Good evening everyone, I hope I don’t bore you too much with my problems. I was told you were a warm bunch who would fully understand where I am now and maybe even help me help myself move on, if that’s at all possible. Maybe some of you have been there. Maybe that’s why you’re here now. Maybe I’m in the wrong place and beyond help. There’s only one way to find out so I suppose I’d better introduce myself before I go any further. My name is Mr P, but you can call me Old…and I’m an addict.
It 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. There would be no emotional attachment, just a bit of casual enjoyment. Nothing too heavy. I’d picked up the name of the joint from a friend. Well, it was more a friend of friend to be honest. But you know what these places are like. I’m sure you’ve all had similar relationships, but maybe not. What do I know?
Anyway, I just thought I’d wander along and have a little look without getting too involved. I’d sit in the background and mind my own business. No-one had to know I was even there. Where’s the harm in that I thought? What’s the worst thing that can happen?
After only a few nights I could feel an old familiar urge growing inside me. My palms were sweaty and the adrenalin pumped through me with the weight of expectation associated with any addiction. I found myself tossing and turning at night, thinking about people that until only a few days before I’d never even heard of.
My reading list also suffered as a result. Cheever arrived by post and sat untouched. Hemingway looked up at me as though I’d walked out on him without buying a round. Carver turned his back on me like an ex-wife. I continued to order books from Amazon but more out of habit than any real desire. But what the hell I thought; it was only time that was scarce and now that I’d decided to start dabbling again I knew there wasn’t much room for outsiders. And then, even though all the signs were there, and as if to reassure myself like all relapsing addicts, I promised it would be different this time.
Within a week I’d applied for membership of the club. During those few days, while I waited to find out if I’d been accepted, I tried to keep myself busy by cutting the grass, painting the fence and getting out on my bike as often as possible. I even tried telling myself it’s probably for the best if I don’t get in; you know what happened the last time, it’s not too late to walk away. Although I tried not to I couldn’t stop myself from checking emails every hour. But the suspense of it all, which was causing a cold sweat to climb up my back whenever I thought of what I was getting myself into, also provided enough of a kick to keep me coming back for more.
Once accepted into the club I soon settled in, keeping my head low and my thoughts 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, or at least to what I thought I knew. But the quality of product blew me away. At times I had to withdraw into myself, fighting the images of drowning children and broken homes filled with spectres of the past, and weep with a mixture of sadness and elation at the way mankind can both treat and redeem.
Tentatively, I put a few sentences of my own together, but deleted them before anyone entered the room. I knew if my wife saw them I’d be out on my ear without a chance to pack. She’d warned me after the last time. But I couldn’t sleep that night, so I got out of bed around two-thirty in the morning and opened the laptop as quietly as possible and began typing. At first it was just adrenalin that kept the words coming. I had no idea what I was doing and even when I stopped 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, cut out the first few paragraphs, cut and pasted another couple of paragraphs, deleted half a page and added a few details here and there. Over the next hour I re-read the piece, making many cuts and re-writing 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 and 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 looking at porn but knew she wouldn’t buy that. The look on her face told its own story.
I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones. With a network of close friends willing to put me up while I sorted myself out it didn’t take me long to find somewhere to hide away from reality. Before long I was writing every day. I started mostly with short pieces that captured my feelings of the day, 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 valium to get through the day. I needed to be wrapped up in plot, character and point of view, worrying about the right mix of dialogue, narration and description, or wondering whether the theme was clear enough or too obvious.
Of course, the inevitable happened and I began to get an urge to share my work. At first I tried out a couple of close friends but they didn’t want to know, saying it wasn’t really their scene. I started leaving pages lying around hoping someone would be tempted but no-one took the bait. To be honest, I didn’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, and that cycle I’d tried to persuade myself I wanted to avoid was complete.
Normal people, who have never experienced the highs of crack cocaine or heroin, shake their heads when they hear users talk about the euphoria of that first ever hit, and how they spend their lives chasing that joyous feeling but never quite getting there. Over the centuries fortunes and lives have been lost in that futile quest for the holy grail of hits. They should’ve joined a creative writing site.
Not wanting to put potential readers off, I chose a fairly short piece to begin with. Even though I knew I was among fellow users I wasn’t sure of their level of addiction or what particular genres they preferred. My finger hovered over that Publish Work button for ten minutes as I kept changing a word here, adding a comma there and reading and re-reading the piece over and over. Beads of sweat dropped onto the keyboard and my pulse raced with that old familiar rush of expectation. Eventually, I took a deep breath and pushed the button.
With the deed done I closed my friend’s laptop and tried to make a cup of tea to calm myself down. It 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 lying down, watching TV, listening to Radio 4, playing video games and going for a run. Nothing worked. All I could think about was whether I’d managed to capture the right tone I was aiming for, and if the ending worked or not.
After a couple of hours I decided to return to the site and 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 was there two positive reviews, but the piece had also been cherry-picked by the editors. I stared at the screen for over a minute. To me this was the equivalent of winning The Booker Prize, The Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar all in one night. I had arrived. Fame and fortune beckoned. I began work on my acceptance speech and wondered what to wear to the ceremony.
I read those reviews over and over until my friend arrived home from a hard day’s work. On hearing my exciting news he just shrugged his shoulders and said if that was the path I’d decided to choose then I would have to leave, preferably as soon as possible. He built a joint and said he didn’t want my type hanging around, trying to influence him with talk of stories and books.
And that is why I find myself at this support group meeting tonight. I’ve been living rough now for two weeks and struggling to survive without internet access. I know I have to sort myself out before it’s too late. I’ve already started to think about starting on a novel, even though I know it will probably kill me.
Anyway, thank you for listening to my story. It may be too late for me but I hope that maybe at least one life can be saved by hearing about the dangers of dabbling in creative writing. Like many others I thought I could handle it, but like many others I was wrong. Once it gets its claws into you there’s no escape. Even now, as I spill my heart out to what is in effect a bunch of strangers, I’ve been taking notes on how to best portray this meeting in a short story.