Writing 101: How Do You Know You're Obsessed?

The minute I started thinking of one of my books as "my masterpiece," I should have known I was in serious trouble. Not just because it's arrogant, which clearly it is, but because it's the start of an unhealthy obsession. It's something that happens to lots of artists and storytellers, and I'm here to warn you that it could happen to you.


As an artist, it's very easy to become obsessed. So easy, in fact, you may not even realize that it's happening to you. There's a way to find out.Obsessed artists generally have a single trait in common. If you have it, too, then you might be obsessed.

Producer David O. Selznick spent two years just casting the film adaptation of Gone With the Wind. He hired multiple script writers, fired the director, and spent so long in post-production the movie was finally taken out his hands and distributed. As far as he was concerned, it wasn't finished even then. 

Leonardo Da Vinci worked on The Mona Lisa for 10 years. He kept adding to it and taking away, making minor changes, and died before he could -- in his eyes -- complete it. 

Both these men were artists of their particular art form, and I am merely a fan of mine. So I dare not compare myself to them, but I can say I, too, have been obsessed. I worked on researching and writing a single book for two years, then spent another two recovering from it where I wrote nothing at all. I still think about it far too often, in fact. And no, it isn't finished. 

That's how you'll know if you're obsessed. When you can't stop working on it and you can't finish it, ask yourself why. Ask yourself if you're not finishing it because you can't stand for it to end, because you haven't got it just so, because you have to keep perfecting.

There's a healthier way to deal with creating a form of art, whether it's a movie or a book you can't stop editing. I'm just not sure what it is. I put my book aside. We do not speak of it. Other people, perhaps, finish what they've written and get it out there. But I do know there's one answer to an obsession: move on to something else. Start writing something new, whether or not you're done with the obsession. Just start writing something else until you find something that works to clear your mind of that other project.

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