Obsession Is the Missing Ingredient in Your Writing
You learn to write quality stuff when the rent is due and you only have $87 in your checking account
One of the first lessons I learned about writing is you write quality stuff, and more of it, when the rent is due, and you only have $87 in your checking account.
When you make that fatal decision to be a writer for life, you seldom think about your ability to pay your rent, or any of your other bills, from your writing, but I had no choice but to make money writing because I refused to do anything else for a living.
Writing wasn’t a dream; writing was an obsession beginning when I was 10-years-old, and through the years the obsession has grown into a full-fledged career.
Desperation from lack of money is the surest way to seek out those paying writing jobs, and when financial times are tough, those high standards you wear to impress friends as a future best-selling novelist start to slide downward quickly.
Lack of money has given me the gift of writing obituaries on weekends for the local newspaper, creating marketing for a startup pot farm, and reviewing soft porn movies for a fledgling online magazine that lasted three months in Denver.
Not much money, but the rent was paid, and I lived to write for another year. I did move up to junior weekend reporter for $15 a story when the obit thing ended, sometimes amassing a $60 day on Saturdays if I worked from dawn through the end of the last weekend beer festivals in our small town.
Obsession is the missing ingredient most newbie writers never find in their own work, or lives. It isn’t that you want to be a writer; your life comes down to you have to be a writer, and there is no other choice in life but to write as if you were addicted to the worst drug possible.
What is obsession in writing? The plane for my family reunion took off and left me sitting in an airport lounge because the writing couldn’t wait. Now two hours until the next flight… but I didn’t care because there was now more time to finish another article.
Obsession also forces me to accept personal writing challenges I create for myself. Who needs outside motivation when you are capable as a writer to drive yourself crazy?
Several years ago, I wrote 365 days in a row because the writing couldn’t stop, and I bet myself a good bottle of wine I could do it. Five pages on Christmas, five hungover pages on New Year’s Day, and 10 on my birthday, and I drank the bottle of wine on a lazy Sunday as I made notes for a new project in my notebook.
I was late to my uncle’s funeral because I was sitting in the car writing about the man now gone, and I was the one giving the eulogy. The only thing that saved me from my mother’s wrath is I do write a decent eulogy, and am also a speaker so I was able to sell it to the family.
There has been a pen and notebook by my bed for 20 years because the best, and most obsessive ideas, only come in the middle of the night. I may be asleep, but my writing mind never does.
Wine should blunt the mind, but often the best of my craziness percolates at 2:00 a.m. after too many glasses of something good. The eyes open, the idea is there, and I creep to my favorite chair in the corner to write until the mind is drained and sleep is again possible.
My tombstone will read, “The crazy bastard really did write five pages a day until he died.” I want to be buried with an old typewriter. And a bottle of good bourbon. And a notebook and pen in case I need to write anything down during the next adventure.
Writers write…and then there are those who talk about writing, read about writing, think about writing, and even have a card saying they are writers, but they never write
Pretenders spend more money on perfecting their writing spaces than they do on their cars, but might write more publishable work sitting in that car and writing in an old notebook.
Obsessive writers are driven by the need to create, but even the best of the obsessed get better when you are three days out from the end of the month, and you are faced with the only writing you don’t want to do, which is write checks for all the bills coming due.
Writers write because you love the process of taking a unique thought from your overly stimulated brain, then turning this small glimpse of personal sobriety into a piece someone scrutinizes, swears at, then writes you a small check for your effort. But you only become a decent writer when forced to write with an intensity stemming from the possibility of losing your home if you don’t write something decent in the next week.
I bought pens costing more than my first car because sitting in a coffee shop writing with one made me happy. I have three of them. I couldn’t afford them at the time, but I can’t live without them. I hand wrote my first book with the silver one. We are friends and he lives on a special shelf over my desk in a little box I bought for him in China Town. I hope I never have to choose between one of my kids and that pen because I would miss my children.
If you suffer from the obsessiveness of writing, your life comes down to writing, or reading about writing, or reading other writers to see what they are doing in their work.
My friends consider me disgusting for a guy; I don’t watch porn, I read late at night on Medium. How can I miss what my peers are writing, how can I not learn from their successes, and failures, and how I could I waste a day not trying to move, even by the smallest measurement of skill, my writing ahead a micro notch?
Yes, obsession forced me to hire a typing tutor so I could write faster; just call me “Mr. 55 Words Per Minute” please. I ordered a full keyboard to go with my laptop so I could get more done without losing my sometimes limited thought train. Happy birthday to me again.
Perhaps one of the surest signs of a writer gone to the edge are the shelves of notebooks, lining my little writing office, where they stand nobly by date and year, or subject if I had that special notebook that year dedicated to just one research project.
My girlfriend, at the time, spilled a cup of coffee on a full notebook while I was scribbling away during breakfast. It was an accident, she didn’t mean it, but I don’t really miss her. And she hated poetry so there was no future anyway
If the disease is writing, one of the symptoms that it is terminal is a writer’s ability to quote sheer nonsense at the first sip of any alcohol. When I drink too much, I recite poetry, and bore my friends with writer quotes.
After a mere two shots and a pint, I can do Robert Frost until driven away from the table so my few remaining friends can still watch whatever sports they can see from their seats in the bar.
I wrote this pieces at 2:00 in the morning; my wife doesn’t even ask anymore, just sighs…but the writing just couldn’t wait, the trusty pen and notebook were near…and well, a writer just has to write.
Writers write because that is what they were born to do…and because the writing can’t wait
Obsession means born to write, no Plan B, no other choice in life. The question then isn’t if you are obsessed, it is whether you are obsessed enough to pay the rent?