I was watching the movie Capote at the weekend. It was after a long day of painting the house, and at the tail end of a week-off -work where I had done nothing but paint, so I was shattered and only half-way interested in the movie when my husband put it on.
It had won a number of awards and swiftly captivated me—as good movies generally do. It tells the story of the writer Truman Capote, and how he became obsessed with a particular writing project, and how it consumed him and ultimately left a profound scar on his life. It was a great movie, and not just the acting or because the main character was a writer, although that certainly helped. If you get a chance it is worth watching.
The movie got me thinking, as a good movie often does.
My first observation was the level of obsession a writer can fall prey to in the quest to finish a book. My husband has often commented that I almost disappear into myself when I am gripped by a particular project and seem to need nothing and no one else. It is not healthy, and it is not sustainable, and one of the things that struck me with Capote’s story was how crafting the book In Cold Blood took over his life and dragged him into the unhealthy, darker side of writing obsession.
Capote died still relatively young, and I cannot help but reflect that the way he conducted himself, and his behaviour and choices during the writing of In Cold Blood, might have had some influence on his early alcoholic death. The book was destined to become his greatest masterpiece, but it was also the last book he ever finished, although his prior writing career had been littered with glittering successes.
It was a sad ending to a life filled with undoubted talent. Capote crossed lines in his quest for a story though, moral lines that no person, writer or otherwise, should cross.
My second observation was that both his partner and his best friend (Harper Lee), were writers. I was struck by how fortunate he was to have such close companions who understood both him and his obsession with writing. His partner and good friend were famous writers in there own right, and I loved the way they each simply accepted their need for time and space for the craft.
It is worth noting, that although understanding and supportive at first, they both cautioned and counselled Capote, and more so as the story progressed and his actions became increasingly morally blurred.
As with many things in life, it is hard to imagine something fully unless you experience it yourself. How many future parents will try to imagine what it will be like, only to admit ruefully that they didn’t have a clue. As a writer, we often place ourselves in others’ shoes, and see life through a myriad of perspectives. For the most part, I am sure we all have wonderful, caring, and incredibly understanding partners and friends, who although maybe not writers themselves, come to understand, if not the entirety of being a writer, at least the writer in us.
Few of us would follow Capote’s path, but to a lesser extent we can all become guilty of writing obsession, and it is at such times that we need our nearest and dearest to remind us that there is a world outside our book, a real world filled with real people who need us too, just as ultimately we need them.