Coming out of the drawer

A Tel Aviv university editor reveals treasures from an international sea of writers.

Beryl Belsky sits at her laptop 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beryl Belsky sits at her laptop 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s an axiom that the Internet affects our life in ways that we could not have imagined at the end of the past century. In the mid-1980s, Beryl Belsky painstakingly wrote and edited pen-on-paper academic papers, erasing text with Wite-Out. Today, Belsky owns and manages a website that features the work of writers whose prose and poetry might otherwise remain in the back of a drawer.
The Writer’s Drawer is an international, intercultural writers’ showcase. The website has been up and running since February 2012, and includes a wide range of genres, including short stories, poetry, essays, memoirs, travelogues, book reviews, promotions and links to writer-related websites and blogs.
“The idea for the website developed very gradually,” says Belsky.“I had been rewriting other people’s work for over 30 years and I wanted to begin writing for myself.
“I started with two blogs on subjects close to my heart. One is called ‘The Asia Collection.’ I had graduated from the Australian National University majoring in East Asian studies, and the blog gave me a way to rekindle my interest in East Asian culture and literature.
“I followed this with a blog called Faces of Tennis, tennis being a hobby of mine.
Several essays from ‘The Asia Collection’ have been republished at the cultural and literary website ‘The Culture Trip.’” Belsky then began to write book reviews, but had no idea what to do with them.
“I always felt I wanted to volunteer for something, but I couldn’t find anything I really wanted to volunteer for,” she recalls. “And then I thought of creating a website where I could publish my writing, and also support other writers with my editing skills. It was a very hazy concept in the beginning.”
Unfamiliar with the code required to set up a website, Belsky investigated available platforms and settled on one that provides templates and options to personalize the interface. “The name just occurred to me,” she says. “The Writer’s Drawer is a metaphor for so many writers who lack confidence in their talent or are too shy to try to publish their work, and just hide their writing away in the back of a drawer.”
Belsky was then faced with the challenge of attracting writers to the site.
“I started by targeting retired people. I went to sites dedicated to retirees and wrote to them about my site. Occasionally I got a response. One of my first writers was from India. He wrote a very nice story, but it required significant editing, and I realized that there’s a huge population of non-native English speakers out there whose texts I could offer to edit and then post to the site. From that point on, I began emphasizing the multicultural aspect of The Writer’s Drawer.”
As the site developed, Belsky targeted social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and InterNations (a site for expatriates), anywhere she thought she would find writers looking for a place to share their work.
She actively solicits submissions. She says she has to constantly promote the site in order to remain relevant, “because there’s so much competition out there in cyberspace.” She publicizes contributions to the site on Facebook and other networks, “and if there’s nothing new to promote, I just post a message inviting writers to showcase their work.”
While “trawling around the Internet,” she says she sometimes chances on something unexpected. For example, on one social network, she came across a group discussion in which the participants debated which author they’d most like to have dinner with. To Belsky’s surprise, a woman with an Iranian flag next to her name answered, (awardwinning Israeli author) David Grossman.
“I wrote a comment asking her how she knew about him. The woman wrote back, confiding her life story to me.
She’s currently living in a Muslim Asian country and writes under the pseudonym Mina Spehri. She’s contributed a couple of stories to the site, one of which is Reading Hannah Senesh in Tehran. A friend of Mina’s living in Iran then wrote to me. Under the name Auntie Tata, she sent a story called Girls’ Day Out, which gives a real insight into what life is really like there for young girls and single older women.”
The site has expanded beyond anything Belsky could have imagined when she launched it just over a year and a half ago.
She is often surprised to receive submissions from writers hailing from Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Dubai, Morocco and Turkey. “I don’t hide the fact that I live in Israel, but they don’t appear to be deterred by that,” she explains. Contributors also come from the US, Canada, the UK, western Europe and Africa.
How does Belsky deal with submissions that are below standard? “It’s difficult to reject people’s work because I know it can be hurtful. There are two reasons why I would reject a submission. One is that the material is so poorly written that I’m not willing to invest time in editing it. I always try to explain to writers why I’m rejecting their work and in most cases, they accept the rejection gracefully and try to submit something else later, often successfully.
“The other reason for rejecting a submission – and I’m a little ambivalent about this – is if the work is erotic. Many of my readers and contributors are older and rather conservative in their views. A young woman sent me something quite recently that was blatantly erotic – but it also wasn’t very good, so rather than tell her that, I explained that the erotic content wasn’t suitable.
“Poetry can also be problematic, as it’s very subjective. I also don’t claim to be an expert on poetry, but I just try and use my instincts. If I like something, I’ll post it, regardless of its literary value.”
Belsky plans to retire in September from her position as an editor at Tel Aviv University, and is contemplating taking The Writer’s Drawer in a new and exciting direction.
“I began to realize that some of the contributions are of quite a high caliber and are also interesting culturally. So I thought it would be a good idea to publish an anthology of the best submissions. I’m now considering contributions specifically for the book. I recently received a story that is particularly good and I’m editing it with a view to publication.
“There are no limitations on the length of stories and essays, but since the writer is getting a free editing service, 10 or so pages is the maximum I would accept.
Sometimes I suggest cuts. Although the anthology will not have any specific theme, the first story in the book will give it its title. It will include stories, both fictional and from life, and poetry.
Belsky spends a few hours a day managing, improving and expanding the scope of The Writer’s Drawer. “I find it fulfilling,” she says. “There are some wonderful writers out there and I’m happy to be able to give them a showcase where they can present their work.”
Visit The Writer’s Drawer: Website: index.html Facebook: Writers-Drawer/429088093774427 Twitter: Write to Beryl Belsky directly at: