The Writer and Obsession

Here is a measure of my personal experience with obsession: once with a man, once with a story, three times involving children, once involving a sibling.

There are five things I can tell you for sure about obsession.

1. It can be fatal. That’s the nature of obsession. It consumes you.

2. It’s not a quick death. Three of my obsessions continue and have endured for decades.

3. No one around you will ever really understand. They may have their own obsessions. Or they may be the kind of people for whom obsession has no place in the pantheon of emotion. You’re on your own with obsession. It’s a deeply personal affair.

4. It is also, make no mistake, a crazy thing—agony and ecstasy whipped together.  Get the juices of desire running and a typhoon blows through your life.

Now, does your writing—maybe not the kind that pays the bills or answers to the client, but the kind that is closest to you; the kind that is you—consume you like this?

The sheer act of it, perhaps? Or a great line, or a scene rendered perfectly? Or are you obsessed with what you think you can get out of it, immortality say, or justice, or beauty?

You won’t find me encouraging obsession or equating it willy-nilly with the production of good work. You can make a hash out of anything, obsessed or not.

But, if you are obsessed or obsessive by nature, one more thing is for certain: let’s hope it’s about your work, or your work will suffer.

Because obsession is total. It owns your heart and mind completely. And whatever is not the subject of your desire becomes relegated to the category of loveless labors. Just make sure your work doesn’t end up here, and you’re good.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: two-faced figure by Shaun Wong; frustrated guy by Xpecto.

How to Break a Scandal

Everyone knows this moment.  Something dishy, something trashy, some god fallen, principles tested, and the street full of speculation.

If you, the writer, find yourself involved in this kind of story, something messy and dangerous, awkward and sad, how will you handle it?

Ask yourself:

Do you need to tell this story? Are you sure? Is there something worth knowing here? Who will benefit?

How much collateral damage are you looking at? Who is hurt? What kind of hurt? Is that fair? How much territory is likely to fall under your mushroom cloud? Can you limit civilian casualties?

Who is ruined? How big is big, this story of yours? And must it be that big?

Recognizing that you possess in this moment the preponderance of power, how will you break the story? What’s your timing? Is a warning appropriate?

As we learned from the IMF scandal, they don’t use “a perp walk” in France—that is, the accused, ushered by his lawyer through a flank of reporters, head bent, just make for the car, his instruction. How loud will you be? Is your publisher, for example, stocking three times the usual volume around town?   Will you tweet without end?

Words are both powerful and limited. As if a club in the fist of a giant, we know the power of them very well, but have you factored in the constraints? Have you considered how—try as you might, good as you are—everything you write is different than you had in mind, a bit adulterated, a bit off? Still want to swing that club?

What is this story to you, anyway?

And if the shoe were on the other foot, would you say the writer did right?

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: shame, female – Royal Constantine; shame, male – Bruckerrlb