Wednesday, November 9, 2011

If you can write a novel, you can also quit smoking

With the Great American Smokeout coming up on November 17th, I wanted to do my part to reach out to the people in the writing community who want to quit.  If you know a writer who smokes and wants to quit, please pass this along.

If you're a writer who smokes, there is a good chance that for you writing and smoking have a special relationship.  Perhaps you smoke at your computer while you write.  Maybe you take smoke breaks while you write to help you think.  Or you "reward" yourself with a cigarette after finishing a chapter.  Any of that sound familiar?

If you've involved smoking in your writing for a long time, the two things have become connected in your mind, and you may feel like you need to smoke in order to write.  The truth is, you don't need to smoke to write.  But it's not so easy to break the association.  Here are some tips for ways to deal with cravings you might get when writing:

  • Get the facts about nicotine - A common myth about nicotine is that it helps you think.  This isn't true.  If you give nicotine to a non-smoker, it will not help them think better.  But if you're addicted to nicotine, you need nicotine to prevent nicotine withdrawal symptoms, including trouble concentrating.  When you quit, you will have trouble thinking without nicotine for about three days during the withdrawal period, but it's not a permanent condition.  I promise, your creativity comes from you, not nicotine.  Here are some more tips for dealing with nicotine withdrawal brain fog:
    • Use a nicotine replacement therapy like the patch, gum, or lozenge.  It can help reduce or even prevent withdrawal symptoms and keep your brain firing on all (or at least most) synapses while you quit.
    • Plan ahead.  Setting a quit date is more effective than just randomly throwing out your cigarettes on a whim.  When you're planning your quit date, don't pick a date two days before a big deadline.  Try and find three days where your brilliance can take a day off.  And no...that's not an excuse to delay your quit date indefinitely...just use some strategy.
  • If you smoke at the computer... - If you're used to a constant hand to mouth action while you work, you may need a substitute to break the habit.  Remember, it's just a habit, so with time it will go away.  In the meantime, find another way to get the hand to mouth.  And before you say it...there are ways to do this without gaining weight.  Just be sensible.  Don't replace smoking with eating a hundred M&Ms per chapter, and you'll be fine.  Here are some hand to mouth suggestions:
    • Keep a beverage with you at all times - water, coffee, tea, soda, anything that you can bring from hand to mouth.  Try it with a straw for the sucking action you get from smoking.
    • Use a straw, cinnamon stick, toothpick, candy cane, carrot stick, Twizzler etc. to mimic the smoking action.
    • Good old regular chewing gum can go a long way.
Bonus Tip: If you smoke at your computer, you would benefit from breaking this habit before you're facing the stress of quitting completely.  Set a quit date in the future, but stop smoking at your computer before that date.  You can still smoke, but just never while on the computer.  This way, when your quit date comes, you'll already have that habit managed.

  • If you smoke as a break from your computer... - Here's the thing, those smoke breaks probably are helping you think, but is has nothing to do with the smoke.  It's the break.  All writers need to step away from the computer every once in a while to keep their juices flowing.  You just have to come up with a new way of doing this.  The same goes with "rewards".  You can still reward yourself with a break after finishing a word count goal, but do it another way.  It can be almost anything.  Here are some ideas for breaks away from the computer:
    • Take a walk
    • Go outside (but avoid that favorite smoking spot)
    • Have a drink or snack
    • Listen to music
    • Take a shower or bath
    • Go for a drive (but not to the convenience store)
    • Talk to someone
    • Clean (but only if you like that kind of thing)
    • Take some deep breaths
    • Yoga or meditation    
    • Or just pace around your house.  That's what I do.
  • Have your characters quit with you.  Almost any reminder of smoking can trigger an urge while you're quitting.  You don't need to be slogging through line after line of your MC taking a drag off his ever-present cigarette.  Get those cigarettes out of your story if you can.  If the setting or character really needs smoking, have them cut back.  Once we know they smoke, you don't need to remind us every page.

Final word of wisdom.  Quitting smoking is very hard, but it's easier than getting a novel published.  If you can get a rejection and not give up, you have what it takes to quit smoking.  Both processes go like this - Try.  Fail.  Learn from mistakes.  Try again.  Repeat as needed.

Using a support program can greatly increase your chances of success.  Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to reach the Quitline that serves your state or use this tool to find out about programs available through your employer, insurance, or state of residence.

The ideas represented are my own personal opinions and not endorsed by or affiliated with any of the organizations listed.


  1. Wouldn't it be awful just as you land a contract or your first book hits the shelves your life is taken by lung cancer? An excellent post, Sharon.

  2. Great tips! I've never smoked b/c it always bothered me that my parents smoked and I still bug my Mom to quit!

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