"Positive Obsession" was first published in 1989 under the title "Birth of a Writer" in Essence magazine. It is an autobiographical essay structured as a series of memories and reflections. In it, Butler describes how she became a successful science fiction and fantasy writer against many odds and in great part due to her mother's encouragement.
Butler begins her narrative with a vignette in which her mother tricks her six-year-old self into reading at bedtime. A few years later, she began telling herself stories whenever she had no stories to read; she then began to write these stories down.
She then recalls two moments when the restrictions of American racial segregation challenged her passion for reading and writing. When she was ten, her fear of entering a white-owned bookstore was surpassed by her desire to own her first new book. At thirteen, she doggedly refused to give in to her aunt's view that writing was not a viable job for a black person in America.
Next, Butler recounts the effects of her extreme shyness, which was partly brought on by low self-esteem and other children's bullying, and which many adults mistook as slowness. Writing became Butler's means to hide from the world and also to reimagine herself.
Butler shifts from her own struggles as a youth to explain her mother's passion for learning. She was put to work at a young age and so wanted her daughter to have the education she had been denied. One way she did this was to recover all types of books out of the trash of her white employers to give to her daughter.
Butler then identifies her desire to sell a story as her own "positive obsession"—her means to do what she wants to do. She remembers how, as a young adult, she attempted to navigate the publication process but could not understand why her stories were rejected; how an agent took advantage of her ignorance and swindled her mother by asking for compensation to read one of her stories; how, though she was attending college, she had trouble getting appropriate feedback for her writing from her teachers.
Her vindication finally comes when one of her short stories wins the first prize in a school contest. After college, she supports herself by working low-paying jobs and getting up at two in the morning to write even though she was full of self doubt about her talent. When she becomes a published writer, she uses her money to pay the mortgage on her mother's house.
Butler concludes the piece by noting that now that she is a successful science fiction and fantasy writer, she is often interrogated on the usefulness of her writing to black people; for her, the answer to this constant questioning is obvious: science fiction as a genre that proposes alternative realities and behaviors, discusses the potential consequences of scientific and technological progress, and critiques socio-political organization, may allow blacks to imagine themselves as other than they have been defined by American society and history.
This essay was originally published in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Vol. IX. Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, 1993. "Furor Scribendi" is written as practical advice to new writers on the habits that lead to publication. As Butler comments on how solitary and frustrating writing for publication is, she suggests developing a set of specific writing practices: 1. Read every day; 2. Take writing classes and workshops; 3. Write every day; 4. Revise thoroughly; 5. Submit your work for publication even if you get rejected often; 6. "Persist." This last habit, Butler contends, is more important to a writer than talent, inspiration, or even imagination.
The Afterword to "Furor Scribendi", which Butler translates as "A Rage for Writing" or "Positive Obsession", reveals that Butler considered persistence as her true "talent" or "habit" as a writer.