My Paper Children

destined to chooseThis is a guest post by Sheyna Galyan
I think I was born a writer. I was not, however, born with the thick skin that any successful writer needs. “You’re too sensitive,” my parents would tell me. But shouldn’t I be? Isn’t sensitivity to other people and one’s environment part of what makes one a good writer?
Undaunted, I continued to write. Stories, songs, poetry, mostly Jewish or with Jewish themes, putting words to the deep yearning within me, filled my journals and later my hard drives. They were my paper children, some coming after an easy birth and some only after agonizing labor. And then from a reader I highly respected came the words I’d longed to hear: “You should get that published.” It was as if one of my paper children had been accepted to college.
After several failed book contract negotiations, I decided to self-publish my Jewish suspense novel Destined to Choose. I named the publishing company Yaldah Publishing, taken from Parshat Vayera in Bereshit, where Sarah gives birth to Isaac (21:3). “Vayikra Avraham et shem b’no hanoled lo asher yaldah lo Sarah Yitzhak.” (And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaaac.) I figured writing and publishing a book was very much a birth process. (My company later changed its name to Yotzeret–she creates, but that’s another story for another time.)
I was right about the birth. What I wasn’t prepared for was the bullying.
Because that’s what it sometimes feels like to send one’s work out into the world and have it torn apart by critics. Everything was fair game: the story, the characters, the cover, the paper it was printed on. Was it too Jewish or not Jewish enough? Or did I “do Jewish” differently? And every criticism hurt. Didn’t they understand that this was a piece of me? Maybe the world would be better off if I never wrote again. And if that was true, then what was the point of anything?
I didn’t stop writing (thank G-d). I don’t think my skin got much thicker. But I did have to change my perspective. It’s incredibly easy, I realized, to sit behind a screen and diss someone’s work. It’s easy to point out all the flaws, all the things that could have been done differently. It’s easy to be mean with the anonymous protection afforded by the Internet. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s meaningless.
What’s hard is to do the work and send it out into the world. What’s hard is to open yourself up to both the bullies and the advocates. What’s hard is to be real in a world where most people hide behind their masks. But that’s what makes a difference in the world. That’s what’s meaningful.
Brené Brown, Ph.D., an author and researcher, writes and speaks extensively about vulnerability, shame, and courage. In one of her TED talks, she said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” We see that time and again in our own narrative.
It is only when Ester comes out of hiding and let’s herself truly be seen that disaster is averted. It is only when Abraham argues with God that the righteous of the time are spared. It is only when Jacob wrestles with the Ish that he discovers who he really is.
From Adam’s “Hineni” (I’m here) in the Garden of Eden, to the still, small voice that spoke to Elijah, to Rabbi Tarfon’s admonition to not desist from the task of perfecting the world, Judaism tells us to show up. Be present. Be real. Judaism is all about doing the hard stuff even when no one around you is.
I may never grow a thick enough skin to protect me from those who want to bully my paper children. But Judaism provides me with an answer, a lens through which to view what really matters in the world and what doesn’t. I’ll survive, despite all the critics, knowing I did something meaningful and worthwhile. My paper children will be okay. And so will I.
Sheyna Galyan is the founder and owner of award-winning Yotzeret Publishing, which specializes in books written from a Jewish perspective. She is also the author of the Rabbi David Cohen suspense series, set in the Twin Cities. She holds graduate degrees in counseling psychology and education. Sheyna is fascinated by the intersection of tradition and technology, and her favorite questions are Why? and Why not?