Writing with OCD

CW for discussion of OCD and compulsive thoughts, so heads up.

I’ve been back and forth about whether or not to write a post like this, but then I was reminded of one of the goals I set for myself at the start of this year – be more open about mental health and the #issues that influence my life – and decided to just go for it.

First it should be said that OCD presents differently in everybody. What it looks like for me will not be what it looks like for someone else. So with that in mind, let’s talk about my particular OCD and how it presents in my writing.

My books have to be symmetrical. Or something bad will happen. (What something bad? I don’t know but my brain says BAD.)

Take Wildergirls for example. The book is written sections that can be represented as an A B C B A structure, which is, no surprise, also symmetrical. The A sections must (mustmustmust) have the same number of chapters, and the same goes for the B sections. The C section gets a little more leniency but you better believe if it’s not an odd number of chapters I’ll be biting my nails over it for at least a week.

In itself, I think that preference for neatness and symmetry is probably one I share with thousands of writers. But what makes this more than a preference, and what identifies it for me as a product of OCD, is the fear of altering the structure. It’s the intrusive thoughts that come when I consider moving a chapter from one section to another for the sake of the plot.

Wildergirls lent itself fairly well to symmetry, but the draft of my newest project is proving a little more difficult. I keep staring at the outline, at the first act with its six chapters and the third act with its five, and trying somehow to make them match.

Whatever I do, it will wind up weakening the story. The first act will feel too rushed if I compress it. The third will feel slow if I extend it. But I have to.

Like… I have to.

In 2018 I’m aiming to get better at pushing past this roadblock, so to speak. At doing what’s best for the story and not what’s best for the OCD hobgoblin in my head. (Except for the bit where I can’t use the same adjective more than once every 50 pages – that bit’s actually helpful. I’m keeping that one.)

Writers, with OCD and without, do you have any tips? Any ways of tricking your brain into not caring so much?




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