• Here’s the Story

    I wrote a book called The Forest for the Trees and it’s an advice book for writers. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. Now, the most popular posts are gathered in Greatest Hits ( a work in progress) Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I've learned one thing about writers, it's this: we really are all alone. Love, Betsy
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Just A Memory Without Anywhere to Stay

Got another query letter from prison today. It comes stamped on the back with a notice about what to do if you are receiving unwanted correspondence from an inmate. This particular prisoner quoted some of the best bits in The Forest For The Trees to impress upon me why I might like his work. Many writers have done this, but when it comes from the incarcerated it is unbelievably touching and a little scary. The letter was also hand written in the neatest imaginable block letters. Maybe I’ve seen Dead Man Walking too many times, but it amazes me to think that my book has found its way into a prison and a person there who wants or needs to write connected with it. I once read that a prisoner who was denied pencil and paper wrote sentences on the roof of his mouth with his tongue.

Did everybody write today? And if not, why not?

 

73 Responses

  1. Geez, Betsy, yer guilting me out. Does arguing with someone on TheAtlantic.com website count as writing?

  2. Another letter? Just how many letters from prison do you get? Now I want one…

    • I’ve got a friend in prison right now serving a 15-year sentence. His letters are voluminous and wonderful and desperate. It’s less about writing than it is about connection. I think if those of us on the outside saw it that way, writing would be much less problematic. Thanks for the reminder of what writing can be.

      • And thank you for the reminder of how fortunate we are. You are a good friend, that your friend can write to you. You know how much he needs that.

      • My mama always said, you find out who your real friends are in the hospital, in jail, and at your funeral. I start going nuts if I hole up at home for more than two days, so I don’t even WANT to imagine what he’s going through.

    • Try this :
      http://www.meet-an-inmate.com/

      “Includes profiles and photos of incarcerated men and women seeking correspondence and companionship. Ads are categorized by age. All addresses are free”.

      You can even search by what crime they’re incarcerated for. Not a bad way to do research. It’s like e-felony.com.

    • Ok. Writers. I was married to a man who served much time in jail, and he never lived to see society understand the share implication of PTSD in prisoners and soldiers. Who is going to get off the dime and stop jerking themselves off about this and get real?

  3. Poured all my creativity, today, into a proposal for the Day Job. Desperate times call for drastic measures.

    Glad you are only getting letters from the prisons. After a certain inmate began harassing me with late evening phone calls, my complaints to the warden finally resulted in an electronic “block” programmed into my house phone. I have a special place in my heart for his lawyer, who I suspect gave him my phone number.

  4. Today was flap copy day. Distilled, marketingish, reductive. I was explaining myself to myself. That counts, right?

    I’ve written sentences with my tongue before too. Not on the roof of my mouth though.

  5. Yes, Ms. Lerner, I did. Just now, before I came here. The shaman told me long ago that if I don’t write every day, I will vanish and I won’t even know I’ve disappeared.

  6. My first boyfriend used to write me the most brilliant letters from the California Youth Authority. Once, he sent me a sealed envelope inside the gorgeous, romantic letter addressed to me, to deliver to a mutual friend’s mother. Whom, as it turned out, he was also fucking. Oh, felons. Gotta love ‘em.

    I didn’t write today. I have a HUGE deadline a week from Wednesday, my back’s out (of course), and I spent the day reading a dear friend’s WIP and offering my best insight. I’m SO much better at solving other people’s problems.

  7. Today was a good writing day.

    I scribbled on scraps of paper all through work (shhhh–don’t tell) and then came home and unplugged for three hours (barring one break in the middle to check mail and my favorite blogs) to work out one staging problem and finish a reunion.

    I was going to go to bed after a post this, because my nose is getting awfully close to the keyboard, but I just realized something and now I’m going back.

    • I sorted my scraps of paper today and figured out what goes where in the book. Took longer than I thought it would.

      I’m doing a reading Friday and thought I had 10 minutes. Now I get an e-mail saying I have 7 minutes. Shit shit shit! Cut cut cut! That’s how I spent the afternoon — cutting, cursing, and reading aloud to the dog.

      • Just remember: no one ever gets resentful if you run short.

      • Thank you, Shanna. I’m at the end of the program, so you know they’ll all be asleep by then …

      • Not if you show up wearing pasties, they won’t.

        Scratch that. That’s something I would’ve done, back in the day. I heard that Ann Rice would jump out of a coffin. I’m not above gimmicks and bribery, and neither should you be. Bake some cookies and tell them they won’t get any until after you’ve read.

      • Pasties. Check!

  8. I wrote and rewrote and wrote stuff that was interrupting my “writing”. All this, three noticeable mood swings, and an earache. Am I two? An earache?.

  9. I wrote to my little brother when he was in prison. I’d write to him now if I knew where he was.

    As for my daily pages, I put my time in. I put my time in every day.

  10. I also received scary phone calls from a Cali prisoner to my tiny Tucson apartment. How and why he ever dialed my # collect the first time, I will never know. But he kept dialing, I continued not speaking to him but freaking out and the system went on its way not helping the helpless. Writing? I have a perfect idea whose time has come, and i am avoiding anything to do with writing. Gung Hee Fat Choy! Which hilariously doesn’t mean Happy New Year. It means Congratulations Be Prosperous!

  11. I didn’t. I write just about every day, without fail, but this morning, I had to be at work at 7am. I couldn’t do it.

  12. I exchanged letters with a felon in jail once. It was kind of heartbreaking. I was helping him find his birth-mother. I’d love to teach a writing course to offenders one day, if I ever grow the balls.

  13. Your question somehow reminds me of “The Music Man,” where the kids use the “think system” and aren’t supposed to touch their instruments until they’re ready to play them. It may be procrastination, but I feel like I’m gathering up and storing ideas until the time (very soon) when I will resume work on my new novel. I’m very ready and when the day comes, I know I’ll explode with constant writing. Until then, I’m using the “think system.” I don’t feel that it’s wasted time.

  14. this is an amazing post. wow. must feel so wonderful to know you affected someone’s life with your words.

    today i wrote a blog post for a friend. she is hilarious but doesn’t think she can write, so i took her words and put them into sentences. and hopefully it will make a few people laugh.

  15. I’m website building and it’s horrible. I wanna write.

  16. Day job caused me fits, so I wrote nothing more exciting than some client emails. Tomorrow, for sure.

  17. No, taking care of a newborn!

  18. I write every day. Maybe in my notebook–sometimes on the back of a piece of scrap paper, but whatever I write on, it’s always something to move my story forward. Sat at a cafe table near the Thames the other day, writing on one of their printed serviettes. It was a death scene that reminded me of someone, and I embarrassed myself by crying into my Americano. A woman sitting at one of the other tables patted my shoulder and said, “Are you OK, dear.”
    I’ll be more careful next time.

  19. No, not really but yesterday was my birthday so I got to use my homework pass.

    So, tell us! Are you going to give Mr. Inmate a chance at freedom?

  20. Yes, a self-pitying screed in my journal. Does that count? And I sorted the print out of my burgeoning book into groups and piles. Then I woke up at 4 a.m. and fretting about needing a paying job.

  21. Funny. The only thing I wrote yesterday, besides a script for work, was a status stollen from Elvis Costello, which read,”Every day, every day, every day, every day I don’t write the book.”

  22. Good lord. Your comments section reads like the mental health forum I used to belong to when I couldn’t sleep. I’d be more worried about us than the inmate.

    • Yes, I think we worry about ourselves, too. But this is a loyal bunch. I’m glad to have a chair – even if it’s at the back of the room.

    • Oh, look at you, Leslie F. Miller, jumping back into the fray. What was your name when you had that beautful black wing for a gravatar? I seem to remember you’ve contributed some lunacy to the asylum your own formerly-psuedonymous self. Welcome home, crazypants.

  23. It’s 3:45 am. Yes, I’ve already done some writing.

  24. I write every day, but not always on my novel. If I put some thought into what I’m writing, and do a little editing, it counts.

  25. I did not write today, except to a friend in Micronesia.

    This was a day to pay bills, compare phone plans, gather materials for a boat project, and plan an expedition. It started on the bayou, with water dark and solid as asphalt.

  26. This post is very motivating. I find all this talk of shamans and prisons is just what I needed to make no excuses and write something everyday. The picture of Susan Sarandon as a plain Jane wide-eyed nun helps too.

    Seriously, ass in the chair. Everyday.

  27. Only for a while. I was confirming my child is allergic to high fructose corn syrup. People have been looking at me cockeyed, like I made it up. She never had high fructose corn syrup, that’s why it didn’t show up earlier douche bags. And yes, I was that anal. You might be too if you spent your nights soothing the tears of a sick child. Yesterday, I was buying epi pens and trying to find a children’s allergy medication that isn’t spiked with derivatives of corn syrup. At least there was one with aspartame. So wrong.

  28. You never said; are you taking him on?

  29. No. A friend died a couple of nights ago. He had been sick, but seemed to be doing better, then was taken out either by a massive heart attack, blood clot or some other complication following surgery. I’ve been numb and depressed. I’m writing something in my head, but I’ve yet to put pen to paper. When I do, it will be too sentimental, so I’ll have to sand the edges a bit until it fits. Today is my daughter’s sixth birthday. I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier. She wants to go out to one of the most expensive restaurants in town for a $20 plate of spaghetti. Danggone kid.

  30. I sometimes fantasize about being put in solitary confinement–how much writing I could get done. But would I have to memorize every sentence?

  31. I wrote a blog post/poem about a suffering muse. Why? I don’t know, that’s what came to me and developed over the last few days. Is someone trying to tell me something??

  32. Forest For The Trees has been one of my faves I go back to time and again…(I’m just saying)

    I did write – but I then I deleted EVERYTHING because I’m trying to hear the “new” voice. And what I keep hearing is my other protaganist from my first book. She’s eleven. My protaganist in the second book is a guy, in his late 20’s to early 30’s. WTF.

  33. CRAP…and I meant to say…..CONGRATULATIONS TETMAN!!! I read one of your short stories – on your site – not sure of the title …”Rocket Baby?” Loved it.

  34. Betsy, I have been a stalker on your blog. A much respected colleague, Shanna, is a follower of yours, and she has been very public and disparaging about the writers conferece where we met. What all of that has taught me is we cannot predict how our message is heard. What we can do is tell our l truth. For me the disconnect in our country’s racial and social pain is one we have inflicted one ourselves. Yes, Shanna, it is your disparaged colleageue from Goucher, who has never forgetten the richness of sharing your encoragement and mentorship. Power to the written word.

    • Okay, A: NOT disparaging about Goucher. Kristen Iversen was a goddess to me, and the experience changed my life. B: Lurking under the cloak of anonymity is a chump maneuver, especially if you’re throwing out accusations like that. C: Your computer needs a breathalyzer lock. And use spellcheck before you post on an agent’s blog, for fuck’s sake. And, finally, D: If you have a bone to pick with me, how about if you just come straight at me instead of pulling focus on a totally unrelated blog post? shanna dot mahin at gmail dot com.

    • I thought it was “lurker,” not “stalker.” Stalker sounds creepier, but whatever . . .

  35. I just discovered this blog. I’m usually mouthing off over at Bookends or with the shark. This format is wild. Love it. Egads I’m coming here for daily therapy.

    Yes I most definitely wrote today.
    Real writers do it every day, ah ha, a bumba sticka.
    Anyway, I’m on my third novel, gotta write, it’s in my DNA.
    A day without writing is a day without inter-discourse. Hey, another bumpa sticka.

  36. i wrote a bit and read a bit at the open mic. now i’m having scotch because it’s Robbie Burns Night and, fuck me, this is one smooth single malt.

  37. Reblogged this on Intersections and commented:
    A writing prompt from a seasoned and always humorous agent about a query she received.

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