(It’s been almost four years since I originally wrote this post—then titled Screenwriting Obsession—and it seems a fitting time to repost.)
“Most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough.”
A few weeks ago I was talking to a couple filmmakers and we got to talking about a favorite topic of mine; Why are so many artists dysfunctional? Take a handful of painters, writers, actors, musicians and filmmakers and you’ll have more than your share of people who suffer from depression, mental illness or at least some phobia that haunts them. Alcoholism and drug abuse appears more common with this tribe.
So the big question is — why?
One of the filmmakers had an easy answer, obsession.
I instantly thought of Jackson Pollock painting in his barn. I thought of Van Gogh’s passion. I thought of Martin Scorsese and his own demons. Obsession may be as good and answer as I’ve heard.
“One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, a habit that has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.”
From the book One Hundred Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters/Karl Iglesias
Eric Maisel, PhD has written several books that touch on this issue including Creativity for Life, The Creativity Book, and The Van Gogh Blues. I haven’t read his books, but in his article In Praise of Positive Obsessions he does make the distinction between positive and negative obsessions. He writes:
What exactly do I mean by a positive obsession?
A fair working definition is as follows: positive obsessions are insistent, recurrent thoughts or sets of thoughts, pressurized in feel, that are extremely difficult to ignore, that compel one to act, and that connect to one’s goals and values as an active meaning-maker and authentic human being.
For Van Gogh, for a period of time, sunflowers obsessed him. For Dostoevsky, for decades, the question of whether an innocent–a “saintly man” –could survive in the real world haunted and obsessed him.
Georgia O’Keeffe obsessed about how to represent the desert, thrilling herself when her imagery of bleached bones satisfied her for a time.
It is no accident or coincidence that effective artists harbor preoccupations that rise to the level of positive obsession.
So maybe we just obsess too much about those creative souls who have negative obsessions. After all those are the ones that tend to fascinate us the most. Those are the ones books are written about and movies made of their lives.
If you have any books and articles that explore the similarities and differences of positive and negative obsessions toss them my way. I don’t think my obsession is going away from thinking about it anytime soon.
And as far as screenwriting obsessions—there are many. Why do people spend so much time and money on something when the odds are so against any meaningful return on investment? Why all the books, CDs, workshops, college degrees, screenwriting expos, script consultants, etc. if there wasn’t a screenwriting obsession in this country? Why do produced screenwriters continue though they often feel less than satisfied with the finished results of their script?
Maybe it has something to do with Van Gogh continuing to paint even though the appreciation for his work would come long after he died. I hope you can find that “positive obsession,” and can continue to work on your craft without losing your mind.
“What it means to be a screenwriter.”
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0) “It’s an accepted fact that all writers are crazy, even the normal ones are weird.”—William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
‘The Greatest Gift’—“It is a story about depression and disillusionment, alcoholism and attempted suicide. And yet for all that, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life has just been voted the most inspirational film ever made.” 2006 article in The Guardian