A Tendency to Obsess…

I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.”                           – Albert Einstein

Is obsession a bad thing? Sometimes it can be especially if your obsession is a person. But for most careers and most dreams obsession *in a particular field/set of skills* is not only healthy but necessary for success. I – like so much of the world – have been caught up in the Olympics over the last few weeks. With 9 dedicated channels to 24/7 Olympic coverage on the television, there is always some event to watch or some interview with an athlete. These Olympian athletes are prime examples of Obsession being a necessary boost to fulfilling their ultimate dream of besting their personal best times and ultimately standing on the podium accepting a medal.

Growing up I was fascinated by the law, science and journalism. I chose my high school subjects with that focus in mind. It was a toss-up between being a criminal prosecutor, a pathologist, a criminal psychologist or a National Geographic journalist or a war journalist. I was also enamoured *and still am* with the FBI and MI6. Unfortunately though geography did not favour me here.

“A writer is someone who writes, that’s all. You can’t stop it; you can’t make yourself do anything else but that.” Gore Vidal (Writer)

Life had another route for me though, one that would lead me to the truest path for me and that is writing. If I had pursued any of those adolescent dream careers I might have come to the writing path much later. I am certain no matter what route I chose it would have eventually lead me to writing. But for now I am really glad that due to life circumstances I did not pursue any of those careers.

obsession |əbˈseSHən| noun the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.• an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind: he was in the grip of an obsession he was powerless to resist. DERIVATIVES obsessional |-SHənl|adjective,obsessionally |-SHənl-ē|adverbORIGIN early 16th cent. (in the sense ‘siege’): from Latin obsessio(n-), from the verb obsidere (see obsess) .*Dictionary Definition*

I am a 100% all or nothing type of person. When I put my mind to something I put it in 100% effort and everything else falls to the wayside. I also have a perfectionist gene inherited from my German mother that won’t allow me to be anything than the best or put any less than 100% effort in. Which is why I am glad I did not pursue those early dream careers. I would have thrown myself headfirst into them and writing would have fallen to the side.

The creative habit is like a drug. The particular obsession changes, but the excitement, the thrill of your creation lasts.” – Henry Moore (Sculptor)

But my dogged determination, my stubborn perfectionism and a tendency to obsess serve me perfectly in Writing. As a writer my characters have their own careers, their own obsessions that have to come across as authentic. So here is where my leaning towards the law, justice, science and journalism can be played out on the page.

I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good.” – Barbara Streisand (Actress)

One of my favourite parts of a new story, any story, is the research. To come off as authentic your plot, your setting and your characters have to be obsessively researched. Once you have come up with the idea then the FUN part begins. You get to throw yourself into a hunt for information of all kinds.

“If you don’t have obsessions, don’t write. My characters are obsessed.” – Marguerite Young

My current WIP deals with serial killers, psychics, tattooists and the FBI. So to get my facts correct I must study up on everything I can to get the characters right and to come up with an authentic plot. The internet is fantastic for the modern-day writer. Now with a tap of a button I can research millions of articles related to the subjects contained in my WIP. I can connect with experts in these fields through their online presence by following their blogs, emailing them pertinent questions and picking their brains on likely hypotheticals.

What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.” – Eugene Delacroix (Painter)

Even though I am writing fiction, I still have to get the facts straight. If I don’t, the errors will be picked up by readers. The worst thing for a writer is to come across as inauthentic. So for this WIP a tendency to obsess combined with an adolescent fascination of criminal law and justice gets to play out in my research. This means I am in my element. For the time that I write in the Voice of my characters I get to see the world and the story through their POV. I get to “be” a criminal profiler much like the actors on shows like CRIMINAL MINDS (One of my television obsessions.) have to step into the shoes of criminal profilers. I also get to understand the alternative world of the tattooists and psychics.

The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession.” – George Sand (Writer)

So even though I did not become a criminal prosecutor, a criminal psychologist, a pathologist, a National Geographic journalist or a war journalist…I get to “be” all these for a time period in my stories and through my characters. I get to write about people in these fields and for as long as I crank out the words in the drafts I get to “be” these people. I get to rub shoulders with the experts who are willing to assist me.

“You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” – John Irving (Novelist)

Yes, a tendency to obsess over the details and the facts and to walk in your characters’ shoes/inhabit their lives is necessary to write authentic fiction. I know I am a writer because even in life’s worst circumstances in real life I am spinning these seeds into story ideas. I hear things, see things, experience things and my itch to get it into a story is nothing if obsessive. It is true what they say, be careful what you tell a writer…you may read about it in one of their stories. Writers are the obsessive magpies of the world always on the hunt for that shiny new idea.

What are your obsessions?

If you could have your life over, what dream career would you have?

As a reader, have you come across glaring errors in stories that have had you questioning the author?

As a writer, what has been your favourite subject to research and obsess over?

18 thoughts on “A Tendency to Obsess…

  1. Love the post, Kim! I think that the word obsession gets a bad rap. Surely obsession is simply the ability to find something endlessly fascinating, to have such curiosity for something that the tiniest details – especially those to do with how ‘it’ is done/achieved/built – that your attention span has no bounds. I have long thought that this kind of obsession is the true source of what is called ‘talent’.
    “Talent” is so often referred to as some kind of lucky break, as though it is all about being born with certain physical or intellectual traits, which are arguably necessary to achieve excellence in certain activities, but I don’t think that’s what ‘talent’ is. Lots of people are born with the same physical or intellectual traits as “talented” people, but they don’t have the same skill.
    When you truly look at people who are considered talented, they did the first “10000 hours”, almost without thinking – they were the kid doodling at the back of the class, or writing stories instead of playing sport, or playing sport instead of listening to music, or playing their guitar etc. But it’s not just about the hours put in, either. Talented people never switch off, when they aren’t practicing their art form, they’re consuming the work of others, in an insightful way, which shows in their consequent work; they’re thinking about their work, assessing it honestly and actively seeking understanding and education (formal or in-) so that they can improve their work. Frankly, that kind of dedication takes nothing less than obsession, and that’s the true talent: to be head over heels in love with an activity. Perhaps the lucky break is in finding that true love 🙂

    1. I so agree Danielle 🙂 Obsession to me is all about pure focus and that can never be a bad thing. Talent is talent but won’t get you anyway if you don’t work at it. This is where determination and obsession come into it.

  2. Yet again, I find that we have common metaphysical roots. I also wanted to pursue a career that was very far from writing: I wanted to be a physicist, or perhaps an academic philosopher of science. I love the questions science poses, and I love the brilliance of the minds that practice that Art. My “only” problem was math. It is an understatement to say that I don’t have a natural knack for mathematics. Instead, words have always been my home. The honest acceptance of my limitations and my strengths led me to writing. It is my obsession. Through it, I get to touch the lives I could have lived if I’d been born a differently tuned human. Story telling is mercy and magic. That’s a heady cocktail!!

    Also: do you ever worry you’ll get on some watch list based on what you search? I think about that when I have to research something like hacking or terrorism. Yah, I’m on a bunch of lists, I bet.


    1. I always worry if I land up on some “list” os suspicious people because of where my research ends up taking me 😀

  3. Great post. I keep thinking I’d like to go back to school, or become a chef (a serious dream of mine) … and then wonder, will it get in the way of the writing? My saying: A day without writing is like having my skin on crooked. I just have to write.

    1. I LOVE that description: “A day without writing is like having my skin on crooked.” – YES! 🙂

  4. Hi Kim,
    Obsession is a fascinating subject and I like the way you’ve highlighted its link to fiction writing. As a writer myself, I do obsess over certain aspects of my work – and not just in the punctuation!
    Thanks for liking my post about creativity and split personalities & for following my blog. Look forward to swapping thoughts again soon!

    1. Hi Amaya – lovely to “meet” you!
      I enjoyed your post. That is what I love about the WordPress community – I get to read the most interesting posts by interesting people that I would not have known outside of WordPress. Glad you enjoyed my post. 🙂

      1. You know, I’m the same. WordPress is actually my favourite network so far. It’s personable, which is rare these days online – and very friendly. Lovely to chat. ‘See’ you again soon!

  5. Hi Kim. Great post. You expressed so well what I often feel about writing. I do get obsessive and want to have every single thing right and am trying to convince myself that it’s not necessary. Or even possible When I’m in the middle of an exciting project I jump down a rabbit hole and am not much good for anything else for a while, even though I do emerge for family etc. So happy to hear that I am not alone.

    1. Hi Alison 🙂
      I love your expression too – “I jump down a rabbit hole” – it is a bit like falling into a Wonderland of mania and magic when we fall into the world of our stories. I guess that is what keeps me coming back for more and jumping deeper and deeper in with each new stories and each new character. That…and it keeps me sane.
      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. Thanks Kim for the advice and It’s nice to know that it’s alright to be so involved in writing. It’s also so refreshing to read your openness of your journey in to writing a bit.

    1. HI Leah 🙂
      I have been told too many times to mention to get my head out of my stories and into real life. But writing and real life are linked for me… I throw my real life experiences into writing and my writing into my real life. It is completely ok to be “so involved” in your writing.
      Glad you liked the post.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts 🙂

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