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?

Confessions…and I want to play hookie

I want to play hookie…with my new WIP that is. I have been stuck in an editing foxhole for months now on my current WIP and really I am getting fed up with myself. I have a problem. I am a perfectionist and I cannot stop myself editing and editing and editing… Is there a perfectionist anonymous group out there or an editing anonymous group? Maybe there should be! There could be a 13 step recovery process…OH and I detest synopsis writing! Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with the editing process or with a perfectionist gene?

One of the first steps of curing a problem and recovering from it is in accepting the problem and admitting that you have a problem.

Confession: I am a Perfectionist and my problem is that once I start looking for errors and editing…I cannot stop.

I have no idea if there is a group called Perfectionist Anonymous but I have decided that writers like me desperately need a group like this for recovering editing addicts. We need an intervention and we need people we can call when the urge to continue editing ad infinitum hits us. It is a quagmire of sinking sand that sucks us in even as we try to clamber out. The more we struggle against it, the deeper we sink.

So every recovery program and intervention has a step by step list of dos and don’ts in the steps to becoming cured. So I have come up with a 13 step recovery program for all writers who suffer from Editorix Perfectionist.

13 Steps to Overcoming Editorix Perfectionism

  1. Say the Words: I am a Perfectionist and suffer from perfectionism – the neurotic need to find error and fault and correct and recorrect and still recorrect.
  2. Ask for an intervention to be held by more saner individuals than your neurotic self.
  3. Step away from the manuscript, now on it’s umpteenth draft.
  4. Close the folder entitled WIP – Nth edit.
  5. Repeat to yourself ” Perfectionism is a sly form of Procrastination” – stick this note on every available surface.
  6. Type “The End” on current Nth draft of WIP – and mean it.
  7. Hide all red pens, correction fluid and erasers.
  8. You are a writer not an editor. You have no sane moments nor objective moments when it comes to your WIP. Doctors are not allowed to treat their own family members so writers should not be allowed to edit their own works without assistance and intervention.
  9. The first edit is allowed, the second edit is treading on dangerous ground and the third edit is an edit gone too far.
  10. Surround yourself with notes telling you: You are not useless. You do not write rubbish. Your work is fit for more than a trash can – both on the computer desktop and near the desk. Perfectionism is an unattainable myth as it is as the opposite of humanity – since you are a human, you are imperfect anyway – pointless to fight it.
  11. Surround yourself with critique partners, writing buddies and other writers who know what you struggle against and who know that the writer’s fragile ego is our own worst enemy. Do not be afraid to say you need help before you destroy both your sanity and your manuscript.
  12. Step away from the edited WIP and take a walk with a notebook. Write down the plot for the next manuscript.
  13. Begin writing the new manuscript and find refreshment and creative fulfillment in throwing yourself head-first into a creative binge. (No editing allowed at least until You have typed “the End” on the first draft!)

So this week I am going to be closing the editing folder on Ring a Ring o’ Roses (Nth draft). I am submitting the synopsis and query and then I will leave the rest to the fates that be. I am opening my notebook and starting work on The Tattooist. Editor Kim is going away – she had no business being here for so long anyway. Writer Kim is returning. I am a writer. I am not an Editor. Saner individuals than me become editors, I will stick to what I do best and that is WRITING not EDITING. To be clear I am a recovering not a cured Editorix Perfectionist. This is a continuing struggle.

I am going to do more than play Hookie with The Tattooist. I am going to have a full-blown affair with The Tattooist. The urge to write must take control over the urge to edit. I cannot wait for that delicious feeling of playing hookie and that first blush of the first draft.

Does anyone else have a love/hate relationship with the editing process or with a perfectionist gene?

Sign up here _______ if you would like to become a member of Editorix Perfectionism Anonymous.

Watch Brene` Brown on The Power of Vulnerability

Excerpts…”I am surrounded by people who kinda believe that life’s messy love it, and I am more the “life’s messy: clean it up, organize it and put in into a pinto box.” [👍 ]

“…lean into the discomfort of the work and I am like, you know, Knock discomfort upside its head and move it over…”

“I want to separate bravery and courage for you for a moment. Courage: The original definition of courage when it first came into the English language; it’s from the latin word “cor” meaning “heart” and the original definition was: is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart…and so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect…”

Writing is that for me…the courage to be imperfect and to be comfortable in my own skin while being naked in my vulnerability. 👌

Monday’s Mental Muscles | Beating Procrastination

 

Procrastination = gift wrapped in all sorts of packaging…

We have all been there. You are halfway through your WIP or halfway through your edits and suddenly there are a whole lot of pressing tasks that come up that have to be completed before you can continue with your writing/editing on the WIP. In steps our old frenemy “Procrastination”…

Frenemy, I hear you say, scratching your temple? Yes Frenemy. Not all Procrastination is necessarily bad. Now, don’t get me wrong I hate procrastination even while I find myself slipping into its slippery clutches again and again. Why do we procrastinate?

We procrastinate when a task becomes too difficult or too boring or feels too routine. As writers, we have all reached that part in the novel when you just want it written to get to the next climactic scene. In editing, you may have found that scene or two that needs to be cut but you just don’t want to cut it because every time you attempt to you remember how much work that scene took to write. So in steps our frenemy “Procrastination” and we go willingly hand in hand down a slippery slope of time-suck.

Procrastination can come in many forms. It can come in the form of household errands that just have to be done because if you don’t fo them, they will just pile up. It can come in the form of checking and responding to emails. It can some in the form of our favourite buzz-word: social networking. It can come in the form of perfectionism.

Perfectionism? How can that be a form of Procrastination?

Perfectionism is the ultimate procrastination for a writer with a perfectionist Type A personality. A perfectionist is never happy with their work, it is never good enough for them. So they will write and rewrite a scene 100 times and reading over it, they will still find something to perfect, correct and change. Don’t even get me started on the editing process.

I confess I am a Perfectionist. It is a gift and a curse. It also makes me my own worst enemy. My work is never good enough and never quite edited enough or grammatically perfect enough for me to step away feeling happy. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I see all the glaring faults – whether they are actually there or not. It is not fun.

So what do I do to ward off this facet of Procrastination? Do I need to ward it off? Surely it is good to be a perfectionist and want the best manuscript to go out into the public eye. Yes I do want to ward it off. If I don’t stop perfectionism in its tracks, I will not ever let go of my WIP. I will still be making changes 20 years from now. Seriously, I am not kidding.

So if your Procrastination comes as Frenemy “Perfectionism, here are some ways you can counteract this or use it to your benefit…

  • Set yourself a minimum times you will rewrite a scene. (Three is usually a good number for me. It appeases the perfectionist professor in me but also makes sure I don’t procrastinate with the perfectionism for too long a time.)
  • Have at least three writing buddies who will make you turn over your WIP to for a read-through. 
  • The writing buddies will also come in handy in making you accountable. (Your butt may get a tad tender from the kicks but it is worth it.)
  • Set yourself both writing and editing time in the day. (The editing will again appease your Perfectionist.)
  • Join in something like NaNoWriMo to turn off that internal editor.
  • Practice Morning Pages – these are 3 A4 longhand written pages that you write first thing in the morning and do not go back over. (This will help the creative flow in your brain and put a stopper in the perfectionist.)
  • Start a journal – this will have the same benefits as the morning pages in blocking creative thought.
  • Write in shorter spurts of time. (You will have less time in front of the screen to be losing focus on trying to nitpick faults.)
  • Critique someone else’s manuscript – or even read a book and critique it – focusing on someone else’s faults will leave you less time to focus on your own faults.
  • Try writing your first drafts longhand. (I don’t know what it is about the effort of longhand writing but I am less eager to find fault with it then on the screen with the ease of a delete button or a backspace button.
  • If all else fails, step away from the WIP and take a walk outside. Going to the gym or going for a run will also work. Both the fresh air and the physical exertion will tire out the perfectionist in you. The outside air and exercise will also give you positive vibes which means you will be less inclined to look at your work negatively.

 

How does Procrastination come packaged in your world? 

What tips or exercises do you use/do to ward it off?

Do you procrastinate more in the drafting or the editing stage of your WIP?

Perfectionism is the great Oppressor

Train tracks HDR edit
Image by Zach Bonnell via Flickr

I am the daughter of a german mother. This means that I cook and bake well. But it also means that I have the roots of perfectionism planted into my foundations. Now usually most people who are not perfectionists would think that being a perfectionist is something that will push you higher and higher along the ladder of success.

Perfectionism is a gift and a curse. It is also unattainable. But for a perfectionist this very unattainability makes it the apple in the Garden of Eden. You just want to bite into it.

As a perfectionist my competition and my critic and judge is myself. This perfectionism also has another word in my world: procrastination by perfectionism.

For me there is always the hunt for the perfect story then building the perfect character then writing the perfect first line then writing the perfect ending. I can sit for hours breaking apart every word, throwing it out, twisting it into origami and then putting it back in. I will not even go into the area of Grammar. That would take up 10 blog posts. I am sure you get the picture.

However there is one form of my writing where I do not have the gloom of perfectionism hanging over my shoulder. That is my poetry. When I write my poetry, it is visceral and primal. My mind and thoughts do not come into any of my poems. It is the seat of my soul, my heart and my emotions. It is the base instincts that make me, me which is at the heart of my poetry.

This has led me to an epiphany today: a true A-Ha moment.

If my poetry and my thoughts are two parallel tracks at a train station, then I need to switch tracks when working on my prose or fiction. I need to switch tracks because the conductor of my poetry train is not a perfectionist. This conductor is the inner workings of me before cynicism and realism took hold. This conductor is my 6-year-old self who is wide-eyed and curious at everything new and always full of questions. She has two black pig tails slightly skew because she is learning to put her own hair  up in the mornings. She has wide green eyes that seem to swallow in the world and everything she looks at. She is dressed in jeans and a red t-shirt. She has slight smudges on her hands from climbing her favourite tree and reading her favourite book, her dog waiting faithfully at the foot of the tree. Her favourite word is Hoppergrass. This is her name for grasshoppers because sometimes when she squints her eyes just right a hopping grasshopper looks like a piece of hopping grass. This child is not concerned with finding what is wrong. She is just concerned with “finding”.

The conductor of my fiction train has had too much control over my writing. He is a grumpy old man dressed in a pin stripe suit and starched white shirt. His hair is flattened and smoothed to an inch within its life. There are no laugh lines around his mouth but his temple has become a road map of discontent and disapproval. He goes only by the title of professor. He has rimless round spectacles that are always perched on the bridge of his nose. He talks in a clipped german accent and all that he says is that he expects more, I could have done better, it is not good enough and worst crime of all it is not yet perfect therefore not yet ready.

So today I have decided that I am switching trains and taking a different track with my WIP. I have been letting Professor Perfect be the conductor of my words. I need to let the 6-year-old child, Kimmi, be the new conductor. I need to write without stopping to think. When I stop to think during writing, I do not get very far beyond going over and over trying to make things perfect for the Professor. I need to allow the peals of  6-year-old Kimmi’s laughter to drown out the words and thoughts of Professor Perfect. I will need him at the end of this draft when I need to edit. But for now, he needs to go and bother someone else and take the train on the parallel track from me.

So from today, Professor Perfect gets to clip someone else’s ticket stub. I am boarding the train conducted by my 6-year-old self and I am taking the track of emotion. This WIP is a difficult one for me to write but I realise now in the light of today’s epiphany that it has only been difficult because I was over-thinking Professor Perfect’s thoughts. Instead I need to let the child of emotion run riot. She needs to play cowboys and indians and hide and seek. She needs to ask questions all the time. She needs to remind me that the purest part of me, the most elemental core is what will make this writing fluid. This is a WIP where I need to feel, experience, question, go off kilter, climb trees, laugh out loud and weep crocodile tears.

Eureka!

The Road not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost


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