The Benefits of Obsession, or Why You Can’t Stop Writing

Some time ago, when I was more frustrated than usual with my day jobs, I sought out a career counselor. I could go on for a little while here about why a woman with a law degree and a license needed a career counselor, but I’m not going to do that out here on the Internet where people will see it. I only mention my counselor, a Marine who knew how to play the job search game like a master, because he gave me some terrific advice.

He said I had to be unstoppable.

I actually wrote it down. Unstoppable. Right.

Then I called someone at my dream employer’s headquarters and asked if my qualifications matched up with the job I thought I wanted. That person said no. I went back to the Marine and told him what had happened. I also told him I’d started moving down my list to more “realistic” employment options.

He shook his head at me. He’d told me I had to be one thing, he reminded me. And what was that?

“Unstoppable,” I said.

“And you let that one person stop you,” he said. I’d have to go back, he said, and actually be unstoppable next time.

I’d like to tell you I went back to the well and got my dream job with my dream employer. I guess I could tell you that, but I’d feel bad about lying to you now that we’ve built a relationship of sorts. The advice is still sound, though, especially for writers.

You have to be unstoppable.

That’s a relatively simple job for some writers. They are driven to write by something inside them, some obsession, a crowd of voices in their heads, an endless spool of movies playing in their minds. They understand that there is no meaningful chance of stopping that mental turmoil, and so no bad review, no dismissive remark, no insane series of deadlines can stop them from writing.

Madness like that makes a lot of things easier.

Saner writers, however, will struggle sometimes with the thought of quitting. It’s not an unreasonable thought. Putting one word after another, and then moving them around, and then putting them back just before deleting them all — that’s tough work. It can take everything a writer has to give and demand even more. In return, that writer will receive a strange gratification, a joy that runs deep and spreads through the writer’s life, usually without leaving any money behind it.

Quitting is easy. That’s why none of us can afford to do it.

I can’t say that the world desperately needs that series of words you’ve been moving around on the page or the screen or wherever you are. It might be true for some of you, but I don’t know that we all need it to be true. The whole world isn’t really the reason we have to keep writing. To the extent that reason doesn’t lie inside each one of us, I think it must lie within just one other person. We probably haven’t met that person, but he needs that sentence.

He’s never thought about the things you’re writing about. Not in that way. And you have the power to change his mind. At the very least, you have the power to make him examine his thoughts.

Or maybe he’s looking for connection and needs that one sentence to reassure him that he’s not alone. He needs to know that someone somewhere has faced the same problems. He needs to know that triumph is possible for one and therefore within reach of all.

Or maybe he just wants to be away from reality for a while. A single sentence is all it takes.

You don’t really need to know why he needs you. Just accept that he does, wherever he is.

As long as that’s true, quitting is not an option for you. You have to be unstoppable. The thought should make you impervious to bad reviews and obnoxious dinner-party questions about whether you make any money at this. You don’t have a choice anymore. You have to write.

Congratulations.

Now get back to work.

**Freelance editor Lexi Walker will be posting on issues of grammar, usage, and style every month. She knows that her firm approach to editing stings a little but prefers to think that the momentary discomfort means the process is working.

2 thoughts on “The Benefits of Obsession, or Why You Can’t Stop Writing

  • What excellent advice, as always, Lexi. “Unstoppable.” I like that. It’s a battle cry, of sorts. And I need a battle cry, at least in my head, when I’m faced with the many day-in-day-out obligations that consume my hours. Thank you.

  • Unstoppable! I love it. I will have to make that into my mantra because if there’s one thing I never thought of myself as being it’s unstoppable. The obsession is definitely me, but the determination in that word is beyond motivating – it’s motivating. Thank you so much for sharing this! Now I’m off to share this and make myself a couple of signs – I AM UNSTOPPABLE!

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