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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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?

Some are Dead and Some are Living

How well do you know yourself, and how well do you have to know yourself to be a good writer? Is ignorance new potatoes? Was that champagne nail polish a big mistake? Did you almost run someone over, again? We see you checking yourself out in the subway window, in the brass plate in the elevator, flossing in the car. You disgust me! Yes, I want fast cash. Yes I want the reduced turkey bacon fat. Yes, I want to be sitting in this chair and not the empty one. I used to think you had to know every cell, had be to a student of psychology, anthropology, history, zoology. You had to renounce your parents at least on some level. I’m trying to fix up my 60-something UPS man with a petite redhead. It bears repeating: I have no idea who I am only what I stand for.

How well do you know yourself and how well do you have to know yourself to be a good writer.

You’ve Yet to Have Your Finest Hour

In the last month, three writers have asked me whether or not they should trash what they are working on. Be honest, they say. I can take it. Be brutal. Be brutally honest. I just don’t want to waste my time. What would you do?  I can trash it. Just tell me what to do. What would you do?

This, my friends, is a trick question. This is not a question you should ask of anyone except your self. And the beauty is that even if you try put a work down, it won’t stay down if it’s shit you still need to work out. It may die as a novel and get reborn as a screenplay. It may go to bed as a play and wake up as a poem. It may drive a stake through its heart, or put its head in the oven, but if you keep writing it will find a way to become something if you still have something to say and you are a sick fuck, meaning a writer.

Should you burn your novel. Maybe. Junk that essay, shred your poem. If you’re asking me, sure, torch the whole fucking thing. But keep writing. The better flower has yet bloom.

What’s it going to be?

I’m Martin Sheen I’m Steve McQueen I’m Jimmy Dean

Working on a chapter though it feels more like a game of whack-a-mole. Every time I move a section into what feels like the right place, another hole opens up. How many craters can you see on the moon with your naked eye? Back ache, hands ache, dry eye and flatbread pizza. Five hours, nine, twelve. I’m holed up in a hotel in downtown Detroit working and all that’s missing is a pack of Luckys and a pair of nylons drying in the bathroom. I like to see how many hours I can go without speaking to a human being. Five hours, nine, twelve. I like it when I can think of the word.

Where do you write?