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October 28, 2010

it’s that time of the year, again, when vancouver slides right into monsoon season, and the month of november becomes a sludgy pile of crap – and often, in this time, my (people! writers!) thoughts turn a little darker, a little more unhinged. i’m hoping that this year i will be able to better deal with the greyness. last year was hellish. (people do not mention this dark season when they are rhapsodizing about vancouver and the west coast. keep that in mind.)

i think we need to talk about obsession.

writers become obsessed. it’s simple as that. note here that i am talking about writers as a whole, so there is a subset of people who aren’t going to fall under this, but you can deal with that, so keep it in mind. we do become obsessed. you can put it in a milder way – look at your favourite writers. do they write, very often, about a specific subject matter, a place, a person? yes, of course they do. because they were interested in that thing, that place, that person. they held it in their hands and turned it from side to side to see it from all angles, to see all facets. they held it under water to see if it was buoyant. they held it up to the light to see how it refracted things, to see if they could see through it. they tasted it, smelled it, shook it to their ear. if they didn’t do those things, they wouldn’t have been able to write so well about it, to reproduce it on the page. writers work with a deficit – they have only the written word to get through to their readers, and no sight, and so therefore they have to know their subject inside and out in order to make their reproduction of it the most accurate, the most beautiful.

i find, very often, that people don’t understand how a writer becomes obsessed. i’ll use myself as an example. for my thesis (a novel), i have written and re-written my characters in many different forms. i’ve used iterations of my main male character in screenplays, in short stories, in poetry, and (somewhat) in stage-play. i wanted to see what he looked like in different forms, if he could be played by an actor on stage, on screen, if he was explosive in short form, if he was lyrical enough for poetry. for the past few years, i’ve found that almost every male character i’ve written has become an image of my thesis character. i’ve become obsessed with this character. everyone i watch, i talk to, i mine. i see if people carry traits that i can snipe, that i can use in further developing this character who means so much to me. i live these people inside my head every day. i walk with them, in them, beside them. there was period of time in undergrad – when i was first flushing out my character for this story – where i essentially could see him everywhere – in the faces of other people, trailing behind me, sitting across from me. it was odd, disconcerting, possessive, eerie, but it had to happen in order for me to understand how to write him down. they talk about actors becoming the parts they play, but they don’t talk about writers becoming their characters all that often. i’ve adopted hand gestures that i wouldn’t normally use, inflections when talking that i wouldn’t normally say. i keep pictures of my muses and my character on my desk, on my walls. i have itunes playlists that are designed for specific stories, for specific characters.

and when i write, it’s trance-like. (this sounds cliche. it’s not cliche.) it’s this odd type of cathartic voodoo. i’ve missed skype dates, real dates, dinner dates, meals, showers. there have been days where i don’t leave my apartment, so i try and open my window as far as i can to get as much fresh air as i can. i have lost track of time, because i am placing myself into the scene. all of a sudden i am backstage at a drag show, i am in ireland, i am on a plane over the atlantic, i am in a psychiatrist’s office, i am in an orchard, i am in ukraine, i am in a church basement holding an easter basket, i am in a bedroom, a bed. i am a man. i am a child. i am a different woman. sometimes it feels like i’m channeling, like it’s actually that old-fashioned notion of the writer being the vessel and the muse pouring the ideas into and through them. sometimes i feel like i have no control over when i write, how long i write for, what i write about. it’s not a cop-out. it’s just how i feel.

writers get a lot of flack for being weirdos and for sometimes cloistering themselves away, for dashing away from a public place to scribble something down on a piece of paper. so what?? that’s what we do. we take the voodoo on, head first. journalists have to be on call 24 hours of the day, be able to get downtown in less than an hour to report breaking news. doctors have pagers. songwriters may carry their guitars around with them. we, instead, are the beck and call of our characters, our settings, and when they knock, when they call, we answer. we are obsessed. that is how i think the best writers write the best.

tempering the obsession is a whole other story, and this is where it gets difficult. at what point do you become unhealthy? at what point do you have to force yourself out of the apartment, out of the writing room, out of your own head? or do you not do that – do you stay inside your own head and your own obsessions until the piece is finished? do you let your writing ghosts hang around?

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