• THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

    THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is about writing, publishing and what makes writers tick. This blog is dedicated to the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gather here. 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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Brown Paper Packages Tied Up in String

An old friend gave me some notes on my script over the weekend. They were fucking excellent. I know this because I didn’t get defensive. I didn’t curse her out. I didn’t start picking my face. I knew they were right. It was like having an infection and someone offers you antibiotics. You fucking take them. Great notes are like gold. They’re like a rope ladder, a nest of threads, clouds moving over the moon. Gratitude, Queen.

How well do you take notes?

I Started a Joke

I did a zoom event tonight with a group of women in sisterhood at a Florida synagogue. It had been a long time since I had the chance to talk about The Bridge Ladies. I had been to over 40 synagogues and JCC’s and libraries when the book came out. I had my schtick down. Knew where I could get my laughs, where I tried for a few tears. I felt like a cross between Henny Youngman and Totie Fields. Often the places were decked out with bridge decorations and bowls of bridge mix. Like so nice. Once, I got to play with a bridge master. Usually, I’d collapse in my hotel room after a burger, fries, and a gin and tonic. I can still hear the sound of my suitcase wheels clicking along the tile floor at the Sheraton. Tonight, the rabbi who hosted the event quoted lines from the book that went to the heart of things. Really wonderful questions. I was so grateful for the chance to revisit the book, the bridge ladies, and my mom. She died two years ago.

What question would you most like people to ask about your work?

Don’t Throw Our Love Away

In the sixth grade, I asked my favorite English teacher if I could try some creative writing. She told me to write a poem or a story and bring it to her. Thing is, I meant calligraphy. I thought fancy lettering was called creative writing. Being both proud and embarrassed, I pretended that’s what I meant and brought her a poem the next day. She was blown away and encouraged me to keep writing. That’s my dirty little secret. This whole career is predicated on a massive misunderstanding.

What’s your origin story?

Think of Everything You’ve Got

I had my three month check up with my psychopharmacologist today. How am I? Steady. Sturdy. Stable. Same. He and I go back thirty years. We’re like an old married couple. I know he can tell how I am from the sound of my voice more than anything I say. When I found Dr. Mas, it was after ten years of misdiagnosis. Many doctors, many meds, many bouts of mania and depression that looked like weight game and weight loss and bad writing and worse sex and navy blue backless dresses, and loneliness and isolation and confusion. What helped me trust Dr. Mas, even though I really resisted the diagnosis and the medication, was that he cared about my writing. He knew that people complained of Lithium making them flat, robbing them of their creativity. He said he would work with me and find the right dosage. For thirty years I’ve been steady, sturdy, stable. Same. I’ve written three books and co-wrote three others. I have ideas all the time. I take my meds every day and even though I don’t go to the moon, I don’t sink beneath the waves.

What keeps you going?

But Now It’s Just Another Show.

I spoke to a very young agent today who reached out for advice about agenting. It was an all too obvious reminder that I am old, that whatever was going to happen has mostly happened, that I no longer have to worry about certain things, that I know how to do my job and give advice more often I seek it. My hair is graying, my back likes to complain, and when I have a pencil in my hand I know exactly what to do with it. I guess that’s something.

What advice would you give a young writer?

Thank You Thank You Silence

This week I kept hitting a wall with my writing project. I could barely concentrate. I drank an oil tanker worth of diet soda. I pruned my bookcase. I pruned my manuscript pile. I shopped for bras online. I literally drove to the nearby Krauser’s and bought more diet soda, three bulls eyes, and three tootsie rolls. I cleaned my monitor. I cleaned my glasses. I printed out the pages and started reading them aloud, fell asleep. I had a saintly cup of green tea. I walked the dog twice. I put away two baskets of laundry. I watched a Keanu Reeves movie.

What do you do when you hit a wall?

Take My Hand Take My Whole Life Too

True confession: I’m in love with Keanu Reeves. Have been since Point Break. Every day a picture of him shows up in my Instagram feed. Bewhiskered, clean shaven, on his motorcycle, walking through an airport. Sometimes the clip comes up where Stephen Colbert asks him what do you think happens when we die. Keanu takes a deep breath then says, I know the ones who love us will miss us.

What do you think happens?

May You Build a Ladder to the Stars

Thanks to everyone who left a remembrance of Shanna. It all rang true. It was wonderful to spend a few more moments with her. She was all that and more. I guess I want to talk about suicide. I was 24 when I made an attempt, one semester into graduate school, having battled depression since I was fifteen, romanced by writers who who took their own lives, Plath, Sexton, Woolf. My love of their work, Lowell too, fused with my depression. I didn’t know if I was a cliche or a chicken. I thought you had to be brave to take your life. I was so ashamed when I failed. People say, “it was just a cry for help,” when you don’t succeed at taking your life. It’s so fucked up. It’s like they’re disappointed. As if a cry for help is pathetic and weak. A cry for help is the most profound thing of all. I don’t know the final days or hours of Shanna’s life. I don’t know about the last days of George’s life. Did they go off their meds? Did one voice crowd out all others? Did not wanting to live become wanting to die? Did wanting to die become a one way street. For anyone out there reading this post, please cry for help. Please get help. I am here thanks to Lithium, Lamictal, and years of therapy. But mostly the meds. Sorry, therapists. But all the insights about my childhood didn’t put the floor beneath me or the ceiling above me.

I love you.

When You’re Sure You’ve Had Enough of this Life, Hang On


It breaks my heart to share with you, beloved readers of this blog, that we lost Shanna Mahin last week when she took her life. She was an early, rambunctious, defiant, hilarious and generous member of this community. She was demanding in the best possible way, critical in the smartest possible way, searingly honest and screamingly funny. She once dared me to a weight gain competition. We were yo-yo dieting twins separated at birth. I don’t know the circumstances that led to this tragic and final act. Beloved Shanna, fuck fuck fuck. You were dearly loved and will be sorely missed. I am so sorry we lost you. I want to say one thing to anyone struggling out there: life wants you at least as much as death. Life wants you at least as much as death. If you are struggling, get help. There is help. And there is hope.

Please leave a memory of Shanna or any words you’d like to celebrate this brilliant writer’s life.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255

Must Be the Clouds in My Eyes

I finished the revision of a chapter today that I’ve been working on for weeks. How do I know? My cuticles are bloody, my skin is blotchy, I’ve been wearing the same clothes for days. I’ve printed it out, read it out loud, forced myself to go back and check facts and rewrite sections that were slacking. I deleted A LOT. I ran it under the scanner and took out all the too cute or clever lines. Except one. Let’s see if it flies with the editor. Some people believe revision is more difficult than writing. Some feel it’s where the magic happens. I feel wiped.

What’s your revision policy?