I Deserve To Write (And Be Heard) And So Do You

Almost since the day I started writing, I had this one persistent, nagging thought:

“I don’t deserve this.”

It’s one thing to write short stories for a college class, to have your work critiqued and admit that you need work, that you need to “grow”.

It’s a whole other thing, or that’s how it seemed to me at the time, to put your writing in a public forum and demand that people read it.

I was always the kind of guy that couldn’t take myself out of my writing.  The kind of guy that has opinions he wants to express.  An “essayist”, the kind of person EB White described as necessarily egotistical.

And so it always struck me as so absurd that anyone should listen to what I have to say.  Because it wasn’t like I was a philosopher or a rabbi or an expert in anything.

I was just a dude that liked to write.

So where did I get off writing essays?  Where did I get off telling people my opinions?  Where did I get off trying to transform people through my writing?

I stopped writing for a while because of this.  I even wrote a piece about the struggle.

And yet.

And yet the voice inside me that said I needed to write kept screeching and howling.  When I didn’t write, I would eventually realize I was grumpy, upset.

And so I sat in the waiting room of the world, not producing or creating.  Thoughts would bubble up in my mind, thoughts that in a future self could’ve been turned into essays, and instead, I simply allowed the thoughts to come and leave.

But, of course, they never did leave.  Instead, they settled into some creative part of my brain that wasn’t being utilized.  They festered.

And my body rebelled.  My brain rebelled.  My heart rebelled.  Inside of me, I grew more and more frustrated, more and more upset.

There were a few things, though, that changed everything for me.  Two things that broke the cycle of frustration.

I called my rabbi to talk about this one day.  I told him, “Rabbi, how can I possibly write publicly as a religious Jew if I’m hardly observant, if I’m just starting my journey, if I’ve failed so many times?”

And he said, “Elad, this is your strength.  You’re meant to be writing.  You can make the world a better place just by doing what you’re meant to be doing.”

It kind of shifted my perspective, that talk.  To realize that when we have a deep desire to do something, that it’s not really about us.  That there’s something larger going on.  That there’s a purpose beyond how imperfect we are, beyond “deserving”, beyond our own perfections and imperfections.

And then there was my visit to the Ohel, the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that transformed my rabbi’s words from nice thoughts into a demand from on high.

And then, finally, there was the book that has changed me as a writer more than any other book.

It’s called, "If You Want To Write,” and it’s written by Brenda Ueland.

I read this book every time I need to recharge.  Every time I need a reminder of the why and how of my writing.

In it, she describes the inherent creativity of children, the way they will put on plays using their full creative energies.  They won’t tire for a second.

She describes how men used to write sonnets not to be published, not to be heard by the masses (necessarily), but simply because they were moved to write.  Writing had inherent value to them.

And, she argued, to those of us moved to write, it should have that inherent value as well.

She argued that writing (or any creativity) has its own inherent worth, that even if we don’t publish, we should be writing.  That we need to do it.

All of these things, plus a few others, moved me to start writing regularly.

And as I wrote, I made mistakes.  Big, public, mistakes.  I angered people.  I said controversial things.  Things didn’t come out the way I had hoped.

And yet, I was happier than I had ever been.  I was fulfilled.  I was doing what I was meant to be doing.

And as time went on, people started to send me messages, telling me that I had "helped” them.  That I had provided them some sort of guidance that they needed.

It made no sense to me.  It still doesn’t, that these people find some sort of worth in writing from a dude who just needs to spit things out of his body and onto the screen.  Since when did that qualify anyone to be heard?

And yet it helped them.  And when I received those messages, I couldn’t help but think of the words of my rabbi.  That this was bigger than me.  And that, if I was meant to do this, then there must be a reason, it must result in helping someone somewhere.

I guess that’s I have gained the most from writing over time: this realization that no matter how much we "deserve” it or not, if we are moved to do something, if we have a deep desire and ability to put out some sort of creative energy, then we simply must.  We have no choice.  And it may seem weird or bizarre that this is the case, to argue that there’s an objective reality within us that demands that we create.

But it is there.

And as I’ve grown and looked back at my past self, I can’t help think, "What a shame.  So much frustration for no reason.  So much baseless fear.  So much goodness unused.”

And what breaks my heart is that I see others in the same position as I was at that time.  And yet, it seems that they haven’t heard this message.  The message that they do deserve to be heard, no matter how flawed they or their skills are.

They’ve allowed fear to overtake them, to define their relationship with their creative energy.

And it’s sad.

It’s a shame.

It’s unnecessary.

And I don’t really know what I can do.  I’ve tried talking to some.  Tried begging some.  Even offered money to some.

But at the end of the day, it’s clear that the motivation can’t come from outside.  The people need to break out of their self-created prison themselves.

Until then, though, I’m going to keep writing these articles.  I’m going to keep reminding them, reminding you, reminding us all, that we’re worth it.  That we deserve to be heard, that just having the desire is enough of a reason to put ourselves out there, and that the work we do is important.

  • Tova Ross

    Interesting post, Elad, but I can’t help and think of your recent Facebook status decrying those who write negative things about Orthodoxy. Perhaps those people had negative experiences that they feel compelled to write about (just as those with positive stories feel compelled to write about those). Are these people also deserving to write and be heard? If your theory that the purpose of writing is simply because there is inherent worth in doing so – as you posit here – and not merely to bring a light of Jewish inspiration to the masses, for example, then I’m just a bit confused by the apparent dichotomy I noted.

    • I think you’re referring to the post where I said, “I am so very tired of hearing negative stories about the orthodox world these days.”

      I wasn’t saying there isn’t necessarily an inherent worth to such writing. Just that I was personally tired of it, and was in need of some inspiration.

      But more than that, I think there are two seperate things we’re discussing here:

      1. There’s just the fact that we’re SUPPOSED to write.

      2. Then there’s what we do once we actually start writing.

      I’m not exactly a moral relativist when it comes to number 2. I really do think we have a responsibility to write from the “best part of ourselves”. That doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes or write negative posts, etc.

      Just because everyone that has a deep desire to write should write doesn’t mean that whatever they write is just as good for the world or themselves as anything else. For sure, they should be writing no matter what. But the goal, ideally, should be things that improve themselves and improve the world. Otherwise, this great gift you were given is not being used in the way it was meant to.

      • Tova Ross

        I think your this post was mostly about number one (that we’re SUPPOSED to write), and I was curious to know, based on your FB status, if you really believe everyone who feels a need to write, should write. I think we can agree that writing should ideally be used to give people meaning, but I assume we might disagree on how that that might sometimes be accomplished. People might find meaning in exposing negative aspects of the Orthodox community, like sexual abuse, or gaining chizuk from people who have triumphed over adversity in their Orthodox community, for example. Not always pretty, but yes, certainly do give a lot of people meaning.

        • For sure, I’m not saying that saying those things is bad. I’m saying that we all have to find that out within ourselves. Which is why I prefer to focus on number one than on number two.

      • Rebecca K.

        Tova’s point is very astute, but I like Elad’s response (being personally tired of it myself). I think what I don’t like is that many of the essays (and so on) I read that critique Orthodoxy aren’t really about Orthodoxy in any true-life way or focused way. They’re about the personal troubles of an individual family or individual, yet the author chose to frame their issues resulting because the Orthodox community is bad in some uniform and often stereotypical way. The author is playing into the hands of readers and publishers who are predisposed to dislike of some big, amorphous demon they label “Orthodoxy.”

        That’s why I liked Tova’s article a month or so ago in Tablet, the one that went viral. You did a great job keeping the article about you, and your experience, and a particular facet of the Orthodox world that you are familiar with, without painting the whole Orthodox world as “bad” with a broad brush. That’s the kind of article I can read and disagree with, but still get something out of. Also, because of the specificity, it invites a response that could ameliorate the situation (although I have no idea how to get women to stop dredding like Hot Channies 😉 ).

  • Bentzy

    The reason, or at least my reason, why people read you is because of one word: Honesty.

    These peices are Elad Nehorai on a page. Today we got Elad on Thursday January 23 on a page. Hopefully tomorrow will be Elad on Friday January 24 on a page. And the will be different. And that’s what we all love.

    It is *precisely because* you’re not “a philosopher or a rabbi or an expert in anything” that I personally enjoy so much from, and gain a lot from, reading you.

    And by the way, you are an expert in something: in being Elad Nehorai ;).

    Keep it up!

  • Schneu

    Elad, your wording of “deserving to be heard” sounds like entitlement sentiment. At first I thought your were using the wording as a hook to bring in readers, but you continued using it in the article. Telling someone that they deserve to be heard appeals to the most base selfish instinct within us, and comes across as insincere. Maybe that is why you haven’t been successful in convincing others to write. Although your intentions seem pure, I must disagree with your approach.

    • Selfishness is not inherently a bad thing. We need to be able to balance the selfish desire to write with the reason that desire exists, which is for something higher. The problem is that critics, and the critical voice in our minds, so often use your negative wording: that the desire to write, that thinking we “deserve to be heard”, somehow makes us bad people, or insincere, or appealing to some base instinct.

      We have to believe in our inherent worth when we do creative work, because otherwise the work is not from us, but from what we think we should be. That’s why I talk about “deserving” as opposed to “obligation”, even though the two are synonymous in this situation. Because we have the obligation we deserve it, and because we deserve it, it brings an obligation upon us. But many writers and artists are much more aware of the negative side of these things, and are very self-critical. That’s who this post is written for, and if you find it insincere, this post is probably not for you.

      • Schneu

        Thanks for the reply.

  • I’m one of those people you’ve helped: your struggles and thoughts really resonated with me when I was going through a difficult time. Writing my own blog was very
    important to me for many years. And I do write poetry, even if I rarely share it.
    But I want to add a different dimension to this, which probably sounds contradictory, but is, I hope, complementary.

    I’ve felt much, much better since I stopped regular public blogging. I think some people are not cut out for that and I’m one of them. Firstly,I don’t enjoy heated public debate. Secondly, when I was blogging I felt I had an obligation to share all my thoughts, all the time, in case someone found them useful or just to get them
    out of my system. And I don’t have to do that. I really don’t.

    I feel now that as I have stopped writing directly about my views and experiences, I have been able to find a different, less obviously personal voice, that comes out more powerfully in my poetry. And poetry is a better art form for me than blogging, because I love the opportunity for nuance, ambiguity and unanswered questions, often lacking in the blogosphere.

    So I agree that people should be creative, but think they should also experiment with different forms of creativity until they find the right one for them – different art forms, but also different styles. If someone has doubts, that may be a sign they need to change form or develop their artistic voice differently, not that they should keep trying the same approach.

  • Shoshannah

    I like this post. As for opinions, I find it rather easy to see whose Ruach is driving Nefesh and whose is driving Neshama. I admire your courage.

  • HBB CHAI

    i think it is hard to say things that may not be anyone’s business to judge and will be misunderstood. And then there is the actual writing. I am not good at fine tuning my writing, making it easy to read, editing. it takes patience and a skill that does not come easy to me I am sorry to say. And i would not know where to put it out,…, and the journals are all over, in notebooks and other books and in piles of writings…, one has to be organized and more persistent than i am with writing. So yasher koach and thank you for the blending of skills that has brought you to use your potential so wisely.

  • Rick Rotman

    Thanks Elad. You definitely encouraged me with this post to get back to the creative freedom and energy of writing my own nascent blog. Just curious–how long have you been writing this Pop Chassid blog for? Yasher Koach. I look forward to learning more from your inspiration and talent.

    • I’ve been seriously at it for about a year and a half. Total, though, is about 3 years.

  • Pop Haggadah

    Keep writing and using your talent. Good for you for getting past the fear. Kol Hakavod.