Obsession Notebook II: How to Excavate Your Truth
Did you fill your obsession notebook in a week? Ten days? Two weeks? By what day were you obsessed with your writing, your thoughts, your mind?
Me, I was hooked on day one. It’s been a few years since I’ve kept a compulsive diary, and my obsession notebook returned me to the quiet joy of writing for writing’s sake. That mindful space that stretches time and settles me into the rhythm of my own breath.
Now it’s time to mine your obsession notebook for its underlying themes. As Dara Marks writes in Inside Story: The Power of the Transformation Arc, “For the writer, working with theme is an opportunity to explore personal truths.” It is here, at theme level, that writing becomes an act of discovery. It is also where your writing transcends the personal and strikes a universal chord.
How to excavate your truth:
- Read your obsession notebook from beginning to end, preferably in one sitting. Read from a “detached” stance, as if you are an observer of the material you are reading rather than the writer of this material.
- As you read, notice the patterns that emerge in your writing: an image, an emotion, a favorite word, a persistent problem, a heady delight, a recurring memory, a social issue that ripples through your observations, a random news story your mind can’t shake, a family drama that keeps unfolding. Anything that repeats itself is a pattern. Underline, circle, or highlight the patterns you notice.
- Distill the patterns you have identified into themes. For example, if you write often about birdsong, is nature a theme? Wonder? Beauty? If a past relationship recurs, is love a theme? Loss? Forgiveness? List your themes on a separate piece of paper or computer file.
- For each theme you have identified, list the experiences of your life that fall under that theme. Don’t overthink this. Give yourself one minute per list.
- Now circle one experience under each theme. Do a 10-minute freewrite for each one circled. In other words, each freewrite explores a different theme.
Each of your theme-driven freewrites contains a personal truth—what I call the “nub” of your experience—that carries the deeper meaning, or essence, of your material. This nub is what distinguishes your writing about, say, love or betrayal from everyone else’s writing about love or betrayal. While you may have filled your obsession notebook with writing for writing’s sake, do not underestimate the power of the truths that pulse beneath its surface. Mining your obsession notebook for its underlying themes brings these truths to light. From this light you can begin to shape your experience into an artistic expression that thrums to the rhythm of your own breath.
To excavating your truth,