How’s it going between you and your writing?

Jon Chan Simpson’s writing is both whimsy and wit. His novel, Chinkstar, explores culture, race and history culminating in a hilarious, vivid and unforgettable debut.

As this month’s guest contributor, Jon’s undeniably unique voice explores the writer’s relationship with writing with his very own diagnostic quiz.

Take it, read about his own personal experiences with writing and find out where you stand in your relationship with writing. Are you destined for the long haul or should you call it quits?

Quiz: How’s it going between you and your writing?

Every writer’s relationship with writing is different. For some it’s mediocre, for others it’s worse. But all of us can benefit from the occasional check-in with ourselves and our other significant other, where we ask questions like: how did we get here? and when will this end? Take the quiz below to dig a bit deeper into the five categories that make up your personal writing relationship. You may be closer to a career change than you think!

1) Answer the following questions and record your answer on a separate page
2) Scroll to the bottom of the post to the scoring breakdown to calculate your quiz total
3) See what your score says about your writing relationship

Financial Health

1. The best way to get a job in writing is to:

a) Attend numerous readings and launches
b) Own a copy of Creative Suite Classroom in a Book
c) Have some grad school chapbook experience
d) Take any job because it could lead to Editorial
e) Have a friend on the inside—steal their face

2. How close are you to buying a home in the same city as your writing job?

a) Hoping to sublet my cat tree for the weekend
b) Mortgage calculator redirected me to Domino’s coupon finder
c) A bedbug could ruin my life
d) Currently deciding between practical modern reno and cheeky fixer-upper. Details of my struggle in Toronto Life
e) Closer than 96% of the world

3. Imagine you’re a banker. Who gets the loan instead of the writer?

a) First year “pre-med” student
b) Engineer pinky-ring factory
c) New business owner: warm-milk bar at the beach
d) Lawyer who’s sleeping with your mom
e) Golden retriever auditioning for Air Bud reboot

4. What is more important to you than your financial security?

a) Staring at a blank page
b) Waiting for rejection letters
c) Getting Twitter thumb
d) Reading dubiously relevant books
e) Writing dubiously relevant books

5. Which idolized literary figure should appear on the new $1000 bill?

a) Ernest Hemingway
b) Sylvia Plath
c) David Foster Wallace
d) Virginia Wolf
e) Hunter S. Thompson
f) Anthony Bourdain

Mental Health

1. Which do you see? Circle one:

a) A coffee shop— An office
b) A stranger’s puppy — Free therapy
c) A laptop — A philistine typewriter
d) Netflix — Research
e) An advance on your novel — World domination
f) War and Peace on your bookshelf — A lie to yourself and everyone who visits

2. I deal with writer’s block by:

a) Reading some of an old favourite
b) Doing burpees to get my heart rate up
c) Meditating
d) Walking outside and breathing lots of fresh air
e) Playing a little acoustic guitar
f) Cooking a healthy new recipe
g) Fucking none of the above

3.You meet a brain surgeon at a party. “You’re a writer?” the brain surgeon says to you. “That’s so wonderful. I’m thinking of becoming a writer, too, when I retire.” You respond:

a) “Cool story, bro.”
b) “Weird! I’m actually planning to do brain surgery when I retire!”
c) “If that’s the case, I have a story about a bridge to sell you.”
d) “Ridiculousness aside… Has anyone ever told you you put the bottom in ‘lobotomy.’?”
e) “I wish you success — there’s plenty to go around.”
f) “Retire?”

4. You treat writing time like:

a) Nap time
b) Cleaning time
c) YouTube time
d) Sadness time
e) Sacred time

5. Meditation really helps to increase focus.

a) Good for you
b) I just drink coffee
c) I wish I could
d) I know I have to
e) Tried it — didn’t work
f) Screw you, hippie


Physical Health

1. For the sake of my body, I have researched:

a) Ostrich-head nap-anywhere pillows
b) Crank adjustable sit/stand desks on Craigslist
c) Electronically adjustable sit/stand desks on Craigslist
d) Blue light glasses that fit over glasses
e) Mail-order CBD oil in bulk

2. When do you take stretch breaks?

a) Never, because I hate my body
b) Never, because my body hates me
c) Occasionally, when my aimless wandering gets too aimless
d) Right after play-breaks with my imaginary pet
e) Just before realizing I’m an asshole

3. What would you live on for three months straight?

a) Non-natural peanut butter
b) Little cousin’s Ritalin
c) Contempt of your peers
d) Naïveté

4. You are strong enough to:

a) Walk long distances to save on transit
b) Lift your hot friend’s perfect children
c) Shoulder the guilt of dishonouring your family’s sacrifices
d) Explain yourself in front of a mirror

5. Sleep to you is:

a) A thing that happens 3-11 hours a day
b) A cooking-avoidance mechanism
c) A social contact antidote
d) Like kale — need but never get
e) Lost writing time
f) Better than waking up


Social Health

1. Do you have dreams of becoming an adult?

a) Yes — plot of my SF novel
b) Trick question, since there’s a good chance we’re in the Matrix
c) No need. I’ll pull a Salon get sponsored
d) “Define adult.” (Read: no)

2. A group of regular people have been shipwrecked on a desert island. They are happiest when _____ washes ashore:

a) A set of steak knives
b) A large jar of mayo
c) A box of wet toilet paper
d) A half sack of dung good for fertilizer
e) A writer with an unfinished manuscript

3. Where do you find time to write?

a) Between a shit job and crap apartment
b) Before bed but after booze
c) After sadness but before depression
d) Between you and a committed relationship
e) Between childhood and adulthood

4. You have a nine-year-old daughter. You would most like to be able to:

a) Teach her to tend chickens
b) Build her a playhouse
c) Weld her a swingset
d) Save her life after an unexpected anaphylactic reaction
e) Help with her English homework

5. You use social media primarily to:

a) Stock up on jealousy
b) Shamefully self-advertise
c) Shamelessly self-advertise
d) Post photos of your rich, healthy, fulfilling life outside of writing
e) Share pithy questionnaires


Spiritual Health

1. You have spent a lot of time praying, but you’ve spent the most time praying for:

a) A lousy extra day for a deadline
b) Five goddamn minutes of focus
c) A single fucking original idea
d) An end to world hunger

2. The universe cruelly takes writing from you. Your reaction is to:

a) Resign yourself to suffering — it’s worked so far
b) Pluck out thine own eyes
c) Rage-quit life
d) Go outside for once
e) Get a new hobby like a normal person

3. When I look in the mirror, I see:

a) A writer/fraud
b) A writer/sucker
c) A writer/incompetent
d) A writer/borderline narcissist
e) Toothpaste spatter/a lack of home maintenance

4. You believe the path to fulfillment:

a) Lies in the service of others
b) Is about following your dreams
c) Involves doing what you’re good at
d) Involves getting paid
e) All of the above

5. The best attribute a writer can have is:

a) Intelligence
b) Resiliency
c) Passion
d) Empathy
e) Humility
f) Hope, hope, hope

*please see bottom of the post for the scoring breakdown


What your score says about your writing relationship:

Congrats! You’ve been through it all — drained and replenished, drained and replenished — and have come out the other side bitter and exhausted. Yours is as healthy as any vampire–familiar relationship.

You’re teetering on the edge of a career and a “career” in writing. The stress of making the right choices next might threaten to overwhelm you, but don’t let it. Take comfort in the fact that you’ll likely regret whatever you decide.

Under 40
You’re still in the honeymoon phase. Have faith! One day you’ll be as salty as the next writer. Who knows? Maybe even the saltiest!


A note from the author:

To tell the truth, I’m trying to break up with my writing, but am having trouble letting go.

It’s a weird moment that I don’t know what to do with, or who to talk to about. Other writers, I guess? The quiz took you through a few of my thoughts, but there’s one idea, in particular, that’s been frustrating me. I’d like to put it to you, like a Dear Abby kind of thing where you’ll be Abby and I’ll be…Write or Wrong in Toronto.

Also, it might be that you’ve had some of these breakup thoughts yourself. Maybe, like me, your relationship doesn’t have quite the same lustre that it used to. You’ve smiled together and fought and made up, and you’ve suffered together and shit’s real now and here you are, deeper but also just deep. Writers talk to each other about lots of stuff like how we get started, how we stay creative, how we build our career, how we get better, how we get published, even how we get the money to be able to write. So maybe, when the time comes, we should also talk to each other about how we break up with writing.

I’m not trying to be melodramatic, but I am a writer — at this moment, anyway. Everything is everything to me. For now, I won’t try to put this all into perspective, since that would take away my right to feeling this stress and diminish my ability to work through it. I know I chose it. I also know that it chose me. For now, I’d like to pretend with you that this struggle of mine is valid, that though I may whine I’m not just a whiner.

There’s an idea out there about what writing is. At least part of the trouble for me is that I buy it.

My first real writing teacher was equal parts nurturing and terrifying, the perfect respect-commanding cocktail for my developing writer brain. She spent our entire first class explaining over and over how impossible her course was, how much commitment and intensity was going to be involved, and generally making clear to us what a hard-ass she was. She had changed by the time our second and somewhat smaller class came around, almost proudly admitting that her drill sergeant routine was just a way of weeding out the weak. This, of course, put us in the opposite category — we’d survived our initiation and now we, the strong, would go forth and write. But just remember, she said in a final warning, if you can imagine a life without writing, don’t become a writer. I thought: That is so fucking cool.

I was nineteen. Nobody depended on me, and I didn’t need to depend on myself. I had a job, went to school, and was lucky enough to be supported by my parents financially and emotionally. Jumping into that kind of relationship with writing felt meaningful and moral during a time when I saw those things as absolutes that could sustain me just in their pursuit. I could sacrifice sleep and exercise, hobbies and family and money and time, my own health, my person, because that’s where I was and what was being asked of me. I’m thirty-four now, and life has become more complicated, both in my experience and perception of it. I’ve grown and adapted to it, but writing hasn’t. In so many ways it seeks to infantilize me, to keep me fragile and dependent and myopic — it demands everything but supports only one part of who I want to be.

My guess is that I’m not alone in feeling this way, though it seems like it sometimes. With writing, you’re either strong or weak, passionate or pedestrian, a writer or whatever I am now.

When I’m with writing there’s nothing like it. The world makes sense, life’s stresses sublimate into meaning and momentum that’s uniquely ours. This is only one of the many reasons I’ll be sad to say goodbye.

At least to the juvenile form of writing that so many of us have found ourselves shacked up with.

I can’t imagine life without writing, says me at nineteen. I won’t.

Why, I’d ask that guy now, why cultivate such a limited imagination?

Jon Chan Simpson

Jon Chan Simpson writes, does jiu-jitsu, and is considering a new career in physiotherapy. He is a graduate of the MA Creative Writing program at the University of Toronto, and the author of Chinkstar, a novel that explores themes of race, language and self-discovery. He lives with his family in Toronto.


Quiz Key
(Point values associated with each answer)

Financial Health

  1. a – 2; b – 2; c – 2; d – 1; e – 3        2. a – 2; b – 3; c – 2; d – 2; e – 1         3. a – 1; b – 3; c – 2; d – 3; e – 2
  2. a – 1; b – 2; c – 1; d – 2; e – 3        5. a – 2; b – 2; c – 2; d – 2; e – 2        

Mental Health

  1. L=1 or R=2 unless specified; R = 3      2. a – 1; b – 2; c – 1; d – 1; e – 2; f – 2; g – 3
    3. a – 1; b – 2; c – 2; d – 3; e – 1; f – 3     4. a – 2; b – 1; c – 2; d – 3; e – 1          5. a – 2; b – 2; c – 1; d – 1; e – 1; f – 3

Physical Health

  1. a – 3; b – 1; c – 3; d – 2; e – 2        2. a – 1; b – 2; c – 2; d – 3; e – 3         3. a – 1; b – 2; c – 2; d – 3
  2. a – 1; b – 3; c – 2; d – 1;                5. a – 2; b – 2; c – 2; d – 1; e – 1; f – 3

Social Health

  1. a – 2; b – 2; c – 3; d – 1                 2. a – 1; b – 2; c – 1; d – 2; e – 3         3. a – 2; b – 2; c – 3; d – 3; e – 1
  2. a – 2; b – 2; c – 1; d – 1; e – 3        5. a – 1; b – 3; c – 1; d – 3; e – 2

Spiritual Health

  1. a – 1; b – 2; c – 3; d – 1                 2. a – 3; b – 2; c – 2; d – 1; e – 1         3. a – 1; b – 3; c – 1; d – 2; e – 2
  2. a – 1; b – 1; c – 2; d – 3; e – 1        5. a – 1; b – 3; c – 2; d – 1; e – 1; f – 1

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