POW! My addiction has gone.

Number 8 in Timms Times — a blogger’s view from 2014

My name is Howard Timms, and I am an addict. No, not to alcohol — an uncle got me drunk when I was 10, and I’ve been careful ever since. Anyway, I gave up booze altogether 6 years ago, because it made my heartbeat even slower than it was already. My tobacco addiction ended years ago — several times. Athletic ambitions and lack of money in my twenties finally killed it. An addiction to crazy over-eating had been killed by smoking, and luckily didn’t return. As for marijuana, don’t get me started — no-one else did. A single drag on a joint gave me a coughing fit so violent that it scared off everyone else, and the party ended.

My real, life-long addiction has been hidden for years, though it has sometimes wrecked my dreams. It produces withdrawal symptoms that serve not as a warning but a boost to the habit. My addiction is not unique, or unusual. Many of my friends have it, though only a fellow addict can tell. Do you want to ask what this awful, debilitating condition is?’ I’ll tell you anyway: ‘POW.’

Procrastination Over Writing has gripped me in its awful power since. . . well, since I first had to really write rather than merely copy letters and words. I still remember the first little essay I had to create. We had about twenty minutes, and I dreamed, fiddled with my pencil, stared out of the window, wondered what was for lunch. . .

‘You have five more minutes!. . . Howard, five more minutes. Start writing.’ Miss Bendall was pretty, but sometimes fierce. I knew she had smacked someone with a gym shoe for ‘laziness’. In those last minutes, I wrote more than anyone else did in the whole twenty minutes.

Nothing’s changed. Yesterday, after sixty years of writing, I spent much of the day watching the rain or catching up with emails, (most of which didn’t need my reply). But my story for the evening writing group was open on the computer all day, untouched. Marilyn, my wife, brought dinner in less than an hour before we were due to leave, so I ate and wrote at the same time. The story went down well, so once again the adrenalin rush from my addiction strengthened the habit.

I discovered the value of deadlines early in my forty-year non-fiction editing and writing career. They produced some good results. And some sloppy ones which there was no time to fix — unless I could spend the evening, or the night, rewriting before a morning deadline. My acting career sometimes suffered when I finished writing projects in a dressing room between scenes. As for fiction writing, I spent more than thirty years starting, but never finishing, novels and a play.

Now I’m retired, there’s much more time to procrastinate. And sometimes enough time to actually run out of distractions and write. I have tried to kick the bad habit. On a few days, I started writing early and made good progress. But the next day was usually POWed like the rest.

Significant steps forward were committing to projects in collaboration with others, and to writing groups with regular meetings. Both produce deadlines, yippee! But deadlines which don’t put your income at risk aren’t themselves addictive, so the fight continues.

If I don’t write early in the day, I don’t write. Sometimes, the addiction means that, through guilt, I end up writing early in the day — the next day. It drives Marilyn, my wife, crazy if she can’t sleep because I’m bashing the keyboard between midnight and three o’ clock. Still in denial, I tell her that the small hours are my most creative time. ‘All my best essays at university’ I claim ‘were written between midnight and 4 am.’ Of course they were — ALL my essays were written at that time, for reading at that day’s morning tutorial.

So how am I going to beat this incubus, this ennervating nightmare, this living hell, this shocking hyperbole, this distraction from real writing? Not 9 to 5; 9 to 12 that’s how. I started writing this at 8.56 this morning, and I shall post it by 10.30. Then I shall get to work on a collaboration over a play about World War I, and keep going until 12 noon. I aim to do the same literally every day, and report regularly in this blog — for my sake. And for yours, dear reader, because if you’re still with me, you’re interested in the writing process, and its greatest problem: ‘How do I — or why don’t I — get started?’

February 18, 2014

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