Experiences that play over and over in our minds are often the ones that authors can turn into books or stories. Like the lyrics or tunes from a catchy song that you just can’t stop humming, an event or encounter can also keep replaying.
Rather than tuning out the obsessive thought, consider doing everything possible to flesh it out and examine all aspects of the experience. Often, our mind latches on to something for a reason. If we force ourselves to look deeper, there can be a surprising array of explanations that clarify why the experience just won’t go away and leave us alone.
A number of years ago, a patient suffering from intense bouts of depression described how he was placed at bed-rest at the age of six in a pediatric hospital for one year. He was suffering from Legg Perthes Disease, a congenital hip dysplasia, which if not treated appropriately would have led to severe crippling.
I couldn’t get the image of this little boy, trapped in a bed and hooked up to weights and pulleys, out of my head. At first I tried ignoring the image, but it just kept reappearing. Eventually, I sat down and forced myself to examine why this image was haunting me.
The explanation was a lot closer to my conscious mind than I realized. My patient was hospitalized at the Children’s Seaside House in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I had spent my childhood summers not far from where the hospital was located and actually remembered seeing children playing on the hospital grounds. As a child, the sight of those crippled children horrified me. Obviously, even as an adult physician, the memory was still disturbing.
So, one thought led to another and my character, Joe Belmont, a tough Italian medical student, with a traumatic past, was born.
From multiple hiding places within the Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up, to the Jersey shore hospital where he was placed at bed-rest for 12 nightmarish months, to the financial district of Zürich, Switzerland, Joe desperately tries to unlock the secrets that have marked him for death. Finally he realizes that his only hope of survival lies in the one place he has always avoided, the darkest corner of his own mind.
With a lot of research and work, my obsession with a helpless little boy trapped in a hospital bed, was turned into a novel.
Obsessions are intense feelings about a particular person, place, feeling, or way of life. Many authors follow their obsessions from one book to another. Pat Conroy is obsessed with Charleston and the South, John Grisham is obsessed with renegade lawyers who risk their lives fighting evil attorneys, Lee Childs, in the form of Jack Reacher, is obsessed with the freedom that comes from not being attached to any possessions, except his toothbrush.
Using obsessive thoughts and harnessing them as writers is a means of hooking into our passion and using it in a positive way. How else can a person sit down and spend months and years writing unless they really care about the subject and the person they are writing about?
Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.
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