Do you recognize yourself from this list? Don’t be shy, as a writer you are in good company. Tennesse Williams, Dylan Thomas, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Capote were all alcoholics. Honore de Balza drank up to fifty coffees a day and poet Vachel Lindsay was obsessed with cleanliness. Dostoevsky at one time gambled badly and Syliva Plath had an eating disorder. And when I first surfed writing forums on the internet, it tickled me how many authors were fellow obsessive compulsives.
As a child my ‘thing’ was the number four. I had to do everything four times – from touching the gate on the way indoors, to going to the loo before I could sleep – OTHERWISE SOMETHING REALLY BAD WOULD HAPPEN. Then logic kicked in and I decided four times four was safer still, so I had to do certain things sixteen times – OTHERWISE SOMETHING REALLY BAD WOULD HAPPEN. When I was ten, I stayed with an aunt for a week and found out years later that she’d rung my mum to ask if I was ill, because I spent so long in the bathroom every night. Little did she know I was throwing water onto the top of each tap sixteen times (God knows why) - and then doing it again just in case I’d not done it right the first time.
As I matured, I learnt to face my fears and break my routines. And now it hardly features in my life – unless my husband is away and I have to lock up downstairs at night. It almost puts me off going to bed. Check oven hob. Is window locked? Pull down on back door handle – can it be opened? Are the taps turned off? Stare at oven hob again – is the red light on, are the buttons in all the correct ‘off’ positions? Check back door handle again, then the hob once more – OTHERWISE SOMETHING REALLY BAD WILL HAPPEN. And then out of the kitchen and start on the lounge. And then back to the kitchen in case I missed something…
But doesn’t this remind you of something? Like writing? Like editing? Check paragraph, read it out loud. Should that be a dash or a colon? Does that word have a capital letter? Read it out loud again and check that spelling once more – OTHERWISE SOMETHING REALLY BAD WILL HAPPEN like an agent despairing at my mediocrity. And when submitting – print out pristine, throw out that sheet as it is slightly bent. Put a joke in cover letter, no take it out. No, put it back. Tape down envelope – no that was a mistake, pull off tape. Now it looks messy, tape it down again – OTHERWISE SOMETHING REALLY BAD WILL HAPPEN like the agent not even reading it because of my sloppy presentation.
So, take a hard look at that list – what’s your thing? Does it release the writer in you or hem him/her in?
And by the way, being a chocoholic doesn’t count. The cocoa bean should be a staple part of anybody's diet.