The Addiction

It takes a certain kind of courage to speak to the world the way writers do. Yes, it takes a lot of guts to put yourself down on a blank page, then send that page out into the world. To do it well is a Big Something Else.

Yet everyday hundreds, thousands, millions of human beings do the brave act. And do it unselfishly. Because there is never enough return to pay for the hours a writer needs to create, even the well-paid ones. It may be in their job description to write. But no one, other than a fellow writer, understands the amount of time required to come up with an idea, develop it into something unique, then fill out that skeleton of an idea with meat and blood.

That bestselling novel that just hit number one on the New York Times list may very well have taken twenty years to get right and to make it sing. The author is declared a genius, then asked to do it again. And again. And again. If they don’t produce by a deadline somebody else set, that bestseller is declared a fluke by the high and mighty. Her readers go on to other things.

Writing stories, writing novels, writing itself can be an addictive thing. Most of us who pick up this addiction don’t make it big time. Sure we get a story or an essay or a blog post published every now and then. They are often featured in publications that don’t pay much or not at all. When it happens, we go around strutting our stuff like some rooster in a chicken coop of hens.

Mostly we are battered around by family and friends and community who harp at us to get a life. Go do something productive. The only answer we can give is that we would if we could. Then we’re back to that very thing they call useless. We sit ourselves down day-in and day-out and do the one thing we know that gives us value and brings us pure pleasure.

Along the way we are given a bagful of don’ts. Show, don’t tell. Don’t use passive voice. Don’t begin with the weather. Don’t use run-on sentences. Don’t use -ly adverbs. Never use clichés. Get rid of all the dialogue tags except for “said” and “asked”. Kill your darlings. Write what you know. After a while, we begin to understand that all those don’ts are a line of hooey. After we’ve read a few bestselling, and well-reviewed, writers who break every don’t in the book, we come to understand that the rules can be broken. The important thing is to know the rules, then to have a good reason to kick them in the shins.

By the time we come to realize this, we have developed a bit of a style of our own. That is when we throw the bag away and do what we please as well as we can.

We are a drunken lot, we writers. Drunk on words. When we finish a good day’s writing, it’s like we’re at a bacchanalia. We want to dance and sing and tell someone, anyone, what we have done. To have that feeling once is a wonderful thing. To have it again and again and again, that is a life. And there is no way I am going to give it up. Like my motto says, “A day without writing is still a day without writing.”

Yes, I am an addict. Unapologetically so. I’m addicted to laying down words on an empty page, and I am proud of it. Do I hear an amen?

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