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Chavrusa Writing
by Esther Chana Stromberg

Many of you might be wondering, "What is Chavrusa writing?"

Chavrusa writing is a wonderful way to get out of your house, out of your head and onto the page? How does it work? And why does it work?

First of all, you must find a Chavrusa, a fellow writer, explorer of life and someone you can communicate with.

Call her up. Say, do you want to write?

She will say, OK

You will say, "When? How about Tuesday."

"No, Tuesday I have to take Chaim to the doctor."

She will say "what about Wednesday morning?"

You'll say, "Great, oh, wait a minute… Wednesday I have to go to the dentist to have a root canal."

She'll say, "Oh."

You'll say, "I know, I'll call the dentist and postpone it till next week."

There you've agreed on the day. You might even get to the point where you have a kavuah day and you won't have to go through this every week.

It's better not to meet in someone's house. Here are a few reasons, telephone, washing machine, dishes in sink, plumber at the door, neighbor at the door. Neighbor on the phone. Need I go on?

So we're out of the house. Maybe at a library where talking is permitted. Or a caf?. Caf?'s are wonderful. Perhaps you live in Tsfat or Beit Shemesh and have only one caf?. So then there's no problem in deciding which caf?. But if you live in Jerusalem, you have many choices. Also you have to decide if you want to go into town or closer to her or me, not one too popular because A. you don't want to run into too many friends because then it's hard to work and B. you don't want to have to watch the door for swarthy-skinned people who look as if they have just put on 20 pounds and are wearing a leather jacket in 30 degree weather. So you've settled on a place.

OK. So, Wednesday has arrived. You have already seated yourself at a table in the back of the no smoking section of the caf? and waited a few minutes for your Chavrusa who has yet to show up. The waitress comes over and you order a double cappuccino, hold the whipped cream, no on second thought, beseder, gam ketzefet. You pull out your notebook and pen and take out Tehillim till she gets here. Woops- Works, every time-that yetzer hara does not like Tehillim-in walks your Chavrusa. Just to give the yetzer a little zetz, read a perek of Tehillim. It gets the juices flowing. Your Chavrusa tells you in five minutes about how it took her 20 minutes to write a note to Shloimie's rebbe explaining how he forgot to do his homework- is shiure bait spelled with an ayin or an aleph? and Elisheva hid her shoes, till she found them--- you offer a story of your own, she orders herbal tea and you get to work.

Now that's the beginning. You spend the first 10 minutes warming up. You both write beginning sentences on little slips of paper. And each one picks a line and writes their own piece. Here are a few samples of first lines- "Who do you think you are?" "I've never experienced joy quite like this."

"When I was sixteen, I felt" "The sky never looked so big as when…" When ten minutes passes, you read to each other. Of course, reading is always optional, but it is nice to share.

Ten minutes later, you are warmed up. Your brains are humming. You've got something pouring out of you and it's spilling onto the page. You didn't even know it was in you. She says, "Let's do twenty minutes." So you pick a subject. Perhaps you both choose, "I have a dream…" Or maybe you want to continue what you warmed up with. It sparked you.

Maybe she's just sitting there, stumped. You throw out another first line-"How about, "I was standing in the dressing room, trying on a pleated skirt when all of the sudden, I heard …" That's it. She's off and running. You are both writing hard and fast. There's a definite glow around your table. The floor under you starts to separate from the rest of the caf? and you both levitate to another world. After twenty minutes, you come up for air, she says, "You want to read?" You say, "Gimme another minute." She's a little jealous that you're still writing, but it's ok. You read to each other and offer enthusiastic appreciation, enjoyment, or a mild "hmm-that's very interesting, I don't think I've ever heard that voice come out of you, before."

You write another round-perhaps continuing the same piece, beginning another or, if it's slow, ordering another coffee.

What's good about Chavrusa writing?

First of all, writing can be hard and lonely. When you have a Chavrusa, the naked page is still staring up at you, but you also have a pair of friendly eyes across the table. When you have an appointment with someone to write, you can't (and don't want) to procrastinate. You write. Of course you can talk. But that's not Chavrusa writing. That's called schmoozing. A certain amount of discipline must be exercised.

Another good thing about Chavrusa writing is energy. Very often, you and your Chavrusa share energy for the writing. A good word about what you just wrote can spark more good writing-her voice can pique your interest. Perhaps she writes in first person and you are stuck in third-or vice versa. Sometimes fresh air is good for writing.

With Chavrusa writing you can have immediate feedback. Of course, you must trust each other, and have respect for one another's writing ability in order to receive and give constructive feedback. I have found that out and out criticism is usually not too helpful. Unless your partner asks for your critical analysis. It is always wise to tread softly in this area.

Enthusiasm is the best, encouraging one another to keep writing, keep delving. If you see something glaring that could be improved with small changes, mention it. Such as "I really wanted to hear more about your brother in the middle of that piece." The key is to help each other keep writing. Good middot are a must in Chavrusa writing. Be interested in her piece, in her quest. Want to hear her work almost as much as you want her to hear yours. Be positive, encouraging, appreciative. Be punctual. Learning to be a good writing Chavrusa can be as deep as being a good friend.

Chavrusa writing can also bring you to look at yourself. What happens when she is reading a particularly good piece that she wrote? Am I envious? Is there room in the world for another writer? What does Hashem want me to see in this person? What does He want me see in myself?

Chavrusa writing can take you to a very deep and flowing place. I recommend it highly. And if you live too far and have email, do it like that. Just call someone up and make a date.

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