Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An Addiction…to Writing?

Why do I write? Because I’m literally addicted to it, that’s why



In 1946, George Orwell penned an essay called “Why I Write,” in which he outlined four primary reasons why human beings feel the need to, well, write stuff. According to Orwell, human beings feel the necessity to write for egotism (which explains most of your nonfiction writers and authors), aesthetic value (this is where your poets and songwriters come in), historical proof (most non-fiction scribes and some journalists) and political gain (pretty much everybody else.) While I admit that Orwell’s four categorizations are pretty damned succinct and precise, I think that that old Georgie is leaving out a fifth motivation that, in my estimates, is the most reasonable explanation as to why writers do what they do.

Because they’re literally - as in, physically and mentally - addicted to the process of writing, that’s why.

Granted, my supposition is a little unscientific (or is it?), but at the end of the day, I believe that’s why I personally choose to write. I would venture to guess that it’s also the primary reason why most hardcore writers grip their mechanical pencils like needles filled with heroin, too - we’re addicts, each and everyone of us.

People write for different reasons, and they clearly tend to write about different subjects, in different ways. The commonality here is that these people (and I consider myself one of them) feel a psychological NEED to turn internal feelings and thoughts into something physical, tangible and sharable with others. When assessing the function of writing, it’s essentially a panacea for everything: it meets your individual needs, your social needs, your spiritual needs and if that wasn’t enough, it gives you something to squander your time on when the cable’s off. If you locked me in a padded cell with a spiral bound notebook and a set of gel ink pens, I would hardly consider the time spent as “punitive” in any consideration.

I once watched a documentary about surfers on the West Coast, who said they fell into chronic funks whenever the tide was low. I feel comparable pangs of sorrow whenever I don’t write - whether it’s hardcore “news” for a respectable organization, utterly irrelevant crap in one of my journals, or right here on this very blog. If I don’t write, I get pissy, and if I don’t write for long periods of time, I get pretty damned depressed. My life is literally dictated by what I write - and as long as I’m writing something, I’d generally say I’m feeling quite all right about this thing we call “existing,” folks.

I really don’t know where my desire to write was born, but it probably had something to do with being an only child that was, well, let’s just say - less than that high up - on the socioeconomic food chain. If you’re poor, you can’t afford all of those cool things that other kids have, like trampolines or Super Nintendos. What I could afford, however, was pen and paper, and you best believe that elementary school me was one writing M.F.er, through and through. While other kids were privy to their swimming pools and colored Game Boys, I was spending my afternoons reading Electronic Gaming Monthly and scribbling like a madman. From an early age - or at least, an earlier age than most folks - I knew that I’d rather spend my life writing about things than actually experiencing them…a decision that I think has paid off just a little considering my current paraprofessional sojourns.

Writing, I would say, is in my blood - and not just because that little shit Dewayne Randolph stabbed me in the arm with a Yikes! Pencil back in the second grade.

I’m not being hyperbolic when I say writing has literally saved my life. I’m convinced two thousand percent that if it wasn’t for the craft of writing, I would probably be shoveling shit for a living, sitting in a trailer snorting Sudafed or laying perfectly still in a box six feet underground right now. There have been times in my life where I’ve been unbelievably depressed - as in, the kind of depressed where you wake up three days later with an IV jammed in your ass with a $24,000 hospital bill attached to it - and in EVERY single instance, it was the act of writing - not religion, or therapy, or family, or social supports, or any of that other stuff - that helped me snap out of my funk and realize that, hey, this whole living thing has just a modicum of value to it. Needless to say, that is a powerful, POWERFUL attribute for any activity to have - and as long as I have the capacity and will to keep writing, I know I can surmount just about anything that gets thrown my way in this topsy-turvy pinball game we call “life.” To me, writing isn’t just something I enjoy, it’s the single variable that makes existence worth experiencing; and something tells me the rocket scientists and investment bankers of this world don’t feel so strongly about their occupational pursuits, either.

Joey Stalin was fond of calling writers “the engineers of the human soul,” and he’s probably right. Technologies become antiquated, sciences always get repudiated and buildings eventually crumble, but the essence of writing can live on and on for centuries. Virtually every aspect of civilization from 1,000 years ago - the governmental practices, the employed technologies, the mathematical and scientific observations, etc. - have all been discarded by modern man, but holy shit, we’re still reading “The Decameron” and “The Canterbury Tales.” There isn’t a single textile mill from the Industrial Revolution still in operation, but the literature connected to that timeframe - your Dickens, your Marx, your Darwin, etc. - remain central components of the contemporary human experience. In that, the historical permanence of writing as a valued concept should tell you just how much weight and influence it has on the species. I once had a dude tell me that he controlled my life because he cut my checks; to shut him up for good, I told him that as I writer, I ultimately controlled his life because I was in charge of writing his obituary.

Writing seems to be that great, invisible bridge that connects - and meets - both my internalized, psychological needs as an individual and my externalized, social wants as a cultural inhabitant. It doesn’t just fulfill me in certain areas, it provides me with a comprehensive satisfaction that feels about as fantastic as climaxing inside Nicki Minaj while enjoying a double scoop of Chunky Monkey and winning a ranked Xbox Live match in “Super Street Fighter IV” with just one pixel of health left. For me, writing produces this absolutely blissful chaos of spiritual enlightenment, social service and therapeutic relief that’s just about indescribable to anyone that isn’t also a writer of some order. And if that wasn’t enough, I sometimes even get paid for it. Occasionally.

If I were a spiritualistic hippy, I would say that writing - as an activity and an abstract concept - has become my personalization of the great life force, that enigmatic, intangible, cosmic “worth” that shoots through the universe and automatically bestows a sense of quality and vitality to all things. To some extent, that maybe true, but I prefer to analyze my writing “addiction” in terms of neurology as opposed to the metaphysical.

At an early age, I learned how to read and write. This was something that gave me a calculable advantage over my peers, who, despite coming from families with more money and consumer goods, lacked the ability to “best” me when it came homework time. I would say I started writing a good two years before most school children begin writing, and I haven’t looked back since. It was something, apparently, that I was good at, and I enjoyed doing it. Therefore, I kept writing, and writing ate up more and more of my free time. After awhile, if I didn’t have a notebook within grasping distance, I felt like I was reaching out for an inner tube during a white squall. Before long, I became universally acknowledged by my peers as “that one kid that’s always writing stuff” - a title that serves just as true now as it did way back when.

Neurologically, writing served many functions for me - most of which, I imagine, still remain valid “excuses” to this day. I was rewarded socially for writing, so I had an egotistical reason to keep on a writing. But at the same time, writing became an introspective hobby, my means of evaluating and assessing my own world through observations. In essence, it was my introduction to “critical thinking,” that thing which everybody (excluding Texas legislators) deems essential for college-material youngsters.

Writing, therefore, became both a socially and introspectively rewarding activity - something that made me feel pretty great as a being-in-this world and a being-of-this-world.

A lot of times, I felt the impetus to write as a kid because nobody understood me. I guess you could say writing was sort of a catharsis for me, but it was also a form of escapism: trust me, growing up in the neck-reddened jubilee of late 1990s southern culture, I needed as much time OUT of this world as I could feasibly acquire.

Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes ten years of perpetual practice to get “good” at something. By the time I was 14, I had been a “writer” - in the loosest description of the term - for approximately a decade. I had peers that couldn’t tell a comma from an apostrophe, and here I was penning post-graduate caliber material - in terms of technicalities, like syntax and grammar - while stuck in the same freshman literature class. Writing made me something very, very different from my peers, even if I shared many of the same socioeconomic and geographical similarities with them. Writing gave me a certain “weirdness” that my classmates didn’t have, and in hindsight? It was that very “weirdness” that bought me a ticket out of rural, working-class purgatory.

And here I am today, STILL writing. And when I’m not writing, I’m usually doing something that I will end up writing about later, or wishing that I WAS writing instead of what I’m doing contemporaneously (notable exceptions do apply to sex and pizza, of course.)

Scientifically, the best explanation I can give you is that I’ve been writing for so long that the process has become burned into my neurons like a ghostly image on a flat screen TV. Nowadays, it’s something I pursue, sometimes, without even feeling as if I think about what I’m consciously doing. Sharks swim, pandas chew bamboo, Rick Perry says stupid stuff, and I write - it’s sheer biology, really.

Holistically, the process of writing is such a remarkable activity that seems to piece together every element of humanity known to exist. It’s an externalized activity based upon one’s internalities, which are based on external stimuli. Writing, in other words, is like eating a big, fat sandwich made out of expressionistic bread with introspective meat in the middle. As a process, it’s so satisfying, from start to finish: you begin, literally, with nothing, and over time, you get to watch a bunch of thoughts blossom into these gargantuan manifestos that say something truly profound and meaningful not only about your own life, but in many ways, the entire universe as a whole. When you finish a long-term writing project, not only do you feel as if you’ve achieved something on the individual level, but something with immense interpersonal value. “Somebody can read this,” you think to yourself. “And it might just make an impact on them the way [insert thing you read a long time ago that forever altered your life here] did.”

Once I get on writing sprees, it’s pretty hard to stop. What may begin as a five minute summary usually transforms into a four hour, non-stop write-a-thon, culminating with this massive, overarching analytical product that just seems as if it formed itself on the screen and the page. Sometimes, it just feels as if the words are already there, and all it takes is my handiwork to make that which should be turn into that which now is. As far as I’m concerned, only writers - real writers - will ever get to experience a feeling like that, and trust me: if you ain’t a writer, you ought to be really jealous right about now.

Going back to what Orwell said, I think it’s fair - if not apparent - that all of his aforementioned “reasons” for writing remain valid assumptions today. But at the very heart of the matter - the white-bleached, freshly inked heart of the matter - it’s a comprehensive, procedural satisfaction that really defies external labeling that serves as the real reason why people find such joy and meaning in the written word.

And on top of that? I just can’t stop myself, either.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, I agree 110% with this I feel exactly the same way I am addicted to writing, I love it so much my place is full of notebooks and scraps of paper. I completely understand the addiction that feeling of happiness when you’re writing just shutting off the rest of the world typing away.

    I even get the whole I’d be dead if not for writing too feeling depressed though lack of writing then that joy that burst of pleasure when you have done something and finished it utterly amazing. I’d agree and say writing saved my life too I know and met so many amazing people though writing learned so much yeah I keep hammering the point home but I totally get it.

    This article speaks to me [that sounds really cheesy but you know what I mean] I feel the same you know apart from the fact I only started writing from like 10 and I’ve never been paid for it but you’re a great deeply intelligent writer and I’m a monkey with a typewriter but anyway just wanted to comment and love it amazing work man

    ReplyDelete