SABBATICAL LESSONS

As I said at the time …

When I was 38, several developments occurred in a way that allowed me to give myself a year of unemployment, drawing largely on savings. Rather than travel the world or undertake some related activity, I hunkered down in a writing spree [that resulted in the novels now (finally) being published]. The sabbatical meant that for the first time in my life, I had a period of uninterrupted concentration on this work. The writing itself. Three fast novels, now to be revised, and thud! skidding to a crash or whatever. Enough to expand to a dozen, in the hours of revision after I went back to the paying work. Looking back, I know it had to be done. And done then.

Nevertheless, in my struggle between practicality and art, there’s been a longstanding sense of guilt in spending time on myself. To my surprise, a resolution came through a workshop on prayer, when we were divided into smaller groups and then asked to write out a prayer request. Not for what others might need or a social issue, but for something we needed individually. “Ask for something for yourself,” which the others would then pray for.

Of course, each of us works differently. I’m not one for the blank sheet writer’s block syndrome: I’m usually springing from notes jotted down earlier. (Pacing is another matter: just where is this going? And why?)

In contrast, I recall a poet friend who was also a public school teacher; he was quite prolific during the busy school year, yet during the summer, could produce little, though he could never quite figure out why. (He could also stare at a piece of paper for five hours and then turn out a sharply focused gem.) The other friend, having all the leisure in the world, could produce only disconnected flashes. Could it be some juggling or resistance is also essential to the practice?

2 thoughts on “SABBATICAL LESSONS

  1. I remember reading Richard Feynman’s take on the same subject. This Nobel Prize-winning physicist wondered whether he or other scientists would be more creative if they could be relieved of pressure from teaching, working or other life responsibilities. He concluded that if creative types were nestled into little cottages in peaceful forests with burbling streams, they would be less effective and creative, not more.
    As you shared, he observed that the best ideas emerge from unexpected directions, and lateral thinking through everyday connections. It’s in living that we create.

  2. What an interesting insight! It reminds me something a gardener friend once told me: that if you beat a plum tree (i.e. make it stressed), it will produce more fruit. Curious, but apparently true! You have made me feel much better about the myriad obstacles that sometimes seem to stand between me and my published book.

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