Saturday, July 19, 2014

Time off to (not) write.


Everyone knows writers write.  Right?

But since I became an Orthodox Jew a looooong time ago, writing hasn't been an option at least one day out of every week. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and on holidays, I don’t write, either with a pen or computer.

Please don’t underestimate how hard this is.  It’s CRAZY hard.  And it’s never gotten easier, the longer I’ve done it.

An island of peace and reflection

For observant Jews, 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.

Imagine this:  you’re on a roll, you’re in the zone, you’re writing a great story… but it’s Friday, and the sun's about to set.

Or, even worse:  you get the best idea ever, for an absolutely killer story… but it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m at the park with my kids? If I don't get it down on paper right away, there's a good chance that killer story will be gone forever.

So be it.

I hope I sound calm and philosophical about this… but did I mention already, this is CRAZY hard?

Yet despite this hurdle, I manage to write articles, essays and stories that editors and readers relate to.  And I’ve done so pretty consistently for the last, oh, maybe 20 years since I decided to take writing seriously.

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, Shabbat, our sabbath, is an island of peace and reflection in my hectic life.

How many of us have time during a typical week to just mull?

The still small voice

If you’re like me, you’ll scribble shorthand notes while you’re running to and fro, maybe leave yourself little voice messages with sudden inspirations, send yourself email reminders… and then just hope you get a chance to collapse at the computer late at night to pull it all together when the day’s “serious” work is done.

But for me, on Friday, just before sunset, it all comes to a full stop.  There’s no choice but to get off the treadmill.

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.

I'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.

Writing daily… or carving out breathing space?

Shabbat 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.

Look, I’m humble enough not to argue with Stephen King (omg, no!) 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. 

If I didn’t have Shabbat, would I make time this way? 

Probably not, but perhaps I should. 

If you don’t, perhaps you should. 

I’d love to hear how you carve out regular breathing space in your busy working and writing week.  Let me know in the Comments section.

Post repurposed from an article I wrote (as Jennifer M. Paquette) for Canadian Writer’s Journal, August 2001 issue.

[photo credit:  Meagan via flickr]


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