Obsession Notebook I: How to Expand Your Writing Time

A common regret I hear from women writers is that they don’t have time to write. Not writing, or not writing enough to satisfy their writing need, leaves them feeling empty and hollow, without a center. I nod when I hear these regrets. If I miss my writing time for as little as one or two days, I feel frazzled and disconnected, as if there is a gaping hole where my Self should be.


This semester I am teaching an early morning section of freshman composition that meets during my usual writing time. Despite the fact that I wake at an insane hour to get to my desk before I leave the house, I am not meeting my writing quota on the mornings I teach.


On the first day of the semester I assign my composition students an obsession notebook. Adapted from Sonya Huber’s The “Backwards” Research Guide: Using Your Life for Connection, Reflection, and Inspiration, the obsession notebook is a pocket-sized notebook the size of a deck of cards that I tell my students to fill cover-to-cover in one week. They look at me aghast.


“Carry it with you at all times,” I say. “Write about anything. Write your thoughts, your questions, your observations.”


“In one week?” a student inevitably will ask.


“The one-week time crunch will force you to see like a writer,” I tell them, “to see every minute of every day as a potential writing minute.”


Their mouths hang open. “Do we have to write on both sides of the pages?”


The part of me that has writing on her mind much more than she’s actually sitting at her desk writing wants to scream: “You have no idea what an awesome assignment this is! It’s an excuse to write all the time!” Instead I say, in my most professorial voice, “Both sides. One week.”


Recently, not long after uttering those words—“both sides, one week”—I happened upon a quote by Isabel Allende from Meredith Maran’s newly released Why We Write. Allende says, “I need to tell a story. It’s an obsession. Each story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.”


Ah, yes, the need to tell a story, the need to write. For so many women writers, the need to write is the obsession that is not getting enough of their time and attention. Writing is the obsession that too often gets the leftover minutes, the scraps of a day. Why not, then, assign the obsession notebook to women writers who are hungry for an excuse to write all the time? As Heather Sellers puts it, “Successful, happy writers are ones who carry the writing around with them all the time.”


So, your assignment (make that our assignment): For one week carry an obsession notebook around with you all the time. Obsess about how you are going to fill it, and fill it. Let your obsession notebook elbow its way into every minute of your time. Write anything. Write your thoughts, musings, observations, questions, memories, hopes, desires. Make lists. Jot notes. Don’t pause to think about what you’re writing. Just write.


One caveat: do not use your already scheduled writing time to fill the pages of your obsession notebook. Use your obsession notebook as an opportunity to see every minute of your time as a potential writing minute. Who knows? You may find minutes you didn’t know were there; you may find that time magically expands to satiate your writing need. Maybe, just maybe, your writing Self will finally leave the table full.


In “Obsession Notebook II,” I’ll blog on how to mine your obsession notebook for the themes that point to your deeper truths and contain a myriad of potential memoir projects. But for now, grab yourself a pocket-sized notebook, mark your calendar, and go: both sides, one week.


To filling your obsession notebook,


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  • Ginny Taylor February 13, 2013   Reply →

    I remember the first time Sonya mentioned this in our summer residency class, and then promptly forgot about the richness of this assignment in our daily lives. OK, I’m in. Both sides, one week. Here’s to a great week of writing!

    • Marilyn Bousquin February 13, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Ginny. So glad you’re in! I’m off to the college bookstore to purchase my obsession notebook now. Should I admit I’m obsessing over what kind they may or may not have in stock? I really want one of those tiny composition ones. Met with a dear writing friend last night who’d bought some at Staples, so at least I know where they are to be found. Off to obsess about about writing!

  • kgwaite February 13, 2013   Reply →

    Both sides! Ha. Bet they’ll see that once they start they can’t stop. This is a terrific idea. Thanks for a great post.

    • Marilyn Bousquin February 13, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, KG. Just visited “Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams” (great title, by the way) and fell in love with your great-great grandmother. How wonderful to have writing reaching so far back into your history. Thanks for stopping by. Marilyn

  • Anne Panning February 14, 2013   Reply →


    • Marilyn Bousquin February 15, 2013   Reply →

      Hi, Anne! I think of you so often. Will you be at AWP? So good to see you here and…are you taking the obsession notebook challenge? xo, M

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