“I’m So OCD”

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so OCD” when they do something perfectly reasonable like fold their towels a particular way (in my case, so they fit on the shelf), or park in the same aisle of the grocery store lot (in my case, so I can one, find my car, and two, not have to wait for pedestrians), or drink the same cocktail from the same glass (in my case, because I love gin-and-gingers and my Denver Broncos cup is big and opaque enough nobody really knows how much I poured)?

Well, I’ve got news for you. None of that indicates Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

The hallmark of OCD is unreasonable fear that leads to obsessive behavior. If you suffer from OCD and your towels aren’t folded a particular way you might feel an unnamed dread that you can’t shake. If you travel down the “wrong” aisle of the parking lot, you may have to stop and drive in reverse all the way out because your fear of hitting a pedestrian is overwhelming and very, very real. If someone hands you a cocktail in something other than your orange Broncos cup, you won’t be able to drink it for reasons you aren’t even aware, or worse, reasons that sound so ridiculous they make you ashamed. 

A friend of mine diagnosed with OCD took exception to a joking “I’m so OCD” comment she heard. I’ve said it and heard it many, many times and never really thought about how it might sound to someone who has actually been diagnosed with OCD.

This isn’t to say that the people I know who have OCD don’t have delightful senses of humor about their challenges … quite the contrary! Some of the stories they told me on themselves were hilarious. I suppose it’s the same way I can joke about my chin hairs, but if you do, it will make me crawl under the covers and eat ice cream for three weeks straight.

At any rate, it all got me thinking about a cozy mystery series set in the world of crossword puzzles I’d been cogitating over. I knew my protagonist was going to create crosswords—and I’d have to learn—but that’s about all I knew. The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense that someone with organizational OCD would really excel at something like constructing crossword puzzles.

Thus was born Quinn Carr.

The perfection of a pristine crossword puzzle grid always made Quinn Carr’s pleasure center buzz. The puzzle was orderly. Symmetrical. No chaos. No mess. No negotiation. Only one correct answer. A puzzle grid never looked at you funny when you agonized over some marketing sociopath who couldn’t understand that “pepper, black” was worlds apart from “black pepper.” Crossword puzzles never judged you.

Because I don’t have OCD, the crossword creation comes harder for me than for Quinn, but when I get a pristine grid, I get a bit of a buzz too. I never thought constructing crosswords would be easy, but I also never thought it would be so pull-out-your-hair-and-quietly-weep-in-the-corner frustrating either, despite using robust software that handles rotational symmetry and provides extremely useful hints about possible entries that could fill the grid.

I find the task of creating original crosswords for the Crossword Mystery series and for marketing/promotion much more difficult than writing the books. I console myself that at least, unlike Quinn, I don’t have to create them as subliminal messages to prod the crossword-loving chief of police to investigate crimes he’d rather sweep under the rug.

Oh, wait. Yes I do. Dang it.

Puzzling Ink by Becky Clark

Puzzling Ink is on NetGalley and up for preorder.

And don’t forget about the Goodreads Giveaway that expires tomorrow!

Get in there … Kensington is giving away 100 copies!

Will you think twice about declaring, “I’m so OCD” in the future? What’s your relationship like with the venerable crossword puzzle? Are you intimidated by it? Don’t see the point of crosswords? Or have you conquered their complexities and relish every challenging clue? Do you do the Sunday NYT in ink?

25 thoughts on ““I’m So OCD”

  1. I am not OCD. I am more of a perfectionist. Which is like 2 steps below OCD. I am lost and frustrated if I’m not organized to a fault. Everything has to be in the correct place. Else I can’t find it. I get very mad if I can’t find something in the place I thought it was put.
    I like crosswords because they are so neat and orderly. But I couldn’t solve them if my life depended on it. The clues are not black and white. They are all shades of grey.
    That’s why I like being an accountant. If the left file cabinet doesn’t equal the right file cabinet, there is something wrong. The basic concept is easy. Now, which drawers they go in is a different story. Interpretation! And don’t even get me started on the tax code.
    Did you know after 19 years I still haven’t found the code section that states in black and white, an employer HAS TO pay an employee wages? Yes, it has to be reasonable compensation. Yes, it can be something other than money. Yes, there has to be taxes withheld to a certain level if you are considered an employee. But where in the code does it say you have to compensate?
    This kind of stuff gives me anxiety (Like the poor people with OCD). I wish I had a job like a baseball player where you are a star when you get 33% hits. The other 67% is misses but no one gets fired over it. Wouldn’t that be nice?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Right?? Those baseball players have it so easy! And don’t get me started on “perfect games.” Wouldn’t it be cool if “perfect” in your job was when absolutely nothing happened? I’d get so much more done!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While never OCD, I think I used to be a lot more demanding of detail than I am now. Yes, the towels used to have to be folded so they fit on the shelf – now I’m just happy if they are on the shelf and not on the floor. LOL

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Exactly. While I still like detail, once the kids were grown and gone, a bunch of stuff became a lot less important. And now that we’ve given up our house cleaners, hubs and I follow the “who will get tired of the mess first” school of chores.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I used to do the crossword a lot in college, but now I haven’t done one in years. I can’t remember why I gave it up. It was likely because I just didn’t have the time anymore. Trying to fill them out was hard enough. Trying to create one from scratch sounds like a huge amount of work.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. So huge! But there’s immense satisfaction when that grid gets filled in with [mostly] good words and my testers say it was fun to complete. I was on a Zoom tutorial last night and one of the constructor teachers reminded us that when the going gets tough, remember that until computers and puzzle software came into being, people had to create puzzles by hand. And graph paper was the “new technology.”

      Funny story about that … I was having trouble with a quadrant I was working on constructing, but was tired of working at my computer. So I grabbed some graph paper and headed downstairs to noodle over it while I watched a bit of TV. Oh-em-gee …. impossible!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m guilty of using “OCD” when I really just mean orderly or wanting perfection. But I had it pointed out to me some years ago that this could be offensive to those who truly suffer from the disorder. So now I simply say how much of a Virgo I am…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I made it a point to have that conversation early on in PUZZLING INK between Quinn and her boss. She’s not thrilled he knows about her OCD, but since he does, he should really know what he’s talking about. Jake realizes he’s “persnickety” instead of OCD. (But he’s only persnickety about certain things, as Quinn points out to him.)

      I’m not sure about your Virgo comment, though, because I’m Aquarious and I’m orderly and wanting perfection!


  5. I don’t ever call myself OCD, cuz I saw the movie As Good as it Gets, but I’ll admit that I sometimes say I have ADD, which I probably technically do not. I just mean that I am easily distracted. (Oh look, squirrel!). I can’t imagine structuring a crossword puzzle because I feel as if you would need actual spacial skills for that. But I am great at clues. I usually do crosswords on airplanes to speed up the time. I’ve recently started doing the mini daily crossword that comes with my digital New York Times subscription, if I have a little time in the am.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those three little letters are such convenient shortcuts, eh?

      I’ll deny it, but I’ve been known to eat more lunch if it helps me justify solving my crossword longer. As for the structure, the computer handles a lot of that. A puzzle needs rotational symmetry, so if I want a black square in the last space of the 3rd row, it will automatically put one for me in the first space of the 12th row. Very handy.


    1. Right? It was eye-opening to me how many times I thought it. “I’m not OCD, but … hahaha.” But I’d never think to say when I have a new freckle, “I’m so cancerous” … or if I had ear wax, “I’m so deaf.” If it makes you feel any better (it did me), my friends with OCD only said it annoyed them a little bit when people made that joke. Everyone I spoke to saw the humor in their admittedly, often very serious situation.


  6. Becky, what a great post. So honest and informative. I think OCD is one condition I haven’t claimed for myself! I do see it in other people, though. People close to me, who have to eat the same snack every night and check and double-check locks, and save everything until it’s on the verge of hoarding. Doesn’t that classify as OCD?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Ellen. There needs to be both “obsessive” and “compulsive” components for it to be an actual diagnosis. OCD is an anxiety disorder. The Mayo Clinic’s definition is, “Unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).”

      Someone could eat the same snack every night because they like it, but not have fear and anxiety about what will happen if they don’t eat it. That’s not OCD.

      I could “hoard” books all over my house simply because I’m a reader, but if my kids came to downsize me, or I lost every shelf in a house fire, and could function perfectly well afterward, then that’s not OCD either.

      You need both components, hence the name. The compulsion is how you try to tame the obsession.


  7. Thanks for this educational post, Becky! I’ve definitely been guilty in the past of saying “OCD” in an offhand manner. I try to be very careful about using terms like that, or even the word “crazy,” because I don’t want to minimize mental illness. I previously worked in the mental health field and also have friends who struggle with various disorders.

    As for crosswords, when I’m in the mood, I like filling them out. I would never create them, though. Seems so tough!

    Congrats on the Crossword Mystery series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m definitely guilty of saying “crazy” and like you, I try to be conscious of it.

      Thanks, Jennifer. After the book is out I’ll be interested to hear how people react to the puzzles. Did it make them want to do them if they never had before? Were my puzzles too “not NYT caliber” for the regular solvers? Or were they fun and just the right difficulty for a cozy?

      I hope to make it clear that readers don’t HAVE to do the puzzles to follow the story, but if they’ve never done one before, I give lots of hints in the book about some of the answers.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a great post, Becky. I have known some people with OCD and it can be so difficult. Thanks for raising awareness!

    Crosswords! I love and am terrified by them in equal measure. I think I find myself post comfortable tackling those in People magazine. My hat is off to you for creating them! ZOWIE, that is beyond impressive!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Bonnie …. I hope you don’t mean that Ruth’s book imitates YOUR life! If so, I’m worried about your safety ….

      How cool that you and your daughter work the puzzle together. I joke a lot about crosswords being a solitary pastime, but I’m constantly amazed by how many people work them with a buddy. Maybe I’m too competitive.


  9. For years I did the daily crossword puzzle and hubs and I would do the Sunday crossword together. I’ve gotten out of the crossword habit since we went digital. But, I’m so excited about your series, Becky!
    Don’t think I could create crossword puzzles — that seems really hard!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thanks, Vickie! I’m constantly amazed by how many people in my crossword constructor circle (which is decidedly small) never solved crosswords before they started constructing them. I find that so incredibly bizarre. It would be like writing a book without ever having read one!


  10. Ugh this honestly really grinds my gears! I have OCD and I can’t stand when people use that phrase or any other type of stereotypical phrasing. I wrote a post on this myself recently. Thanks for also shedding light on this!

    Liked by 1 person

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