After 10 years battering myself with drink and drugs, I remembered: I used to want to write
Words: A.E. Vincent
After 10 years of battering myself with drink, drugs and relationships, at aged 25, I was done; in a moment of clarity, I remembered that I used to want to write.
Immediately the thought came that it would never happen while I was still using. My mental obsession to get the next drink or drug took up so much headspace that I couldn’t even read, never mind write. Hadn’t read a book in years.
I got help and got sober. I thought about writing all the time but couldn’t start. I had no idea how.
My brother gave me a Charles Bukowski book, Ham on Rye. Aha! I didn’t have to write a ‘literary’ novel. Look at this, telling it how it is! I tried writing on paper but as soon as I had more than a page it was an overwhelming mess when I tried to re-read it – I couldn’t read my own writing.
A friend gave me her old computer, I set it up in my bedsit, emptied the keyboard of her crumbs and suddenly it was much easier to write. I could ‘see’ it properly on the screen, move things around
I wrote in a stream of consciousness. I felt amazing and assumed that meant the writing was amazing. But the feeling was caused by the fact that I had found a substitute for the drink. I could lose myself in it. It was the oblivion I had always looked for with an occasional bit of euphoria – without the damage.
I made myself laugh. I could kill people in my writing. I slept better.
I wrote a 100 page novella and picked out some agents and publishers from a library copy of The Writers Yearbook. I printed my story and posted it off in large brown envelopes. Soon I would have a book deal.
I was indignant when I got responses saying things like, ‘Please write something longer and send it to us’ and, ‘Try writing an 100,000 word sex ‘n’ shopping novel and don’t use the ‘c' word.’
I had no idea that it meant something to get a response. I thought it meant I was a bit rubbish and had to learn to write properly. It did, I suppose, except I had no clue how else to write, or what else.
I went to writing groups and courses and wrote some short stories. I wanted to write a play. The job of getting a life got in the way, getting properly housed, paying the bills, learning to have relationships – all that.
I went to university alongside work, aged 30, where I discovered I was dyslexic not stupid. I couldn’t write what they wanted me to write although I did learn a bit of grammar.
Even then, it took a long time – many more years than most people I suspect – to understand that writing is a craft, something to be practised.
It was years later when I was learning to make jewellery, specifically stone-setting, that I had another aha! moment. I wouldn’t expect to be able to use gold to make a ring and have it look beautiful on a first attempt, never mind set a stone in it. Jewellers have long apprenticeships to learn their craft for a reason.
I haven’t written as much in the last few years and I have submitted less. It’s taken me half my lifetime to get a life – I now have a home, a partner, a child, a job.
I send something off now and then. I got a story shortlisted for a prize once. Now I’m done with all the procrastinating, although it has served me well – I’ve gained valuable life experience while avoiding writing, getting to a place where I can pay the bills.
I started my 25th year of sobriety this October 16th, the same year I turned 50. It’s that, and the fact that I can afford (in monetary terms, if not as much in time yet) to get on with it. A bit.
I am delighted to one of 50 writers included in the forthcoming Unbound anthology, A Wild & Precious Life, with new and established authors.
I’m not one or the other. But I’m okay with where I am.
To support A Wild And Precious Life: A Recovery Anthology, please visit unbound.com/books/recovery/ and follow Ann on Twitter here.