There’s a reason I hate parties. Right after meeting a fellow guest for the first time, they invariably ask me, “So, Scott, what do you so?” At this point I usually look away, take a deep swallow of whatever I’m drinking, and tell them I’m a writer. Eyebrows rise. Noses crinkle. “Really?” they ask. Then, invariably: “How did you get in that?”
It’s at this point that I lie. I tell stories about my love of the written word. The joy of creating new worlds. The nearly erotic pleasure of placing great characters in nasty situations. But none of these are true. The fact is, I write because I’m addicted to it.
You see, there’s a demon inside me that compels me to write stories. The addiction started early. In middle school, I wrote an epic fantasy novel that had grown to 400 pages before I abandoned it. It was terrible, of course; my two main literary influences at the time were Tolkien and the Die Hard movies. But I simply couldn’t stop myself from working on it. Like some junkie, I’d wake up early every morning, slink to a dim corner of my parents’ unfinished basement, and indulge the demon: plunking out ream after ream of awful prose on an ancient, rattling IBM Selectric II.
I managed to kick the addiction for a while. Or kind of. After college, I took a job as a copywriter at a large ad agency in Manhattan. But this was like an alcoholic taking a job in a bar. Temptation to be creative was all over the place, and it wasn’t long before I succumbed. I fell off the wagon in my mid-20s, and began another epic novel, this one about politics and intrigue in late-90s Russia. Like my first attempt, it was overlong and overwrought. The difference was that this time the early drafts garnered praise from writers I respected, real novelists who knew their stuff. I had found my enablers.
Over time, it became easier to hide the addiction. In my day job, I’d risen through the ranks and actually made something of myself. I became a respected creative director. Started a family. Got myself a mortgage. I was a responsible writer for a while, indulging only on the side. A few non-fiction books here. Some articles in magazines there. But the demon’s thirst could not be slaked, and no matter how well my career was going, the desire to write pulled at me. During meetings, I wrote bits of dialogue, pretending I was just taking notes. In my office late at night, I worked out plot twists on my white board as my colleagues looked on with admiration, thinking I was a dedicated corporate soldier burning the midnight oil.
These days I don’t bother trying to hide my addiction. Indulging it is what I do. It’s my fulltime job. “I really respect your dedication to your art,” some of the kinder people at the parties tell me. At this I just smile. It’s not dedication, I want to tell them. It’s louche indulgence, nothing more. The fact is, after all these years, it’s still hard to say it aloud: My name is Scott. And I’m a writer.
Scott Bergstrom is a writer and traveler fascinated by the darker, unloved corners of the world’s great cities. His books and articles on architecture and urbanism have been widely published both in the United States and Europe. The Cruelty is his first novel. You can see more at http://www.thecruelty.net.