This Is What Obsession Feels Like

Obsession [uh b-seshuh n] (noun)

1. The domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, desire, image, etc.

What was the last thing you were obsessed with? Something so gripping that you just couldn’t get it out of your mind, that your waking and dreaming moments were defined almost exclusively by that one thing? Maybe it was a book, or a business project you were working on. Picking out a new car? A home-improvement project? Maybe a TV show?

Me, I’ve had a number. Most recently (and surprisingly), the Hunger Games. When I read that series over the summer while I was in France, Katniss Everdeen and the world of Panem somehow snaked its way into my brain and sat there for about a month. I couldn’t let go. I hung onto her bitterness, fear, and courage, and devoted way more mental energy than was necessary to her story.

Before that? My bachelor’s thesis. When I was in college I devoted every available minute of my time (that wasn’t otherwise spent on Mock Trial, class, napping, or drinking) to researching, writing, and perfecting my thesis. You wouldn’t think that Martin Luther, Francis Petrarch, or the especially aged St. Augustine would be prime candidates to invade my waking and dreaming moments, but they did.

When I was younger, I had a string of them. Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, from the “books” category; Matchbox 20 and later, The Killers and then Muse, from “music”; and yes, a few video games as well, Final Fantasy and the Legend of Zelda being the ones that stick out most prominently.

In all these cases, whether for a short period of a few weeks at a time or longer periods spread out over the years, these worlds consumed me. I lived and breathed them. The characters accompanied me on adventures in my dreams, or I visited their worlds on my own. I didn’t take The Killers’ masterful debut album “Hot Fuss” out of my car stereo player for over two months. (That’s two straight months of listening to the album at least once per day, depending on traffic driving to and from school.) I read the books over and over again. I played the games over and over again. I created my own fantasies based on those worlds, stories, characters. I devoted the vast majority of my mental and emotional energies to vividly imagining these worlds as my own.

But now, I have a new obsession. This time, rather than devoting myself to someone else’s invented world, I’m crafting my own. That makes all the difference. It’s a story, a world, a series of characters about whom I care more than I do about myself. It’s a series of words on a page that translates into something bigger than the page. Bigger than the words. Bigger than me. And I can’t get them out of my head. They live and die in the confines of the page, but they have so thoroughly inhabited the space inside my head that I might as well call them neighbors, or worse, secondary personalities. This is what obsession feels like.

The fact that it’s my own* creation makes it so much more nerve-wracking. So much hinges in the balance. Reading someone else’s story, you’re at their mercy, you give in to their ideas and their creations. But bringing something altogether new into the world means that you’re the one responsible for the rise and fall of the story, for every heartbeat, for every move your characters make. It has to be perfect. From the writer’s perspective, that means that every little thing, every phrase, every word, every comma must be examined, re-examined, dissected, analyzed, and put into place just exactly where it ought to be. This is what obsession feels like.

I can only hope that the obsession pays off. That the characters are believable, their motivations compelling, their world as real as the one you and I inhabit. That the darkness is fearsome and the light redemptive. That there is subtlety and truth in the things they speak. That people want to read it, to turn it into their own persistent thought, to be visited by the characters I have created in their own dreams. That hope, that dream, is worth the price of obsession.

What things have turned into obsessions for you? Writers, do your books or characters turn into obsessions? Why?

*I should make it clear that even though this is about my personal contribution to the book I’m writing, the book is by no means my own exclusive creation. In fact, it wasn’t even my idea. I have two amazing and talented co-authors who are working with me on this project as well, and who deserve every bit of credit, if not more, than I do.