Why Smoking is Good for Writers

smoking good writers
Not that I’m suggesting starting or continuing smoking. But consider how your writing could benefit. (In reporting statistics and research findings, I’m not going to include academic citations. They clutter up the writing, and if you want to pursue something in more depth, you can easily find it online.)

 

As a Character Note

Given the general disapprobation of smoking today, chances are your hero or heroine will be a non-smoker. However, other characters are surely fair game.

 

A ten-year longitudinal study has reported that higher levels of openness to experience and neuroticism were each significantly associated with increased risk of any lifetime cigarette use. Neuroticism also was associated with increased risk of progression from ever smoking to daily smoking and persistent daily smoking over a ten-year period. In contrast, conscientiousness was associated with decreased risk of any of these.

 

smoking
Neuroticism is not a good thing! It is one of the Big Five higher-order personality traits in the study of psychology. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than average to be moody and to experience such feelings as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness.

 

Other, less comprehensive research nevertheless is consistent with the above study. In this study, smokers had higher scores on measures of depressive symptoms, novelty seeking, and histrionic, borderline, passive-aggressive, and antisocial personality symptoms and lower scores on a measure of avoidant personality.

 

Not surprisingly, quitting smoking improves personality. Among adults 35 and under, those who quit smoking scored lower impulsivity and neuroticism than when they smoked.
smoking good writers

Which Characters Are More Likely to Smoke? 

(Compared to an overall rate of 15.5%)

 
  • men, 17.5%
  • people aged 25-64, 17.5%-18%
  • non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives, 31.8%
  • non-Hispanic Blacks and Whites, 16.5%
  • Hispanics, 10.7%
  • non-Hispanic Asians, 9%
  • living in the Midwest, 18.5%
  • living in the South, 16.9%
  • being lesbian/gay/bisexual, 20.5%
  • those experiencing serious psychological distress, 35.8%
  • those with disability/limitation, 21.2%
construction workers

More Frequent Occupations of Smokers

Actually, the field is pretty wide open here. But consider the likelihood that your smoker would be “different” from his/her peer group.
 
  • mining
  • construction
  • manufacturing
  • transportation industries
  • business contract (promoters, salesmen, retail and wholesale dealers and buyers)
  • business executives of all ranks
  • editors
  • educational administrators
  • museum curators
  • entertainment and recreational services
There is a notably smaller proportion of smokers among farmers, engineers, surgeons, elementary and high school teachers, and clergymen.

 

What is smoked varies, too. Pipe smokers are more frequently found among research scientists, lawyers, college professors, and schoolteachers. Cigar smokers tend to be business executives, bankers, editors, attorneys, and those in technological fields.

 

In general, more education is associated with less smoking, with the rate dropping to 4.5% for those with a graduate degree. The only anomaly is that those with 12 or fewer years of education have a smoking rate of 24.1%, while those with a GED certificate have a rate of 40.6%

 

Smoking is higher among those living below the poverty level, 25.3%. Besides everything else, a poor character who smokes would have the added burden of the cost of cigarettes. It is an expensive habit. A pack of cigarettes can cost as much as $10.45 (in New York state). But even the least expensive state (Missouri) has a cost of $4.38. FYI, in Virginia it is $4.78, second lowest.
 

As a Source of Tension

The most recent data I could find (from the CDC, 2016) indicate that more than 15% of adults 18 and older currently smoked. That leaves approximately 85% non-smokers, so lots of opportunity for negative comments, nagging, scolding, and downright arguments about everything from the smell and messiness to health risks to the smoker and to those exposed to secondhand smoke.

 

smoking good writers
Perhaps the most obvious source of plot complications would be the known health effects. More widespread smoking as well as increased life expectancy during the 1920s made adverse health effects more noticeable. In 1929, Fritz Lickint of Dresden, Germany, published formal statistical evidence of a lung cancer–tobacco link, which subsequently led a strong anti-smoking movement in Nazi Germany. The harmful effects came to notice in Great Britain in 1954 with the British Doctors Study, and in the United States with the Surgeon General’s report, 1964. So, writers, choose your illness!
 
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • cancer anywhere in the body: lung, bladder, blood, cervix, colo-rectal, kidney, liver, larynx, oropharynx, pancreas, stomach
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • cause or exacerbate Type 2 diabetes
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • exacerbates asthma
  • weakens bones
  • poor tooth and gum health
  • cataracts
  • increased inflammation
  • decreased immune function
baby
Smoking increases problems with fertility and pregnancy.  Smoking can make it harder for women to become pregnant. It increases the risk for early delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, and orofacial clefts in infants.

 

Men are not immune. Smoking can reduce a man’s fertility and increase the risks of birth defects and miscarriage.

 

If you write historical fiction, know about smoking in your time period. Although smoking can be traced back to 5000 BCE in the Americas in shamanistic rituals, it wasn’t until the 16th century that the consumption, cultivation, and trading of tobacco spread. Before that, smoking was primarily opium or cannabis in the far East.

 

durham tobacco
[Source: Open Durham]
The modernization of farming equipment and manufacturing increased the availability of cigarettes in the United States. Mass production quickly expanded consumption, which grew until the scientific controversies of the 1960s, and condemnation in the 1980s. In 1962, research indicated that 78% of civilian men had a history of tobacco use.

 

From the 1930s through the 1950s or so, smoking was often presented and perceived as being sophisticated, sexy, and daring. In a time when smoking was not established as a health risk—when smoking was much more prevalent—the relationship between personality and smoking was probably less pronounced. I.e., a higher proportion of non-neurotics smoked.
old cigarette ad
Bottom line: You don’t have to smoke to benefit from smoking!

Blog Block

blog block
[Source: Local writer Betsy Arnett]
If it weren’t January, I’d call it spring fever. I simply could not settle down to write a substantive blog for today. What did I do instead, you might well ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

I lingered over multiple cups of coffee and enjoyed my backyard wildlife. The squirrel just started visiting again after a long hiatus, but he’s as cute as ever. I think I’ll name him Stanley.

I finally pulled out a dead  plant, may it RIP after hanging in for several years. I replaced it with stems I’ve been rooting for spring planting because it won’t live in the ground over winter.

By then it was time to make (and eat) soup. While I was at it, I made two!

blog block
Passing through the living room, I thought that I really ought to put away the last of the Christmas decorations, but instead. . .

blog block
I spent a while enjoying the light catcher and wind chimes. The light catcher was a Christmas present and we have six sets of wind chimes around and about.

blog block
Being focused on the yard, I had to check on the progress of spring bulbs: greenery everywhere but no buds yet.

As long as I was outdoors, why not take a little walk and enjoy the gorgeous day? So I did that until it was time for my tai chi class. This is my teacher at the 2018 World Tai Chi Day.

blog block
When I got home, I realized that the laundry basket was overflowing, which took me to the bedroom—where I felt compelled to organize my earrings.

Yes, I know that is an obscene number of earrings, but I’ve been collecting earrings for decades. I can still wear the earrings I wore in high school, so why get rid of any?

Eventually I did try to focus on writing. But while I found these two quotes wise, they didn’t trigger any wise thoughts of my own. Indeed, I decided that today I’m in the reading phase.

becoming michelle obama
BOTTOM LINE: Focus, focus, focus! (I.e., do as I say, not as I did today!)

Writing Illness and Pain

injury writing illness pain
Both illness and pain can be either acute or chronic: acute is episodic, such as a bout of cancer, pneumonia, or a broken bone; chronic is ongoing. When acute, there is a presumption of a cure or healing, whereas with chronic conditions the focus is on coping or managing.
writing illness pain injury
Acute conditions can be excruciatingly painful, even life threatening. Most people have some experience with acutely painful conditions. As a writer, draw on your own experiences or those of family and friends to provide rich descriptions of symptoms and responses. Depending on the specific condition, activity will be limited. So, do your homework on the limitations and effects of a broken shoulder, so-called walking pneumonia, measles, a rabies bite, etc.

 

writing illness pain
Chronic pain is often the result of normal aging effects on bones and joints. But other causes include nerve damage and injuries that fail to heal properly. Plus, some chronic pain has numerous causes. Back pain, for example, could be a result of aging or of a single injury.
writing illness pain
As writers, be aware that pain affects behavior, mood, and interpersonal relationships. If your character in pain is the POV character, you can describe the effects directly. But if you need to convey chronic pain from outside your character, be aware of the symptoms and side effects.

 

writing illness pain

Side Effects

 
Chronic pain limits what one can do, or the amount of what one does in a day.
  • ability to work
  • play with children
  • walk
  • sleep
  • take care of personal needs
This, in turn, can cause disuse syndrome, the result of “use it or lose it.” Continued limited activity causes weakness, which leads to even less activity. Losing strength and flexibility makes one more susceptible to pain and additional injury—truly a detrimental cycle.

 

depression
Chronic pain has a huge effect on psychological well-being.
  • irritability
  • anger
  • depression
  • difficulty concentrating
These psychological effects can be as debilitating as the pain itself.

 

writing illness pain depression
Writer decisions: How does your character cope—or attempt to cope—with chronic pain?
  • exercise
  • relaxation
  • alternative or complementary treatments: massage, magnetic therapy, ultrasound, energy medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine
  • hired or volunteer helpers
  • support groups
  • traditional pain meds: consider side effects and possible addiction
  • self-medication (a.k.a., alcohol)
self medication
Bottom line: Pain can be great for complicating the plot and/or upping tensions among characters. Use it wisely!

Goodreads Newbie

goodreads login
I’ve always read—of course. But I never got involved with Goodreads till 2018. And guess what? It’s great! 
 
I got involved by declaring a reading goal for the year. I figured 52 was a good number. In the event, I read 118 books last year. Who knew?

 

author by number goodreads
Among other things, Goodreads tell me is  who I read the most—not something I ever paid attention to. But going forward, I’ll check out those top authors for anything they have published recently. Goodreads also allows one to check other aspects of one’s reading activity.
goodreads
Looking at my reading in review, a couple of things I sort-of knew became absolutely clear. (1) My preferred escapist reading is Regency romance, especially Jane Austin fan fiction. (2) When I latch onto a writer, I read everything, whole series, in order.
At Goodreads, you can see what your friends are reading, rate books you have read, get involved in discussion groups, follow specific authors, and so much more! Among other things, Goodreads will tell you which books READERS choose as the best in various genres.
books goodreads
Check out Goodreads for yourself! Are you already using it? Let’s connect!