• 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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Humping on the Parking meter, Leaning on the Parking Meter

The bottom line is no one cares if you don’t write. No one asked you to. No one will die. There are chipmunks who work harder than you. You didn’t need to buy that Moleskin. You forgot you had one anyway. No one said: a poem please. No cried out when you sat down, mid-poem, because you couldn’t bleat another line, a lifetime ago on Minetta Lane. Do not ask what your writing can do for you. Do not got to therapy and crawl inside your inner ear. Did you ever think it was a gift from god? To stop? You won’t have to eat. You need not sing. You don’t have to be anything. When you remember those pages rocking out to sea, remember how good it felt to not reach for a simile. My face and your ass. Is like.

Do you ever think of quitting? Please be as negative as possible.

52 Responses

  1. Two weeks before my book deadline, a horse tossed me on to my head and I think it knocked all the words out of my brain, along with about an hour of my memory. I’ve spent the past month sleeping, eating and trying to find my mojo amidst the ruins of my gray matter.

    It’s coming back slowly, but my edits are in (and holy christ, they are scary, big edits), and it’s time to get back to work. Quit? Sure, it occurred to me. I just figure that’s the brain damage talking.

    • Ouch, Jess, just read this. Good thing brains are so plastic and good luck with those edits. Maybe quit riding horses (at least till the ms is in?)

  2. i fucking hate writing. i’d rather sit on the couch all day, waiting for tornadoes, watching men without indoor plumbing trying to make a life in alaska. i’d rather drink coffee all morning, reading a stranger’s blog post from weeks ago because i thought i lost a random thought in their third paragraph. i’d rather line my walls with a million books about writing than actually write, because i always forget buying stuff doesn’t fill the empty until after it’s bought. writing may be someone’s passion, but not mine. quitting is mine.

    how’s that?

  3. Hmm — I think ambivalence is the ur-emotion of my writing life. Unadulterated torment would mean I could just stop.

    To quote Patti: “see all words as amputees. no arms. arms akimbo. invisible arms dying to be seen.”

    Those similes are needy little bastards!

  4. You lucky bastards.
    To have the luxury to choose that you might quit!
    I break if I don’t write. My daughter asked me to. People already died, and continue to — sometimes new ones, but always the same ones, over and over, and then. You spoilt fucking arses, striking literary pose with your fancy moleskins, while others write on scraps of things they find — an envelope, the bill it carried, or dunny paper when it’s not-quite-verbal diarrhoea (preferably, hopefully not used … what is that spot above your i?) What I forgot was the one best line I wrote, hidden in a love letter, burned, and lost, and gone. Then later, “Write me a story Daddy.” My fate was sealed there.
    Fuck the rest of your questions and answers and questions Betsy. Your mind and the beauty and horror of life. Is like.

  5. A Betsy post about quitting is like a Betsy post about not quitting.

  6. Fuck quitting. I haven’t started.

  7. Thanks for pointing out that even this chipmunk is working faster than me.

  8. After a wonderful weekend of hard work, and an affirmation of life (unborn), my heart is full and I am relieved and unbelievably grateful for miracles.
    I will not play your game…is that negative enough?

  9. I write for an excuse to smoke more.

    • Sherry, can’t believe it…I was just going to say, it’s like smoking…I’ve quit many times. As Colleen McCullough once said, “The words are in the cigarettes.”

      Which reminds me of a chauffeur story…(!) – once I had to pick up this woman in Connecticut and take her to the Algonquin Hotel. I heard she was a writer. As we were driving, I asked if she had any luck…and she said to me, “As a matter of fact, my novel is #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List right now!” I forget if it was The Thorn Birds or An Indecent Obsession, but anyway…I don’t intend to quit either habit for long.

  10. “Do you ever think of quitting? Please be as negative as possible.”

    Yes. Thanks a fucking lot.

  11. I quit yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Writing blows. It sucks the life out of my self-confidence. It resents me. But the feeling is mutual. So, yeah. I quit. Every single day. And guess what? You’re right. No one cares. They don’t care if I think a thought, let alone if I write one. So, to hell with it all. I’m having a yard sale on my manuscript.

  12. If I didn’t write, then I couldn’t avoid writing, and I long ago figured out that if I stop feeling guilty—or alternatively, like a big, fat failure—the Universe will feel the imbalance and wallop me upside the head until I do.

    So there’s that . . .

  13. I have packing up my nose and two blood-soaked strings taped onto my cheeks. I have not smoked in five days. I am savage and weepy, recovering from sinus surgery and yes I feel like quitting. I feel like quitting every fucking thing except smoking and coffee and wine and writing because right now I’m not sure if I can write without caffeine or nicotine or alcohol. And I’m also scared that if I can still write , I’ll be one of those sanctimonious writers and congratulate myself and I will take another look at the memoir my agent can’t sell, and in all my born again glory i will find some capital T truth that hadn’t been revealed to me in my fog of addictions.

  14. Wow. Suzy Sunshine’s back. So glad I stopped by. Happy effing Sunday night, everyone.

    You want negative – Last summer I killed a chipmunk just like this one, with a sunflower seed and a rat trap. No joke. He spent all summer trying to dig into my basement but I won the battle in the end.

    Quitting. Not an option. Ever. Just ask the rodent…

  15. Well, quitting implies that I actually write. What I do is fantasize about writing. What I do is delude myself that I’m a writer. As soon as I have finished writing one stupid little thing, or even one stupid little thing that gets published in some stupid little magazine, I’m no longer a writer. You have to start all over again. it’s not a re-brith. It’s just another casualty.

  16. Perhaps it’s a different brand of fluoride in the water system or more likely the onslaught of holiday advertisements, but I’m embracing the negative outlook these days, too. No simile required when I am duped into eating musty-tasting cookies at a fund-raiser, a building owner’s staff couldn’t spell schedule much less follow one and the hill-billy with the ump-teen kids and the service trailer almost wipes out my car in an almost empty parking lot. Quit? this is all content. I’m just cranky I can’t type faster.

  17. I quit all the time. I am a major quitter. I am the queen of quitting, if there were such a thing, but I keep coming back like some sort of demented chipmunk, bashing my head against the concrete block wall over and over again.

  18. Yes, but not for very long. If I didn’t write, I’d just be another smug jerk with secret longings for more. Then I’d take up gardening, and start writing poems about my garden in my late middle age. The line breaks would be surprisingly deft, but no one would take me seriously.

  19. If you died in the winter time
    For reasons that don’t make sense
    I’ll carry your body to the graveyard
    And with your bones I’ll build a crooked fence

    But if you make it to the springtime
    And prove all the doctors wrong
    We’ll sit outside in the sunshine
    And listen once more to spring’s song

    (Chorus)
    I can dream, my friend, I can dream
    My dreams they all seem true
    You look different but you haven’t changed
    Your smile says everything about you

    (first few lines of a new song. I’ll quit writing when I’m on the other end of the narrator’s tale of woe).

  20. I’ll quit writing when you pry my cold, dead fingers from my keyboard.

    It’s a long walk in the woods, this, and we stumble, tire, curse. Sweat, bugs, tripwires, maybe an ambush waiting. At the end, if we’re lucky, there’s cold C rations, tepid water, and a half slept night on hard ground. “It don’t mean nothin’.”, somebody says, but we suck it up and write on, or ride out in a poncho.

  21. “I’m gonna be a happy idiot / And struggle for the legal tender,” sang Jackson Browne in “The Pretender.” I don’t know but I think he lied about that. Myself, I don’t know how to be a happy idiot, and I’m not very good at struggling for the legal tender, so I keep writing.

    • He lied about true love not being a contender too. What is a lie in one line, or one day, might well be the truth in the next line, or day.

      (Long live Jackson)

  22. Do you ever think of quitting? Please be as negative as possible.

    Yes, with every single word typed. That means I’ve thought of quitting at least 1,763,972 times, give or take a word or two. Wait, how many words here? Make that 1,763,979.

  23. So great to read all these comments and remember that Betsy quit.

  24. It’s a one way ticket. My life’s full of them.

  25. Sure, but then what would I do? I’ve got no money, interests, or social life. Maybe I could learn to knit?

  26. I’m staring into space. Actually, no, I’m staring at the spray bottle of Bitter Lime that’s supposed to deter my Rottweiler puppy’s chewing. Is there a Bitter Lime sort of product to deter writing? Sometimes I think it’s an awesome book, like, say, Dare Me.

    Nothing like the avarice and self-loathing that plagues you when you read a fucking brilliant book.

  27. It is a little quitting to spend time reading all these foolish comments, taking Betsy’s dare.
    I always read all of them.

  28. Never.

  29. I’m not anonymous–just electronically challenged. My name is Toni Myrup Frank. I’m 83 and I will never quit writing.

  30. I tend to refer back to this excerpt from W.S, Merwin’s “Berryman’s:

    “I had hardly begun to read
    I asked how can you ever be sure
    that what you write is really
    any good at all and he said you can’t

    you can’t you can never be sure
    you die without knowing
    whether anything you wrote was any good
    if you have to be sure don’t write”

    These words ring.

    As a photographer, as a writer, as one who plays one bass string every night, up and down the frets: I have QUIT all three of these at one time and another, each for a long stretch of time. As if these acts never existed. No music, no words, no images. Perhaps it *was* because I wondered whether what I did was any good and why bother. Perhaps I was dead inside and simply left them behind unnoticed.

    For the past three years I have been sitting in my front porch living room garden, editing images [a thousand words] I hope someone will hang in their homes, phrasing words perfect for the book I will never write, and composing blues riff I doubt I’ll ever perform for anyone else but me.

    I amble my way into to my 59th year soon, a life that I write in my head, which I practice on the porch, my public retreat. I don’t have to be sure OR unsure. I don’t HAVE to do anything. But I will.

  31. I really like that.

  32. I’m trying to quit the not writing.

  33. Oaky–negative. Sean Penn shoves a phone up a fan’s ass negative. I wouldn’t quit writing, published or not published, because I just plain love doing it. But when I read some of the stuff that gets sold at auction, I seriously wonder if I even want to be part of the publishing world. What the fuck kind of world are we living in?

  34. Writing is one of the hardest things to keep up. Seriously. I’d sometimes do my taxes instead of writing. But in the end, I can still never let it go. It’s a part of my being, the desire to write.

  35. Someone once explained to me that you’re always writing, even when you’re not. All those characters, all those crazy voices inside are chatting up a storm. I quit listening to them when I need a rest and then tune in. And take notes.

    During the holidays especially, it helps to take a lot of notes…

  36. Every single fucking day. The idea of quitting writing for me often resonates like that of death to a suffering immortal. Shit wasn’t always like this, of course, and I’m positive that things were never quite as bad as the analogy suggests. But the specter of a ferocious implosion didn’t have uninvited “pull up a chair and drink my whisky” rights until after things started going well. Really well.

    Writing can be easy, even while travelling through eleven states in ten days under constant 24-hour deadlines covering arguably the biggest story in the world…and when you’re getting paid to do it, all because you started a “writing portfolio” website one day not too long ago? Yeah, that was the fun part, the easy part. The part when the flesh pours slow like proper Guinness and the cocaine goes out looking for you, just like it did for your heroes. Delirium. You never want to quit after you’ve got that sturdy grip on the mountaintop…that’s when the rush kicks in and there’s always a safety valve somewhere along the Edge.

    Stopping never crossed my mind when that interrupted adventure was over and there just had to be a book about it, despite the fact I knew the idea was a massive gamble. This unbelievable opportunity had come knocking at the worst possible time — my personal life seemed incompatible with my writing life (through much fault of my own, sure, but whatever) and my fiancee already had one foot out a closing door before I had the extra incentive to wake up every day at three am and make no money prior to going to work.

    A year and a half later things just wouldn’t get better. Blame luck, timing, the economy, slight mental instability, Fate, the worst of our times or that fucking Hurricane Sandy, but she split. Took the cats with her. An eviction notice stayed behind with me. No more internet, no more computer. No more bed, or roof, or bathroom…no more soul mate. Only the words and memories warming my head at night.

    I spent last summer and most of the fall vagabonding around the Northeast with not much more than a vintage military rucksack that could be packed with all my worldly possessions in under five minutes (which came in handy more than once). This included my two hundred and eighty-so page manuscript and the heavy three-inch binder it barely fit into. I was back to making edits by hand and typing them up at wherever the local public library happened to be. No matter where I slept, ate or neither, the concept of not finishing the book never tingled the cerebrum. That’s for people who can’t suck it up and move forward. Also those not stupid enough wager their lives on an instinct they can’t quite explain.

    Quitting didn’t bubble up the brain stem until later, when life began to stabilize again. When the love-hate lure of Manhattan started calling me back with promises of a steady couch, a pair of decently paying gigs, some extra dollars and the sudden realization that I’m free to live whatever life I choose. Soon, any number of summits will be within climbing distance…why not maybe choose one of those? One with a little more of what the kids nowadays are calling “stability?” For all the exhilarating surreality I’ve experienced because of writing, far more days and nights have been spent with the same rusty scalpel cutting open the same fresh wounds until the blood splatter falls in just the right way…for what? Art? Martyrdom? Redemption? Sure, every once in a while the idea of fading away into a “normal” groove makes me wonder.

    But I’ve been down that road. The simple life left a void that money, cars, gadgets, women or a 401(k) never seemed to fill. In the midst of all the domestic chaos I’ve been through these past few years, the one constant I learned for certain is that I am a writer; balls to bone, nothing to be done about that now. Ran from it for too long. Nothing else gorges the soul like nailing the perfect paragraph, you know what I mean? There’s no amount of income that could replace that feeling when a stranger comes up to you in New York City and excitedly says something you wrote changed them. That’s the mountaintop. And it is finally back in sight. And I guess now I’ll never think about quitting this suicidal vocation ever again. In the end we artists love our torture, pain makes for the best stories. So, buy the ticket, take the ride, eh?

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