Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur for All: A Writer's Wisdom

Jim Sollich, a writer from Cleveland, Ohio, has an article in today's WaPo entitled A Day to Edit Our Lives. The money exerpt:

Writing is a process of making choices. Thousands of them. The act of writing an opening sentence is the result of more choices than I can count. Every word a character speaks or swallows is a choice. Every action or inaction, more choices. It's so easy to get them wrong. Or at least to see that another choice would have made more sense.

The best writers are usually the best revisers, and they learn to look forward to the process. Revision gives you a chance to get things right. You learn to ask other people for suggestions. Your narrator may be omniscient, but you realize you're not. Suddenly, the writing isn't yours alone anymore. You see that it affects people differently from the way you intended.

On Yom Kippur, we are given the chance to understand that our lives are also not ours alone. Our actions and choices affect others, often in ways that we don't intend. If we cling to our vision of ourselves too fiercely, we blow the chance to gain insight.

Yom Kippur is not a holiday for the young. Judaism requires only adults to fast while they reflect. Nor is it a holiday for the weak of heart. Revising yourself requires you to do something almost psychologically unnatural -- stop narrating the story of your life the way you always have.

The British novelist John Fowles said that people under 40 should not attempt to write novels because they lack the wisdom to do so. I think he may have meant that they lack the ability to revise. Living, like writing, requires no wisdom. Only revising does.


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