• 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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I Felt He Found My Letters Then Read Each One Out Loud

 

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I wish I had become a literary agent in the sixth grade, then I would have been better prepared to face all the romantic rejection the world dished out. When I first became an agent, every rejection letter from an editor was an assault on my senses. I literally felt like my kids were not getting into college. Like we were going to wander the earth in an apron or too many bobby pins. Rejection is useful, nasty, necessary, unhelpful, instructive, demoralizing, but ultimately a test of the emergency broadcasting system. It is a high pitched sound that you must tune out lest it drive you crazy. A smaller voice, a tea bag, the way your fingers float about the keys. Stay right where you are. Don’t stop writing whatever you do.

How do you keep going in the face of the world’s indifference and your own shit?

 

The Truth Is I Never Left You

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Six weeks away: rehab? India? face lift? depression? I’m so sorry I didn’t say goodbye, I had no idea I would be gone.  How the fuck have you all been? My life is roadkill and raven all at once. Yes,  you can pick yourself to death. Yes, you can fly into the windshield of a car flying by the highway. Yes, your black wings might span the length of a bridge and someone, years later, may find the nest. Rehab, India, face lift depression.

Where have you been, old friends?

There’s Something Happening Here

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Structure, structure, structure. What is structure? How does it work? Do you figure it out before you write, or does it emerge as the storytelling takes shape. As an editor, I always felt that the structure suggested itself after 75 pages or so. By then all the major decisions have most likely been made: point of view, tense, passage of time. My boss believed you needed a blueprint before you set out, like an architect. That was always too uptight for me. The thing about structure is it has to be there, but not show.

How do you do it?

Girl You Know I Want Your Love

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Sometimes when you’re talking with a writer and you give feedback that a particular scene doesn’t work, the writer will say, in his or her defense, but that’s how it happened! To me, that’s like when you make a joke and nobody laughs, and you say: you had to be there!  We weren’t there. It’s your job to put us there. Please don’t tell me that’s how it happened. No one gives a shit how it happened. More to the point, how something happened has little to do with how well you render it on the page.  You have to find the words, phrases, nuances, descriptions. The tone, telling details, restrained alliteration, etc. to create the illusion. You are a puppeteer, a conductor, a director, a show maker. Please don’t tell me how it happened. I beg you.

Do you feel me.

Hey There You with the Stars in Your Eyes

 

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This is going to be pet peeve week (and just fyi, the term “pet peeve” is a pet peeve). What drives me nuts is when fiction writers use eye signaling to stand in for story or emotion. She looked at him, she glared, she glanced, she stared, she lowered her eyes, she batted her eyes, she looked away, she looked beyond him, she looked right through him, she smiled with her eyes (how the fuck, but never mind), she looked around, she looked down, she closed her eyes, she half-closed her eyes, she blinked, she rapidly blinked, she saw right through him, she looked inside him. Her eyes surveyed the room. Her eyes met his. She furtively looked. She locked eyes. She saw the world as if through a silver platter.

Can you add to the list?

Everybody Sees You’re Blown Apart

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How do you write about pain? Hurt, loss, betrayal? How do you write about those experiences that gut you without going all cliche on your ass? How to retain control  of tone when everything is out of control? How do you bring to life a slight, a thousand tiny cuts, a snub? You must write, you must breathe. You get out of bed and wonder that you are out of bed, dragging a toothbrush across your teeth. Do you want to write a screed, a rant, an angry letter addressed to god?

How do you write about pain?

The Words She Knows the Tune She Hums

 

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I know people write diaries for themselves, but I still feel there is something vaguely performative about it. For instance, you don’t just write without any attention to style, word choice, tone, narrative. Sometimes I even use asides and dialogue. I don’t want anyone to read my diary, but I still give it some shape, some wit, some beginnings, middles and ends. Will someone find it after I’m dead? Toss it in a Hefty bag and that is that? Whenever I read the diary of a famous writer, I always feel as if he or she was writing it for me.

Who is your diary for?