• 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
  • Archives

Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down

Dearest Darling Readers of this Blog,

It’s been a while since I’ve received what I refer to as a “pure” fan letter. Most of the words of appreciation that come my way are also attended by requests for representation. It reminds me of the guy who after six months of dating took me to a really nice restaurant and asked me if we got married if he could work for my dad, possibly own the company someday.  Check!

So here’s a letter I received today. Enjoy. I know I did. 


I just this morning finished The Forest for the Trees and boy did you hit the nail on the head. I have three published books and a small measure of writing success. After the second book I started to have a low grade, almost  unconscious sense that … Jesus Murphy, I’m starting to become crazier than a shithouse rat.  I’ve led an adventurous life and I was always been so sure of myself. And then I started to bloody write.On a unconscious level I somewhat connected the dots, but it wasn’t until I read The Forest for the Trees  that I understood that the lead in the fabric was turning me into the mad hatter.

Thanks Babe.

Have you ever written a fan letter to an author? WHat the fuck did you say?

The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone’s ring, someone calling your name (for H.G.)

A writer and a douche bag walk into a bar. Hi guys. Is anybody still out there? I miss you. I know a few writers whose mouths are filled with sand. This is the winter when five writers packed a lunch and hiked the foothills of Long Island. This is when a poem got unwritten. You are always in a mitten. This day started. A girl fell to her death from a building she didn’t know was there. I saw a play that seemed true. First you hear the sentence in your head. Then a girl steps up to the bar. You are easily awakened and fitful. A bowl of applesauce sounds awfully nice right now. Will the fiction writers please stand up. Will the choir do the preaching? One chapter a month. One page a day. One sentence in front of another. And then the sky goes dark and the lights come up and two girls in Speedos stand before lockers, talking trash.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

The Truth Is I Never Left You

Four screenplays, the first third of a novel called The Resignation of Rochelle Epstein, a memoir of my pottery lessons, a daybook about marriage called The Marriage of Parsnip and Potato, YA thriller about bullying, a book about writing called The Imaginary Friend, a poetry collection called Venus Envy and a novel in the form of a diary about my friend Raymond. These are the abandoned. The lost, neglected and missing. These are the tiny terrors. The unfinished, unwashed, and unwanted.

What work have you left by the roadside like so much kill?

I Know This World Is Killing You

The results are in! Rosemary Mahoney has kindly judged our contest: what do you see in front of your screen or when you open a notebook?  First place goes to Donnaeve: “Initially I see a room full of strangers, by the end, old friends old enemies.” Rosemary writes: I understand this completely and have experienced it every time even after six books.  The silver goes to MSB: “I see the ledge.” Writes Rose:  The ledge is what I see most days when I think about what it takes to be a published writer. And the Bronze goes to Mari, “I see the scene I’m writing. What the room looks like, where everyone’s standing, the subtle expressions of their faces, the furniture in the room. I can’t even write the scene unless I know the colors of every single thing everyone’s wearing”

Prizewinners please send me (askbetsylerner@gmail.com)  your address for a copy of FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO SEE. Thanks to everyone who left a comment. And here’s a link to Rosemary’s  website with rave reviews and beautiful slide show.. I kid you not: this dog can hunt. She makes you see and feel blindness. Imagine that. Love, B

NOthing Compares 2 U

Please do yourself an enormous favor and buy this book and come to a reading. If you know Rosemary Mahoney’s writing, then you will be delighted to see how her extraordinary powers of observation can actually show you how the blind see. If you are new to her work, you will be dazzled by the prose style. And then so much more.

“A spiritual odyssey into the world of the blind. . . .  A beautiful meditation on human nature.” [starred Kirkus]

CONTEST: Three copies (first, second and third prize) to the best answers to this question: when you’re writing, when you’re sitting in front of a monitor or a notebook, what do you see?



January 25th, 2014.  The Rubin Museum of Art, 7:30 pmRosemary Mahoney, Sabriye Tenberken, co-founder of Braille Without Borders, and neurologist Sabine Kastner will speak as part of the Museum’s Brainwaves Series.

January 27th, 2014, Wings WorldQuest Fundraiser, 6:00 pmRosemary Mahoney speaking with Sabriye Tenberken Top of the Garden 251 W. 30th Street


January 29th, 2014 at 5:30 pm.  BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS  Rosemary Mahoney and Sabriye Tenberken will speak at the National Braille Press event at

The IBM Client Center, One Rogers Street, Cambridge, MA 02142


February 14th, 2014  Books on the Square, Wayland Square, Providence. 7:00 pm

March 13th, 2014  Island Books, Middletown 6:30 pm.

April 3, 2014  The Redwood Library, Newport, Rhode Island at 5:30 pm

“In this intelligent, humane book, Rosemary Mahoney writes of people who are blind, many of them from impoverished cultures with little sympathy for their plight.  She reports on their courage and gives voice, time and again, to their miraculous dignity.” — Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree and The Noonday Demon

“This joyful, thoughtful book took me on an emotional journey and introduced me to people I’ll never forget. With her wonderfully sharp prose and great sense of humor and humanity, Rosemary Mahoney has written a riveting narrative that combines world-class reporting, science, history, and travel writing. For the Benefit of Those Who See has changed forever the way I view my senses, and made me aware of how I do and don’t experience the world.”—Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club

One Tin Soldier Rides Away

August 10 1931 – December 17, 2013

Can’t sleep. It’s been like this for days. How are you guys doing? Does this season produce a special entropy? All the enforced good cheer. People whistling Christmas songs in the subway. Stuffing money into envelopes. While your writing is under ice, or perhaps stuck in the middle of the pond where mallards come to die. I can’t sleep. I want to hold a man I no longer remember except as a husk. I want to adopt a boy named Dante who plays the piano. I want to see Berlin though I don’t know why. Does all the writing add up to a great river, can it carry us to a cornfield in Connecticut where stalks look like a man’s beard against the snow? This is the glass pipe. The serrated knife. You are and are not Walter White. I always wanted to write column called a day late and a dollar short, reviewing books and movies long after they released, long after anyone cared.

Who are you?

Someday We’ll Be Together

Generally I hate hearing that this blog helped people or, god forbid, that something I said inspired someone. Community shommunity. I’ve done everything I can to make you feel as shitty and insecure about yourself as I feel about myself. I’ve begged you to embrace writer’s block and stop seeing your therapists. But every now and then one of you breaks free and makes a god damn go of it. And so please my friends, give it up for Averil Dean. And by that I mean buy her book. Thank you, Averil. I can’t wait to read your book. I love the title and the jacket. Really cool. Congratulations from everyone here on the ward. As for the rest of y’all, I hope everyone completely alienates their families tomorrow by talking about their writing non-stop. Like the entire plot to your novel. Love, Betsy

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.

If I See You At All

CONGRATULATIONS To my most G client, William Todd Schultz on the publication of his new biography of Elliott Smith, TORMENT SAINT.

Here’s a spotify list: http://open.spotify.com/user/meg.ernst/playlist/6fpTyvd96SC2ZZ4pXUtYnk

Please tell every Elliott Smith fan you know. Or people interested in the Portland indie music scene. Or understanding the tragic lives of young, gifted artists who didn’t make it. Todd has also written books about two of my favorite artists, Diane Arbus and Truman Capote. Brilliant psychological portraits that don’t attempt to explain a person’s life or choices, but brings you in as close as possible to understanding the forces and obsessions that compelled each artist to do their work, and how their work failed to save them.

October 3, 2013,

Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times

Ten years ago this November singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, then 34, died in an Echo Park bungalow from two knife stabs to the chest. According to William Todd Schultz’s “Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith,” a clear-eyed and devastating new biography of the gifted and troubled artist, his death, likely a suicide, was inevitable. The only questions were how and when. read more…


What’s the saddest song you know?

And I can’t change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to And I can’t change Even if I tried Even if I wanted to My love My love My love

Novels are flying at my head. Thousands of pages flapping like seagulls at Brighton Beach. Stories from land locked countries, from the mouths of bats, from trains that never leave the station. From the station itself. How did you come up with so many sentences, so many girls named Cara or Carla or Quintana, or Ray. Did it start on a stair, a hill, a bucket, a pail? What’s it about? Well, that’s a good question. The beach, the mountains, a multi-generational tale of raisin bran. You are nothing like a summer’s day. Why do sympathetic characters bring out the sadist in me? Does anyone really change? Are you my beginning, my middle or my ass wipe? Hi, I’m Betsy and I’m addicted to prose. Oh, Daisy. Grow up. There is a big canister somewhere. Dear Betsy: I am writing to see if you would be interested in my five novels, a 874,000 word quintet about two slugs fucking in a snot can. Do you feel me? Oh mighty novelists with your big boots and musky armpits. Where would we be without you?



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