Caveat: True addictions are a serious issue, and I have no desire to make light of addicts or the struggles they and their families face. This topic is purely for the sake of analogy.
The other day, I overheard my father confide to someone that he thinks my mother has a reading addiction. After all, seven books in one month is beyond the realm of reasonable consumption.
Fortunately, I’m pretty certain reading is a non-lethal addiction. If it weren’t, I’d have ODed a long time ago. His comment did get me pondering another topic I’d already been noodling.
Is writing a drug?
No, it’s not. Not according to the obvious definition, anyway. But is it addictive?
Yes, I think so.
I’m no doctor or counselor, but I know some of the basics of addiction. Based on my limited knowledge, let’s look at some of them.
Addictions don’t usually happen overnight.
A strong addiction requires repeated exposure to the substance or behavior in order to take hold. This may take a few days to several months, depending on the individual, but most don’t develop addictions after trying something only once. They simply like it enough to try it again…and again…until they’re hooked.
You don’t become a serious writer overnight. You have to try it, like it, and try it some more until it gets under your skin.
When you’re addicted to something, you can’t get enough.
An addiction demands increasing doses for a diminishing return. The less you do, the weaker the hold the activity has over you. The more you do, the more you want.
I can’t speak for other writers, but this is how it is for me: the longer I let my writing sit unvisited, the less desire I have to pick it up again. The more I write, the more I want to write. The more I write, the more it consumes my thoughts, firing my brain with ideas until I have to sit down and put them to words.
Decreased use can lead to a life without the addictive behavior, but you always have to be careful.
You can cut an addiction from your life through rehabilitation or new learned behaviors. At the same time, you need to be careful about exposing yourself to the behavior in the future, or you’ll probably fall into the same patterns again.
As I said, the less I write, the less I want to write. It doesn’t take all that long before I’m almost comfortable not writing at all. Almost. As with all true addictions, it only takes a taste to stir the old passions and fire up those receptors. A true writing addict never “used to be a writer.” At best, you may be a “writer in recovery.”
Sure, my analogy has its limitations. True addictions are destructive to addicts’ lives on mental, physical, emotional and relational levels. With the exceptions of writers like Poe and Hemingway, most writers I know about are pretty balanced…except for that niggling little desire to pick up a pen or pluck at a keyboard. Few writers let their craft destroy their families, their social lives or their non-writing careers.
Here’s my point, though. Unlike most behaviors, writing is something to which it actually helps to be a little addicted. The road to publication is tough, it’s lonely and it’s often unrewarding. If you don’t have an inner drive, a desire for the art for its own sake, it can be easy to give up. I for one, could stand a little more addiction to my writing (and a little less addiction to sugar and chocolate, but that’s a separate topic). Anyone else feel like forming an addiction?