta-tat-tat. A million words an hour.

My uncle wrote for Time Magazine. He was killed in a political assassination. He was interviewing an Italian politician. When the interview was over he was offered a ride back to Rome in a private jet. He took the offer. It would get him home quicker. And who doesn’t want a ride in a private jet. Somebody put a bomb on the plane. The plane blew up near Milan and crashed.

We have a passion for writing in my family. I love a deadline. I love using a fountain pen. Ink stained fingers are a sign I’m working. I love notebooks. I’ve got hundreds on a bookshelf. They’re filled with notes, and stray sentences, and poems, and lyrics, and memories, heartbreak, things I’ve seen, places I’ve been, people I’ve lost.

Writing was never a choice. It was an addiction. A blank page was an opportunity. I could get lost. I could suspend time.

I have lists of words. Action words. Adjectives. Names. Foods. Foreign words. Odd words. Unusual words. Cool words. Nerd words.

I keep a commonplace book. Do you know what a commonplace book is? You write down all the great bits of writing you come across. In magazine or a novel, any insight a turn of phrase that catches you eye. Maybe a movie quote or something somebody says on TV.

I love grammar even though I suck at it. I love the rules. And I break them with abandon. I write by ear. That’s it.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I never run dry. All it takes to get me going is to read a paragraph or two of great writing and I’m off. I love Murakami. I love Frazen. I love Faulkner. I love Joyce.

I live to write and write to live and if you’re a writer you know what I mean. If you’re a writer you get what I’m writing here. If you’re a writer you have your own lists of words, shelves of notebooks, books you’ve read. You’ve never doubted you’re a writer. You’ve always known you’re a writer. You have no choice but to write. You never start because you never finish, and you never finish because one piece of writing flows into another, endless reams of words.

And if you’re not like this, if this makes no sense, then you should never be a writer. Don’t even start.


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