Novels are like cigarettes: it’s not easy to quit

When I wrote Giving Yourself Permission to Quit, I resolved to stop working on my follow-up novel to my “Florida Folk Magic Series” because the plot was giving me too much grief and I was seriously sick and tired of researching more than I wanted to know about the KKK. I resolved to stop smoking many times (yes, I finally did quit) but failed more often than now. Some said it was harder to get off cigarettes than heroin. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Safer than writing?

I’m rationalizing that I haven’t failed because, although I’m still working on that novel, I’m not inhaling. That means I’m doing more research and tinkering with notes about characters and thinking about how to untangle the story. But I’m not really doing any writing. This rationale never worked with real cigarettes, so I expect my resolve about this book is probably in the toilet.

The novel’s working title is “Dark Arrows, Darker Targets,” but that’s just speculation because I’m not really writing it even though my muse and other dark forces are telling me I really need to do it. When I lived in northern Illinois and my house and car were snowed in, I once walked several blocks to buy cigarettes because I was out of them. That took grit, I want you to know.

Quite possibly, writing this novel will take the same kind of insane grit. Please, I don’t want either applause or pity, especially from non-smokers out there who don’t know what it’s like. Smoking, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is an addiction that never really goes away. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in 25 years or so, but I’m still addicted. Like AA and drinking, one cannot smoke a Marlboro every once in a while and be in the clear.

The same must be true of writing. Like any sane person, I’ve tried to quit numerous times, but telling stories is worse than being hooked on heroin. Think about that when you sit down at your PC and think “what could it hurt?” and type the words once upon a time.

Yes, it will be a joyful experience for a while. But then, before you know it, you’ll be writing more and more and you’ll be choosing darker and darker subjects. At this point, you’re pretty much toast and you need to go to a meeting and say, “My name is ____________ and I’m a writer.”

Seriously, must of us who aren’t smart enough to go to that meeting write what we write because the stories are important to us whether they find readers or not. I have no idea why this is so. Years ago, when I worked at a developmental disabilities center and was rising up through the ranks until I became a unit manager, one of the directors asked about my goals. I said that I thought that after working there for a number of years, I would ultimately become a patient. They didn’t like that.

So, when I speak of the mental problems surrounding writers, I know how innocently is starts and that even if you begin by shooting aspiring writers while they’re still happy (as Dorothy Parker suggested), you’ll ultimately choose the dark side and become a writer yourself. There’s no exit.

And yet, when this book I’m not writing is complete, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. “Smokin’!!!!! Now the story’s all said and done,” I’ll be thinking when the first copies of the book arrive in the mail. After that, my muse will suggest a new book and I’ll be back to the daily grind after pretending for a while that I’m strong enough to quit.

If you’re a writer, are you trying to quit? No kidding, a pack of Marlboros might start you off on a safer addiction.

Malcolm