Diagnosing a REAL Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome?

Diagnosing a Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome, are you a real writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, humor, satire, Sean Penn's book, Sean Penn as an author, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, the writing life

Being a writer is the best job in the world, aside from those fortunate enough to be paid to pet kittens or sample new ice cream flavors. But is writing a REAL job? This question has set fire to the entire psychiatric community. Okay, most of them…the ones in my head *turns off fire alarms*.

Many in our modern culture don’t believe writing qualifies as a legitimate occupation. An unusual percentage of ‘average’ citizens firmly maintain that being a writer is NOT a real job. These same individuals, however, collectively spend billions of dollars and most of their free time enjoying entertainment (created by writers).

Cleaning Teeth= ‘Real’ Job

Writing= Goofing Off

Thus far, those interviewed have yet to note the irony of their assertions (or looked up definition of irony). Since being a writer is not a ‘real job,’ then this leads us to the next most reasonable conclusion. Writing, in truth, may be a mental condition. I have written about the 13 Ways Writers Are Mistaken for Serial Killers.

So there IS that…

What IS Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome (T.I.S.)?

Diagnosing a Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome, are you a real writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, humor, satire, Sean Penn's book, Sean Penn as an author, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, the writing life

Tis’ a hard diagnosis for certain. Alas, Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome is a compulsive need to tell stories. We call those afflicted a ‘writer’ namely because ‘writer’ is shorter than ‘Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome.’ Also, those who used T.I.S. found others believed they were about to quote something from Shakespeare.

This only created even more confusion.

Writers (those afflicted with T.I.S.) frequently report ‘being born’ to tell tales. There is no clear indication if T.I.S. is congenital. Is it nature or nurture or both? Is it contagious?

No matter one’s preconceived notions, facts are facts. Background information reveals a symptomatology too eerily similar to be discounted.

Children/Young Adults exhibiting T.I.S.:

  • Preferred reading books, writing stories or drawing dragons 74% more than sports;
  • Were 89.3% more inclined to request ‘extra credit’ assignments;
  • Had a 300% greater likelihood of being found in school library when compared to non T.I.S. peers;
  • Displayed a 92.4% chance of ‘royally sucking’ at Dodgeball (data is inconclusive about skill level or simple desire to be ‘OUT’ so as to return to reading Goosebumps);
  • Demonstrated early addictive behaviors with office supplies. Parents who suspect their child might have T.I.S. should look for noticeable pupil dilation when shopping for school supplies;
  • Have 5000% greater chance of making up utter BS statistics that appear highly convincing.

Diagnosing if One is a Writer

Diagnosing a Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome, are you a real writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, humor, satire, Sean Penn's book, Sean Penn as an author, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, the writing life

I won’t mince words here. Writer diagnosis is particularly challenging. Those who might actually BE writers can become rather tetchy at mere mention of the subject. A primary symptom of T.I.S. is that writers angst over what makes them ‘real.’ Few occupations struggle with such existential questions to this large a degree.

Am I a real cashier? I have a smock, a name badge and access to the registers, but am I merely a poseur?

Sure I graduated medical school, but does that make me a real doctor?

Everyone believes I fix cars, but I know I’m a fraud…even though I really do fix cars. Lots of them, actually.

Once the subject is at least willing to entertain the notion he or she may have T.I.S. then further diagnostic questions can assist in a proper assessment and more accurate diagnosis.

Sample Diagnostic Checklist 

Writers frequently:

  • Experience wild mood swings (A.K.A. ‘Revision Syndrome’);
  • Display visible signs of distress, pain, and at times, explosive violence when shown sentences such as, ‘Your an amazing person,’ ‘Their are no more donuts in the brake room,’ and ‘There here to orientate the new hires, or so he lead us to believe’;
  • Exhibit significant cognitive-tactile impairment when texting (refusal to employ ‘ur’, ‘IDK, ‘BRB’ or even the seemingly innocuous ‘lol’);
  • Insist on using full sentences and proper punctuation, which leads to withdrawal from interacting with text messages and eventual social isolation;
  • Can become agitated with certain trigger words such as bae, turnt or fleek;
  • See nothing wrong with discussing rates of body decomposition, history of guillotines, The Black Death, or bot flies at social functions involving food;
  • Are known to choose mates based off vocabulary, intellect, appreciation for Monty Python, and ability to operate, repair, and set up laser printers (leading to an abnormally high ratio of writers choosing engineer ‘types’ as partners).
  • The final test is only to be used by a trained imaginary diagnostician. Read excerpts from actor Sean Penn’s new ‘novel’ Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff aloud, then time how long subject lasts until he or she a) begins weeping b) curls into fetal position or c) begins bleeding from ears.

Word of Caution

Diagnosing a Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome, are you a real writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, humor, satire, Sean Penn's book, Sean Penn as an author, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, the writing life

This last diagnostic should be used with extreme care and medical staff on hand to ensure subject’s safety. A trained medical team can also ensure the person reading the excerpt’s safety. All medical personnel are strongly advised to wear ear plugs.

Alas this ONE sentence (seriously it IS only ONE sentence) can be remarkably helpful with diagnosis:

Whenever he felt these collisions of incubus and succubus, he punched his way out of the proletariat with the purposeful inputting of covert codes, thereby drawing distraction through Scottsdale deployments, dodging the ambush of innocents astray, avoiding the viscount vogue of Viagratic assaults on virtual vaginas, or worse, falling passively into prosaic pastimes. ~ Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff Page 36

If the subject understands this ‘sentence’ and doesn’t immediately exhibit signs of physical pain, the subject is probably not a writer. Rather the subject is most likely an actor who mistakenly believes he/she can write. Best recommendation is to gently guide subject back to the theater people who can properly care for the patient from there.

The Impact of T.I.S.

Diagnosing a Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome, are you a real writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, humor, satire, Sean Penn's book, Sean Penn as an author, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, the writing life

Those afflicted with T.I.S. cannot help but make up stories and believe they have no choice but to write. The DSM-V is due for updating. T.I.S. might qualify as a dysmorphia, since those with T.I.S. require a keyboard, pen, Crayon or some writing implement to ‘feel’ whole.

All evidence indicates writers must write to maintain reasonable emotional and psychological stability.

***Note: Parameters for ‘reasonable’ WAY broader for actual writers.

Writing, thus far, is one of the best ways to ameliorate the negative symptoms of T.I.S. Regular interaction with the ‘voices in their heads’ has a calming effect similar to the smell of pencil shavings and new paper.

For those afflicted with ‘Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome’ (storytelling) the condition can be challenging not only for those born with T.I.S., but for those who ‘associate’ with the writer. Obviously when a person is diagnosed as a ‘writer’ others, including family, cannot help but be impacted as well.

Parents might blame themselves for encouraging their children to read, being too permissive with time at the bookstores or library. Why didn’t they encourage accounting games instead?

Writer spouses/partners might find sometimes (usually during edits) they’ll have to…cook for themselves. I know! It’s harsh, but to be expected. Also, children might have to make their own cereal and find matching socks while unsupervised.

I’ll stop there.

Writers & Impact of T.I.S. on Friends

The study of T.I.S. on friends has been uniquely challenging. Writer ‘friends’ usually are ‘people’ writers make up in their heads, because, and I quote: ‘Normal people are boring.’

Additionally, (since on the topic of writer ‘friends’) after repeated unsuccessful attempts, we’ve concluded houseplants and pets are almost impossible to effectively interview.

Houseplants scored slightly higher than cats.

Embrace Being a Writer

For those of you out there who know you are a writer, that you do have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome, it’s okay. You are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

***Unless you’re a pretentious actor who believes he/she is a writer. Then? Be very ashamed and go back to acting.

We need to celebrate T.I.S. despite criticism. The world NEEDS writers. Without writers, we would have no books, movies, articles, research papers, or television shows. It takes a WRITER to succinctly craft warning labels spelling out of the dangers of EATING TIDE PODS.

Diagnosing a Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome, are you a real writer, what makes a real writer, Kristen Lamb, humor, satire, Sean Penn's book, Sean Penn as an author, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, the writing life

It took a WRITER to warn the public that the electric meat thermometer was not intended for rectal use on humans. For those still alive who do NOT have a turkey thermometer lodged in their bum? Go bless a writer.

*moment of silence*

Only a writer can lie well enough to claim cheap deodorant has the power to make anyone sexy.

Seriously, just go Axe them 😉 .

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you suffer from T.I.S.? You are not alone. Do you find it impossible to text message because it takes so long? Do you experience anger when auto-correct tells your friend you ‘don’t have any ducks’ left to give? It’s okay. We get you.

What are some symptoms you experience that might be added to this ‘totes legit’ diagnostic test?

I think Sean Penn is an incredibly talented actor. He’s also remarkably brave for calling himself a writer. Don’t know about you, but I’ll never see alliteration in quite the same way.

Cheers! *raises glass*

For more inappropriate laughs—fine, a totally gallows humor but fast-paced mystery suspense—I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

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I love hearing from you!

And am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of April, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

March’s winner will be announced next post.



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  1. I’m still laughing. That is so me. I can’t not write. I couldn’t give up writing my novels if I had to. I told my kids that when I die, they’ll have to pry my fingers off my keyboard. Even when I am too sick and have brain fog, I don’t give up. I just have to fix what I wrote during that time. I’m doing that now with a novel I wrote in November and December. I will fix it.

  2. OMG, I’m snorting my tea, I’m laughing so hard. Love this! Especially the part about a “writer’s” friends and how “Normal people are boring”. Thanks for always enlightening… and occasionally making tea come out my nose!

  3. I love alliteration but wow, one sentence alone makes me want to smack Penn with a real book. Like maybe a dictionary.

    1. One of my large accounting textbooks from college would do.

  4. I loved this. Yes, I have T.I.S.
    I didn’t know Sean Penn had written anything!

  5. This is AWESOME!! Yes, I, too, have T.I.S. Thank you for identifying this condition and giving me hope that I, too, can learn to cope with it and dare I say, perhaps even turn it into something positive for my life?

  6. Thank you for this!! This is awesome!! I’ve never heard such an accurate depiction of writing in my life. I laughed so hard, yet, I cried a little because this is SO true! I’ve shared it on my blog and will share it with all my writing friends!

  7. Thank you! Thank you! Hilarious – true – scary. And I watched Penn with Colbert, and the interaction called an ‘interview’ where the ‘novel’ was ‘discussed’. gack!

    I love the TIS tests — and though I wasn’t born to tell tales, my best friend swears she is reincarnated from a troubadour, does that count?

    Keep on keeping on, Kristen, as Mr Natural used to say…

  8. I laughed so hard. Thank you. I can relate to much of what you wrote. I guess I didn’t get the Penn’s sentence because though I write mostly in English, it’s not my native language. That said I’ve just returned to writing after 6 months – having a baby really made it tough for me to write or read. I have missed it, and blame the inability to write for my overlong and depressing baby blues. Love my baby to bits but need to write stories otherwise they won’t leave me alone.

  9. My name is Bette, and I have TIS. And I don’t even write fiction; I research and write about health. TIS is, apparently, neutral as to fact, fiction, genre or other considerations. And it got me.

    Thanks for all the laughs, but especially for explaining why all the drawers in my house are filled with pencils and pens–even though I write on a computer.

    I was recently offered money to write for a blog. I was interested until the owner of the blog said he would, of course, add his comments so readers would get a full picture; I would have no input on his part of the post. Well, he doesn’t have TIS, never heard of TIS, never even got close to TIS. How could I do that to my darlings? I declined with sorrow, and probably avoided much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

  10. “Demonstrated early addictive behaviors with office supplies.” Kept an envelope of blank slips of paper in her bedroom as a child, just because? Oh, yes.
    I wrote a post recently about the six sorts of stationery you need for starting to write a book, and mmmm… stationery. I almost want to go and write the post all over again, just for the sheer enjoyment of it. *drools*

  11. I’m almost positive that my results are… positive. However, could you tell me what it means if I barely understood the excerpt from ‘Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff’?

  12. I have a terminal case of T.I.S. What a way to go!

    1. There are worse ways. If you don’t believe me, go visit the Primitive Entertainment Workshop.

    • Dominique Blessing on April 4, 2018 at 12:41 am
    • Reply

    Hilarious, as usual, and on point. I’m still suffering from withdrawal 15 years after my favorite mechanical pencil was discontinued.

  13. As both an RN and a writer I am grateful for the diagnosis. What I worry about is the masses that see our condition as a plague and seek to eradicate us in an act of horrendous eugenics that may bring an end to all that is creative expression by written word. Those of us affected by such a condition must certainly band together lest we fall to their unimaginative assault and leave this world a black hole of sadness and “technical writing”. I pray your article will bring others to the realization of their power as a writer.
    But in all seriousness, great article.

  14. Hahahahahaha! Hilariously brilliant, Kristen!

  15. Oh no! I think I might have TIS.

    How will I ever tell my friends and family…oh wait. They probably already suspect. I must have brought shame upon them.

    [I’m scared to admit this, but I actually found a way to make one of your painful sentences hurt MORE.

    ‘There HEAR to orientate the new hires, or so he lead us TWO believe’; ]

    1. STOP! I BURNS!

    • Suzanne Lucero (@S_Lucero) on April 4, 2018 at 12:56 pm
    • Reply

    I think I need to go through my thesaurus (you bet I have one, and a dictionary, too) in order to find a superlative for this post that hasn’t been used yet. Funny and on point, with a brilliant diagnostic test that Thanks.

  16. Yes, I envision an unpleasant encounter with the Cupertino police in the near future. For the first time ever, I own a smartphone. I hasten to point out that my possession of such a horrid contraption comes at the behest of my new employer. At any rate, I will soon have to storm onto the Apple campus, shake my fist in the air and yell, “Why doest thou make me backspace to punctuate my sentences? You asshats you.” Clicking cuffs will ensue and the world will carry on towards madness. A word processor that makes you backspace to add a period to a sentence. God help us.

  17. I just read this for the second time and am still laughing and relating to this post! Thank you for educating the non-tis public and validating those of us who ‘suffer’ from this ‘disease’. Very funny and true.

    • Autumn Shah on April 9, 2018 at 6:48 am
    • Reply

    YES–love it!

  18. I remember at school I hated all sports and much preferred to sit reading in the library. I also spent most of my childhood making up stories and even to this day cannot pass a stationery shop without looking inside!

  19. Loved it. Great humor and so true.

  20. Again with the “omg, Kristen has it right”. I have T.I.S. But I do think it’s genetically passed, I have a granddaughter with it. Every symptom you have there applies to her and she’s only 16.

    Well done! Love this.

  1. […] Am I a Real Writer? Yup, this question is still asked by many writers who may feel they don’t quite measure up, or that their writing is seen as a hobby, or maybe they won’t consider themselves a Real Writer until their book is published. If you’ve ever struggled with this, go ye and read Kristen Lamb’s post Diagnosing a REAL Writer: Do You Have Terminological Inexactitude Syndrome? […]

  2. […] ***Word on the street is the NSA is contemplating either revoking Sean Penn’s permission to own a thesaurus OR they want to weaponize his writing. […]

  3. […] ***Word on the street is the NSA is contemplating either revoking Sean Penn’s permission to own a thesaurus OR they want to weaponize his writing. […]

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