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The Limits of Creative Expression
by Esther Susan Heller

I hear the following sentiment from so many writers: "I feel restricted, limited in what I may or may not say in my writing. This feeling of censorship is holding me back, stifling my creativity. When the truth is held back, creativity is stifled, the work is flat, rings hollow, fails to inspire."

This leads us directly to the following conventional assumption: Intentional suppression of creative expression leads to inferior writing.

I would like to brave an answer to this: Although in the past this has happened, it need not.

Let's consider a chef specializing in low cholesterol, gourmet cuisine.. Now having to use soy milk in place of cream can be viewed as an obstacle or a professional challenge. The creative, resourceful chef would consider it the latter and get to work. We would expect his/her masterpiece to taste less rich without the use of cream and butter, but we would accept this because the benefit of a healthy heart far outweighs the momentary pleasure of the perfect culinary experience.

Now let's consider the gourmet chef committed to halacha. Don't we also accept the benefit of a healthy, (pure) soul?

The One who gave us the desire and talent to create is also the One who gave us the halacha that may sometimes force us to suppress whatever we feel we must say. Just as we accept the concept of shimiras haloshen (watching our tongue) there is a higher purpose to watching what we write.

After airing our frustrations and identifying our weaknesses, let's search for creative solutions. Suppression is different than repression. Denying problems is untruthful, and sometimes psychologically damaging. But not mentioning them directly can be part of the technical challenge. Using allegory, metaphor, or symbolism are subtler ways of expressing truth and may even improve one's ability to communicate in moving and meaningful way.

We can set new standards and blaze new trails. Our audiences may not be accustomed to some of these changes in strategy and technique, but that need not deter us.

Suppose you wanted to switch your family from eating white flour to whole wheat. Most likely you would make gradual, disguised and camouflaged changes. The taste might differ, be not quite as easy to digest, but with time, intention, and skill you can achieve your aim.

Esther Susan Heller is director of The Jewish Writing Institute.


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