Unplugging and How I Quit Smoking
by J. Timothy Quirk

You sit at the laptop with an internet browser open. You’ve checked social media. You’ve checked your email.  You open a blank document and you’re ready to write.

Before you type your first word, you remember there are still news sites you can check. Soon the familiar adrenaline rush of daily outrage can be yours.  Maybe video streaming can support your creative spirit and you could play inspirational music like generic Baroque classics while you write but the algorithms are leading you toward the vlog analyses of pop culture phenomena and it’s edifying to be informed on what’s popular in our culture. 

You are not stalling, this is ritual.

The Pyrrhic victory of the age of technology for a writer is that the ubiquitous device with the potential to free our creative spirit is the source of the greatest temptation to steal it. Time is water and the internet is a thirsty beast

Since beginning to read this, have you checked your email and social media yet?  

I have. 

Rest assured, I am not going to end this article by telling you to unplug the internet or go live in the woods with no WIFI because I wouldn’t do it myself but I postulate the theory that in order to achieve success as a writer, I have to stop my current methodology of internet-use. 

I acknowledge the problem. I am addicted to the internet. It’s powerful and omnipresent. I have children growing up with no concept of life without it. Certainly in this day and age it is necessary and vital for access to the internet because school and work, especially during this pandemic, demands that access. But to be a productive writer means doing something different with that access, especially on social media platforms.  

Social media is a cigarette that produces only smoke with a bad aftertaste and the potential to cause great harm, leaving in its wake a craving that can never be satisfied. Seeing a notification is a dopamine “hit” and social media can create highs and extreme lows. When I discuss the use of the internet, I’m talking mainly about this aspect. We are told that social media is a vessel and a tool for information and connection but when the system of communication is one without a tone of voice, body language or eye movement and with the ability to hide in anonymity, the potential for miscommunication and misunderstandings as well as blatant trolling and bad intent quickly stomp out most of the positive aspects.  What do you call something that produces only smoke, leaves a bad aftertaste, is very addictive and that will take away the precious time you have to do something positive?  

Since I have a working hypothesis, I’m going to tell you about smoking and how I quit. 

I started smoking cigarettes later than some and then acquired the habit almost immediately, associating the noxious activity with socializing when in reality, the activity became something regularly done alone, as a time killer, as a temporary salve for the wounds of the day. I attempted to stop smoking many times. More than 20 years ago I stopped and never went back.

I had to want to quit smoking badly for myself. If I was told I had to give it up because of someone else or for someone else, it is unclear what the likelihood of success would have been. 

Here were some fast rules: 

Rule 1: if you want to quit smoking, control the availability of the cigarettes. (Don’t have a pack of cigarettes in front of you).

Rule 2: If you want to quit smoking, don’t go to the same locations where you smoked before.

Rule 3: If you want to quit smoking, you have to do it for yourself as your prime motivation.

Rule 4: If you want to quit smoking, define yourself correctly as a non-smoker (not “ex”.

Rule 5: If you want to quit smoking, you have to understand mortality and you have to want to choose to live for as long as you can.

Simply put: if a cigarette is not available, you have no opportunity to decide “Just this one…” There is no “just this one” for an addict and if you’re with someone you know will have one, it means they’re available even if they’re not yours. So you have to change where you are and change the availability of the option. The thing that sustains you is you. You can be inspired by thinking of others but at the end of the day, it’s you and the battles within your own mind and you have to decide if you’re depriving yourself of something you want or choosing something better which means not taking on something bad. You define yourself as a non-smoker, not an ex-smoker. And when you internalize the fact that life is short and making it shorter is not a bonus, the desire for something greater outweighs the temporary fix.

Now let’s put that in perspective of social media, the internet and being a writer.

Let’s all agree we understand we’re not going back to typewriters even if the concept of writing is associated in our minds with a typewriter. The Hemmingway quote of “Writing is easy, you stand at the typewriter and bleed” can be a source of great inspiration even if what you’re typing are fart jokes for a sketch or sitcom spec script. The life of a writer is greatly enhanced by the backspace and delete key.  So I’m going to be using a device with easy access with a save function, back space and delete key and connected to the internet.

But I can control the availability.

Step One: I am finally deciding to define myself as a writer. It means I write and it means I don’t have time for the internet if I want to achieve success. I am not depriving myself of social media, I am choosing a positive foot forward, choosing to utilize the time in a positive proactive way.

Step Two: To achieve my personal goals I’m removing the social media from the phone and during the work day I’m putting the phone in the drawer. That’s the thing that is checked regularly and it has to stop. It’s unnecessary. Additionally I’m removing the ease with which to get into the social media on the home device. People who know me can email me. People who REALLY know me can call.

Step Three:  Now that there’s time, do the work. 

Friends and acquaintances who know me now would never associate me with smoking as it is no longer a part of my culture. I bring it up to show that addictions of this nature can be overcome and social media is one of them, so there’s hope.

If you’ve read this far, the question you might have is whether this will work and if it works for me, would it work for you? The only way to prove a hypothesis is to test it. My results will determine if I am right or wrong. If anyone else chooses to test it, then possibly with repeatable success, a theory can emerge.

It’s time to start writing the stories I want to tell. 

 Time is water and the internet is thirsty but so am I and if you are too, then let’s get to the keyboard, open up the document and drink.


-J. Timothy Quirk

About the author: 

  1. Timothy Quirk has been a remote member of Phoenix Screenwriters Association for a decade and is the creator, writer and producer of Nutmeg Junction, an old time radio program now it its third year. Find out more at www.nutmegjunction.com

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