• 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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Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

 

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I was approached by a writer at a conference this summer. He asked me if I thought his memoir would ever get published. Then he told me about his life, “basically a rags to riches story.” Then he told me that he’d been working with a ghost writer, only that didn’t work out so he hired an independent editor. What did I think? What were his chances? I thought that the book had basically no chance of getting published (unless he planned to self-publish). Memoirs by famous people are ghostwritten, but memoirs otherwise need to be written by real writers. It’s not the story, it’s the writing that distinguishes a memoir, the literary merits, often taking years to develop and hone. Most first time writers don’t seem to realize that.

What would you have told him?

 

Do the Locomotion With Me

 

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“People in their right minds never take pride in their own talents.” –Harper Lee

Okay, but why? Because you sound like a horse’s ass, because the moment you go braying about your novel a train will run you over, a wrecking ball will squish you, the contract you just signed will be revoked. Or maybe it’s because you have no talent, you overestimate yourself, you set your peg too high. Because pride is a seventh wonder of the world, a potent cocktail, a codicil, a moment you can’t take back. “I’m at the height of my career,” a writer recently said to me. I thought, “You’re not in your right mind.”

Are you?

 

Don’t Go Changing to Try and Please Me

 

lego-bible-solomon-babyYou’re a first novelist and your mentor from the Iowa Writer’s Conference has referred you to her agent. You send your book to the agent who replies right away. At the same time, your uncle’s high school friend is a famous agent, famous for his A-list writers and unscrupulous ways. Both agents read your novel in under a week and offer representation. Your mentor’s agent has a great reputation, has launched a number of other young literary writers and is known for being hands-on. People says she’s amazing, but not that aggressive. The uncle’s friend is dazzling, seductive, represents writers who are your heroes. He is known for being all about the deal and landing big advances.

Who do you go with?

Sometimes When We Touch, the Honesty’s Too Much

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The first time you sent out a story the first time you got rejected the first time you got accepted the first time you kissed a boy the first time you started a novel the first short story the first time you saw a play and cried when the convict died. The first time you got a bad review, a good review, lukewarm, no review. What am I chopped liver? Baby in a corner. Ship in a bottle. Port in a storm. The first time you couldn’t write. The millionth time you couldn’t write. The dictionary. The dinosaur. The first time you wrote a character that didn’t smell like you. The first moment you realized you were a goner.

What was your first time?

Cecilia, You’re Breaking My Heart

 

138_jpgPip, Holden Caulfield, Lily Bart, Humbert, Ethan Frome, Miss Havisham, Portnoy. How do you name your characters? Phone book, high school year book, book of names? Or do they come to you in a dream, visions of Johanna. Do you start with a name and build from there, or does it emerge later, organically. Do you give your character a name the way you do with an infant and hope it fits. Can a name mean too little or too much? Have too much import or not enough. I once started a novel called the The Resignation of Rochelle Epstein.

What’s your favorite character name?

I Can Be Whatever I Want to Be

 

three-white-mice-e1457098307869I can’t tell if I’m a writer because I’m unhappy or if I’m unhappy because I’m a writer. I can’t tell when everything first went wrong or right. For me writing has always been about keeping secrets, which probably explains why my first loves were the confessional poets. I’m talking about writing in a notebook in front of a painting, in front of dramatic cliff, a ditch, the front seat of your boyfriend’s Monte Carlo if you had a boyfriend or feelings for anything except yourself. I don’t know why I wanted to sit in a crawlspace under the staircase by myself writing shit down.

Where’s your writing spot?

I’ve Looked Around Enough to Know

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Do you write for yourself or do you write for others?