My guest today is one of the first six women rabbis in the United States, Rabbi Ilene Schneider. Student, educator, columnist, birder, gardener, and writer, Rabbi Schneider says she “hasn’t decided yet what (or who) she wants to be when she grows up.” She is currently Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia, and author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries.
Here’s the blurb for Chanukah Guilt:
Rabbi Aviva Cohen is a 50-something, twice-divorced rabbi living a rather uneventful life in South Jersey. True, she has a family that is rather unconventional. And her first ex-husband is moving to her town. But her life takes a truly interesting – and sinister – turn when she agrees to officiate at the funeral of an unpopular land developer. She doesn’t expect to be told by two different people that he had been murdered. Nor does she expect that the first funeral will result in a suicide. Her search for the story behind the suicide (or was it murder?) will lead her to discover the truism “appearances can be deceiving” is accurate, while putting her life in jeopardy.
My Writing Life: Sources of Inspiration by Rabbi Ilene Schneider
Mine come from two main sources: the news (“Gee, that’s interesting. I wonder what would happen if . . . “); and the shower (“How am I ever going to get Aviva out of this corner I wrote her into? Oh, I know . . . “).
I can now add a third: sleep.
Many years ago, I took a graduate course on creativity (mainly because I figured it would be an easy A; I got an A, but it wasn’t easy). I had long known my creative impulses come from my unconscious or, perhaps, subconscious mind. I don’t outline. I don’t write numerous drafts, tear them up, and start over. I come up with an idea and then let it simmer for a while. By the time I sit down to write (in grad school, on a portable Selectric typewriter – yes, I remember when it was state of the art – now on whatever computer isn’t being used by my younger son to create movie videos to upload to YouTube), the words flow. Okay, they sometimes sputter, but I just type anyway, seemingly without any conscious thought. The creativity course confirmed what I had already known about my writing process.
It used to drive my undergrad math major friends crazy that I could sit at my typewriter (a manual at that time) the night before a paper was due with no outline, just a pile of books with slips of paper, and a pad of yellow legal paper with cryptic notes (some of which I couldn’t decipher) in front of me. I would then proceed to knock out the paper within a couple of hours, pass in the first draft, and get an A. But I had probably been thinking about my topic since the professor gave us the assignment, done all the reading, and made all those enigmatic notes. By the time I sat down at the typewriter, the entire paper existed in my mind. I just had to get it out of there through my fingers on the keyboard and onto the paper.
Yes, I still write that way. And, yes, I’ve written this blog entry that way.
So, back to how I have been inspired while asleep.
The other night, at about 2:00 AM, I woke up with a sentence in my head. Just one sentence. And a fairly nonsensical one, too. I’ve no idea where it came from. And I had no idea where it would lead.
For the next few hours, I tossed and turned while “what if’s” and “how about’s” filled in the blanks. By the time I fell asleep, the alarm was about to go off. I felt fairly useless at work all day, but I had a complete short story in my head.
Of course, it’s not as simple as I tell it. I plunked myself down in front of the laptop that afternoon and began typing. Fortunately, I remembered the first line. And the second. Then the rest of the story followed. Well, about half of it did anyway. At some point, I got bored, re-read what I had written, realized it wasn’t hopelessly bad, but it did need a lot of tweaking. Okay, it needed some heavy duty editing and rewriting. But at least it hadn’t gone the way of most sleep-inspired ideas, into the ether never to be retrieved again.
I haven’t looked at the story now for about a week. It needs time in the slow cooker, aka, my brain. But when I do get back to it, I know the words will be there.
My thanks to Rabbi Schneider for joining us today. I was especially interested in her story since I also do a lot of writing in my head before I sit down and binge write at the computer. It’s nice to know other people find that a “normal” way to work. Visit her combination website/blog at Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries. Those of you who love stories about older writers and older protagonists will be interested in Rabbi Schneider’s post on “Senior” Writers.