Obsession And Art

September 10, 2013

obsessionA few weeks ago I read a letter to a popular advice columnist from a married woman who confessed to harboring an obsession for an unidentified public figure with a less than sterling image. The comments section went wild with speculation about who the object of her obsession might be. Some commenters were sure they had identified the man, and berated the woman accordingly. Others belittled her for endangering her marriage over a fantasy.

What brought out the sharpest knives, however, was her confession that she was a writer who had been in an artistic drought for a while. It seemed she had gotten a spark from these illicit feelings, and was writing a novel with this person as a central character. Most of the commenters tore apart her project without knowing any more than that. They insisted that there could be nothing worthwhile about a story conceived in such a manner. Without a doubt, it would be a self-indulgent piece of crap. She was assured that “it will never be published” by some literary expert who apparently never heard of self-publishing. Others were sure if it ever saw the light of day, it would merit one star from every reviewer who came across it.

This barrage made me wonder how many of these premature critics ever felt a creative impulse themselves. If they had ever attempted something as complicated as a novel, I would think they’d realize there are many possible sources of inspiration. At least the advice columnist, who teaches creative writing on the side, showed some sympathy, offering advice on techniques the aspiring novelist could use to disguise and fictionalize her subject. My guess is that most writers of fiction, famous or not, get at least an occasional boost from obsessive thoughts that they would never reveal in polite company. The trick is to acknowledge these dark feelings and use them creatively instead of destructively.

On the other hand, obsession is never healthy if it leads someone to confront the real-life object of her passion. A while ago I blogged about the near-fatal shooting of baseball player Eddie Waitkus in 1949 by a deranged fan, Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who lured him to a hotel room. What if Steinhagen had been a writer?  It’s possible that her murderous impulse would have remained safely in the realm of fiction. It took Bernard Malamud to transform the real-life tragedy to art in his 1952 novel The Natural.

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9 Responses to “Obsession And Art”

  1. Chrys Fey Says:

    Jeez! I’m shocked by how the commenters treated this woman for admitting she had an obsession with a public figure, and was writing a story with him as the central character. I didn’t read the article, and I don’t know who the woman is, but maybe she used the word “obsession” strongly. I certainly have had celebrity crushes that felt very strong. And the fact that they belittled her for it amazes me because everyone has a crush on a celebrity/public figure ranging in all variety of degrees from slight to extreme. The point is, she’s not stalking whoever this person is, she’s using her feelings for a story. A lot of my characters have been inspired by real people, quite a few of them are based after actors I like, and some of them were even created after my “crushes”. It’s normal! And I think what this woman is doing is harmless. I also hate how they downed her story as if they had a right to criticize it. I bet it’s going to be a great story! And I hope she publishes it because I’d buy it! 😉

    GREAT POST!!

    • lgould171784 Says:

      Thank you! I agree with you that these are normal impulses. I’ve had my share of celebrity crushes too, most often athletes. The resulting characters can be found in all three of my novels, and some astute readers have been able to figure out who they are based on. No harm in that at all, as far as I can see.


  2. I’ve always wondered what makes a person obsess on someone or something so exclusively, to be honest. I wonder if writing a novel would help them see more objectively or make it more painful for themselves. Interesting topic to ponder, which might be an story in itself.

    • lgould171784 Says:

      Yes, I’ve wondered the same thing. Fortunately, most of us can handle crushes without putting the person in question on a pedestal. I suspect writing the novel might force the author to examine the person’s weaknesses as well as strengths. I was pretty well over the crushes I had by the time my novels were finished!


  3. I was surprised to hear how many people saw her obsession and desire to write about it so negatively. I think a lot of creative writers use obsessive fantasies to fuel their writing, and a lot of great art is written about these obsessions–Moby Dick, Lolita, Love in the Time of Cholera. One of my first favorite Dostoevsky works was Notes From Underground–talk about dark and obsessive characters! I think much great art comes from exploring the dark side of human nature, because by doing so, we come to understand ourselves better. I can only think the woman’s detractors were either not well read, or projecting their fear and horror of their own darker natures upon her.

    Great post, BTW!

    • lgould171784 Says:

      Thank you! I was also surprised at how many detractors the woman had, and how vicious they were. For a site that supposedly attracts literate people, they showed very little understanding of what it takes to create literature.


  4. Just have to comment! Here’s the tagline for my debut novel, Pride’s Children: WHAT YOU DO WITH AN OBSESSION COUNTS.

    It is subtitled: ‘a novel of obsession, betrayal, and love,’ and full of public figures who live in that world.

    It is great fun, some people know some of the models for some of the characters (but not many, and I’ve sworn them to secrecy), and the characters are themselves, not some pastiche.

    It’s called ‘fiction.’

    • lgould171784 Says:

      Yes, it’s fiction! You can do anything to them that you want!


      • Précisément. And then you have to go find the people who think the same way you do, and want to read your stories because they don’t have time to write their own. With the internet, it’s easier. But with the internet, you’re also clamoring for attention in a sea of noise.

        As my grandmother used to say, “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.”

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