“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better… there were two or three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable.”
Lydia Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I’ve always had obsessions. Some idea or project or subject will suddenly loom large in my mind and I can’t stop thinking about it. For a while, anyway.
For some reason I’ve always thought that if the obsession wasn’t going to last I should quell it as much as possible. Obsessions do pass (although some are recurring) and it seemed wasteful to pour so much time and energy into something I’d have moved on from in a few weeks’ time.
In my youth (all right, even now) I enjoyed completing questionnaires which purported to tell you something about yourself, whether serious (Myers-Briggs) or not (What Punctuation Mark Are You?*).
It was after completing one of the never-occasionally-sometimes-often-always variety that I realised I had only one ‘always’: when you are interested in something, do you want to read up on it?
Yes. Frequently more than I want to actually do the thing itself, which seems silly but saves a great deal of investment in short-lived fads.
I’ve had obsessions of various lengths with millinery, embroidery, steampunk, jesters, historical costuming and various periods of history including the fall of Tsarist Russia, Anglo-Saxon England, the Regency era and the social history of World War II – among other things.
And it all goes into the files for later, although as Kristen Lamb points out, writers tend to be ‘Masters of “Things Few Know and Fewer Care About”.’
I recall reading yet another book of self-understanding-through-classification which described people who collect information (this is me, I thought) showing their love for others by sharing bits of their collection with them. So to all who I have ever bored with random snippets of knowledge you never cared to know: I love you.
And then I came across this quote from Tamora Pierce: “The best way to prepare to have ideas when you need them is to listen to and encourage your obsessions.”
The relief! The validation! Importantly, not only can obsessions be useful to the writing life, but it isn’t just me. It’s lots of us. It could even be you.
So how do you tell if you have acquired a Writer’s Obsession? A questionnaire, of course 😀
1) Are you lying awake dreaming about it? (1 point per hour spent.)
2) Are you lying asleep dreaming about it? (2 points per dream.)
3) Do you have three or more library books on the subject at once? (1 point per book; double points if you bought them.)
4) Have you read all the books the library has on the subject, leaving you prowling the aisles in a frustrated search for more? (Two points; three if it’s a large library or you have access to interloans.)
5) Do you keep bringing it into conversations where it may or may not belong? (1 point per conversation.)
6) Are you marshalling your resources of spare time days ahead in order to maximise obsession-time? (1 point per day ahead multiplied by: 1 if you’re calculating in hours; 2 by half hours; 3 by 10-15 minutes.)
7) Do you trawl the internet by the hour, looking for a) information and b) some poor sap who’s as obsessed as you are? (1/2 a point per hour spent, doubled if you should have been doing something else at the time; and don’t worry, we’re here.)
If you had to get a piece of paper and a pen (or take your socks off) to calculate your score, you have an obsession! What is it? Do tell! All correspondence welcomed!