Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Writing Life: Sources of Inspiration by Rabbi Ilene Schneider

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.

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My Writing Life: Sources of Inspiration by Rabbi Ilene Schneider


Every author who has ever appeared in public for a reading or a signing has been asked the inevitable “Where do you get your ideas?” question.

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.

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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.

17 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A wonderful guest today, I sat here enthraled by what she had to say.
Thanks Patricia,
Yvonne.

N. R. Williams said...

I too do a lot of writing in my head and have found dreams a good source of inspiration. Many times they make absolutely no sense on their own.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Patricia Stoltey said...

Ideas seem to pop up whenever we let ourselves completely relax, so meditation is another way to bring interesting thoughts to the surface. Maybe it's just way too hard for them to fight through our daily preoccupations, To Dos, and stresses.

Clarissa Draper said...

What a wonderful post. I know that when I get an idea I let it simmer too. Eventually, the story comes together... like it should.

CD

Mary said...

It's always fun to find someone who thinks like you.
Great post and thank you Rabbi Schneider for accepting Patricia's invitation.

Karen Walker said...

How lovely to meet Rabbi Schneider. Thanks, Patricia, for hosting her. My maiden name is the same is your character, Rabbi.
Karen

Margot Kinberg said...

Patricia - Thanks for hosting Rabbi Schneider.

Rabbi Schneider - Thanks for sharing the ways in which you get inspired. I especially like the way you discuss how sleep gets you thinking. There's lots of research that suggests that we do work on problems in our sleep, and your example shows we can be creative then, too. I love it!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi everyone. I'm so intrigued by the idea of Rabbi Aviva Cohen as sleuth. Isn't this the best example ever of writing from your own experience?

Bob Sanchez said...

It's always interesting to read about other people's thought processes. I can't remember ever knocking off a "A" paper at the last minute! If I had a hat, Rabbi, it would be off to you.

Ann Best said...

This was fascinating. SHE is fascinating. I kind of write that way too, but I hate it when I'm awake in the middle of the night.

I want to read her book!
Ann

Larion aka Larriane Wills said...

so much of that sounds so familiar. lol. great post.

Helen Ginger said...

I often dream my characters talking to each other or to me. I can't let it stew all day, though. I have to write it down as soon as I wake up or it'll drift away.

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Oh, yes, Irene. My lawyer husband used to think "I'll sleep on it." was a really silly dodge. Now he realizes how many times he awakens with answers he didn't have before he slept. We have a convert!

Ciss B said...

Fascinating. I am interested in the fact that she can pound out a paper that quickly, too, since I am a writer and have an English degree and I have trouble finding just the right words sometimes!

Patricia Stoltey said...

A special thanks to Rabbi Schneider for sharing her thoughts on inspiration today. I'm another strong believer in "sleeping on it," so it's fun to see how many of us have the same idea.

arlee bird said...

News articles and dreams are my biggest sources of inspiration. Sometimes I'll awaken with a thought or phrase like was described above. I have to be careful though when I write them down. Sometimes I get up the next day and look at what I've written and I'll have no idea what I've written, nor will I remember.

Lee
Tossing It Out

KK Brees said...

I'm looking forward to discovering your books, Ilene. I also do much of my thinking in the shower - it seems to be a great place to prime the creative water pump, as it were.