How To Foster Your Creativity. Some people see creativity as something available to only a select few, like artists, but I think that everyone is capable of creative, innovative, truly original work, whatever your field of endeavour. I see this original work as each person’s most important contribution to the world, and it is what makes people feel most alive. One thing that gets in the way of creative work, though, for many people, is a misconception: that creativity (as the joke goes) is 99% inspiration and 1% perspiration. Really it’s the other way around. Those of us who work creatively day in day out know that, in fact, inspiration tends to show up most often when it knows where to find you — at your desk, working. Creativity doesn’t just happen. It’s something you need to actively make time and space for, so it can emerge. It is like a shy friend who will only appear if they’ve been carefully prepared for and provided for.
Some writers and authors have a knack for using language that can really move people. Some writers and authors have been able to influence millions with their words alone. What does it take to become an effective and successful author or writer? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer” we are talking to successful authors and writers who can share lessons from their experiences. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Nora Gold, a prize-winning fiction author, is the recipient of two Canadian Jewish Book/Literary Awards and praise from Alice Munro, and she has two new books coming out in 2023/2024: 18: Jewish Stories Translated From 18 Languages, and In Sickness and In Health/Yom Kippur in a Gym (two novellas). Formerly a social worker and a professor, Gold is currently the founder and editor of the prestigious online literary journal, Jewish Fiction .net, which publishes first-rate Jewish-themed fiction from around the world. Gold is also an activist who co-founded three socially progressive not-for-profit organizations focused on promoting co-existence between Arabs and Jews and strengthening democracy, civil rights, and social justice in Israel.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I come from a culture-loving family. I grew up surrounded by music, theatre, poetry, and philosophy, and as a child I was taken to concerts, libraries, museums, and plays. My mother could recite poetry by heart for ten minutes at a stretch; my father always had classical music playing, and every night he’d connect the daily experiences we shared at the supper table to philosophy and ethics. I didn’t know until my friends and I started eating at each other’s homes that my family was different from others in its intellectualism and passion for culture. I’d assumed every family was like ours.
When I was thirteen, I was fortunate to leave the public school system, where I was bored, and start high school at a “free” school patterned on A.S. Neill’s Summerhill. There, my love of writing, books, ideas, and the arts was seen as normal, and was welcomed, and I thrived.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I don’t really think of writing as a career. It is something I’ve always done, so I experience it as intrinsic to me rather than something I started — a path embarked on — at a certain point. Even before I could “write” (in the sense of holding a pen and forming letters on a page), I was doing what writers do: I was making up stories. At age three I’d sit on our living room carpet listening to “story records” — thick, red or yellow records for children where someone told you a story, like The Little Engine That Could — and when the record finished, I’d keep on sitting there and I’d continue the story from where it had left off. Sometimes I’d recite my story aloud; other times I’d just think it to myself. I was already a writer.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’m not sure if this story about my writing life is “interesting,” but when I was in seventh grade — by which time I already saw myself as a writer — I told my teacher that I’d started writing a novel and I showed her the first chapter. Big mistake. She didn’t believe I’d written it — “No twelve-year-old could write this” were her precise words — and the next thing I knew, I was in the principal’s office. I was a very “good” girl, quiet and well-behaved, and this whole incident was mortifying to me. So much so that for years after that incident, I didn’t let anyone read anything I wrote. Still, this experience was important because it taught me how dangerous writing — which, to me, means writing the truth — can be. And really this is dangerous indeed.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
This is a very interesting and exciting time for me. My fourth and fifth books will be coming out in the next six months. 18: Jewish Stories Translated From 18 Languages, which will be published on October 17, 2023, is the first anthology of translated multilingual Jewish fiction in twenty-five years, and it has already received glowing advance reviews from Publishers Weekly, Cynthia Ozick, Dara Horn, and Josh Henkin, among others. Then on March 1, 2024, two of my novellas will be published in one book. In Sickness and In Health is about a woman who had epilepsy as a child, so her most cherished goal has always been to be “normal”; but just when things are going right for her (with her family, friends, and artistic career), some cartoons she drew threaten to reveal her secret medical past and destroy the life she’s worked so hard to build. In Yom Kippur in a Gym, five strangers at a Yom Kippur service in a gym are each struggling with an intense personal crisis, when a medical emergency unexpectedly throws them together, and in one hour all their lives are changed in ways they would never have believed possible.
In addition, I’ve just had another novella accepted by Guernica, which will be published in 2026. Doubles, set in 1968 in an institution for troubled youth in Montreal, is told from the perspective of a brilliant, spunky, twelve-year-old girl who is obsessed with math.
Right now I’m working on another novella (of course!). I am on a novellas roll! I love novellas because they have such power and range, and at the same time they are so concise and intimate.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Some of the most interesting people I’ve met are the activists I’ve worked with over the past four decades. These people, who devote their lives to trying to make the world a better place, are not celebrities or household names, and most of them are poorly paid, or even unpaid. But I believe it is thanks to these people, and others like them, that our tottering world is still standing on its feet at all, and that there is hope for our future.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
In my everyday life, I draw inspiration from people I admire, like the ones I just described, and also from nature and from music. Regarding the sources of inspiration specifically for my books, the answer is different. There, I am inspired either by something internal (like an image, or a feeling or thought) or else from something external that I observe in the world. Most of my writing has an internal source, but my first novel, Fields of Exile, was inspired by an external reality: the antisemitism that was (and still is) rampant on university campuses.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve tried to bring some goodness into the world through my volunteer work and activism, which has been focused in two main spheres. The first is social justice. In addition to the three socially progressive organizations that I co-founded to further Jewish-Arab co-existence and strengthen democracy, civil rights, and equality in Israel, I’ve participated in two long-term Jewish-Arab dialogue groups, and I’ve served on numerous boards, advisory councils, and task forces, including being an Expert Community Resource to the Ontario Hate Crimes Commission. The other area of my voluntarism is literary. Thirteen years ago I founded — and since then I have headed — Jewish Fiction .net, a not-for-profit online journal that publishes first-rate Jewish-themed fiction from around the world, either written in English or translated into English. This journal has created a space for the voices of numerous emerging writers whose stories had never previously been published, and it shared their work, alongside that of well-known authors, with a worldwide audience. Through Jewish Fiction .net, a broad, international readership of both Jews and non-Jews has been introduced to Jewish literature in translation, in all its diversity.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You Only Go Round Once
I think when you’re young, it’s hard to really grasp that your time on this earth is finite. You may know this intellectually but at the same time you feel like you have ahead of you all the time in the world. Anyway, this is what I was like when I was trying to decide, at one point, whether or not to leave my academic position in order to have time to write fiction. I enjoyed academic life and I was successful in my work, but I was frustrated because I was writing short stories whenever I had a free moment, but there was never enough time because of my fulltime job. I needed some advice but I didn’t know any writers. Luckily for me, the Toronto Public Library had a wonderful writer-in-residence that year, Audrey Thomas, and anyone who wanted to could send her their work, and then make an appointment to discuss it with her. So that’s what I did. I dropped off a couple of my stories at the library and then, a couple of weeks later I went to meet her, feeling very nervous. To my relief and delight, she told me I was a real writer and that I had what it takes. Then she asked about my writing routine. I told her I was a professor at a university an hour’s drive from my home, so I left home early in the morning and got home just in time for supper, and when I got there, I had a child to take care of, and a husband and a social life, and volunteer work, and I was struggling to find time for writing.
She looked at me for quite a while, straight at me, and then she said, “You only go round once.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly, so I asked her to repeat what she’d said, and she did, and then I understood. She wasn’t telling me what to do; she was just saying I have only one life. And I think that’s when I first began to seriously consider turning my life upside down and re-orienting it toward what I most wanted to do.
I’m aware that life isn’t simple and obviously not everyone can do exactly what they’d like. If I’d been a single mother with ten kids to support, I would never have been able to make the choice I did and leave my fulltime job. But this crucial conversation taught me that, to whatever extent our circumstances allow, we should try and spend our one and only life doing what is most meaningful and satisfying to us.
I was in my forties when this conversation occurred and I wish it had taken place twenty years earlier. But maybe at that time I wouldn’t have been ready to really hear this advice. In any case, I am deeply grateful that I had the benefit of this conversation, and that ever since then, I’ve been living the life I want.
2. If I Am Only For Myself, What Am I?
Some people believe that it’s a dog-eat-dog world, so to be successful you have to be selfish and think only of yourself. But I don’t agree, and I think if you perceive the world this way, and live this way, you are just making the world worse for yourself and everyone else.
I didn’t always know this. I learned it because of a crisis. The digital world is something that now seems totally normal to us, but when it first began, it caused a shock wave to the publishing industry. Suddenly publishers were afraid of going under, so they became more reluctant than ever before to take on new writers. Especially writers they considered “niche,” like writers of Jewish-themed fiction. At that time, I knew several people who were writing very good Jewish fiction, but because of the crisis in publishing, they could no longer find publishers for their work. I didn’t want to see all this literature getting lost, and I wanted to help them. So I started an online literary journal. Jewish Fiction .net is (and was back then) the only English-language journal in the world (either print or online) devoted exclusively to publishing Jewish fiction. In its first thirteen years, Jewish Fiction .net has published 570 amazing works of fiction that were either written in English or translated into English from twenty languages but were never before published in English. Almost one-third of the stories in this journal are translated works. We publish stories by both beginning writers and well-established ones like Elie Wiesel. Jewish Fiction .net is not only for Jewish readers; it’s for anyone who loves great stories, and it is free of charge. Jewish Fiction .net currently has readers in 140 countries.
What started out as a project to help other people has ended up giving me some precious and unexpected gifts: a worldwide network of writers, readers, publishers and translators — a truly international literary community; a brilliant team of volunteers who work with me on this labour of love; and on October 17, 2023, the publication of a book of stories from Jewish Fiction .net — 18: Jewish Stories Translated From 18 Languages. So although I once may have thought of our world in competitive terms and as a zero sum game, I now know that the real way forward, in any field, is by giving, working with others, and raising the water level so all our boats can rise.
3. You Define Success
I think success is a big issue for many people because we’re usually taught to evaluate ourselves in terms of external indicators of success, and in relation to other people. You look around and compare yourself to others in your field, or your community, and you say, “Oh wow, this woman is ahead of me,” or “This guy is behind me,” and that’s how you situate yourself and assess your place in the world. There is a problem with this, though. It’s all external, and it doesn’t take into account who you really are — what you want or feel or dream about or believe in. It isn’t real.
A number of years ago I was having a hard time as a writer. I couldn’t find a publisher for a book I’d written, and at the same time a not very good writer I knew was meeting with great success. Her books were flying off the shelves and someone was interested in making a movie from one of her books. Objectively speaking, I was already quite successful myself — I’d won two Canadian Jewish Book/Literary Awards and various other prizes, as well. But compared to this person, I felt left behind. So one night, instead of sleeping, I gave some deep thought to what success is and isn’t and I questioned the criteria, the yardstick, I was evaluating myself on. And I realized I didn’t even really believe in those criteria. There are some well-known writers whose writing is no good, and there are some terrific writers who almost no one’s ever heard of. And it struck me that as much as I’d like my books to make the Top Ten lists, what I really value and respect is fabulous writing: original, beautifully written books that are meaningful and open minds and hearts. That’s what success is to me: creating a book like that.
On that long, dark night I wasn’t just telling myself these things in order to feel better. I discovered that this is what I really believe. My dream is not to have my books made into movies; it is to write beautiful books. I wish someone had told me this when I was younger and was just starting out: that you can, and should, question the yardstick that success is usually measured by, and after figuring out your core values, create your own yardstick. Since I began to do that myself, I have been much happier and also more creative and productive because I’m not wasting my time comparing myself to others, worrying about who’s ahead of me or behind me in the race. Because life is not a race. It’s your life.
4. The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good
I love this expression, attributed to Voltaire, because I think it’s true. A commitment to perfection devalues everything in your life that is imperfect, including all that is good. People sometimes confuse striving for perfection with striving for excellence, but actually these are two very different things. Aiming for excellence is a self-respecting effort to try and do your best; striving for perfection is hopeless, self-defeating, and destructive to ourselves and others. There is also a difference in how mistakes are related to. People with an orientation to excellence embrace, and learn from, their mistakes, but perfectionists try hard to avoid making them. And you can’t be creative if you’re afraid of making mistakes, so perfection is deadly for creativity.
I’ve never been a full-fledged perfectionist, but one time in college I had a teacher I wanted to impress, and since I wanted my paper for her to be perfect, for the first time ever I became paralyzed and couldn’t finish a term paper that was due. I confided in a friend, and her advice was, “Aim for a B.” Not an A, but a B. Just write the paper. It wouldn’t be very good but at least it would get done and I wouldn’t fail this course by not handing in the final assignment. I did what she suggested, and writing the paper aiming for a B was easy. In the end it got an A-. And I’ve never forgotten that advice because it was so liberating. My work didn’t have to be perfect. I could just do my best and that would be enough. And to this day, when occasionally I am struck by a whiff of perfectionism, I tell myself, “Just aim for a B,” and I’m fine.
5. How To Foster Your Creativity
Some people see creativity as something available to only a select few, like artists, but I think that everyone is capable of creative, innovative, truly original work, whatever your field of endeavour. I see this original work as each person’s most important contribution to the world, and it is what makes people feel most alive. One thing that gets in the way of creative work, though, for many people, is a misconception: that creativity (as the joke goes) is 99% inspiration and 1% perspiration. Really it’s the other way around. Those of us who work creatively day in day out know that, in fact, inspiration tends to show up most often when it knows where to find you — at your desk, working. Creativity doesn’t just happen. It’s something you need to actively make time and space for, so it can emerge. It is like a shy friend who will only appear if they’ve been carefully prepared for and provided for.
I didn’t know any of this when I was younger and I wish I’d known this earlier. But I’m happy to share it now, in case it will help someone else: Think of creative work as work. Work at it. And then inspiration will come.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There are so many serious problems in our world that are worthy of our attention and effort. But if I have to choose just one, I would want to inspire a movement that would help bring peace to Israel, and by extension, to the Middle East. Of all the many movements it is possible to start, I think this one has the potential to bring the most good to the greatest number of people because it would create a stabler, more democratic, and more peaceful world for us all.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
I would love to meet with Howard Jacobson. Not only because of his brilliance as a writer and his impressive intelligence, but because he has been outspoken on social issues that he believes in, when he could easily have side-stepped them and instead coasted by on his literary reputation. I respect his character, and I find him fascinating.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
LinkedIn and Facebook are the platforms where I am most active. I am also on X (formerly twitter). Here are the links:
Facebook: Author’s page — https://www.facebook.com/NoraGoldAuthor /
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Nora Gold of Jewish Fiction On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.