• THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

    I wrote a book called THE FOREST FOR THE TREES. It's an advice book for writers, though it's more about what makes writers tick. 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. I post less frequently now, but hopefully with as much vitriol. Please join in!

    Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I’ve learned one thing about writers, it’s this: we really are all alone. Thanks for reading. Love, Betsy

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When My Smallest of Dreams Won’t Come True

Every night when I go to the gym (okay, on the rare occasion that I haul my ass into the gym), the woman who has the locker next to me is always there. Yes, we make the perfunctory remark about how the place is empty and here we are right on top of each other. Of all the! This woman takes off all her clothes and sits on the bench and looks at Facebook. She has an athletic body and is proud of it. And why not! I, on the other hand, use my towel like a magician hoping no one can see what’s hiding behind it. I can literally get dressed and undressed behind a towel the size of a postage stamp. Tonight, she was talking on the phone while sitting there naked. It sounded like she was getting estimates on flowers. She liked the paper whites.

Do you have a writer’s body?

 

Deep Inside I’m Blue

When I handed in my first draft of Forest for the Trees, my editor had one comment. She said is was too negative. She said no one would want to read it they didn’t think there was some hope. She crossed out a lot of paragraphs and wrote “No, no, no” in the margins . I’d like to tell you that I stuck to my guns, but instead I made the changes she recommended. I wish I could tell that I carefully weighed her suggestions but it was my first book and did everything she said as if I were her little love slave. In the end, I had to admit she was right. The relentless negativity probably would have been off putting to many if not all readers. But for the record: writing is amazing and if you’re too dim to understand the gift of language then it’s lost on you anyway. But publishing is cruel and mercurial and inexplicable. It is not a reliable source of self esteem.

What’s your most negative thought about publishing?

 

 

Heaven Holds a Place for Those Who Pray

I never have ideas. I have a character, a line, a situation. I don’t really even know what an idea is or what it looks like or how it talks. For me, it’s the wheel on a grocery cart that wobbles. That’s what gets me started.  That is the pebble in my shoe. The fine crust of mantle in my nostril. You have five new ideas for a screenplay!  You have an idea for a new novel. Mazel tov! For me an idea is: let’s get ice cream from Bill’s, or let’s go to the mall. I’ve never had a Eureka moment. If you sink a few putts in life, you should be happy. Whenever a writer says he started with an idea, excuse yourself to make a phone call, get  a drink or powder your nose.

Virginia, where do ideas come from?

Money Doesn’t Talk It Swears

We’ve never talked about this before. Not once. So let’s rip the roof of the fucker. I want to talk about bank. Money. Moola. Mool. Coin. Benjis, Clams. Pigs in Blankets. Soda cans. How much do you make as a writer. Nothing? Are you in debt? Are you scraping by? Rolling in it? I think Samuel Johnson said only a fool writes for anything but money. I know so many writers who do it for very little or no money. There is nothing better than being paid for your writing, though having readers and being loved isn’t bad. When I was a new agent, I sold two novels at the same time. I thought one was really commercial and it got a small advance. The other I thought was very literary and it got a huge advance. To this day, I don’t get it. It’s not mysterious, it’s mystifying and logic- busting.

Do you write for money?

I Can Take All the Madness the World Has to Give

I had lunch with a young editor a little while ago and she brought me the first book she had edited. (Editors almost always bring along a book that they edited at these lunches.) But this was her first and I could see how proud and excited she was. The jacket was gorgeous and she told me all about how she acquired it and the work she did on it with the author and how marvelous the author was to work with. I felt myself time traveling back to my early days as an editor. When bringing a book into the world felt miraculous. When anything could happen and as luck would have some of my first acquisitions took off. A front page NYT review, a million dollar movie deal, a National Book Award nomination, a best seller! It’s not that I don’t get excited now. I do. I do. I swear I do. But I’m old  now and the battlefield is littered with bodies. I’ve been doing this for 32 years.  The young editor had brown hair that shined like a mahogany table and at least half of it fell from her ponytail.

How long have you been at it?

 

Try To Set the World on Fire

 

I went to a talk a few years ago by a Yale screenwriter/alumnus. He was handsome in that LA/Ivy league way. Was he wearing plaid pants? Maybe, maybe not. Did he drive a Mustang convertible? Who the hell knows. He rocked a side part and had gorgeous tanned fingers with nails that looked buffed. He was talking about his career and how for years he worked on one script and carried it around with him like a security blanket. Finally, he got an agent and his agent got him a meeting with Spielberg. He meets him and Spielberg goes, “the script tis terrific, but I can’t make it. What else you got?” Nothing, he had absolutely nothing. I call this the “Spielberg moment.” Most of us typers work on one project at a time, but it’s not a bad idea to have some ideas on the back burner. Just in case. I keep a list of ideas and cool titles on my phone. I have at least thirty. All waiting for the watering pail.

What’s on your back burner?

Hey You Get Off of My Cloud

These days nearly every writer I edit has a petite problem with knowing when to end a paragraph or a chapter. The writers feel the need to cover a really good last line with two or three more, which is like driving three extra nails in the coffin. It’s like wink, wink, nudge, nudge after a joke. Did you get it? Just want to make sure you got it. It’s creepy. It’s like asking someone if they love you or think you’re pretty. Later we can talk about sense of an ending all that heady stuff, but for this moment in time, let’s just say don’t dance on the grave, burying the body is good enough.

Are you guilty?