Are Authors Typically Obsessive-Compulsive?

Are Authors Typically Obsessive-Compulsive?

Recently I’ve noticed a trend in author blogs toward the confessional. After all, no one wants to read about your characters all the time, and God knows that readers don’t want to read about marketing. They want to know something about you.

Happy to oblige.

Although it’s become common to say, “I’m a little OCD about _____,” true obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health issue affecting millions of people. According to Wiki, “the phrase obsessive-compulsive is often used in an informal manner unrelated to OCD to describe someone who is excessively meticulous, perfectionistic, absorbed, or otherwise fixated.”

Hmm, sounds like every single author I know.

I was reflecting on this while recalling the words of one of my writer heroes, John Gardner. In his classic On Becoming A Novelist, Gardner writes, “What the writer probably needs most is an almost daemonic compulsiveness. No novelist is hurt (at least as an artist) by a natural inclination to go to extremes, driving himself too hard, dissatisfied with himself and the world around him and driven to improve on both if he can.

Yikes.

Of course, if your OCD habits are sort of rinky-dink, like mine, they don’t really improve much, if anything. They are merely distractions at best and silly obsessions at worst.

So with all that being said, I hereby admit my OCD, er, issues.

Alphabetization.

Yes, I’ve been a chronic alphabetizer since I was in college or even high school. I think it started with my record collection (I really am that old), and progressed to cassette tapes, then CDs. They are in pretty much perfect alphabetical order by artist.

Books.

Same thing, in order by author. I cut myself some slack on this one a couple years back when an entire shelf of paperbacks fell on my head and scattered all over the floor. After I recovered my dignity, I put them back on the shelf willy-nilly, without regard to author last name. Lucky they weren’t hard covers.

Coins…especially quarters.

Well, I don’t have much excuse for this one, except that I collected coins as a kid and liked the classic designs. I absolutely loathe all the recent redesigns of American money, coins and bills alike. So in the console of my car, where I have a pile of silver coins – yes, I separate the pennies out, since they are near-worthless these days – I turn over the newer quarters periodically. Right, I don’t want to look at the backs of them, all of which represent, rather badly in my opinion, each of the 50 states.

Okay, even I’ll admit, that one is a little nutty.

What about you, fellow readers and writers? Any good OCD admissions you’d like to share? Must you make every normal Oreo into a “Double-Stuf” version? Never sing on Saturday? Brush your teeth only in the shower? Put them in the comments section below. You can be anonymous if you like. I’ll approve any comment that’s not obscene or insulting!

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I must be a little naive, because somehow I’ve managed to live to age 52 without having any encounters with neo-Nazis or Nazi apologists. Why would I, right? I’m a writer, so I pretty much hang out with artistic types.

I was at an author event at a public library on Saturday, sharing a table with another author. Toward the end of the event, a third author came up to take our picture with our books. This person mentioned starting a Facebook page with all these pics for us local authors. Free publicity! Great, right?

Well, not so fast. I was chatting with this person – I’m keeping my account gender-neutral so as to avoid giving them any possible notoriety or publicity – and they had a bookmark about the book they’d written.  I glanced at the bookmark and asked, “What led you to want to write about the Hitler Youth?”

A: When my mother was on her deathbed, I learned that she was in the Hitler Youth.

Me: (with as much diplomacy as I could manage) Wow. How did you cope with that?

A: I thought it was cool!

I wish I could say I started an argument right there. How could you possibly think that was cool, of all things? Wouldn’t it be a source of great shame? Instead, I put the bookmark down and started packing my stuff up…fast.

Before I had a chance to leave, though, this person got up on a little platform and started to speak to the entire room over a public address system about their book and about the Facebook group. I got the hell out of there.

Now, I have not read this person’s book, or even all the reviews about it, but I can tell you this: the bookmark mentions that the girls of the Hitler Youth were “chosen,” and that it was “a great honor.” It talks about building “character” and uses words like “fun” and “friendly.” No mention of brainwashing. No mention of, you know, the Holocaust. No condemnation of der Führer.

There’s a part of me that wishes I had slapped this person silly for not expressing any shame about their mother. And then there’s a part that simply says “I don’t want to be associated with any of this stuff.” I wrote an email to this person, letting them know that I don’t want my face or pictures of any of my books on that Facebook page, unless the book strongly condemns Hitler and the Nazis. I suspect I won’t get an answer.

What do you think? Anyone ever had such an experience, with a fellow writer, of all people? How would you handle it?

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