Last year I decided I wanted to write a story for SHE magazine about women on sabbatical. There was a college professor I knew who had taken the traditional time away from academia to plunge into a nonfiction project of her own, and I wanted to talk with her about the process. How does someone plan for extended time off, releasing what is in exchange for what might be? How does one return?
There was something sacred about the concept, and I felt pulled to pick away at the idea until something interesting took shape. It’s how the best story ideas begin—with the notion that something meaningful lies just beneath a murky surface.
Frankly, I can’t remember how my editor responded to the idea. I only know that we never ran with the story. Sometimes ideas land on the editorial calendar only to be hacked away without anyone saying why. Maybe a writer gets bored with a piece and lets it quietly die. Maybe an editor never loved the idea in the first place and is happy to let the thing wither like a forlorn plant that’s hung too high in the living room for convenient watering. Maybe the concept is simply forgotten and floats off into the ether for another writer, another magazine, to pull from the sky and craft into something beautiful.
It happens all the time.
Except this one still whispers to me.
Most employers don’t trust in the investment of sabbatical. Most women have never experienced one. A year after first pitching the idea, I realized I still wanted to pursue it. I still wanted to write about it. And, more importantly, in my small way, I wanted to experience it.
So I recently took a sabbatical from any kind of writing for pay.
There were some real-life reasons for this—the kind that make sense when you explain to the world why you need to step off the merry-go-round for a few turns. But there were other reasons as well—less tangible, right-brain reasons that induce eye-rolling from those noncreative types who bustle about ruling the world and ordering the rest of us to amp up our productivity.
For two months plus, I didn’t write a word for publication. I filled journal pages, ran pens clean out of ink, and danced to “the end” on a writing project that is very dear to my heart. I took on new work, unrelated to writing, that turned out to be more rewarding than I expected. But I didn’t Post, Tweet, or Send for weeks and weeks.
I was silent, except to myself. And it felt good. It felt like a really sweet exhale.
A few wonderful readers have told me they missed me. They told me things weren’t the same without my voice, and I forever bless them for that. Mostly I suspect the noise of the world didn’t suffer from a little self-imposed silence on my part. If you step out of a room, it’s true that most people won’t notice (or care) that you’ve gone.
How do we embrace retreat or sabbatical in our regular lives when the bills keep coming and the calendar squares must stretch to accommodate all we are required to pack into the suitcase of a single day? I still want to sit in conversation with women who have experienced a stepping away (or is it a stepping toward?) because that’s what I love about my job—the conversation.
What would you do if you could hit the professional pause button and turn your face in another direction, if only for a few weeks? What, Dear Reader, would you do with your wild and precious time?
Think about it, and then send me your story. Because some ideas are worth scratching at.
The conversation is open.