Writing With a Touch of Madness

This guest post is by Tiana Warner.

I have an obsessive personality. I get hooked on something and it’s all I can think about. Naturally, when I have an idea for a novel (one I’m convinced is spectacular), nothing gets between me and my keyboard. I make sacrifices—socializing, mainly—in order to spend time writing. Part of me even becomes my protagonist: I want to think like him so I can successfully write him.

Writing a book obviously requires a ridiculous amount of dedication. Less obvious, however, is why some people can accomplish it and some can’t. What traits set us apart? Are some of us predisposed to be novelists?

Some of the greatest artists in history lived on the brink of insanity. Perhaps we can learn something from their personalities. As a writer, you have a wonderful excuse to embrace your inner madness. To write an entire novel—and write it well—we should all start by drinking a foaming, steaming test tube of passionate


Passion translates a writer’s thoughts into a gripping read. Without passion from the writer, there will be no passion from the reader. It’s as simple as that.

So how do you write passionately?

Pick topics that evoke emotion.

Any emotion.When I was a kid I hated learning about space, because I was genuinely terrified of it. To this day, it scares me because I can’t understand how space and time are even possible. So, what did I do about it? I wrote an entire book themed around space and time and the mysteries of the universe.When you pick a topic that you feel very strongly about—whether that feeling is love or hate or fear or an all-consuming curiosity—you write about it with fervor. I know for a fact that my passions translate to the page: my love for animals, my
feelings on climate change, and my all-consuming curiosity—fear—whatever you want to call it—about the mysteries of the universe.Passion works. Use it to your advantage.


Obsession helps the writer in two ways.

1. Persistence

It drives us to keep going even when we’ve been writing for so long we’re starting to get sick of our characters. Come on, don’t deny it. We’ve all done it. You’ve rewritten the same scene so many times you never want to see it again. You’ve explored your protagonist to such depth that you shudder when someone asks you if you plan to write a sequel. But you can’t stop writing. You’re obsessed. Even if the idea of making another draft makes you want to curl up in a ball and drift into insanity, you do it anyway. You set a goal to publish this book. Nothing is going to get in your way until you see that thing in print.

2. Gripping characters

Obsession makes our characters shine. Use your obsessive personality to your advantage and share it with one of your characters. Translated properly onto the page, obsession
is arguably the most fun character trait to read about
. It makes your protagonist so fascinating that the reader won’t want to put the book down. Lisbeth Salander, anyone? Dr. Victor Frankenstein? Tyler Durden? Sweeney Todd? Obsessive characters are memorable ones. Obsession isn’t a bad thing. It compels us to finish our books, and to finish them well. It drives us to “live” our characters until they become real. Don’t feel like you’re insane if you find yourself obsessing over your book: embrace it. Every great artist seems to have this trait; it’s what drives them to success. As Aristotle wisely said, “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.”

About the Author: Tiana Warner published The Infinite Knowledge of J. T. Badgley after graduating from the University of British Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. When she is not working on her next novel, she enjoys riding her horse and volunteering at the local animal shelter. Find her on Twitter.

Tell me your opinion: How do you take advantage of any obsessive traits?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Ah, I feel better knowing all of my ‘crazy’ traits are actually advantages. Thanks 🙂

  2. It is a reassuring thought, isn’t it?

  3. Thanks so much for sharing today, Tiana!

  4. Obsession is good, without it I wouldn’t even try. I need it to get me through the blockages…….

  5. So much of this is about taking the things that excite us-in my case Gothic fiction, birdwatching, architecture, lesser known American history-and thrusting them shrewdly into the crevices of our stories.

  6. Edith, I agree! Sometimes the only thing getting me through writer’s block is that burning desire to “just … keep … going …”

    Very true Jenni – it’s important to thread a novel with the topics that excite us. In my own writing I notice when I’ve written about such a topic, because the narrative suddenly jumps to life. The trick is to make the whole novel like this!

  7. I can relate to this. As a kid I was somewhat obsessive about science fiction. For a long time in my life I thought I was strange or broken – certainly different. More and more I begin to understand that it’s all part of how I was wired for my unique gifting. I’m a story-teller. Maybe that means I’m weird – but I embrace the weirdness because its part of how I was created.

  8. Obsession and passion, such very important keys. Writing is a sacrificial art, as you said. You have to give up those things that you love in your life for a time to get through a project like a novel. For a novelist the story always takes precedence.

  9. I recently posted something much like this on Facebook, where many of my readers follow my work in progress. As a writer, I welcome that feeling of overwhelming obsession – it shows me that what I’m about to work on is worth something, in some undefinable way, if only to me!
    Loved this piece!

  10. I think my thing is gripping characters. I guess this why I need a profile. Sometimes I use random dice to generate specific character traits.

  11. Thank you, Judith, I’m glad you enjoyed the read!

    Adam – That feeling of being weird seems to be common among artists! I think anyone who “creates” for a living has felt this way at some point. It’s the lifeblood of creativity.

  12. Adam, your definitely not alone in that. One might think one has to be at least a little quirky to be in the business. Though I could be wrong.:3

  13. Funny how diagnosable psychiatric disorders make for great authors and artists. LOL

    Passion, obsession, making social sacrifices to write… This is SO me. I’m glad I’m not the only one. 😉

  14. Love this post and the comments. I am not alone in my weirdness! And it’s somehow a relief to know my quirks and writing are a natural fit. I should quit fighting them.

  15. I have no trouble with the passion. Scottish ancestry made sure of that… 😉
    Obsession is a bit harder. I tend to be a bit of a scatter-brain when it comes to focusing on some particular topic. 😉

  16. Well, its good to know that I’m not the only one living on the brink of insanity. The urge to get what’s in my head onto paper or the screen drives me and even though I got exams coming up, I write cause it feels good and nothing compares to that.

  17. Hmmm. How do I take advantage of obsessive traits?
    Yoiks! I don’t think I have been! I’ve been missing out on this golden opportunity for drive, energy, and determination! And I was only using coffee! I must capitalize on this at once. Make lemonade outa lemons-type-thing.

    Many thanks for the interesting insights you offered in your blog. I especially love (Luv!) the use of the dictionary definitions. Personal fave.

  18. some things that used to narrow my mind down when I write, before I write the main connected short stories, is actually to write an eight word pitch to myself, and then a query letter for each story. Another, to see what would draw me to the story as an agent if I had no previous attachment to the work.:3

  19. Thank you all for the great comments – it’s interesting to see how everyone embraces their quirks!

  20. White Eagle says

    Being obsessive I agree is a very useful trait. It keeps my nose to the grindstone.
    Sometimes it can distress others when obsessiveness does not include household chores, ironing, or keeping a tidy desk for example. But that is their obsessive problem.

  21. I wrote something of a response to my reading HERE.

    Should it be possible for obsession to be affected by outside forces? I really become more obsessed to finish things when I know someone is waiting on it other than me. I can put things by the wayside if I am the only one expecting them, but if someone else is waiting, I absolutely feel like it is the most important thing in the world.

  22. Great post, really every, post/video is helpful. However I was wondering if you could take a bit about how to obtain an agent. I’m trying to publish my first novel and I have researched that publishers are more likely to consider a book that is solicited to them. Yet nobody has talked about HOW to get an agent! It’s a little frustrating honestly.

  23. Hi K.M.

    I have a tattoo on my right shoulder blade which says ‘Insanity’ in funny letters. I have been surrounded by madness all of my adult life. In my early twenties I worked in a psychiatric unit, and now I’m a writer. And being a writer has definitely sent me insane! I feel like I have to live my life as one of my many characters.

  24. It takes a lot of moxie to use “touch” and “madness” in the same headline.

  25. @LK: Wait until you have kids. You’ll wish you were back at your old job.

  26. Madness is another joy of the craft. You can be mad all you want, and simply say it a writing syndrome 😉


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