In my experience the hardest part of writing a story isn’t the actual writing of it—finding all the right words—but finding the right shape for it: the right beginning, the right middle, and the right end. For this hardest part I’m usually not sitting at my desk but taking a long walk or bus or train ride where there’s nothing to do but think. Somehow the motion jogs my thoughts and everything falls into place.
So I was intrigued by Maimonides’ mention of his “riding animal” in one of his letters.
Did Maimonides figure out the complicated structure of the Guide of the Perplexed while riding a donkey?
Was it while he was riding his donkey that he formulated the brilliant system of classification of the laws in the Mishneh Torah?
So next time you have to write something, first do your research, then try taking a walk or a ride and see if your piece doesn’t start to take shape. For “The Rabbi and His Donkey,” the initial idea came when I was reading at my desk. But the story didn’t take shape until I was on one of my favorite walks around my Chicago neighborhood. On the walk there’s a great view of the Sears Tower to the north, while the Amtrak trains are sounding their horns on the railroad tracks to the west. But I didn’t see or hear any of it. I was completely focused on my story.