If writing feels difficult, unpleasant, or slow, it’s time to refocus. After all, slogging through a writing project means you aren’t excited or passionate about the subject. But if you change the subject to one you are obsessed with, writing will feel easy and joyous, and you’ll write quickly.
I know this is true. When I sit down to work on a blog post, article, or book on a topic I’m obsessed with, I am always amazed at how quickly I finish the project. And writing feels fun and energizes me.
When I’m obsessed, I want to write! I can’t wait to write! I have to write!
If you don’t feel that way about your current work in progress, consider if you are no longer obsessed with the topic. It’s easy to blame your writing challenge on a block or fear, but you simply may have fallen out of love with the project.
While speaking at the 20th Annual San Francisco Writers Conference two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear author and journalist Joyce Maynard give a keynote talk. Maynard has been one of my role models because she began her journalism career at age 13. I started in high school, but I’ve not been published in the same caliber of publications (yet). She also went on to write both memoirs and novels (even two that became movies). I’d love to add those two genres to my writing credits.
During her speech, Maynard methodically discussed her 19 books and the lessons she learned from each. One specific lesson stuck with me.
Let Obsession Drive Your Writing
While discussing her second book, To Die For, Maynard said, “Attach your writing engine to your obsessions.”
She then advised the room full of writers to list their obsessions. “Your best stories lie there,” she said.
As I heard those words, I experienced an aha moment. I began my career writing about topics that obsessed me. I might have said I was passionate about them, but, in fact, I couldn’t stop talking about or thinking about them. That’s a surefire sign of obsession.
The books I’ve written—and some I started and never finished, the articles and essays I wrote for publications, and the posts I published on my early blogs all were written because of my obsessions. I simply followed them to the computer, and they told me what to write.
Losing My Obsession
Later, when so-called experts, like literary agents and editors, declined to publish my work, I turned away from some of my “passion projects.” My obsession decreased with each rejection, as did my courage, self-esteem, and confidence. And the longer I avoided those projects, the less obsessed I became with their subject matter.
In the past decade, I have primarily written what I felt I had to or should to please others, increase book sales, or promote products or services. I can recall only a few instances when I wrote simply because I was obsessed with a topic. For example, I wrote a blog post about the fledgling Great Horned Owls on our property in California, which I considered the answer to my request for a spiritual sign.
I’m sad to say that over the last decade, most of my writing topic decisions were influenced by what others might think of my ideas. I wrote for my readers, for literary agents, and for publishers.
That brings me to another lesson Maynard shared and a second light-bulb moment.
Write for Yourself
While speaking about her first book, Baby Love, Maynard said, “Stop trying to please anyone but yourself.”
That advice goes against what most attendees probably heard from other speakers during the conference. In fact, writers are most often told to write for their readers—“Know your market, and create an avatar of your ideal reader.” And I know many an author who writes what publishers want as well.
Once upon a time, though, I wrote for myself. I started all those still-unfinished books because I was obsessed with the topic and wanted to write about them. I didn’t care about what anyone else thought or would think.
That’s not to say that I didn’t want them published. However, I was utterly certain that those manuscripts would be published one day…if I continued to write about things I felt passionate about.
I proved that to be true with several projects, most notably my three traditionally published books, How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual, and Creative Visualization for Writers. In addition, I also wrote and self-published several passion projects.
A New Writing Vision
I left Maynard’s keynote speech with renewed belief that I can write about topics that most interest me. And I can do it simply because I want to write about them.
I could see myself sitting down to write because I couldn’t do otherwise. I wrote with ease, joy, and speed, following my obsessions wherever they took me. And I only considered how to get these projects in the hands of readers when I was done—but I saw them published.
That vision excites me. I feel motivated and inspired to tackle any writing project—even a memoir or novel. (Maybe I’ll pull out my one fiction project and start revising the manuscript.)
When I got home, I opened Maynard’s memoir, At Home in the World, which she signed for me, and began reading. When I put it down a few hours later, I went into my office, sat at my desk, and began writing about my latest obsession.
Are you letting your obsessions guide you to your writing projects and writing for yourself? If so, does that change your writing experience? Tell me in a comment below. And please share this post with a writing buddy.
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Photo courtesy of Patrick Tomasso.
I can personally testify to the importance of writing about obsession. (The same applies to reading choices as well.) I had a huge writing slump because I constructed writing topics that would make me seem like an intellectual and supposedly earn me more money. I earned nothing from those, not least because I never finished those projects. After a great deal of personal upheaval, I looked around and saw people making money from non-traditional subjects. I was especially chagrined when a businesswoman I follow published a book about her business activities, despite having less free time than me. I noted that there were many writers who had made a living writing what is essentially fanfiction, whereas I always had an inferiority complex about doing so and thought that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Yet novelizations of movies are popular, especially with new installments. Novels inspired by Jane Austen novels are popular. I was kidding myself. I have to keep reminding myself to write based on obsession, not based on a vain desire to impress people with my knowledge on “marketable” topics. A great article. Joyce Maynard sounds like a great role model.
Nina Amir says
Thanks! Keep writing about your obsessions!