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When Is Obsession a Good Thing?


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Many stories have been written on the topic of obsession: The Girl on the Train, Lolita, Moby Dick…the list goes on. Most of these are cautionary tales. Don’t get obsessed; it could lead to mayhem and self-destruction. But sometimes obsession can be beneficial.

Recently, I watched the Adam Sandler movie Hustle. Though it has its humorous moments, it’s definitely in the “serious Adam Sandler movie” category. It’s about an NBA scout looking for a standout player so he can cement his status as a coach on the team after decades of work (often grueling with constant travel). He finds his prospect in Spain. As they’re training together he says, “Obsession beats talent every time.”

As a writer that line stood out to me. As a person it stood out, too.

Sometime in 2007 I got it in my head that I wanted to run a 5K. I had never done well in fitness testing in school. In fact, I often finished last in the mile run challenge. I once ran a 14-minute mile. For most people, that’s walking. I was not fast, even though I played team sports. But a 5K goal seemed achievable. Most of my family and friends thought I was nuts. Why would I want to run 3.1 miles? And time it? To this day, I have no idea. But I became obsessed with this goal.

I read Runner’s World. I found a plan called 5 weeks to your first 5K. I followed the plan, 90% of the time. I found a running buddy. And it worked. I ran the 5K and didn’t finish last. I ran several more after that. At my fitness peak, I even completed a half-marathon, a distance I have no desire to run again.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s similar to our journeys as writers. I believe every writer is talented but certainly there are degrees of talent. The one thing that sets writers apart from the rest of the population who aspire to write a book, essay, magazine piece, etc. is that they sit down and do it. The words might be garbage on the first draft, but they just go for it. Time and time again.

If writing is important to you, it doesn’t matter how talented you are. It matters how interested you are, how often you throw words against the page. Handwritten, typed, or otherwise.

It matters how much you persevere, even when you don’t feel like writing a thing.

It matters if you put words to paper, even if it’s just 5 words a day or 3 words a year.

You are a writer because you show up. Showing up is the action part of the obsession. Over time that obsession will manifest itself into talent.

It’s why I’ve sent hundreds of query letters. (I eventually got an agent).

It’s why I’m writing even though I don’t necessarily feel like it. (I’m recovering from a breakthrough case of Covid).

So go ahead. Obsess sometimes. I think a little obsession is healthy for all of us. Sometimes it even improves your cardiovascular fitness.

Over to you, WU community. What do you think is more important: an obsession with writing, or talent? How do you know when something has become an obsession?

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About Deanna Cabinian

Deanna Cabinian is the author of One Night, One Love, and One Try (aka The Thompson Series). She writes YA, middle grade, and sometimes dabbles in adult fiction. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer Unboxed, and School Library Journal. She is a graduate of the Writing in the Margins mentorship program and is represented by Penny Moore of Aevitas Creative Management. When she isn’t writing she works as a consumer marketing director for a global media company. She lives in the Midwest but dreams of living by the ocean. Find her online at deannacabinian.com.

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