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 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.
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.