Tonight at my Toastmasters group, the word of the day was obsession.
Merriam Webster defines obsession as:
: a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal
: someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently
: an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing
Often we view the word obsession in a bad way, but let’s look at that third section in Merriam Webster’s definition. An activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing.
Obsessions are those things we are drawn to again and again. These are things we can write about and if you start writing about your obsessions, the writing can get very juicy. The flow could become more like a waterfall and less like a trickle.
The things that call to you, the things that drive you, the things you return to again and again, these are worth writing about.
What do you love?
What is the thing you can never walk away from?
What is the subject of the book you wouldn’t want to put down? The subject you could spend hours watching documentaries about?
What do you collect?
What are your hobbies?
What do you spend your spare time doing? What do you like to do on your vacations?
What are your obsessions?
Start writing about them. Let them trickle into your work. Share the hours of accumulated knowledge on the page so others can learn from and enjoy your obsessions too.
What are you waiting for? Start now. Pick an obsession, start writing and see how juicy your writing can be.
One day not so long ago it was raining and I was coming home from a good dinner out with my Shimmy Mob Memphis dance sisters when I spotted a toad by my back door.
He was up on the deck railing which is as high and as close as any toad has ever come before. We stood for a while, he and I, without moving as the rain sprinkled down all around us.
Of course he was unbothered by it, rain being a thing natural to him. It is this that got me thinking. Does rain feel unnatural to you? If so when did that start happening?
Children take joy in playing in the rain. Adults, well it depends on the adult. I was taking great pleasure in the plunk of raindrops on my head while I took a few pictures of my new companion with my phone. I was not listening to the adult voice in my head which said go get your umbrella first. I ignored that adult voice because I was sharing a joyful raindrop moment with my toad friend and when you share a moment, it is best to stay in it. Once lost it never comes again.
When we are writing we tend to write what we know and that is the advice usually given to young, new and aspiring writers. Well it’s the advice given to all of us really, even those of us who have been writing for a while. It’s one of those things most people don’t even question but accept as factual and true. Kind of like when it’s raining out, take your umbrella.
So we walk around carrying our adult umbrellas and sometimes we forget how to play and how to reach out beyond that. If we always reach for the umbrella we miss the experiences that fall outside of that comfortable dry spot beneath the umbrella.
Let’s play with this one a bit. Splash around in the rain with me for a moment and put the umbrella down. Place the write what you know umbrella in the corner for a moment and lets see what’s splashing outside of that dry spot.
What if you were to write something you did not know, something you were in the process of learning?
What if you were to write about that learning process?
What if you were to write a fictional story while you were still researching and fact checking?
Some raindrops fall farther from the umbrella than others. It is okay to play in the rain and get wet. It can be great fun to splash around once in a while and play with your writing.
My fourth book of fiction, Trapping the Butterfly,is set in the 1920’s in Hot Springs, Arkansas USA. I wrote it on spec. Had pitched the story idea to my editor and she loved the idea and sent me a contract. I wrote the first couple chapters while researching at the same time. As the story came together I was doing the follow up research almost til I typed “the end” Some of what I thought I knew turned out not to be historically accurate, for that town in that year. If I had held back writing the story until I did all the research first it would have been more difficult to meet my deadline.
Some might argue that the process of writing this way would lead to a sloppy or inaccurate book. My counter argument would simply say this book is now up for a RONE award. I offer this as proof the process did not hurt the book or this author. In fact it was a joy to write and is my favorite work of fiction of all my stories so far.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t because you don’t feel knowledgable enough? Try setting that umbrella aside. Step out into the rain and play a little. You might discover joy in the writing process.
You might meet a toad companion and share a joyful moment. That alone is worth stepping out into the rain.
Your Creativity is always in intact. If you are not writing or creating in some way, that does not mean your creativity is broken or has gone away.
Creativity can exist in the midst of chaos of all sorts, illness, war, famine, fear of death…
Just ask any writer who has lived through any of these circumstances and who has written about it, often written during the events. There are famous diaries and other written works which fall into this category and I’ll bet you can even name a few.
I once wrote while in the midst of food poisoning. Food poisoning from an egg roll I’d purchased at a mall food court. I wrote about the experience while I was in it, which is why I know such things can be done. It is the thought of can’t which gets in the way. Clear that off and believe you can.
The piece I wrote, was it a piece I would let you, or anyone else read? No. I tore it up the following week and did away with it.
So, why do this? Why write something if I was just going to tear it up later anyway?
Sometimes we need to write our way through things as a way of processing them, to release what is inside of us so it doesn’t live there any more.
Sometimes we need to write simply to keep our writing muscles flexible and strong.
5 minutes a day is all it takes to keep your writing muscles from hardening up and becoming immobile. In all my writing classes I give timed writing exercises and the 5 minute timed writings are a core part of the program.
Everyone has five minutes to give to the things that are important to them. No excuses. Go on now and set that egg timer, or set your alarm on your phone. Write something, anything. What will you write about today?
Where do I begin? – My students often ask this question.
One way to begin is to start with the point of view from where you are now. Begin with where you are standing. What do you see?
Last week the cherry blossom trees in my yard came into bloom. Something new to catch my attention, drawing my eye to the beauty there. Creative inspiration could have led me to write a poem about this tree. I stood for a long time taking it in, allowing the visual to speak to me.
Often journal entries will begin this way. Simply what are you seeing now? Where are you standing? At what angle do you view the scene? Now let’s change things. What happens if you move just a bit closer, changing the angle? This changes the emphasis. What draws the eye? What pulls focus?
Now let’s change the view again. Move closer in. Look for the details. Look beneath. Look up. What changes? What calls to you now?
How close can you get? What do you see now? What details emerge? How does this differ from the first scene?
Often we approach our writing from the same viewing point. What would happen if you changed that, moved about to see from a different angle, from a different point of view, through a different story persons eyes?
Spring is here. Take up your pen and paper and go out and play. See if you can discover something new today.
Tomorrow the view will be different. Subtle changes will appear, blossoms will fall upon the ground, new green leaves will appear. Tomorrow when I come to the page, the view will be different, I will be different. Like a snapshot freezing a moment in time, the pages I write will never be duplicated again. All the more reason then to come to the page, to capture if I can, this perfect moment.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Oscar Wilde
I collect quotes and often return to the ones which speak to me. This one has been tapping me on the shoulder, wanting to be shared with my students.
Too often we get in our own way, with many things, but especially with writing. When we don’t write, it becomes harder to write. When we do write, even for five minutes a day, it becomes easier to write. I have experienced this on both ends, the writing and the not writing, and know it to be true for me.
What is holding you back today? Pick up that pen, fire up that computer or typewriter and begin. Even if you only have five minutes. It could be the best five minutes of your day.