An Online Writing Retreat

Part 3


Hopefully, by now, you are starting to feel a bit more comfortable, or in the flow, of responding to the writing prompts. Before moving forward, remember to get yourself grounded, situated, and prepared. Also, remember to revisit the intentions you articulated in Part 1. Consider them for a few moments. If they have somehow shifted in focus, revise them to accurately reflect your current intentions.

Part 3 of the retreat should require approximately 1 hour of your time. This hour we will:

  • Explore the "true subjects" of your writing
  • Reflect on patterns or themes in your writing
  • Work with feelings of discomfort in your writing process

Let's go! 

Finding Your True Subjects

In Part 2, you started to explore writing what you know, using memory and imagination to inform your writing.  Here in Part 3, we are going to build on that to delve deeper into the subjects that are truly yours, those topics that appear over and over again in your writing, those topics that never seem to lose energy for you, that you can't help but write about, no matter how you might attempt to avoid it. For some, these topics may be related to wounds or difficulties they have experienced. For others, these subjects are genuine fascinations that never cease to captivate. Whatever your true subjects are or why, there is often a sense that your subject chooses you, not vice versa. Although you may not want a certain subject matter to be yours, it's yours anyway, to work through for a period of time or for a lifetime. 

These true subjects are often described as obsessions. Typically, the word "obsession" has a negative connotation to it--one that implies an unhealthy relationship to its object. I ask you to think of your obsessions not through this negative lens, but as gifts to fuel your writing, to grow as an individual, and as markers of your true subjects.  Poet Tony Hoagland, in his essay "Obsession: Are You Still Writing About Your Father?," explains:

"A real diehard, indestructible, irresolvable obsession in a poet is nothing less than a blessing. The poet with an obsession never has to search for subject matter. It is always right there, welling up like an Artesian spring on a piece of property with bad drainage.... A poet without a true obsession, a foundational fracture, a mythic wound, may have too much time to think. The poet without a compelling, half-conscious story of the world may not have a heat source catalytic enough to channel into the work of a lifetime."

There you have it. These obsessions are the gifts that keep on giving. Embrace them. Develop a relationship with them. Honor them for the part they play in who you are, how you write, and what you write about. If you would like to read the entirety of Hoagland's essay, it can be found HERE

Begin this exercise by reflecting on what your true subjects might be. Spend 10 minutes or so looking through the writing you have done so far in this retreat. Are there any subjects that keep appearing? Has someone ever pointed out to you that you talk about the same thing, over and over again? If you have them at your disposal, look through your journals noticing the patterns in content. Sometimes, our true subject is not necessarily an event or a specific relationship with a person, it can also be an emotion such as rage, grief, despair, loneliness, wonder, or joy. When you find a  true subject, set your timer for 30 minutes and start writing whatever comes to mind. See where the writing takes you in working with this topic that is fundamental, in some way, to you as a writer. 

Take a 10-minute break before moving forward. 

Working with Discomfort

Considering your work with your true subjects, identify those that make you most uncomfortable. Set your timer 10 minutes and write something about one of your true subjects that you would never show anybody, that you are afraid to write down for anyone to see.  Write as much as possible--get it all out, as much as you can and in as much detail and terrifying specificity as you can muster. Once the timer goes off, take a deep breath. Feel free to tear up your writing and throw it in the recycling bin in tiny little irretrievable pieces, or put it aside for reflection later. Either way, you have successfully been in touch with that difficult part of yourself, and that's the point. I encourage you to repeat this exercise as often as you'd like. 

Reflecting on Part 3


Take a few moments to reflect on your experience with these writing exercises. Did anything come up for you? Were you surprised anything you wrote? Did you discover something about yourself or your experience?

Before moving on to Part 4, take a break of at least 20 minutes.

Get up, stretch your legs, have a snack and some coffee or tea, step outside--whatever you need to take of your body and get centered for what's next.