Good evening everyone, I hope you’ve all had a great day and I don’t spoil it by boring you with my problems. I was told you were a friendly bunch who would fully understand where I am now, parts of how I got here, and maybe even help me help myself move on, if that’s at all possible. I’m guessing some of you have been in a similar position. Maybe that’s why you’re here now. Maybe I’m in the wrong place and beyond help. I suppose I’d better introduce myself before I go any further. My name is Pesky. I’m an addict.
My latest relapse started out as a bit of fun, something to pass the time during the long, lonely winter nights, a form of companionship where no-one could get hurt. No emotional attachment, just some harmless, casual enjoyment, nothing too heavy. I’d picked up the name and web address of the joint from a friend. Well, it was more a friend of friend to be honest. But you know what these online places are like. I’m sure you’ve all had similar relationships at one point, although if that’s a tad presumptuous I apologise. What do I know?
I wandered along for a look, stayed in the background, minded my own business. No-one knew I was even there. Where’s the harm I thought? What’s the worst thing that can happen? It’s only words on a screen.
After a few nights in the shadows a familiar urge started growing inside me. My palms became sweaty and adrenalin pumped with the weight of expectation associated with any addiction. I tossed and turned all night, thinking about people that, until only a few days before, I’d never even heard of. I started to get ideas.
My real reading list suffered. Cheever arrived by post and sat untouched at the foot of the front door. Hemingway looked up at me from the lounge coffee table as though I’d walked out on him without buying a round. In the bedroom Carver turned his back on me like an ex-wife because I'd jilted him. But time was scarce with no room for sentiment. All the signs were there but, as if to reassure myself like all relapsing addicts, I promised it would be different this time.
Within a week I applied for membership of the club. During those few days, waiting to find out if I’d been accepted, I attempted to keep myself busy by cutting the grass, painting the fence and getting out on my bike as often as possible. I tried thinking it was probably for the best if I didn’t get in, after what happened last time. However, I couldn’t stop checking emails every hour. The suspense was killing me. Cold sweat ran down my back, reminding me of previous battles with dependency, but also providing enough of a kick to keep me craving more.
Once accepted into the club I soon settled in, keeping my head low and opinions to myself. There didn’t appear to be any kind of dress code and the entertainment on offer covered a wide spectrum. To be on the safe side I stuck to what I knew at first. But the quality of product blew me away so much I experimented with different forms and found myself reading poetry into the early hours. At times I withdrew into my thoughts, fighting images of drowning children, or broken homes filled with spectres of the past, and wept a mixture of sadness and elation at how mankind can both revolt and redeem.
Eventually, I could hold off no longer and put a few sentences of my own together, but deleted them before anyone entered the room. I knew if my career-ladder wife saw them I’d be out on my ear. She’d warned me after the last time to grow up and get a real job. But I couldn’t sleep that night, so got out of bed around two-thirty in the morning, opened her laptop as quietly as possible and began typing. At first only adrenalin kept the words coming. I had no idea where I was going and when I stopped after ten minutes to read over what I’d written none of it made any sense. Two hours later I looked at the word count of two thousand four hundred and thirty three and wondered where on earth they all came from.
I gave my piece a once-over, deleted the first half-a-dozen sentences, cut and pasted a few paragraphs, trimmed the abundance of adjectives and adverbs sticking out like weeds, and added a few killer details here and there. Over the next hour I re-read the piece, making many more cuts and re-writing better sentences where necessary.
With the sun rising I knew I had to get rid of the evidence before my wife got up for work and needed her laptop. My plan was to save it onto a memory stick and delete it from the hard drive. That would allow me to take it to the library where I could continue to develop it at a more leisurely pace and without fear of being caught. But as I read through it one more time, making changes here and there, the living room door flew open and my wife barged in. I thought of telling her I’d been up all night looking at porn but knew she wouldn’t buy that. The look on her face told its own story. I packed my bags.
With a friend willing to put me up while I sorted myself out I’d found somewhere to hide away from reality. Before long I was writing non-stop. I started with short pieces that captured my feelings of the day, usually dark and miserable, but also occasionally dabbled in some humorous poems for a quick fix and vain effort to lighten the mood. Rhymes came easy but never fully satisfied my needs; like giving a heroin addict just a couple of Valiums to get through the day. I needed to be wrapped up in plot, character, point of view, worrying about the right mix of dialogue, narration and description, or wondering whether the theme was too ambiguous or too obvious.
Of course, the inevitable happened. I began to get an urge to share my work. At first I tried showing a couple of what I considered close friends, but they didn’t want to know, saying it wasn’t really their scene. I started leaving pages lying around when visiting others, hoping someone would be tempted, but no-one took the bait. I couldn’t really blame them for not getting involved. They’d seen what had happened to me when I started to dabble in a bit of light reading and didn’t want to go down the same road. There was only one thing for it. I borrowed my friend’s laptop and headed back online.
Not wanting to put potential readers off, I chose a fairly short piece to begin with. I knew I was among fellow users but wasn’t sure of their level of addiction or what particular genres each preferred. My finger hovered over that Publish Work button for almost an hour. I kept changing a word here, adding a comma there, reading and re-reading the piece over and over. Beads of sweat dropped onto the keyboard as my pulse raced with that old familiar rush of expectation. I took a deep breath and pushed the button like a smack head spiking their vein.
With the deed done I closed my friend’s laptop and made a cup of tea to calm myself down before heading to bed. The story was out of my hands now but that didn’t stop the worrying, it just took it to another level. What would people think of my work? Would they think I’m mad? Am I mad? Maybe my writing doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Maybe I should remove it before anyone sees it. I tried going to sleep, watching TV, listening to Radio 4, playing video games and reading an old Roy of the Rovers Annual. Nothing helped. All I could think about was whether I’d managed to capture the right tone, and if the ending worked or not.
Once my friend left for work in the morning I returned to the site to remove the piece for further editing. I logged in and headed straight for the relevant section. When I got there my heart stopped and I almost fell off my seat. Not only were there three positive reviews, but the piece had also been highlighted as a Recommended Read by the editors. I stared at the screen, sipping the praise from fellow authors like an 18 year old Glenfiddich.
‘Yes, very funny,’ said one.
‘I was there,’ said another.
‘This is such a unique voice,’ added the third.
Being recommended felt like winning The Booker, Pulitzer and Oscar all in one night. I had surely arrived. Fame and fortune beckoned. I started dreaming of my acceptance speech and what to wear at the award ceremony. Would jeans, trainers and a hoodie be suitable? I remembered Asda were doing suits for less than thirty quid.
I fell into my own little world reading those reviews over and over until my friend arrived home from a hard day’s physical work. On hearing my exciting news he just shrugged his shoulders and screwed his face up. After building a joint he said he didn’t want my type hanging around, trying to influence him with all this talk of words, stories and books. If that was the path I’d decided to choose then I would have to leave, preferably as soon as possible, and I wasn’t to touch his laptop again. I packed my bags.
And that is why I find myself here tonight at this Writers Anonymous meeting. I’ve been living rough now for two weeks, struggling to survive without fresh paper or internet access. I know I have to sort myself out before it’s too late, but I can’t do it, not now. I’ve some great ideas brewing. It sounds crazy, but like I said earlier, I hoped a few of you would understand and maybe even offer some advice, help or support. You see, even though I know it will probably kill me, I’ve started dreaming about working on a novel.
Anyway, thank you for listening to my story. It may be too late for me. But if at least one life can be saved, by hearing about the dangers of dabbling in creative writing, then it will have been worth the pain of reliving past events tonight. Like many others I thought I could handle it, but like many others I was wrong. Once its claws have a hold there’s no escape. It takes over. I’ve lost family and friends, and for what, an occasional affair with the muse. Even now, as I spill my heart out to a bunch of strangers, I’ve been taking mental notes on how to best portray this meeting in a short story. If only I could get hold of some nice, clean, pristine paper, I know this next story will be the big one. I can feel it.