Writers’ Traits: Obsessive Compulsive
Another acronym from psychology that most people recognize is OCD, which stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Actual OCD is a very serious and debilitating disorder, but again like most psychiatric diagnostic terms its definition includes characteristics widely shared by completely functional individuals.
I often jokingly say that I’m OCD, and that I wouldn’t hire anyone who isn’t! This is because I equate it with conscientiousness. Is it being neurotically obsessive to double-check that you really turned off the stove before going out for the day? Is it neurotic to make a point of being on time for appointments or for meeting deadlines? Is it obsessive to proofread your manuscript a second time?
Of course, it can be extreme, and that is a problem. It is, if after double-checking the stove is off, you still worry after you’re far from home. Or if you get upset if you think you’re going to be five minutes late for an appointment. Or if you’ve proofread your manuscript four times and still are stressed out after you’ve sent it on its way.
I tend to be a bit overly obsessive, and it can be annoying to others. My wife has to put up with my insisting we be at the airport so early that we have nothing to do for an hour before our flight. And it can be stressful if you pointlessly worry about something long after you can do anything about it. I’m very reluctant to read something I’ve written once it has made it into print, because I’m sure I’ll see something I should have fixed or improved.
I can’t know if most writers share these tendencies, but suspect the good ones are obsessive at least about their actual writing—although a good editor can compensate for their not being. And obsessions don’t apply to everything in one’s life. I’m not obsessive about my appearance, which my wife insists on ‘editing’, albeit with limited success. (I’ll reluctantly change out of my dirty jeans, but I won’t put on classier pants.) And I know writers whose desktops are the polar opposite from mine. It would drive me crazy to work with papers and clutter surrounding me, but I know that working amidst such a mess isn’t at all unusual among many creative people I know—whose desktops look like a burglar had rifled through their files searching for something of resale value.
I think most people are obsessive about what they really care about. For the serious writer, it has to be the writing.