I originally planned for my second article on “How to Write” to be on, well…how to write (you can read the first article here and my other posts on NLEResources.com here), but I feel that I need to dedicate another preliminary article to one of the most important things you can do before you start officially writing: Prepare.
Planning and Preparation
With sufficient planning and preparation you can save yourself hours and hours of work. Whether you’re working on a tight deadline or need to produce something without spending too much time on it, if you’ve prepared something beforehand, you’re in a much better position!
What do I mean exactly?
Well, we all read great divrei Torah, hear an inspiring story, or are told a nice pshat on occasion. Whether it’s at a Bris, or reading the Yated, or just schmoozing with friends, you’re likely to hear great things (if you don’t, perhaps you should find better friends…or start reading the Yated!) Most of us are guilty of taking in this new information and then moving on with our day. If we really feel that it was worthwhile, we’ll often share it with a spouse, chevrusa or a friend, but within a short period it’s all-too-often vanquished to the dark recesses of our mind, only to be remembered the morning after we really needed it (usually during our Shemonah Esrei in fact).
However, if you’re inclined to physically jot down what you’ve heard or read, then it will be easily accessible in the future. Not only that, but if you’re able to label it in different folders then you can retrieve stories, information or divrei Torah on any topic instantly. It sounds simple — and it is — but it takes getting used to.
In fact, today it’s even easier, for those with a (heter to use a) smartphone, you can send yourself an email, leave yourself a voicenote or take a picture of what you’ve read (after asking your Rov about copyright infringement vs. fair use), upload them to Dropbox and you’re done, until you need to retrieve them. So if you’re ever asked to speak on a whim, you can access everything you have on the topic at hand without panicking.
Great idea. Every great thing I hear from now on, I’m going to note it down… But how can I stay on top of everything?
Lots and lots of folders!
The easiest way to create and organize your computer folders — in most cases — is by the headings: Parshios, Yomim Tovim, Topics, Stories and Miscellaneous. If you’re really organized, you should create a sub-folder for every section (Bereishis, Noach, etc.). Your page will be busy but it won’t be messy, and the search bar will be your new best friend.
Let’s take an example of how to implement this:
You’ve seen a great dvar Torah on Parashas Noach about Noach’s apparent lack of belief in Hashem’s willingness to bring the Flood. The dvar Torah contained a fundamental lesson about emunah, a quote from the Mesillas Yesharim and a related story. If you’re really on the ball, you’ll save the whole dvar Torah to your ‘Noach’ folder, you’ll then copy the story and the quote into your ‘Emunah’ folder (a sub-category of your ‘Topics’ folder) as well as in your ‘Stories’ folder if the story can be used to teach something other than emunah.
The title of what you’re saving should be something that you’ll look at in five years time and remember instantly. So don’t write “Noach 5767” or “Noach_Mesillas Yesharim”, write “Noach_emunah” or go all out and write “Noach_did he lack emunah when flood_plus STORY.” The more details you include, the quicker you can find what you need at a later date.
It sounds complicated and time consuming but it isn’t. It just takes practice.
Just to give you an example, here’s a partial screenshot of my ‘Divrei Torah’ folder:
And here’s a partial screenshot of my Miscellaneous/Stories folder:
Where to start?
The first thing is to become someone who actively looks for and writes down interesting divrei Torah and stories. Just this new mindset will lead you to hear and learn many wonderful things. Whether you work better writing things down and then putting them on the computer later (technically, you can use the same organization system with pen and paper but searching is so much easier via a computer), setting reminders, uploading photos to Dropbox or emailing yourself — find a way that works for you to get something that you’ve just heard or read into an easily searchable place.
If you already have material prepared, then half the battle is won because you don’t need to spend the hours searching for your starting point. Personally, I try to spend a short chunk of time on Motsei Shabbos to go through all of the Parasha sheets and seforim that I learned through on Shabbos and write things up for future years. From even one short vort that I read, I can get several concepts to build for the future. Often a story can be used in several ways (e.g., hasgacha pratis, emunas chachamim, doing the right thing, and facing challenges are frequent themes in many good stories) so for multiple topics, you have your story ready.
With this important service announcement we are ready to begin learning “How to Write.” But that will have to wait until the next article.
Rabbi Moishe Kormornick is the CEO and Chief Editor of Adir Press. He is also an alumnus of Rav Yitzchak Berkovits’ Jerusalem Kollel, and Ner LeElef. To see what some of Adir Press’ authors have had to say about their experience, click here. To submit your manuscript to Adir Press, click here. To contact Rabbi Kormornick: email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also purchase Rabbi Kormornick’s top-selling book, Short Vort: Short and inspiring divrei Torah for every parsha, yom tov and special occasion for only $9.99 in every good Jewish bookstore, and subscribe to his weekly dvar Torah by visiting www.shortvort.com