• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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That’s Me In the Corner

I realized today that I have become something I hate: a dilettante. A dabbler. A jack-off of all trades. I have a screenplay blocked out that I can’t seem to kick into second. I have a tv writing partner and we are on a highway to hell. I have Neeps, or The Marriage of Parsnip and Potato in a notebook, I have an abandoned memoir, The Potter’s Apprentice. I have…bupkus.

I have always believed that if you want to get something done you have to put blinders on. You have to work at that one thing and that one thing alone. Your focus needs to take on the qualities of a heat-seeking missile. What the fuck has happened to me? Besides this blog? Ha ha ha.

I am going to quiz my daughter on tectonic plates right now. Perhaps when I come back, something will shift. Until then, I’d love to hear some motivational stories of accomplishment and glory through focus, will and determination. Though stories of utter disgust and abject failure always welcome.

31 Responses

  1. For what it’s worth, I’m just back from hearing Margaret Atwood speak tonight. She said that poets do a lot of nothing to find their “empty space,” vital nothingness that makes others wonder whether that nothingness could be simultaneously spent mowing the lawn. But it’s the nothingness that is essential to poetry. On the other hand, for a novelist, there’s nothing to do but slog away — sit down and write and don’t get up until you do… Good enough for Margie…good enough for me.

  2. I have a project that’s going on two years – a little here, a little there…throw it all out and start again. I’ve written two other projects since I began this one, but I can’t seem to get it where I want it. Pisses me off, because I want to sit down and feel the love long enough to get it done. Instead, it becomes dog poo within a week and I’m avoiding it again. An editor friend has seen pages and asks, when can I have it? I mean, I even have INTEREST and I still can’t do it. Maybe it’s fear, a la Franz Kafka, who said he could only write in the night, when fear didn’t let him sleep. Maybe the key is to take No-Doz and stay up all night.

    Or not.

  3. You need to write a book about tectonic plates. Add that to the list. For some reason, something is working for me these days. The other projects are being polite and calm, waiting their turn (which may never come; some of these projects have been waiting since before I had grown-up teeth). God only knows where it came from, but I have focus. Now, please don’t jinx me by my having said it out loud.

    Really, tectonic plates.

  4. Hey Betsy, I ordered your book but it hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t tell you what you say on this issue. I’ve always been a one project person with a mind that can generate and fall in love with other ideas faster than I can deal with them. I’m fundamentally an ideas guy (as was my father before me) and I’m damned fine at it. But the bane of my life has been the ability to move on to the next great thing. So my approach is to be ruthless in only doing one thing at a time. At the moment I’m finishing my first novel. I didn’t know if I could do it, although I’ve been writing and getting paid for writing (on the side) since I was fifteen. Now I’ve written the whole thing, I know I can do it, but during revision I feel other projects calling. Luckily, so far, this one is overwhelming me, I’m deep in it and it’s holding my attention. When it finishes, we’ll see.

  5. Here’s the thing, I am staring down the throat of a looming deadline for my third novel and what am I doing? That’s right, playing on FB, reading email, blogs, looking at stupid shit on the internet, playing a video game, watching the snow mountains melt and lamenting the fact that I am not as far along as I should be on this novel. I too have lost focus and I need it back. Success will only come from focus although I do agree that all artists need that vital nothingness. But really, enough is enough. I need to shut it all off and work. I have even thought about NOT paying my cable bill so they turn it off but then I still ahve my crackberry and free wifi whereever I go–it’s a conspiracy.

  6. I feel my WIP is moving at the same speed of a tectonic plate. Unfortunately, I don’t have a million years to build a mountain range. Pressure and time.

  7. There have been times I’ve needed to “trick” myself by creating an Excel spreadsheet and at the end of the day recording my novel’s total word count, then having it create a draft.

    In those times, when I needed to ‘write a book’ I stalled. But when I needed to feed the graph so there was no visual evidence that I was a slacker? That thousand plus words a day came right out.

  8. Ahhh, the magpie syndrome, the lure of the shiny new project that begs us to abandon the last shiny-turned-tarnished project like a hot potato…or parsnip. I think most of us know that syndrome intimately.

    I offer no advice, only the comfort that you are not alone.

  9. . . . that’s me in the corner . . . losing . . . my . . . religion!

    Is this quote songs from a decade, or so ago, day and nobody told me? First, I had Pat Benatar’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ running through my mind, and now, thanks to your post, ‘Losing My Religion by R.E.M. Oh, it’s going to be one of those days. : )

    I used to multi-task with my writing. Now, I multi-task with focus. Yes, it’s possible. I write the rough of a project and then set it aside. It must be set aside so it can simmer, ferment, or whatever the heck it needs to do to create distance between me and the brilliance of my idea. I normally give myself at least two weeks, if not four, before I go back to start revisions. In the meantime, I’ll work on revisions of another project – only that project, nothing else, nada, finito! Then, when I’ve worked through that revision, I go back to the other project. This seems to work . . . for me.

    Now, off to YouTube to find ‘Losing My Religion’. I love that song!


  10. Send your children to school. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to home school an 8 year-old and write anything. Not even a comment on a blog. My son keeps accusing me of distracting him from his work. By “looking” at him. Meanwhile he is snuggling up against me so I can’t move my arm.

  11. I think that this blog happening to you is a Big Deal. I have never read anything like it, and it always draws and moves me. For this reader, something is present and working here that is new, that was not part of either of your books (Both of which I read and loved) and maybe this is your plate shifting right now.

    • Thank you. I never look at anything in a positive way. It’s almost shocking. I’m really touched by this. Thank you again.

  12. Don’t mistake that hollow, coming-up-empty, zero-attention span feeling for anything important. It will only last 28 days. Because it’s FEBRUARY.

    It will not always be February. Some day soon, it will be March. And, OK, March can be just as bad, but at least it’s not FEBRUARY.

    The one thing you should NOT do to relieve the boredom and apathy (dare I say ennui?) of this time of year is something interesting with your hair. However, February is a good time to make travel plans. Because stupid travel plans (this month, my little sister quit her job as a big shot corporate lawyer in Seattle so she can go witness some human rights trial in Namibia) are brave and fun and easier to out-live than a ridiculous hair cut.

    Years of real-life experience have gone into this Comment. I hope it helps.

    • So no to the blonde streaks I’ve been considering? But they might make my hair feel like it’s Spring!

    • Vivian, how do I love thee. Just when I was starting to circle the scissors for a little late Feb self-mutilation on the already bad haircut, you stayed my hand. Indebted = me.

      • Oh, what Vivian said! (part 2)

        Vivian is SO right! That could not be more sage advice.

        A mani-pedi in February, yes. Spending obscene amounts of money on new shoes, yes. A drastic hair change, NO.


    • Oops, too late: I already gave myself an atrocious haircut — way too short. Alas, it’ll grow back…one of these days but not soon! 🙂

  13. I put the blinders on and wrote the book that I found representation with. (Betsy, thanks for the great query advice!).
    When I was writing, I pretty much stayed in a cave, zero internet presence, didn’t have a blog, a twitter account, didn’t comment on blogs. If you google searched my name all you would’ve seen were a bunch of unimpressive times for a handful of running races I’d run.

    But I revised that book over twenty times in a year and a half in the cave. I’m working on another book while the first is on submission but it’s much more difficult to put the blinders on for long periods of time. The cave is now fully wired.

  14. Frankly, I’ve been impressed by your ability to pound out a daily blog religiously (and read responses) while faced by what must be an all consuming day job: Mounds of unread submissions, working your author’s projects, hundreds of calls,tweets, emails (both wanted and unwanted), meetings, and of course “doing lunch.”

    Now I hear this litnay of personal projects piled on top of your family life, and I’m reminded of a TV ad where a guy is pounded with projects to which he replies, “I can do that. I can do that. I can do that.” Until In the final scene he looks at the camera says, “How can I do that?”

    So my question is, “How can you do that?”

    As a journalist I had “the nove,l” third drawer down, for six years. Then something snapped, and I ground the thing out in less than six months, and the next day I started my second novel.

    Now when I start losing focus I begin nibbling around the edges of the project. There are things that must be done to make a decent submission: mailing label, query letter, revising synopsis, revising bio, collecting support materials, additional research, etc. Doing this nit-shit stuff begins to make me want to complete the project.

  15. I am proofreading 25 pages of numbers for a publication today. An insane amount of caffeine is all that’s getting me through it. That and the fact that I’m really too much of a chickenshit to shoot myself.

  16. I agree with Steve.

  17. The only thing that I keeping on doing consistently is blogging. Set up my little kingdom on blogger in May ’07 and haven’t stopped writing except for one brief dry spell.

  18. I’m with Steve and CJ above. While you’re stirring the other pots on the stove, this chef d’oeuvre, pun intended, springs from you nearly daily. Best blog around. Period. This short form. Breezy. So easy to undervalue. Like Chopin’s etudes — requiring time and composition and mastery and editing and thought — and yet coming off ex tempore. That’s something. I hope all the other projects get done, but while that’s happening, this is a happening. Brava.

  19. My challenge is that life happens faster than I write, which often changes what I know about what I write about. It’s not that I don’t want to seek out that knowledge actively, but at some point, you have to stop researching and start writing. I was the kid in high school who spent hours at the library loading up on resources and left myself with 24 hours to crank out the term paper. Not the best strategy.

    But right, life. That’s what I write about (memoir, personal essay, nonfiction, call it what you will). I do my best to shut life in its larger sense out for two to three hours every other day if I can and just return to the isolated chunk of life I’m trying to capture on paper (rather, the screen of my laptop). It makes for s-l-o-w progress, but at least it allows something to take shape.

  20. You sound so busy and down in the dumps. Other area writers have told me you champion local writers in the New Haven, CT area and I hope that is true.
    I have googled you, read your books, your husband’s book (TMI), and checked your sales stats. Though chances are slim that you will accept an historical fiction manuscript, I intend to try, hoping I will be your first. However, in your present mindcast, would you be open to my query?

  21. Well, the projects don’t sound like crap. Maybe you’re going at them from the wrong perspective? I’m a fiction writer but…

    When my project slowed I realized I was translating way too much of my day to day interactions with people into my characters. Kind of like using them as puppets to act out my own therapy sessions. I’m an expat and sometimes feel like I’m living on the edge of the world. Yeah, it’s great to incorporate observations into your writing but some things are best left for the journal – or best left period. Once I distanced them, my characters starting acting like their authentic selves again and I could tell their story.

    I had to change the POV in some places. It seemed intuitive to write some scenes in first person but they flow so much better from a third person POV. I’ve been vomiting pages for two weeks. It’s incredible.

    And, you mention a memoir. Maybe you aren’t really ready to share your life with the world. I was working on an essay a while back. I laughed, I cried and I couldn’t quite put it to words. And although it wouldn’t have reflected badly on me and might have been a timely, brilliant subject I decided I couldn’t share it.

    And as far as the February thing? I’m in the arctic with snow up to my arse and frozen nose hairs. Don’t want to hear it. Definitely not buying it as a reason to not write. Good luck!

  22. Btw, thanks for the intelligent, humorous, insightful blog. I am having a blast exploring!

  23. In his sublimely instructive book, Write Screenplays That Sell: the Ackerman Way, Hal Ackerman exhorts students to “snowplow” through their screenplays at a certain point.

    No format, no rules: just at least 60 minutes of furious scribbling. This process is to be repeated anew each day from the beginning to the new end. Don’t stop writing, no matter what!

    He even encourages the student to include self-directed comments like, “Wait, where is Joe going to get an iron bar? Those bikers will be on him too quickly. Damn, I have to find another way to do this!”. Just don’t stop writing.

    Do this for days, starting from the beginning. Work from memory, do not refer to previous writings. When you have described all events, write the whole thing at least two more times. OK, now stop.

    Once this skeleton of events is made, it can then be draped with the flesh of dialogue, pacing and detailed description, the details of those tasks being explained in later chapters.

    It works, I tell you, it works!

  24. Dear Betsy;

    I just came across your blog in my never ending attempt to not finish my latest project-cookbook, so your entry about dillentante hit home hard. I can’t even focus enough to finish a magazine anymore. Seven projects started, full time job as prosecutor-researching the agent/editor/publishing time space continuum in a three week effort to avoid writing my cookbook-you said it best, its FEBRUARY (and I am in Chicago) Anyway, just thought I would introduce myself. I never comment on people’s blogs but I did love reading this one.

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