Sunday, March 05, 2017

Taking Time Off to (not) Write

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Everyone knows writers write -- every day. So how are writers supposed to deal with Shabbos – a day that comes once a week, always at the worst possible time, interrupting the “flow” and standing in the way of creativity?  And what if you get your best ideas at a time when you’re forbidden to write them down???

I’ve dredged this old article up from the archives – published back in 2001, and maybe not how I’d write it today, but still highly relevant.  Enjoy!

Gorgeous Hebrew typewriter photo © Shira Gal via Flickr.

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Everyone knows writers write -- every day.

But since I became an Orthodox Jew a decade ago, writing hasn't been an option at least one day out of every week. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and on holidays, traditional Jewish law prohibits writing, whether with a pen or computer.

The goal of the Sabbath isn't just "not working" but "not creating" -- as God did after making the world. It's hard enough for the busy stockbroker or doctor, but at least those jobs can be left behind. For a serious writer, who should be creating constantly, it's an even bigger challenge.

What if I'm writing a great story on Friday, but the sun's about to set? What if I think up my best idea ever on a Saturday afternoon at the park with my kids? I know if I don't put it down on paper right away, there's a good chance it's gone forever.

Yet despite this hurdle, I manage to write articles, essays and stories that editors and readers relate to. So I'm wondering whether this "handicap" might not give me an advantage over writers who write on a treadmill, never taking time to recharge their spiritual batteries.

For me, the Sabbath is an island of peace and reflection in my hectic life. As a single mother, I don't have time during the week to just "mull". I scribble shorthand notes during my subway commute and stuck in traffic. At home, the kids fall asleep to my weary typing late into the evenings, while the dishes drip-dry in the background and the dryer hums upstairs. But on Friday, just before sunset, it all comes to a full stop. What's left behind is me, my family and an indescribably holy stillness.

Like the "still small voice" that spurred the prophet Elijah, that's when the magic happens. The urgent writing obligation is lifted, and I have a chance to savour ideas. Not just about writing; I wonder how I'm doing as a parent, or study the weekly Bible reading. But on those long winter Friday nights or summer Saturdays in the park, writing thoughts ease their way in as well.

imageI'll think about articles that are almost done or the novel I'll write someday, characters who haven't quite come to life, or puzzle through incomplete plots. The thoughts meander lazily, knowing they won't be slammed into print the second they venture forth. The Sabbath gives my ideas time to steep, gives me time to solve problems, and as a bonus, energizes me to start anew when the sun sets Saturday night.

I do agree with Stephen King and others who say writing daily is a worthy goal. But it's not a goal every writer can, or ought to, stick to. And maybe there's a lesson here for anybody else in this hectic word business: for me, making time to write includes this sacred day -- my one chance to step back from the world and let my soul write its own story.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

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