Cold Turkey, Or Is There a 12 Step Program for Writers?

A review of this blog provides plenty of evidence that I write in fits, stops and starts….and stops again.  A while back. I was in a real writing jag that I’m just now coming down from.  The problem, my problem…is that I need to write.  It is how I prefer to express myself.  If I don’t do it often enough, my balls turn blue until I write again.  Cold showers don’t do a thing to solve my problem.

Historically, I’ve been best as a deadline writer, pushed to the brink by a term paper, report or column that was due – along with a ticking a clock.  Unless there was research to do, I couldn’t sit down and start writing until I absolutely had to in order to get it in on time.  Working with a time cushion just never worked for me.  I simply needed a deadline and the adrenaline rush that came with reaching the finish line with no time to spare.

I’ve tried to understand this, but to little avail.  I discussed this once years ago with my sports editor during a time when I furnished a weekly column and occasional feature for his sports section.  His response was “you need the pressure that comes with a hard deadline, because you are a writer.  A lot of us are like that, but I can’t tell you why.”

I recall the words of a man who used to write theatre reviews for the New York Times and were shared with me by his son.  “Writing is easy,” he said, “you just need to sit down at a keyboard and stare at it until you start sweating.  When the sweat turns to blood, you can start hitting the keys.”

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which are my own satisfaction and sanity, I’ve made the conscious decision to write more.  There are stories to tell and things I simply want or need to say, including taking a stab at writing a screenplay.

 I’m going to get back at it because of some kind encouragement and constructive criticism that has come my way.  Some of the writing in question has been private and some suited for this blog.  The previous entry about the single-wide trailer and double-wide wife is simply one of my favorite stories and entirely true.  The first draft had all the essentials, but I felt it needed some touch-up, which led to a second draft, followed by some word-smithing and another draft and then another until I realized that the story in its earliest form, when it was most simple and concise was the best.  For me, too much re-writing is a little like adding too much seasoning to a stew.

 My interest in writing took its first turn when I was 16 and a friend who had been named the Editor of our San Diego High School newspaper, The Russ, left me little choice by naming me as his Sports Editor, a move that automatically enrolled me in a Journalism class.

Being pretty much of a lousy student, I didn’t pay much attention and never learned how to write headlines, do the layout or even use a typewriter. The night before my stories were due on the absolute latest deadline available, I’d do my writing on lined paper and pass it along late at night to a girl who lived next door.  When it was time to go to school the following morning, she’s pass it back to me neatly typed and ready to go to the printer.  All I could do is write.

After high school, I stumbled through college, from Mesa Community College to Humboldt State and finally San Diego State in much the same manner by finding someone to type my work.  When I went to work for the City of San Diego, I was fortunate to have a secretary who typed the reports and correspondence I was responsible for, and almost always on deadline.

When the moonlighting opportunity to provide weekly outdoor columns and occasional features for the San Diego Evening Tribune came along, it was my wife who typed from my lined pads, and later a clerk at the paper.  It was at about this time that personal computers, aka word processors began to come into existence and I recall dropping my notes off at the sports desk for the clerk.

After watching the exchange, the paper’s baseball writer called me over to his desk.  “You don’t know how to type?  It’s easy, sit down here and start typing a few sentences.”

After a few minutes of hunting and pecking at the keys, I’d typed two sentences that included numerous mistakes.  He showed me how to correct them with a delete key and a few simple keystrokes.  I was amazed, because my past efforts on a typewriter resulted in record use of little bottles of something called “white out,” a chalky liquid that came with a brush for dabbing on typewritten mistakes and typing back over them.

I gave away our typewriter, purchased an Apple IIe and began teaching myself to type.  Several later home computer models followed and in due time I learned to go from my brain to the keys without the need for  pen and paper.  I’m still not very fast on the keyboard, but plenty quick enough to keep up with my brain as the thoughts come to mind.

One of the biggest hurdles I face is that my head is filled with stories from the past as well as contemporary observations that are trying to get out, but face no deadlines.  Sometimes they awaken me in the middle of the night, refusing to let me sleep.

For fear of losing the thoughts –  maybe forever – I yield to the need to go downstairs and begin writing.

I like the fact that I can write.  I like even better that there are those who like what I write and encourage me to do so.  Should I lose the satisfaction I derive from writing and the need that satisfaction brings, I wonder if I will have to quit cold turkey or if there is a 12-step program available to help me.



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