BH, I'm so excited about this. For years, I wanted to start up a podcast where I'd start interviewing some of the more interesting orthodox Jewish authors out there, so readers could engage a little more with the person behind the book.
Yael Shahar is a veteran contributor to Sasson Magazine, and has just published a new book called Returning, which absolutely blew my socks off, when I read it.
You can find out a little more about who Yael actually is, and why her book had such a strong impact on me by listening to the podcast, below.
I think (hope....) that if you have access to the iTunes store, you can also download it there, too, I don't have a smartphone (as we all know...) so I can't double-check that myself, but this is meant to be the case.
So, take a listen, and find out how a cowgirl from Texas came to be doing counter-terrorism in the Israel army, and what on earth all that has to do with PTSD and coming to write the book, Returning.
A little while back, I was exchanging some emails with a fellow-writer about the art of commenting on posts, and trying to build a real relationship with our readers.
While it’s easy to comment on a post – all you do is type something and press ‘submit’ – actually commenting in a thoughtful way which is not just about massaging your own ego or ‘being seen to comment’ is actually way, way harder.
Like so many of the things internet-connected, it’s an iron fist hidden in a velvet glove, and a ‘wrong’ comment can you leave you feeling really ucky for days, both if you’re on the receiving end of it, but also, if you’re the one dishing it out.
So, how can we really navigate the maze of commenting on other people’s posts, or maybe on other people’s comments to things we ourselves have written? After pondering on the subject for a while, this is what I came up with:
1) Leave your ego at the door
If you are only commenting to one-up someone else, or to demonstrate that you are so much cleverer / clued-in / better / more intelligent than they are– then stuff a rag in it and keep your mouth shut. Those types of comments just put other people’s backs up, and give an ucky taste to the whole proceedings.
Similarly, if you are writing posts but can’t bear for people to disagree with you, or to point out some uncomfortable home truths about your writing publically, then disable your comments function now. Yes, many internet commentators use the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a walnut today, and often express themselves very coarsely. But, that’s the curse of the age: no-one knows how to debate ideas politely without getting into personal insults today.
The only way this ability is going to return is if some stalwart writers can tolerate a bit of abuse as the price of starting to teach the next generation that there is a better way of expressing themselves.
The more you can leave your ego at the door, the more a healthy debate will start to flourish around your writing. That doesn’t mean you can’t challenge people who disagree, or that you should only write fake nice comments. Be real, be direct, be forceful, if you have to – but do it like a humble, considerate mensch who is trying to get to the truth, and not just trying to come off as a loudmouth control-freak, or know-it-all.
2) Don’t slander other people
Don’t make negative comments about other people. Full stop. You can criticize ideas, you can criticize actions, you can even criticize organisations and other ‘faceless’ institutions. But don’t slag off other people.
3) Have someone else re-read your comment or post before posting up
Now, I’m a hypocrite for writing this, as I usually don’t do that. What usually happens is that after the event, my husband will read something and mildly raise an eyebrow if it’s a bit ‘off’, and I’ll know to go and reconsider it. OR, if it’s really ‘off’, then usually one of my readers will blast me in the comments section – and then again, I have to go and reconsider it.
And even then, usually it will stay up. But not always.
Good writers respond to readers' feedback, even when it's not what they want to hear, and accepting you may actually be wrong is a key part of art of commenting.
4) If you’re going to slaughter a sacred cow, be prepared for a strong reaction
A few months’ ago, I wrote an ill-advised piece about Jews and money. The topic is highly charged at the best of times, and needs handling with a lot of sensitivity. Often, I can pull that stuff off OK, but this time, I really couldn’t. What I wrote was more an expression of my inner frustration with having to deal with some extremely bent people as opposed to a useful discussion about the pitfalls of excessive materialism.
So, I was rightly blasted by a couple of irate readers, and after talking to God about it, I realized the right thing to do was to pull the piece.
But then sometimes, the opposite occurs. Sometimes, I’ll write something that gets roundly criticized in the comments section, and the nature of the criticism itself shows me I’m actually on the right track.
Whichever way it splits, if you want to write about sensitive topics, be prepared for strong reactions and try not to take them personally. The point of sparking a debate is that people will tell you what they really feel about a subject, and very few of us are developed enough spiritually to genuinely enjoy the process of having our assumptions challenged.
If you are challenging your readers’ most cherished beliefs, or basic guiding assumptions, they will defend them robustly – and you have to respect that, give them the ability to express what they need to say, and then respond to the ideas they are pushing back with without trying to verbally decapitate them.
This is often really hard! But learning how do this is really fundamental to the art of handling comments appropriately. (And when I’ve really managed it, I’ll let you know.)
5) Define your redlines and police them strongly
Yes, you want to comment and have commentators. Yes, you want to dialogue and share ideas. But there’s a lot of flat-out weirdos and psychos out there, and especially if you’re enabling anonymous commenting, they will come flooding out of the skirting with profanity, personal attacks and brain-dead criticisms that say far more about their own, tortured, state of mind than the ideas you’re actually trying to discuss.
So, be clear what your redlines are, and police them accordingly. On my blog, for example, I won’t tolerate lashon hara; I also won’t tolerate profanity; and I won’t tolerate any comments that bash orthodox Judaism or the Torah. (But to be clear, while I won’t post up any comments that contain the first two, I will sometimes post comments that contain the last one, simply so I can rebut it publically. That’s part of the art of commenting.)
If you don’t want comments from certain types, be ruthless with your delete button. Sooner or later, they will get the picture. But again, if you want to initiate a genuine debate with your readers, be prepared for them to disagree with you, even strongly. If you can’t hack that, be honest and disable your comments function.
6) Don’t always try to have the last word
You don’t always have to come out looking like the ‘winner’ in the comments section. At least sometimes, let your readers’ comments stand unrebutted and unchallenged. Thank them for pointing things out you haven’t thought about, or didn’t know. Appreciate the time and effort they are taking to try to interact and share their knowledge with you and your audience.
If you like what they are sharing, encourage them to give you more of the same in the future.
As much as you can, step out of the limelight, and let the other person’s point stand alone.
7) Don’t respond to comments (or write blogposts….) when you’re in a bad mood
The last few weeks, I’ve been having a lot of stress and my patience levels have reduced as a result. This is not a good state of mind to be commenting or writing in, and I’ve noticed recently that I’ve been much more ‘snippy’ and aggressive in some of my responses than usual.
I’ve tried to take some time off to rectify this problem, and it’s helped a little. But I can still see that when I’m in a mood like this, it’s frequently better to keep mum than to comment, write or respond from a place of grumpiness and anger.
There’s enough negativity out there already, we writers don’t need to pointlessly add to it.
8) Be real
Being real means it’s ok to admit you were wrong, that you make mistakes, that you sometimes act (or write…) like a jerk. That’s OK. Nobody’s perfect, and the internet will bring out every bad character trait you have, and magnify it a million times.
If you write something misjudged, or incorrect, or just plain bad and wrong, apologise, ask for it to be deleted if necessary and move on. Readers will respond to your real flaws much more than they will to your fake piety – but only if you ‘fess up and stop pretending to be perfect.
9) Focus on adding value
Whatever you write, try to make the focus on the other, not just on yourself. How is what you’re writing helping someone else, or making them feel a little happier about things? How is your comment building the world? How is your input opening up the debate, or sharing new information that other people didn’t know before?
If it’s not doing any of those things, and really adding some value for at least one other person out there, then silence could be more golden.
10) Go with the flow
The last thing to say sounds a little counter-intuitive, given all that has come before, but don’t get too caught up with trying to write the perfect comment or post. Accept that try as you might, you will sometimes say something dumb, or inconsidered, or wrong or ucky. Minimising those occasions is part of the art of commenting, but completely eradicating them will only happen if you hang up your pen (or keyboard….).
If you make one duffo comment for every nine useful ones, continue.
If your ratio is no-where near that good, then keep practicising until it gets better, and use this blog post as a checklist to see how you can keep improving on your commenting abilities. If your goal is really to add value, debate honestly, learn new things and help other people, you will get there in the end, so don’t sweat the small mistakes you’re inevitably going to make along the way.
But, if your goal is to make other people feel bad, browbeat everyone with your own loud opinions and shut-down the discussion – then you probably won’t get there. It’s a self-fulfilling kind of thing.
So go with the flow, enjoy yourself, be real, and most of all – don’t be scared to try to interact with other people and new ideas.
I'm always a sucker for memoirs, and especially memoirs written about experiences or periods of time that capture some of the essence of what it meant to be a Jew at that time and in that place.
Hava Ben-Tzvi's memoir, called 'We Who Lived, Two Teenagers in World War II Poland' packs a lot of poignant detail into some deceptively simple and easy-to-read prose - I read the book in one sitting. The story begins in Poland, transverses the horrors of World War II and the holocaust, and then skips over to life in Israel, where Hava meets and marries her husband, Ephraim.
Later, Ephraim and Hava are given the chance to study in the US, and even though they intend to return to the holy land, it seems God had other plans.
Essentially, Hava and Ephraim were eye-witnesses, deep in the crucible of suffering that would eventually lead to the birth of the State of Israel, and as such, these memoirs are an invaluable snapshot of that time, and those places.
I often find with a lot of holocaust memoirs that the material is written in a very pared-back, almost spartan way, and the same is true of We Who Lived. When you're dealing with first-hand accounts of such tremendous human drama and suffering, that understated style seems to be the only way to convey what needs to be said without overwhelming the reader, or the writer, with too much detail and too much pain.
Often, these books understandably end up with a kind of distant feel to them as a result, where you feel the writer is trying to reach across the chasm that separates them from people who didn't experience what they went through, but then discovers that words alone are still not alone to bridge that gap.
This book also has a little of that 'distant' feel in parts - where I'd like to have known more about Hava's life in the US, and more about the faces of the dead she sees reflected in her very much alive grandchildren. But on the whole, I think the writer has done a very good job of conveying a lot in a little, understated way, leaving it to the reader's imagination to fill in more of the details.
So, I highly recommend this book as a snapshot of life in Poland during World War II and in the newly-created State of Israel, and I personally feel that each one of these memoirs that makes it out into the world is a gem, in its own way, that needs to be appreciated and found a place in the crown of Jewish literature.
Hava's story is not just her own, it's the story of her people, the Jewish people. And also, a reminder that every day of life God gives us is something to be grateful for.
A few weeks’ back, I got my first bad review on ‘The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife’, over on Amazon. A nice-sounding woman called Yvette had this to say about it:
I thought this book would be about Jewish life but it is really about the author's inability to enjoy her life without all her questions being answered. Even God doesn't seem to be able to answer them for her. It never occurs to her that maybe there are no answers, at least none that will be available in her lifetime)... and she'd be a whole lot happier if she'd just enjoy the moment and the gift of life.
I see this book generally got good reviews. Maybe I'm missing something here.
While bad reviews are never fun, I actually appreciated Yvette’s review, as I felt it was a fair description of what the book wasn’t, and would definitely help other readers to decide if it was for them or not.
That’s why bad reviews can be useful for authors.
Then, I got a handful more good reviews, which was nice, and then, someone called ‘Reed’ left a two star review saying this:
Pass - lots of whining
Was not impressed. A lot of whining about things not going her way and then she would say but it is in Gods hands but then whine some more.
Maybe I missed something, but not a book for me.
Dear reader, she’s killed my book stone-dead. Because who the heck wants to hear someone ‘whining’ all the time? No-one.
Me being me, I wondered what sort of reviewer ‘Reed’, so I went over to her profile page on Amazon, and discovered the following:
“The book was eeehhh…. I don't know if I would ever read another book by this author again.
“It was ok. Nothing spectacular and nothing that I would talk about. It is a novella but I don't see it going anywhere.”
“I like books with depth and maturity. This book lacked both. Not much else to say about it.”
Received wisdom is that when you get a bad review, you are just meant to grit your teeth and accept it gracefully. I can see the value in that when you have a reviewer like Yvette, who really is reviewing a book on its own merits.
But when you’re dealing with the ‘Reeds’ of the world, who find it very hard to say anything nice about pretty much any book they pick up, surely there has to be some way of evening things up a little?
The woman has killed my book stone-dead, and after so much effort to start getting it to sell a little, it’s now dropping through the floor again.
Yes, I know it’s from Hashem and all for the best. But I still couldn’t help leaving a comment under the review saying the following:
Reed, thanks for taking the time to read the book, I appreciate that. Just a quick question for you: I checked through your other reviews, here on Amazon, and I can see you really don't like spiritual memoir type books written by women.
For example, on May 3, you gave this (two star) review to Carla Feagan's 'A life worth living':
"I hate giving bad reviews, I truly do, but I have to on this one. This book was a long drawn out journal about how awful her life is and how alone she is and blah blah blah. She turns to men, she marries men, she divorces men, she is always searching for something that is missing in her life. Things trigger her because she feels her voice isn't heard.
After you read the first few pages you really just didn't care about her or anyone else in the story. No matter what she does she always lands on her feet. Believes that this is all part of the cosmic universe that apparently just loves her even though she hates herself. I finished the book but I will never understand why this book was written as it is nothing but a rambling journal of someone that couldn't connect to their reader."
Just wondering why you keep reading this type of book, when they clearly don't speak to you, and don't really interest you?
Thanks again for taking the time to read and review.
She hasn’t come back. She probably never will.
But in the meantime, Reed’s permanent bad mood seems to have slum-dunked all the effort that went into bringing The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife into the world, because NO-ONE is going to read a book that’s only about someone whining.
And there’s apparently nothing authors can do to counter other people’s malicious reviews on Amazon.
Which seems a little unfair to me, but hey, I'm definitely biased.
What do you think?
One of the reasons I very rarely read books by English-speaking rabbis these days is because I usually find them woefully superficial, and not so satisfying intellectually or spiritually.
Within Israel, and within chassidut generally, you tend to find a much deeper grasp of the real, underlying spiritual mechanisms going on in the world, but much of that is based on having a much deeper knowledge of the Zohar and the kabbalah from the original Hebrew sources – and most English-speaking rabbis today simply don’t have that.
I know, it’s hard enough trying to deal with assimilation, other militant ‘brands’ of pseudo-Judaism and anti-semitism, to name but a few of the main challenges facing orthodox rabbonim outside of Israel. But I can’t help thinking that a lack of a familiarity with the writings of the Zohar and the Arizal, etc, is maybe one of the biggest handicaps of all.
Because the people who can read that stuff, and who can understand it and teach it, are the ones who have a much better grasp of why Jews are really in the world, and what God sent us down here to try to accomplish.
So, I was thrilled when one of my readers sent me a very enthusiastic recommendation of Spiritual Technology, by Rav Avraham Sutton, and then followed that up by sending me the book to read. I finished it in one go over Shabbat – and it really is a very, very good book for the English-speaking public.
I’d come across most of the concepts and sources that Rav Sutton brings before, but what is wonderful about this book is that Rav Sutton manages to marshal a lot of the kabbalah sources into solid ideas about how and why the world is operating the way it is at this point in time, and he does it in a way that is easily-grasped by the English-speaking public.
He talks about who the ‘snake’ really was in the Garden of Eden; the real test of Adam and Eve; how that test was replayed again over 2,000 years’ later when the Jews received the Torah and then failed the test posed by the Erev Rav; and also what that means for us who are living in this generation, the last one before Moshiach.
As I mentioned, much of the material Rav Sutton covered was not new to me, but I still learned so much from the book, some of which I hope to cover in more detail over on Emunaroma. It was definitely one of the best ‘Jewish’ book in English I’ve read in ages, Breslov books not withstanding.
So, if you’d like to know what the spiritual test is of our generation, and how it’s all related to things like the internet, the Erev Rav and fixing the world, please do go and pick up a copy of Rav Sutton’s book. You can order it via Amazon, or within Israel, from the Pomerantz Bookstore in central Jerusalem.
The book came out in 2013, but the information it teaches – and the message and insights it contains – are probably even more relevant now than when it was first published.
Click HERE to order the book on Amazon.
In our superficial world, it’s so easy to hype a book up as being ‘life-changing’. But how often do the tomes in question actually live up to their hyperbole? So it’s with some hesitation that I tell you that From the Depths, the new book from Rav Ofer Erez in English is just that.
I first got hold of a copy of this book, in the original Hebrew, around three years ago, when I was in the middle of a huge mid-life crisis. This was just after our business in the Old City of Jerusalem had closed, leaving us skint, depressed and homeless.
It was quite a test.
And what made that test even harder is that all these challenges had occurred despite many six hour hitbodedut sessions asking God to show us what direction to take, and many sincere attempts to work on our bad middot and to try to up our religious game.
So when everything collapsed on top of me, it also took my emuna and belief in prayer out with it. I couldn’t say thank you for all the trials we were going through. I couldn’t do any more marathon prayer sessions. I couldn’t visit any more kivrei tzaddikim. I felt like I was just barely holding on to the cliff by my fingertips, with the last of my strength, and there was no energy left for any big shows of pious fervor.
Which is when God sent me this book, in the original Hebrew.
I found it in the Breslov bookstore in Meah Shearim, and took it home to read – and it was like balm for the soul. There, for the first time, I started to learn that there is a spiritual concept called ‘night’, where all you can do is just hang on for dear life and wait for the dawn to rise.
NIGHT AND DAY
‘Night’ wasn’t the time to try and maintain any super-strict religious observances, or to try and push yourself back to the practices and spiritual heights you’d tried to scale in better times. It was a time just to hold on to God, and to know that you weren’t being punished, you were just being tested.
I learnt other things too, like the fact that we all have big tikkunim or spiritual rectifications to go through that we simply can’t duck or avoid no matter how well-behaved we might be. There is unfinished business, debts to pay down from previous lifetimes, and sometimes we have to pay those bills even though in this life we’re actually trying to give God what He wants.
I can’t tell you how much hope this piece of information gave me, because I suddenly started to see that it wasn’t my actions, necessarily, that had triggered off the disaster, which meant that it wasn’t my actions, necessarily, that would end it.
God would take us out of the mess as soon as it had fulfilled its purpose in our lives.
When you’re down on the floor spiritually, when you’ve run out of energy, when you’ve had one hard shock to deal with after another, it’s almost impossible at that point to get your act together, spiritually, and to maintain your emuna.
It does happen, I know, that certain individuals can do that, but I discovered that I wasn’t one of them. When the tribulations started pounding like steady waves on the shore, they knocked me over and almost dissolved my emuna.
I really, nearly gave up, because the paradigm I was operating in at that stage was that my prayers and my behavior was what was deciding the outcome of my life – and clearly, despite my best efforts, they simply weren’t good enough to score me even some steady parnassa and ok shalom bayit.
So what more could I do to change things around?!
A RAY OF HOPE
But then From the Depths showed up, and suddenly there was a ray of hope again. That book taught me to stop being so arrogant as to think my prayers and behavior were really the last word, and to accept that God had a plan and a design for my life that was far grander than I could imagine.
The book literally got me through the darkest days of three years’ back, when I just wanted to give up, crawl under a stone, and let someone else live an ‘emuna’ lifestyle.
If you’re going through a hard time, the book can help you develop a really healthy perspective about what’s going on. If you’re struggling with negative feelings, or with sadness and depression, the book can teach you how to stop blaming yourself, and to turn that cycle of negativity around.
It covers so many deep concepts in such deceptively simple language, that it’s really hard to do it justice in one short book review. But when I heard it’s coming out in English, I was so pleased, because I know it’s going to help so many people to get through their struggles in one piece, to find God in the midst of their challenges, and to finally kick up and out from the depths.
I know it’s a big claim to say that a book changed your life. But when it comes to Rav Ofer Erez’s From the Depths, for once I think it’s an accurate statement.
You can buy From the Depths direct from Rav Ofer Erez's website, HERE.
I haven’t bought a cookbook for Pesach in more than 15 years. The last one I got was quite the disappointment - big on gorgeous pictures, but full of ‘recipes’ that were basically some version of ‘combine onion soup mix with X’ or ‘get X brand and then do this with it’.
While all that stuff was available in the US for Pesach, the UK 15 years’ back was nowhere near as well stocked with kosher for Passover ‘brands’, so most of the recipes in that book were a bust.
Then, I went through my hardcore, super-healthy, gluten-free and vegan stage, which meant that most of my recipes could be adapted for Pesach anyway.
I’m out the other side of all the eating madness, and I really, really wanted a cookbook with mostly healthy recipes, but which wouldn’t keep me chained to the kitchen for hours or trying to track down unusual ingredients all over the country.
Enter: A Taste of Pesach #2.
Now, I also looked at A Taste of Pesach #1 in the store, but for some reason the recipes in the second book really just spoke to me more.
Yesterday, I took the book for its first spin through my Pesach kitchen, and I have to say I really, really like it. I made eight recipes from it yesterday, and they all came out really good - except for the chocolate bundt cake.
But let me tell you, I am hugely challenged when it comes to baking cakes, and it’s very, very rare for me to ever bake a cake that people actually want to eat (without coercion) even when it’s not Pesach, so I don’t think I can blame the book for that.
Maybe, there really is a difference between baking soda and baking powder, who knows?
So in the meantime, I’m very happy with how my first batch of recipes came out, and I will be trying out a few more over the holidays.
The ingredient list is mostly just very basic Passover staples, and is mostly on the healthy side - only one recipe, for the Pesach quiche, called for margarine, and that was easily switched out for butter (because who eats a meaty quiche anyway?!) - and I just used my regular olive oil throughout the other recipes.
There are a couple of instances of onion soup mix - what can we do, there is no perfection until Moshiach comes.
But on the whole, A Taste of Pesach is really good addition to the Pesach cookbook stable, especially if you’re a health-conscious cook who wants some inspiring and yummy-looking food that isn’t all mayonnaise and margarine-y, and next year I will BH go and buy the first one, too.
If you still haven’t started your cooking and you can pick the book up easily, try it out!
And may your bundt cake come out much better than mine.
If you have a favorite cookbook for Pesach, please feel free to let us all know about it in the comments section. We need all the help we can get...
The new biography of Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita, 'One in a Generation: From Haifa to Uman' has just hit the #1 spot for new releases on Amazon in the 'Orthodox Judaism' category!
Which is pretty exciting, even though between you and I, it doesn't take a lot of book sales to get to achieve that in the 'Orthodox Judaism' category. But it's still really nice to see it! Here's a bit of blurb about the book, and then if you scroll down, you'll find how you can buy if for yourself.
It just appeared on the Book Depository website too, which means you can currently pick it up for just 83 shekels, including free postage to Israel and everywhere else in the world.
'One in a Generation' is the first Volume in a series that distills hundreds of hours of interviews and first-person accounts about the Rav to give readers a flavor of who this tremendous tzaddik really is, and how the events of recent years transpired.
This first book describes the first 75 years of Rav Berland's life, and sets the scene for the terrible scandal, suffering and exile that engulfed the Rav and his community from 2013.
In Volume II, we will continue to tell the true story of the people behind the terrible persecution of the Rav, and set the record straight about:
10 ways to enjoy your writing even if it’s not paying the bills
Tip 1: Stop promoting yourself
This sounds so counter-intuitive, I know, but here’s the low-down: the whole world is absolutely, thoroughly sick and tired of self-promoters trying to get us to buy their latest book, or forcing us to ‘share’ how wonderful they think they are.
Pretty much the fastest way to turn-off your potential readership and alienate your audience is to keep banging on about that book you wrote that you’re trying to sell, or forcing them into giving you 5 star reviews on Amazon, or arm-wrestling people into attending your events or ‘liking’ your stuff or sharing your blog posts.
So please stop doing that.
Tip 2: Take a real interest in other people
So then, how can you build a relationship with your prospective audience without coming across like a creepy social media narcissist? The answer is actually very simple: Write about other people. Write about their books, their projects, write how their work touched you, leave truthful Amazon reviews for them unbidden, in short: take a real interest in other people.
When we do this, two things start to happen: Hashem’s serendipity starts to kick in, and we find that other people start to take a real interest in us, too. And we start to value our writing and our interactions – and the time we spend engaged in them – because even if they aren’t helping us to earn a buck or build our buzz directly, they are still helping someone else, in some small way.
And that gives us such a good feeling.
Tip 3: Start over again
If that book you wrote 50 years ago isn’t selling, or that short story, or that article – whatever it is – leave it behind and start over again. This can be so hard, I know, because we put so much effort into these things and they mamash feel like our children.
But if it didn’t get anywhere 50 years’ ago despite your best efforts, don’t give up on your writing career, get bitter, or continue to flog a dead horse: just start something new.
Maybe something completely different, maybe go in a completely different direction, try something you never would have thought of trying before. If you only do fiction, write a non-fiction essay, or a gardening book. Try writing a screenplay, or a poem, or a song.
Go completely crazy and channel your creativity into something else entirely, like painting, quilting, ceramics. Start a book club locally. Start a blog. Start a scrapbook for your children – something, anything.
But don’t sit there and stagnate.
There only true ‘failure’ for a creative person is when they stop creating, and stop using their God-given talents in the world. As long as you’re still making stuff, writing stuff, trying stuff, you are actually succeeding.
Tip 4: If you love what you do, stick at it, no matter how long it takes
Let me tell you about my blog. Today, Emunaroma gets between 12-20,000 unique readers a month. That’s a heck of a lot, and I’m so grateful to God for sending all these readers my way, because I’ve done next to zero social media marketing and a few months back I even deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
But when I started Emunaroma almost 4 years ago, I had a handful of readers. And next to no comments. And rarely, barely, ever any ‘likes’. A lot of my readers are frum Jews who don’t ‘do’ Facebook – thank God! – and presumably, a lot of them also didn’t ‘like’ my stuff anyway.
I had so many times when I nearly gave up and stopped. But I didn’t, because ultimately I knew my job was just to keep writing and creating, and that even if the readers didn’t show up in their droves, this was still what I was meant to be doing with myself.
For free. With little or no encouragement or feedback.
Blogs take three years to start really getting noticed by Google.
Around six months’ back, my blog started to get some serious traffic from search engines and my numbers shot up. Also, another friendly blogger who’d been going for a decade found out about my blog and stuck me up on her sidebar, which tripled my readers overnight.
I didn’t ask her to do that, I just kept writing what God put into my head to write, and more and more people liked it, including my fairy Blog-mother. So stick it out! Don’t give up at the first hurdle, or even the 71sthurdle. If you love what you do keep doing it to the best of your ability, and sooner or later it will start to gain some traction out there ‘in the real world’.
Tip 5: Don’t try to please people by being someone you aren’t
This can be so tempting, especially in our fake Facebook world, but the problem with churning out stuff just to build your audience, or to get more ‘likes’, or more recognition (or even more dollars) is that you then build an audience that wants more of that stuff.
Which means you get stuck writing about stuff that isn’t really ‘you’. And if that carries on long enough, you’ll come to hate writing and you’ll stop doing it.
So even if what you write isn’t popular, likable or lucrative, don’t sell your soul out just in order to try to give people what you think they want. You’ll end up burning out and not writing about the stuff that really makes you, you.
Tip 6: Find like-minded people to collaborate with
Two – or even 15 – heads are definitely better than one. Again, if you’re only doing things to promote yourself, and your own books, and your own writing, then you’ll find this tip quite hard to follow through on, because as we already mentioned, no-one likes selfish self-promoters.
But if you concentrate on finding more people to help, encourage and brainstorm with, then you’ll also end up building a really useful network of great creative people, naturally. And that could end up opening all sorts of doors for you – and also for them!
But again, don’t try to force the issue. Give without expecting anything in return, just for the mitzvah, just for the opportunity to connect with another human being and to share something meaningful with them, and then see what seeds sprout – naturally.
Tip 7: Forget about the money
Yes, I know we all have mortgages, dental fees, mobile phone bills etc etc.
Here’s the thing: most creative people never make enough to pay their way only doing what they love. The exception to this rule are the less than 1% who ‘make it big’ and the creatives who have some sort of familial ‘patron of the arts’ supporting them financially.
Everyone else will have to work at supplemental jobs they don’t like so much, and that doesn’t make their heart sing, to make it to the end of the month. Accepting this reality will make it so much easier to deal with.
When it comes to writing or creating for love, forget about the money and just do what makes your soul happy.
Find creative outlets to share more of your work for free, and you’ll find that not only do you meet more of the right sort of people, you’ll also ‘build your buzz’ in the process and increase your chances of one day being paid something for one of your projects.
Again, it sounds counter-intuitive, but there has to be a clear distinction in your head between the projects you are doing to pay the bills, and those you are doing to fill your soul. And the people who can successfully combine these two are honestly very few and far between.
So carry on doing what you love, but consider also getting a ‘proper job’ to pay the bills, if you need to.
Tip 8: Go through every door that opens up for you, even if it you can’t see why you should bother
If someone suggests that you should try and send your work to someone you’ve never heard of, or some obscure magazine – try it! Follow up every single lead that God gives you, as part of the joy of reaching out to different people and trying something new.
You never know which door could lead to ‘success’, and it often comes in the most unexpected guises. If a door gets unexpectedly opened for you, don’t be scared to go through it. The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll have another experience, meet another person, figure out a bit more about where you and your stuff actually ‘fits’ in the world – and this is all useful grist to the creative mill.
Tip 9: Pivot if you have to
So no-one is buying your anthology of haikus? Did you consider maybe printing up a set of ‘haiku’ t-shirts and selling them online? Or turning them into poetic coasters, or printing up a bunch of massive poetry pictures with a stunning image to complement your verses?
How about setting them to music? How about setting up an online workshop to teach the next generation how to rhyme?
If what you’re doing isn’t getting anywhere fast, consider repackaging it, consider doing it a totally different way, consider writing for a completely different audience, or selling your stuff in a completely different way. Identify your lemons, and go make lemonade.
Ultimately, God is the one that’s sending us success or otherwise, so if what you’re doing isn’t getting anywhere, go find the creative way of making that happen (with God’s help).
Tip 10: Include God in the creative process
And really, this is the most crucial tip of all. God is designing everything in our lives, and all our successes and failures are 100% tailor-made to get us to a particular place in ourselves.
If things aren’t getting somewhere or progressing, that’s usually for one of two reasons:
How do we know which is which?
If you really, absolutely, truly love what you’re doing right now – regardless of how much you’re getting paid, how many people are reading it, how much external ‘success’ you’ve got going on, you are probably just hitting some obstacles on the way, and you will ultimately get there.
If the only reason you are doing something is because it pays well, or because it’s giving you clout or social influence, or some other external benefit – but you still feel really miserable – then odds are good you aren’t actually doing what God wants for you right now.
The other reason to include God in the creative process is because when you hit those inevitable bumps, those inevitable downs, that non-stop string of apparent failures, it can be very hard to pick yourself off the floor, and continue.
But when you are regularly connecting to God, somehow you always get a second, and a third, and a fortieth wind, to stand back up and try something new.
There really is no despair in the world, as Rebbe Nachman taught. If you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing, sooner or later it WILL get there. And if you aren’t, then God is going to send you something even better and happy-making instead once you get that message.
So either way, it’s good.
And it’s only going to get better.
But if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this:
Put the emphasis on helping others, not promoting yourself, and then you’ll always enjoy your writing, even if it doesn’t bring you big bucks or huge recognition.
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