Is Obsession the Solution?

calvin writing
What do most famous writers have in common? A love of reading? A wish for solitude? Introspection? A fine collection of tweed jackets? Mostly, yes. They also seem to share a tendency to obsess. Think of that archetypal image of the busy writer– harried, working at his/her desk late at night or early in the morning, surrounded by empty coffee cups bearing cigarette butts, crumpled sheets of paper strewn around the room, and a weary head being held up by the hand clutching one’s hair. Ken Kesey admits that sometimes he wrote Sometimes A Great Notion in 30-hour stretches. Rarely do you hear of the great successful writer who put in steady, boring, hours of work.

I’m certainly no medical professional, and can’t talk about addiction with much professional or personal knowledge. But society often speaks of “addictive personalities,” people who have a tendency to dive into something wholly, at the expense of everything and everyone around them. They are volatile and often have turbulent personal lives. But the ones who display these addictive tendencies in their work– the writer late at night, the musician practicing 12 hours a day, the athlete running sprints or performing deadlifts late in the evening while everyone else is in front of the T.V.– often achieve great success in those areas.

I don’t have this element in my personality. If anything, I have an “anti-addictive” personality. I become wary of any endeavor that takes up a disproportionate share of my time or attention. It’s why I steer clear of video games and try to avoid T.V. unless I’m watching a particular show. When I was a child I could dive into things– reading a whole book in a single day, backyard wiffle ball games that lasted from sunrise to sunset, reading endlessly about dinosaurs, playing Might and Magic VI from breakfast until dinner. But adulthood has made me share my attentions with many spheres, of which writing is one. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing. It’s essential to me. But I always have other uses of my time calling to me, and I can only shush them for so long.

At the current time, I’m balancing: Revising one novel, drafting a new one, a freelance ghostwriting job, blogging, revising a pair of short stories, critiquing stories on Critters, reading two books (one in paperbook, one on Audible), my relationship with my wife, caring for my infant son, taking care of my cat and dog, renovating our home, weightlifting and training for races, learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone, and playing bass, guitar, and my violin. And from September to June, teaching takes most of my time and energy from all of those other realms.

Am I striving to become a “Renaissance Man” who can do a little of everything? Or am I overextending myself so that I’m constantly doing things but not improving at any of them? It doesn’t help that we live in an age of all sorts of little electronic gizmos that nibble away at our time and attention. Again, I can’t spend more than ten minutes of time on Facebook or Youtube before getting restless. But ten minutes here, check the email there, tweak a fantasy baseball lineup there, and my focus is shot.

I think I need to get obsessed with writing, at least a little. July is jam-packed with travel and vacation, but I think in August, writing will move up higher on the priority list. I may have to say “no” to some things as I dig in and kick start the writing. I find successful writing works on momentum, and the more “good” days in a row I have, the more I’ll keep having. Maybe that will get the creativity flowing again and produce some quality words.

Just in time for school to start again in September.


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