Obsessively Successful: Julianna Baggott

April 27, 2011

"Writing is part of the disease, but because it allows me to escape into another existence, it's part of the cure."

When I was in college, I was obsessed with writing schedules of what classes I would take each semester during each year of my education.  I can't explain it, but it gave me bizarre pleasure and satisfaction to write it down over and over and over again.  I couldn't stop.  It was a harmless obsession and compulsion.

Others weren't so harmless. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).

It took quite a few years, but I finally accepted that I'm likely borderline obsessive compulsive. Now I know when it's happening and when it's getting out of control; I monitor myself and channel my obsessive nature in positive directions.  Doing so has enabled me to flip a weakness into a strength.  It's driven me to accomplish quite a bit.

My guest today, critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott, has published 16 books over the last ten years.  She writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N. E. Bode. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) runs in Julianna's family.  She views writing as part of both the disease and the cure. 

I can relate. 

Over the years, I've learned that I must have something to obsess about.  It can change day to day, hour to hour, but I need a vice to grip. It's sort of an underlying thought process that provides a baseline on which to support the rest of my mental world.  It may seem odd, but if I don't have something specific to feed my obsessive nature, my mind finds something.  If the thing it happens to settle on is negative, my world starts to implode.  Everything falls out of balance. 

The primary thing that seems to keep my racing brain occupied enough to keep me out of trouble is art, whether it's writing or painting.  Creativity never ends.  It never stops feeding my ravenous, racing mind that craves baseline occupation.

Maybe I shouldn't admit to this issue; but it is what it is.  I've come to embrace the way I am because I know that it's enabled me to achieve many of my creative and professional goals.  I don't know what full fledged OCD sufferers feel like or how close or far I am from their world.  Unlike Julianna, I will stand by an idling vehicle.  In fact, I've come dangerously close to being hit by cars.

I'm lucky I have observant folks in my family who watch out for me.  They know that my issue is one of being too much inside my head to remember to put kitchen utensils away in their proper places, wipe door handles, or pay attention to how much money I'm spending on any given day.  I have more important things to think about ...  I forget to eat.  I tend to be messy.  Just last week, I got caught in slamming subway doors because I wasn't listening to the loud voice that was saying, "The doors are now closing!"  Being me can be quite the challenge. 

With all that said, I no longer care.  Of course, I don't want to get slammed in doors or hit by cars.  I work on that.  I try to pay attention to the little things.  However, I've come to terms with who I am and how my mind works.  I wouldn't want to be any other way, thank you very much.  I'll find my own cure: I no longer need the one I thought I needed once upon a time.

Like Julianna, many creative folks are lucky in that we have the ability to mine our disease and discover a cure within.  This blogger, author, artist, professional, mother, wife, nutcase, etc. is finding a way to make it work.  It's not always easy, but it's worth the effort.

Many creative folks struggle for years to achieve some sort of success.  Your work was first published when you were relatively young.  How did that mold your writing goals?

I published my first short story at twenty-two and sold my first novel before I turned thirty. Still, young for this game. What I love about writing is that you get better as a function of living, surviving. Of course, there is also dedication to craft. You have to be devout to get better. I knew I wanted to be a writer young and was deeply invested at an early age. I had some talent, lots of hours, but it took a while before I could actually have things to say. Hopefully my work is more insightful now.

Was there someone in particular who inspired you to love books and/or take an interest in writing?

My parents dragged me to countless plays as a kid. By ten, I'd seen more plays than movies. Just the way it was for me. And that had a huge impact on my writing life, early on.

Where do most of your creative ideas come from?

THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED is filled with events that happened to my own family. It starts where we now live in Florida. The narrator, Heidi takes her 8-year-old son and 16-year-old niece to the family's home in Provence, to renovate it after a fire. We lived in Provence as a family--with our four kids and my niece in tow--for a month. The injured swallow, the robbery, the warthogs, snails, vineyards, archaeological dig, the paper lanterns on Bastille Day--all of it came from our own experiences.

With regard to your new novel, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

There were so many. I knew the first half of the novel and where they were headed--the small village of Puyloubier--but I had no idea what was going to happen there. One of the characters had a huge secret--so secret that I didn't even know about it. When that was revealed, it fit. It was an ah-ha moment--in that sometimes you must follow your characters and truly let them live their lives beyond you, as creator. An important lesson to relearn and relearn.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder runs in my family, on my mother's side. We don't bare-hand doorknobs, eat sushi, stand near idling cars, etc.  The strange brain patterns of obsessions and compulsions play into my work.  I'm also compulsive about writing, which means I spend a lot of time at the page. Writing is part of the disease, but because it allows me to escape into another existence, it's part of the cure. The 8-year-old in THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED has a mild case of OCD. My first time writing about an OCD character. He gets better.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Mostly there's an upside. I get away with a messy house, making comments that are non sequiturs, dressing mismatched, not brushing my hair, etc.  Sometimes people regard me as a giraffe--like the normal rules just don't apply. Kinda sad, but, "What can you do? She's so creative!"

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role the discipline and organization play in reaching creative goals?

I believe, deeply, in really seeing the world around you, seeing people as real people with as many needs, wants, desires as I have. This way, if you don't see people as cliches, you won't write them as cliches. Also, practice plotting, muse when you're going through your daily life. I call this "writing while not writing." It's crucial.

You've written under different names, and have also written various types of fiction. Why did you chose not to use your real name, and what are your favorite types of writing projects?

To be allowed to be prolific, contractually.

To build audiences for certain kinds of work.

I often think about the difference between writers who seem to attack it from a business perspective (i.e., James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark, etc.), versus those who seem to be simply driven from a deep need to write regardless of business concerns (i.e., J.D. Salinger, Pat Conroy, etc.). How would you describe the differences between these types of writers? Where do you fit in?

I see myself as an artist with some projects and an entertainer with others. But only I can see the difference. When writing art, entertainment happens, and vice versa. This is my job, too. It's an industry. I believe it's my job to try to understand it.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I try to be kind--honest and kind. I believe in empathy. I think these things should be important to everyone.

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