I mean yes, you can give it up any time you like …
Hi, I’m Julia, and I’m a Writerholic. It has been zero minutes since I put down my last word.
Why do I tell you this? Because I’m not just a user, but a dealer and a pusher as well. I will stop at nothing until you too are mainlining words.
Let me explain clearly: I am passionate about writing, and not just my own, or the words (usually in books) I love to read. I am determined the whole world should read or write or, preferably, both. I want to see everybody around me riding the horse and having a word gymkhana. When you shoot up words (either reading or writing) they pump through your blood, make your head spin and/or swim, can have you teetering on the edge, or soaring on an upwind, or curled up in your safe space listening to a storm outside as, in the so-called ‘real’ world, the sun shines on your page.
Try it — don’t worry — you can give it up anytime you like.
Escape or Adventure
“A hero’s journey begins with a call to adventure. Listen and be brave.”
Shannon Flaherty Randall
I started young, so many of us do. It all seemed innocent enough — write a story, they said, about what you did in your summer holidays, they said — and so I did. My Summer Holiday had a spooky resemblance to a nightmare I had on our return home from the Cornish coast. It involved a Nazi roadblock, children being closed into giant lockers stacked up to the sky, an epic car chase (possibly inspired by a too young viewing of The Great Escape) tragically ending with Dad driving us off the side of a bridge. I remember as the car skidded out of control, crashed through the barrier, and took off — going up before it started to plummet in a howling spin…
What happened next I’ve never been clear about, I woke up and not one person in my family would explain to me how we escaped alive! It sucks being the youngest.
There was no mention in my story of paddle boating on the Cornish coast, nor our nightmarish arrival at the B&B where we found they had a dog (my mother would not be able to set a foot outside the door), nor seeing the evil fig tree, at St Newlyn, that grew a foot from the ground. Already the poetic license was strong in me.
It could be that this very tree is what gave me this cursed addiction in the first place. It’s said if you take a leaf you will die and my eldest brother insisted that he had taken one on my behalf. I figured as it was not actually me who took the leaf, and I had protested heartily, it wouldn’t count as a death wish, but it would probably still shadow my life forevermore. Whatever the cause, writing has been my friend, my companion, my shoulder to cry on for a very long time, just as long as I have been in love with words, which is just as long as way back when I first started reading them. Blank paper is always happy to listen, even if it doesn’t always want to be friends.
But I digress (I love digressing and it is one of my favourite things about writing — you can do it all the time when writing and call it ‘chapters’ or, if you’re really flailing, ‘voice’).
So writing is a lifelong vice that my mother chose to encourage. Of course, we mothers always get it wrong — and her encouragement took the form of buying me notelets to write thank you letters to my aunties, and telling me to do my homework, but no doubt she enjoyed my quiet rebellion. Because I was a quiet child, except when I wrote, then I could say things that I just couldn’t in the pesky real world. I expect the quietness suited her but she still wanted me to bring myself to speak. She helped feed my habit by providing books, pens, and copious scrap paper.
Kill or Cure
“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”
Did you ever have a problem you couldn’t solve? Or a song just running through your head all day — an earworm — a beat of words hammering at you — scratching at you — barking in your ear demanding that you do ‘something’ (preferably not in scare quotes).
As I said, I was a quiet child. I moved from school to school, I didn’t find making friends easy, and with two boisterous (some might even try the word ‘evil’ on for size) older brothers I didn’t have much chance to say anything at home. Books were companions, the words in those books my introduction to the magic world of not just stories but how words are ordered, how they can weave a spell that lifts you up and shows you things you’d never thought of before, or soothe you just with their swirl through your mind.
With words you can make things better — in the imaginary world at least. You can write your truth, you can counter the gaslighting in your life, and you can work through to your ultimate vengeance and triumph (where you get crowned king of the world, or win the tiger, or get to go live with your grandmother forever and ever, happily ever after). If the world seems to deny your existence you can reassure yourself that, actually, you do exist — in pen and ink (or pixels and liquid crystals). Writing helped me make sense of the world around me, escape the worst bits, survive. It still does.
This is a Writing Emergency
“Write what should not be forgotten.”
Perhaps you overheard a secret and then didn’t know what to do with it? Or worse … knew what to do with it but were unhappy with the consequences. Or maybe, you had your own secret, and it itched inside, pushed and scratched and demanded attention — even though you’d have preferred to think of something else.
Writing lets us say all the things we can’t say out loud. Certainly at the beginning when we tell ourselves it’s just for us, no one will ever see, it’s not like we’re going to send it to a publisher, or that a publisher would publish it if we did …
You can write that resignation letter that says what you really think — as opposed to the polite and carefully crafted note you hand in (or don’t because just the act of writing the letter gives you the focus and perseverance to continue, to try to improve things, or organise a more elegant exit with an actual other job to go to). Or, perhaps, a love note to your crush — where you explain your undying love, or a confession to your parents where you tell them how you miss them, or that you are sorry that you lie to keep them safe from your bad choices? Or a letter to a friend who did something you’re finding hard to forgive, or an enemy who you’d love to take down but when you see them in real life the words just won’t come out?
Words can rant. Words can woo. Words are fun. They can be stupid, clever, wicked, and beautiful, in fact, you can string them together to do anything — and they may not wish to obey but they are your servants, your foot soldiers — you get to decide which to pick first and what order you send them out on the field. They can hurt, they can heal, they can take you places, and experiment with anything your mind allows. Words are your safe words. Words are both heroes and villains extraordinaire. Words save lives.
Breathe your words
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
And, for me, writing is not just a medication, but a meditation — by putting the things distracting my head safely on the page I can observe and detach or first feel them fully like a wave and then watch them wash over, put them to the side, leave them in a drawer — understand they are already edited and I’ll likely revise them more later.
Words always call me back. They are my most precious addiction. A compulsion I would not be without. How about you? Why not try some on for size?
If you do nothing else today, write … a list, a letter, a confession, a text, a Facebook post, a story, a poem, a caption on Instagram … look at it, read it, observe its beginning, its middle, and its end, and then move on to a new word.
Don’t worry, you can stop, whenever you want…