16 September 2013

Getting it write

The sub-title of this blog is 'life as a writer with obsessive-compulsive disorder', and a fellow writer has asked me how I think the condition affects my creativity.

The first challenge for any writer is to generate ideas and every writing tutor encourages the practice of noting these down as and when they occur, to provide a stockpile for days when inspiration is in short supply.

Sure enough, I have notebooks and folders and loose sheets of paper full of snatches of conversation and descriptions, settings and plot ideas. And sometimes I do, indeed, dip into them.

But what of all those nuggets that I'll never turn into stories or incorporate in a novel? As I hate things to be incomplete, these niggle away at me and create a kind of mental mess. This mess has, in fact, become so overwhelming that I now only add to the physical pile if the idea seems an absolute gem, which I'm sure I'll have time to develop.

Image courtesy of Nutdanai
And yet, I've read other writers complaining that they, likewise, have so much material they either can't decide what to write next, or can't find that great, partially developed idea they know is somewhere in the morass.

We're led to believe writers have to be messy to be truly creative - which was what provoked my friend's question in the first place. Messiness is indicative of a mind full of ideas, a mind that is uninhibited and open to anything. Too much mess, though, and you're in trouble: whether it's because you can't focus, or you've simply lost that vital piece of research.

When it comes to the actual writing, I'm slow, oh, so slow. I need to structure a story in my head before I put finger to keyboard. I have to do all my research and think about it, and then think about it some more. 

This may be a result of my methodical, perfectionist way of thinking; that desire not to miss anything, or get anything wrong. However, I'm not the only one who plans like this. I've heard countless published authors speak: some profess to be planners, others not. Most are, at one time or another, subject to procrastination, which sometimes disguises itself as planning.

Perfectionism certainly has pros and cons when it comes to editing. That determination to get things right carries me through numerous re-drafts, where others might give up before a piece is ready for submission. 

Image courtesy of bplanet/
The difficulty for any writer is knowing when to stop tinkering: too much reworking can destroy a piece's freshness. I suspect I find this letting go harder than most.

Much of my experience is possibly, therefore, just part and parcel of the writer's lot, rather than a result of my OCD.

Sometimes, though, I think I'd be better suited, as a perfectionist, to an activity with more objective measures of completion and success. Like archery, for example. I suppose it's not too late to try...anyone got a bow and arrow?

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If you're a writer, how does your experience of the process compare with mine?


Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Helen, It seems there are so many creative people with OCD (my son's an artist/animator)that I do wonder how the disorder affects their work. I know my son has learned which aspects of his profession trigger his OCD and therefore has modified his career plans. Then again, as you suggest, every creative person has his or her struggles and it's certainly not always about OCD.

Okay said...

I'm a biochemist undergraduate, but grew up quite creatively, and like to indulge in writing as a hobby/pipe dream, aha. I completely agree on the tinkering and perfectionism front. I often end up with writing-related anxiety, and not finding it relaxing, because it never feels done, or like I've got it 'right'; although this does yield good results. I los have that big old niggling mental mess of characters and plots, and I feel as though if I were a different person, I would have dropped my current 'line of thought' around five years ago, shortly after beginning, quite easily. It's a fun mess to go back to I kind of appreciate the pressure my mind gives me in that respect. I do think it is related to my OCD as this fits the form of almost any self-deadline I give to myself, which can be both helpful and hindering.

Oooh, also, I blogged about OCD Action, and which I suppot OCD awareness, would love it if you'd check it out. http://www.prettypug.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/ocd-action-uk-my-happy-badger-visit.html

Thank you!


Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk - Thanks for the feedback!

There are certainly elements of OCD which, if directed appropriately, can be of benefit - my eye for detail and methodical approach definitely help in my day job as an Executive Assistant.

Other mental health conditions, such as bi-polar disorder, also seem to be prevalent among creative types.

Wishing your son every success with his career - I hope his OCD hasn't stifled his ambitions to too great a degree.

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Nin

Thanks for your comment and for sharing your blog post. I am also a supporter of OCD Action, who are very supportive of my blog, and I have found that there is a great mental health community out there on Twitter etc.

Ironically, it took me even more revision than usual to get this week's post written to my satisfaction! I also re-read emails, and even texts, a couple of times before I send them. Many published authors say they don't look at their books once they're in print, as they know they will see something they're unhappy with - I think it's a hazard of the job, but those of us with OCD take it to another level...

Good luck with your writing.

Jodi @ Heal Now said...

I have stuff started everywhere but tons begun right in my head, n'er to be remembered. They keep me coompany but for just a moment. I suppose I end up wirting some version of them!

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Jodi

I have enough trouble recalling what I've gone into, say, my bedroom to fetch, let alone remembering writing ideas! If only we could free up memory space by archiving or deleting stuff we don't need any more...like the lyrics to irritating songs.