• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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SOmeone LIke You Makes It Hard To Live WIthout SOmebody Else

I wish I had something to say to inspire you tonight, but my tank is low if I’m going to be honest. I know I’m not an ER nurse, but sometimes this work is incredibly draining. Worse, I know that whatever anxiety I’m feeling whether it’s waiting for an editorial response, waiting for money, waiting for an offer, etc. it’s far worse for the writer. I have all these children living in my shoe. When something doesn’t happen for one, it’s bound to happen for another. One writer is getting tons of attention, a fat new offer on her next book, foreign sales galore. Another writer can’t get arrested. And three years from now their situations might be reversed; fickle are the gods of publishing.

This year has also brought even more uncertainty and fear about the fate of books. How many billions of conversations we’ve had about Kindle and Nook and Google, etc. and still don’t  where the hell it’s going. We are obsessed with the question of the future and how to protect our writers’ interests.  My question is: how as a writer do you  get it up in the face of so much uncertainty? How the fuck do you do it?

42 Responses

  1. You put your head down and write. This is a miserable business, but it’s the one you chose, and it’s the only one that lets you live your life–however hunched and pig-eyed. You don’t give a shit about reviews. You don’t give a shit about promotion. You don’t give a shit about foreign sales or book signings or readers. You don’t give a shit about covers or editorial letters or the months of waiting or your editor telling you that the first draft sucks and you need to start again on page one. You just do it.

    I got six figures for my first novel, and sold nineteen copies. Fuck it. That happens. I’ve got a five year old son and health insurance with a $15,000 deductible. I didn’t make a penny last year–a two-book deal for $30,000, but I’m still waiting for the first check and living off savings of that six-figure deal. So I put my head down and write. What else am I gonna do? Stop writing? I wish. The only thing I hate more than writing is not writing. Try to get a job? The last job I applied for was working nights at a minimart–the theory being I’d write when I wasn’t selling Juggs and diesel–and they never called me back.

    You take all that desperation and do the only thing you -can- do. Fuck Kindle and Nook and the kid from your high school you just saw on TV. What you do is, you take all those ‘self-destructive proclivities’ and you light them on fire and use them as fuel.

    And if you’re lucky, you find a place to vent.

  2. This year I watched my ten-year-old daughter fall in love with reading. She fell in love with physical books, carrying around actual books. She adores them, treasures them, collects them, needs to own her favorites. I asked her, could this have happened on an e-reader. She gave me a vehement “no.”

    And this is what I think when I hear all that gloom and doom about books, I think about all the people I know who love a really great book. That when something’s great, nothing can stop it because they’ll tell each other, one by one by one, until everyone will have read it. And that’s how I know there’s room for my book in the world.

  3. I believe in my writing.

    And, remembering what Sondra Lee (one of our toughest acting teachers) screamed at us years ago in college: “Nothing can stop me!”

  4. I navigate away from any pages and blogs that have “e-book”, “kindle”, “e-reader” or “death of publishing” in the title. Needless to say, there are very few blogs left on my list! Thank you Betsy for still having something interesting to say!

  5. I think being “kept” would help, but is unlikely in my case.

    Once while setting around a campfire in Wyoming, our Harley gang discussed our goals in life. I said I wanted to sing one set of blues music to an appreciative audience, to publish a great book, and to have someone want to inscribe my gravestone, “He put back more than he took.”

    A friend has said he will buy the gravestone, so check that one off. I’m not performance ready on blues, and it doesn’t look promising. I’ve lowered my literary sights to just “publish a book.” So I keep on writing, hoping to get at least two out of three.

  6. The other night I was reading all the reviews and watching all the promotional videos on Amazon for the Kindle and I got very close to buying one. I’m an information hog. I’m an impulsive wanderer. So being able to magically snatch a book or magazine or newspaper out of thin air wherever I am sounds nice.

    But back to Betsy’s main question. I don’t. I’m on sabatical. I’m taking a break. I’m blowing it off. I’m living out the rest of my life. I’m reading books. I’m beaten down. I’m blown away.

  7. My home is filled with books; a virtual library. But at a particular spot on the shelves are the books of my favorite writers, books I go back to again and again. First because I love each and every sentence the authors wrote; secondly, when I have those deep existential thoughts of oblivion and why the hell am I even trying to write, I think this:
    Faulkner, he dead, Hemingway, he dead too, Flannery O’Connor, dead and not of her own hands, Octavia E. Butler, gone by fate, and so on and on I go down the line of books until I get to that one book, THE ONE! THAT SAYS, YES SPEAKS, “YOU CAN DO IT, YOU CAN DO IT,”and so I pick up the book and once again do my Housekeeping and remember the days I sat and listened to a master teacher ME. Marilynne Robinson, you have saved me from nothingness.

  8. Milton Glaser said, “art is the most powerful instrument for survival.”

    I do it simply because I have to. (And having tried other careers, I can confidently say) It is the only profession that makes me leap out of bed in the morning.

    And I do it for the stories and all my characters, whom I love.

  9. For me I have to try – because if I don’t – that’s the only way I really fail.

  10. I do what I’m supposed to do. I try to control the things I can (my writing, my querying, my submitting, writing my blog) and don’t try to control the things I can’t (being accepted by a publisher, making the publisher do the things he said he would do, getting my agent to submit my material, etc).

    I just try to trust that if I do the best I can, and all the things I should, then eventually it’ll work out.

    I have to say, though, the worst part of the submission process is the non-response by agencies and small markets. It can’t possibly take more than 5 seconds to hit reply-paste-send to a query letter (so it returns to the author with “No thanks” or even “This sucks”) but so many times it’s just silence. Even if they’re replying to 100 queries a day, those five seconds each would only add up to about seven minutes extra time. The silence is the worst.

    • Yeah. Worse than silence on queries is silence on requested material. It’s our work.

    • The wai-a-a-a-ting is the hardest part. If I don’t sell a book out of the gate, it’s free fall. I’ll probably still sell it but I won’t have any fingernails left. Or cuticles.

      • With every blog, I get more and more anxious to finish my manuscript so I can send it to you. How can I make sure you get it? Your blot makes you appear approachable, but things are not always what they seem. Can I simply send it and expect it will arrive on your desk?

  11. Other than what Ms. Nathan said, I try not to think about it. If I let myself get mired in all the ‘what ifs’, I can’t drag myself off the couch to write a single word. What will happen will happen whether I spend all day worrying about it or I just forge ahead.

    And if I never get published, I still have all these wonderful books I wrote. That in itself is a great accomplishment.

  12. The days are short, so the tank is low. I think we all keep at it for the same reasons you do, Betsy. And we tend to hang around (real or virtually) with other writers who do the same.

  13. What everyone else said. I’ve tried not writing, and that doesn’t work. Like major-depression doesn’t work. So I write.

    RIght now I am in a good place, but I have been lower than low soooo many times–like when I had two little kids and a third on the way (i.e. was looking at having no time to write for who knows how long), and I had published one story in my whole life, and I had just realized that the novel I had spent nine-plus years working on and that was going to finally Let The World Know Who I Was–was crap.


    But you keep going because you are just so stubborn.

    About the future of publishing–here’s what I’m counting on: no one will ever quit asking, “And then what happened?” The need for stories, in whatever form, has always been with us, and will never go away.

  14. I am either too stubborn or too stupid (or maybe both) to quit. I have had days when I have sworn it’s over, that’s it, I suck, my writing sucks, I’m going to go work at Wendy’s. Which would suck even more.

    I keep going because every once in a while I get a sliver of hope from someone, because every once in a while I know that what I’ve written is good. Maybe even better than good. Right now, I’m waiting on an agent to get back to me about my memoir, and trying not to lose my mind. She’s agent #58 out of 59 queried, with a few nice responses from the others along the way. I know my book’s audience, I know how to find them, and I feel like I know what I’m doing.

    Like I said, I’m probably too stupid to quit….but I still believe in the future of books.

  15. I needed to hear every bit of this. Thanks to all.

    You can’t buy doubt and that’s what keeps me writing. I question everything. Always have. Always will.

  16. I saw this, and it reminded me of a passage from Stephen King’s THE GUNSLINGER.

    “The gunslinger walked stolidly, not hurrying, not loafing. A hide waterbag was slung around his middle like a bloated sausage. It was almost full. He had progressed through the KHEF over many years, and had reached the fifth level. At the seventh or the eighth, he would not have been thirsty; he could have watched his own body dehydrate with clinical, detached attention, watering its crevices and dark inner hollows only when his logic told him it must be done. He was not seventh or eighth. He was fifth. So he was thirsty, although he had no particular urge to drink. In a vague way, all this pleased him. It was romantic.”

    I keep writing because I’m a romantic, I guess. And because I’m thirsty.

  17. I recently heard a story on the radio about a young girl who had spent months held captive in a hole in the ground where she raped on a daily basis, sometimes more than once.

    When I start fretting about the uncertain future (usually with my partner over dinner and a glass of wine) one of us will say “at least we’re not in a pit getting raped.”

    That tends to put things in perspective.

  18. Like Holly, I’ve been worse. When I was in Year Four: One Effin’ Story Published, I did two things: whined to my husband until he repeated the bedtime story of how, for SURE, it was right around the corner.

    Then I made all sorts of pacts with God: get me an agent and I’ll call my mother-in-law everyday. Get me published and I’ll give a large portion of any writing monies earned to Rosie’s Place, Women for Women, or The Home for Little Wanderer’s.

    I wonder if I can get by with only fulfilling the second God promise. I mean, really, call her EVERY day? Betsy, am I going to hell?

  19. Like everyone else, it’s head down and fingers on the keyboard . . . but you keep that middle finger free, in case you have to flip off the nay-sayers and the doom-spinners . . .

  20. I try to remember what I do and don’t have control over, take a deep breath and keep on writing. And, I tell myself that at this given moment I am doing the best that I can.

  21. Uncertainty is the stuff great novels are made of, right? Plots are interesting when we can’t figure out where the story will end. Grey is the most exciting colour in fiction.

  22. Of course I can’t speak for others, but I write because it’s a compulsion. Sort of like a conscription notice, writing is like receiving a cunningly-worded invitation to commit suicide; only the suicide is more like the killing of all those big and little voices inside you that clamour constantly and which are part of you, and the compulsion is to give those voices a hearing on an external and objective stage.

  23. I just quietly slide over the edge of sanity and keep writing. Insane without, or insane with, it’s just part of life that at least stays true and constant.

  24. Just keep on writing.

    E-books don’t work for real readers for the same reason Madden 2010 doesn’t work for real football players.

    The right people get it.

    • “E-books don’t work for real readers for the same reason Madden 2010 doesn’t work for real football players.”

      Now I need a cigarette.

  25. “it is all so meaningless we might as well be extraordinary.”

    Francis Bacon

  26. This is going to take discipline and commitment from you, although the outcomes are waiting just around the
    corner and are perfectly achievable. Eat in moderation.

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