Last month I wrote 40,000 words writing blog posts, freelance SEO projects, and resumes—I set myself a target of producing high-quality content for my clients each month, and I intend to deliver that target 12 months throughout the year, every year, undisputedly.
Anything less than that would leave me disgruntled. What’s fascinating is that when a deadline nears, the thought process loosens up, and the words flow more loosely.
A wave of adrenaline kicks in, and I begin to make better decisions under pressure.
I come up with the goods.
In 1992, Susan Sontag, whose career spanned over 30 years and covered everything from novels to essays, said in a speech at the 92nd Street Y:
“It’s lunacy … You have to be obsessed. People write to me all the time, or get in touch with me about, ‘what should I do if I want to be a writer?’ I say well, do you really want to be a writer? It’s not like something you’d want to be—It’s rather something you couldn’t help but be. But you have to be obsessed.’”
Having a writer’s work ethic is tough work, though.
Without words, what exactly do we have?
We’ve got nothing but a blank sheet of paper. Words are our bread and butter.
When I’m out for lunch, I gaze out of the cafe window, like I am in a zone a million miles away, rumbling through every single word I had written previous to lunch, searching for a solution. Hunting for the perfect finale to whatever writing project it is that I’m writing on that given day.
I do wonder occasionally if I should have just skipped lunch and stayed in my work study (where I work as a freelance writer) to write instead.
But I do snap out of it, resist, and continue to eat my sandwich and drink my tea until lunch break ends.
If experience has taught me one thing, it is to be disciplined and to keep a healthy working routine.
I believe all writers have a certain degree of obsessiveness. Sitting down for weeks and months on end to create stories is most definitely an art in its own unique, purposeful way.
When I come up with a new story, I spend some time mulling over how it may blossom.
Sure, I think about writing ideas when I’m at home, although I don’t prolong my stay in my work study, any more than I need to.
I never skip a meal, I try to keep fit and keep an eye on my cholesterol levels, and I get a good night’s sleep.
I don’t let my work as a writer interfere with other aspects of my life.
The late American writerand professor Isaac Asimov once said:
“I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.”
“If my doctor told me I had only six months to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”
According to The New Yorker Magazine film critic, David Denby:
“You can’t write unless you’re obsessed…. It’s a state of blessedness, in the sense that you’re lucky to do it, and a state of illness, because you’re not a normal person.”
Denby also describes writers as “serial obsessives.”
These writers don’t see the art of writing so much as a job; it’s their passion.
I can speak for all writers when I say that we live in two parallel universes—in one world our mind is racking up a creative thought process to write, and in the other world is our family life; there should be a suitable balance between those “two universes.”
Know when to switch off your obsession with writing.
Don’t lag behind, famished and starving in your office, desperately banging on your keyboard until nightfall, hastening to finish a draft, deleting a sentence, editing another, and then eventually scrapping it and starting the paragraph from scratch.
When your workday is done—it’s done. Switch off. Regroup, refocus, refuel, and come back the following morning and go at it again with a level head on your shoulders.
Be obsessed with what you do. Be dedicated, intensely motivated, and driven by it, but also in control of it.
How can you do that? Well, discipline.
Stick to a strict routine. Write down your objectives for work the night before, and pinpoint how to execute them on a planner. Mine is saved on my laptop.
Then shut down, have no more work thoughts throughout the day while you are elsewhere—enjoying life’s fruits.
Sticking to these guidelines has disciplined me to not get seduced by work-overload as a freelance writer.
I go off into my other universe, spend time with my loved ones, go out for a meal, relax, and watch a film or television program in front of a warm fire while enjoying a home-cooked meal.
We work passionately throughout the year, whether on a novel, freelance client work, or journalism, so we can become drained with just how often our thought process is functioning.
These are a few signs of what an unhealthy obsession may look like:
Keeping a turgid timetable of our schedule and having an unhealthy routine can actually cause mental health problems and is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A “healthy obsession” is a rather extreme term to use. Calling it a “healthy fascination” would be more accurate.
To be able to churn out pages upon pages of new content every day at a high tempo and to a superlative standard—that takes a lot out of us, mentally.
We do what we do for a love of writing—it’s a romantic love affair, in a sense.
There is an emotional connection between a writer and their art.
Our obsession, or fascination, is a desire to create narratives and tell stories to the world.
But we do it, with a smile on our face—and the world smiles back.
‘Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.”—Sontag’s “At the Same Time: The Novelist and Moral Reasoning.”
Michael Bradley is an entrepreneurial writer currently based in Ireland who lends his services to various brands, SEO agencies, and magazines through his own website: www.freelancemichael.com, or directly through his personal email: [email protected]. When he isn't attending to his clients, Michael is a passionate Liverpool FC supporter and his dream is to one day see Liverpool win the Premier League. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.