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?

Running with Words

I am a runner. There is nothing as contradictory as running. It is energizing, muscle-hurting, lung-stretching and a rush. In my time I have done quite a bit of gymming and different sports but I am dragged back to running each time. There is something liberating about running alone. The air is crisp, your muscles are burning as you push yourself past your body’s limits and your lungs are expanding with air while your heart pumps fresh oxygen into every vein and artery of your body. There is nothing like being outdoors in the fresh air, you against your own muscles. For every person who runs, no explanation is necessary. Running is a sport of obsession and addiction.

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, 
because you get out of it what you put into it.”

Runners fall into two main groups:

  • Sprinters
  • Marathon Runners

You may think all running is the same but this is not true. Sprinters and Marathon runners are two entirely different creatures. If you compare the physiques of the two different types of runners, the differences are immediately visible and noticeable.

The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race; it’s to test the limits of the human heart  – Bill Bowerman

Sprinters are built up in their torso and have heavy muscular thighs. Marathon runners on the other hand sport physiques that are more sinew than muscle, long and lean limbs with powerful calf muscles.

“Running is 90% mental, the rest is physical.” – Anon.

In running, I have always been a middle distance to Marathon runner. For me there is an art form to Marathon running or long distance running. The runner needs to know their own body rhythms exceptionally well. This means being in tune with your heart rhythms and knowing your body’s stressors or stress points. Unlike sprinting where the minute the gun fires, you are off at a mad rate to get to the finish line at full power, marathon running takes patience. You have to start off pacing yourself. You have to plot your race from start to finish in your mind even before you begin the course. You need to know at which point you will increase speed, which points you will pace yourself and at which point you will finally push through with all your strength until the final resting point. Sprinting is pure exertion and physical power. Marathon running is as mental as it is physical. Most sprinters are in it for the competition. For a marathon runner it is about pushing yourself past your last burning point and forging on. It is a competition of your mental will vs your physical ability.

Writing for me is Marathon Running with Words.

Writers and runners are the same creatures. They require hours of solitary focus, mental and physical endurance, a paced rhythm, obsession and intense self-discipline.

“Running makes you an athlete in all areas of life…trained in the basics, prepared for whatever comes, ready to fill each hour and deal with the decisive moment.”
– Dr, George Sheehan, runner/writer/philosopher

Why is writing like Marathon Running and not sprinting?

Some forms of writing are like sprinting but most forms share more in common with marathon running. Writing is hard work. For those who don’t write, they may believe that writing is physically an easy activity. But every writer will tell you that this is not so. Writing is physically taxing. It involves pushing past your exhaustion boundaries to get that last scene down before the inspiration vanishes. It is also physically draining to sit in front of a computer and type. If you prefer long hand typing, any writer will show you the calluses that cover their fingers, palms, elbows.

Writing is a question of finding a certain rhythm. I compare it to the rhythms of jazz. Much of the time life is a sort of rhythmic progression of three characters. If one tells oneself that life is like that, one feels it less arbitrary.” – F Sagan

Writing a novel, like marathon writing, is a long process. Like a marathon, the writer must plot a course to follow. Even if the writer is a pantser who does not plot, they will still follow some sort of a path from beginning to climax to resolution. The writer needs to keep a steady rhythm flowing  to keep the words going. When the going gets tough, the writer needs to forge on ahead. The essential element in writing is to Keep Writing no matter the circumstances or the mood.

“For a sprinter the thrill is going fast, but for a distance runner it is the journey in between the start and the end.” -a coach

A marathon runner will run in all weather; rain, sunshine, fog, cold, heat. When you are in that particular mental zone during a run, all of the external factors like weather and screeching muscles seem to float away. You enter a zen like place where the only thing that counts is to keep on putting one foot in front of the other without breaking your body’s rhythm.

In just the same way, writers will and must write in all their weathers; emotions and moods. If a writer only wrote when  they were in a happy mood or felt inspired, then the actual writing would be minimal. Our emotions and moods are as unpredictable as the weather. Just as a runner has no control over predicting what the weather is going to do, a writer has no control over predicting their emotions or moods. A runner cannot always wait for perfect sunshine with not too much heat and the right degree of wind factor to run. A writer cannot always wait for inspiration to hit and their mood to be 100% positive.

To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first.”                                                         – William Shakespeare

A marathon runner must be able to pace themselves throughout the run. You have to know when to speed up and when to power down. You have to know how far away the finish point is and calculate how much energy you are going to need to make the final push in the last 300 meters.

Pacing is all that makes the flow, the balance, the rhythm of the story. – Denise Leograndis, Fluent Writing: How to Teach the Art of Pacing

A writer must also be able to pace their writing. There will be those scenes where they must power up and surge ahead but there will also be points where they will have to slow down and pace themselves to build a new resource of energy. Their words and writing will reflect their pace. There needs to be an ebb and flow just like the steady pacing of a marathon runner. If they forge ahead with too much power, both the runner and the writer will burn out before they have even reached the half way point of the run or story.

The secret … there is really no secret to the Kenyans’ success. It’s discipline. You have to love what you are doing. It has to come from your heart. You have to like the training … the running … the races. Then you do it from the heart.”  – Mike Korir

Marathon running requires great elements of self-discipline. Nobody is going to make you run. There are going to be days when you just don’t feel like running. These are the days when you push yourself past those mental nay-sayer barriers and forge ahead in spite of them. There are days when you are going to want to spend indoors vegging out on the living room couch.

For me, writing is a discipline, much like playing a musical instrument. It requires constant practice and honing of skills. For this reason, I write seven days a week.” – Dan Brown

Writing too requires great elements of self-discipline. Writing is not glamorous. It is lonely and can often times be draining. Writing is also not something that everyone in the writer’s life understands or even tolerates. Writing steals your time and it locks you away in other worlds that you have created in your own imagination. Writing like running isolates the writer from the outside world.

There is a strength of a quiet endurance as significant of courage as the most daring feats of prowess”                                         – Henry Tuckerman

The great equalizer between a runner and a great runner, a writer and a great writer is Endurance. A marathon runner does not begin running 100kms in a day. This would be unfeasible. Rather they start with 5kms then build up to 10kms then 15kms and so forth. It is through steady pacing that endurance is built.

Writing too is a thing of endurance and practice. You cannot write a novel in a day. Instead you have to pace yourself and slowly build up your daily word count. You start off with a vow to write 1000 words a day. Then slowly you build that up to 2000, then 3000 and before you know it you are doubling that and churning out perhaps 6000 words per day. But your standard of a minimum 1000 words is what started this pacing, this endurance.

As you continue running every day your levels of endurance will be stretched and your muscle strength will grow. In the same vein, as you continue writing every day, increasing your word count a little more each day your level of endurance will also grow.

Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck — but, most of all, endurance.”                                                                      – James Arthur Baldwin

Writing is Marathon Running with Words. Use the same lessons you have learned in running to forge ahead in your writing. If you are not a runner, then  ask someone who is a runner to tell you what they do to keep focused and to push past their boundaries to reach the finish line. Or even better, think about taking up running. Writers can learn a lot from runners.

But at the end of the day, the element that most counts in a runner’s success is to: Just Keep Running no matter what.

It takes a little courage, and a little self — control. And some grim determination, If you want to reach the goal. It takes a deal of striving, and a firm and stern-set chin. No matter what the battle, If you really want to win. There’s no easy path to glory, There’s no road to fame. Life, however we may view it, Is no simple parlor game; But it’s prizes call for fighting, For endurance and for grit; For a rugged disposition and don’t know when to quit.” – Anon.

So for writing success: Just Keep Writing no matter what.