• 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

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?

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

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.

You Better Let Somebody Love You Before It’s Too Late

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I’ve never read a Tom Clancy novel and I probably never will. Still: respect. His obit said he bypassed children’s books as a child and read military history. Lord have mercy. I’ve always believed that obsessions from childhood dictate what we write, but that is really something. Also from the obit, “Mr. Clancy said none of his success came easily, and he would remind aspiring writers of that when he spoke to them. ‘I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf,’ he once said. ‘You do it and you keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kissed you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.’”

I played golf for two reasons: to drive the cart and to have a makeshift egg cream which my dad made at the halfway house by mixing cream soda and Yoohoo. THe three rules he would repeat over and over: keep your head down, eye on the ball and follow through.

Though I also have to admit, and possibly from working with Patti Smith, that I have seen mystical things happen, but pretty much only when you are in the deep center of your work, completely obsessed and working like a mad man. (Do mad men work hard? Hmmm?)  But it can happen: a simile arrives unbidden and so perfect that you have ask yourself: did I pull that out of my ass or what?)

Any other decent sports metaphors out there for the writing racket?

I Love All the Things You Say and Do

Just want to mention that I spent four hours in Temple and forgot to atone. Spent the entire time thinking about writing, my writing, the writing of others, the cover of the NYT book review, a new client I shook hands with, the way my eyes feel most of the time which is dry and achy and sometimes slightly pulsing. The lady in front of me had a lace doily folded in the shape of a piece of pie and pinned to her head with a bobby pin. But it came loose and the pleats on the doily were hanging precariously off her head, the bobby pin also hanging on for dear life. Really, pray for my sins and pray for the dead with all that going on? Please, ladies, attend to your doilies! I beg of you.

What distracts you from yourself?

But When You Talk About Destruction

Did you finish your memoir, your novel, one lousy stinking poem? Did you read War and Peace? Rescue a dog? Yourself? Did you jump on the Yonana craze? Lose a notebook with all of your best work? Did you pick peaches? Fuck your wife? Fuck up your life? Did you take up cycling? Wonder why you couldn’t write. Did you talk to a woman at the farm stand? Was your family trapped by a rabid raccoon who attacked your dog and bit off half your finger? Did you think about everyone who died? Did you imagine their airless life? Did you give money to the guy at the entrance to the highway because his sign said he was hungry and for once you felt more compassion than fear? What does it take to write the sentences of your life? To live inside the mole hole? And come out with that grin on your stupid dirty face.

What did you do on your summer vacation?

Just Give Me a Reason Just A Little Bit’s Enough

Dear Insane People Who Write: Why do you like being dangled by your feet from the twentieth floor of a down-on-its-heels Marriott in a bankrupt city? Why do you like the feeling of your eyes being peeled back like the film inside a hard boiled egg? Was it worth removing your baby toe? Or turning a pimple into a mole?  Yes, I’m back for more Immodium; what’s it to you? Yes, I take sleep aids.  So what if you find me walking down a dark street in my nightgown? It was just a dream that lasted seven months and then I awoke. Why do you torture yourself unnecessarily, my father used to ask. Because necessary torture is for lightweights? You can no longer remember the name of the first boy you fucked. Or what you paid for your first house. If you had chicken or prime rib at your own wedding.  Why do you like to get punched in the face, apart, of course, from being a writer?

Got milk?

I Thought That I Heard You Sing

The other day I read a quote in the NYT that stopped me. It was from William Zinsser, who wrote the classic “On Writing Well.” He’s nearly blind at 90 and still coaches students, who read their work aloud to him. “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not,” Mr. Zinsser says. I totally get that. I mean I hear everything I read. Am I being too literal? I think it’s a profound observation about reading. And, by the way, still having the interest and stamina to help writers at 90. That’s just crazy for loco. God bless you, Mr. Zinsser.

What do you read with?

I’m Ready For To Fade

Can writing be taught? Can lovemaking be taught? Forget lovemaking. Can you teach someone how to kiss? How to stand on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 44th Street and to all the world appear as if you are not contemplating the curb and its elegant heel. Can you teach someone how to properly sponge around the faucet when you finish the dinner dishes? Can you teach someone to appreciate sleep? To understand the perfect weight of a heavy head meeting a soft pillow, the body forgetting itself, a cotton nightgown swimming up? Can you teach someone to punctuate? Probably. Can you spell hopeless? Can you teach someone to write funny? To cook a perfect hard boiled egg so that the shell comes off in two perfect cracks. Can you teach someone how to cry, softly at first, and then in rivulets like rain down a Texan window. What about cliche? Can you teach it, beat, eat it, fuck it? Can you teach someone how to make something satisfying, to withhold your tongue for as long as possible?

What can be taught?

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?

 

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