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    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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We Are the Ones Who Make a Brighter Day So Let’s Start Giving

Last chance to come see me in a dress at the SheWRITES launch and benefit on Wednesday, October 6, 2010.  Don’t wait for the YouTube. I’ve also heard a rumor that August will be there.

I’m so happy. I just got invited back to Tin House Writers Conference for next summer. They didn’t invite me this past summer and naturally I thought it was something I did: was I too good at croquette? Did I insult one of the big name writers? Did  I make a fool of myself on talent night? I don’t think so. Anyway, here’s to 2011 PORTLAND!!

The lady who runs the Adirondacks conference wrote to thank me. She said the “evaluations” were all really positive. Evaluations!?!  I want to see those mother fuckers for myself.   I want to see what those motherfuckers said about me. Ha ha ha.

On a scale of 1-10, how useful was this workshop?  On a scale of 1-10, did the presenter drop names and allude to bestsellers she had nothing to do with? Did the presenter, on a scale of 1-10, sweat her balls off trying to make everyone feel good for being fool enough to be a writer in the first place? Yes, she did. And did she speak the truth? Ruth? And did she find a way to say that you may not be good enough yet, or ready, or know what you’re doing, but that it is your job to keep coming to conferences, and read and write, and find an ideal reader and never stop trying. Yes, she did. Because of all the people there, a few touched her so deeply she wanted to cry for their sweetness and name tags and sincerity and their stories. And did one guy follow her into the parking lot and whip out his manuscript. Yes, he did. That’s what mace is for.

If someone asked you if he or she should quit writing, what would you advise?

49 Responses

  1. If you could, you probably should.

  2. I wouldn’t advise anyone to quit writing. People who express themselves through writing aren’t going to take advice no matter how much they ask for it.

    I lie. I did advise my daughter to stop writing me hate mail. She didn’t listen either.

  3. Take two weeks and read the following books:

    Kindred, Octavia E. Butler
    The Good Novel, Laurence Cosse
    Burning Angel, James Lee Burke
    Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
    Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
    Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
    Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

    THEN….search the web—-because it’s worth the time – and find a video of Faulkner’s Nobel Speech. THEN tune into the following video and dance.


    Then….sit down and start writing. mauvaises terres a traverser

  4. If they have to ask, they probably aren’t really into it. But still, who’s to say if they keep writing they won’t get better? I cringe thinking of stuff I showed at conferences years ago. Fortunately a lot of vague pleasant nods were the worst I got.

  5. Do I look like a career counselor? No, I look like a CPA. And sometimes a hippie. And just before a shower, kinda like the cafeteria lady – “You want one corndog, or two?”
    If you can stop writing, do so. Immediately. If you can’t stop, save your receipts, wear flowers in your hair, and have two corndogs.

  6. A writer can’t stop writing any easier than a “normal person” can stop breathing.

    I IS a writer. Words they is my life.

  7. “I wish I knew how to quit you.” – Jack, Brokeback Mountain

  8. Never Surrender! (Just don’t quit your day job.)

  9. I’d say go ahead. No skin off my back. One less fish in the pond.

  10. Informed encouragement is always appreciated—by anyone for almost anything. I want every man, woman and child who sincerely desires to be a writer to write and continuously improve. That makes for happier writers, happier people and a happier world.

    The same for any creative endeavor that one’s soul undertakes to express itself: art, music, cooking, gardening. . . one does not have to have designed and executed the Kew gardens to be an enriched person for their efforts.

    Thanking a neighbor for the tangle of bright zinnias on her side yard is a gift to the neighbor and the world. There is not much chance that she is going to whip out her landscape plans to win the Rose Society’s top prize the following year—but she may share a nascent dream of having flowers blooming eleven months of the year on the side of the house.

    Culturally, we are so harsh with creative efforts as they are developing and then so very dazzled by creativity that survives our brutality. I suggest we nurture creativity and cease the idol-worship when it survives in spite of our collective efforts to starve and trample it.

    If someone asked me if they should quit writing I would only ask them what other creative outlet they would opt for to satisfy the creative urge within. If they looked puzzled/had no answer/muttered something about joining a faction of discontents—I would encourage them to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. Something important is trying to emerge and defeated regrets are lethal to joie de virve.

  11. Yes, definitely quit. There are a million easier ways to make money and a million better ways to “express yourself.” If you don’t write a book, no one will miss it. If you do write a book, they won’t notice.

    My children are brilliant writers. Am I encouraging them to “be writers?” No way. Go to medical school, earn a real living. Help some people.

    If you want it so badly that you’ll fly in face of all reason, practical advice, and parental concern, then you probably have the nerve to stick it out.

    And heck, if you go to medical school, maybe you’ll turn into Atul Gawande. If not, at least you’ll have something to write about.

    • Don’t some books help people?

      • Absolutely. But aren’t those books porbably written by people who’ve never asked themselves that question?

      • I see your point. But I don’t think that being severely ambivalent about about writing is necessarily an indication that one *should* give it up. That kind of doubt is not exclusive to writers. Why should wannabe writers give in to it? At the rate I’m going, I might have one book written by the time I’m seventy, but if I gave up I’d have none at all.

  12. “If someone asked you if he or she should quit writing, what would you advise?”

    I would say, “Only you know the true answer to that question.”

    Then I would have another drink.

    I would want to say, but would not, “Yes, damn it, please quit. There are way too many writers already and most of them are just mediocre scribblers. Many of them publish their mediocre scribblings and I can’t stand the competition. I want to be the only one who writes and the only one who is read. THE ONLY ONE!”

    Then I would have another drink.

  13. I generally tell people, “If there’s anything, ANYTHING at all that will make you happy other than writing, do that instead.”

    So far it hasn’t deterred anyone. I’m not happy when I’m not writing either.

  14. If someone asked you if he or she should quit writing, what would you advise?

    I would ask what size straight jacket they wore.

  15. Never, never, never quit writing. Scrawl your way through life, dammit.

  16. Why would anyone have to ask someone to validate whether they should quit writing or not? If they have to ask then maybe they should.

  17. The season begins…watch sports as a break from your writing. See how they run? See how they fight? See how they get up again and again and sometimes, sometimes, they win.

    Today Red Grange appeared on the cover of Time Magazine….celebrating for those who love football and writing at http://www.elijahrising.com – an example of what a writer must do when you give up many, many times, but start back writing anyway, feeling soul-depleted. But when it happens, when you write that first sentence, you are whole again.

  18. I’m starting to feel like I may not be a real writer since I have none of the angst and soul-depletion and wishes they could stop that other posters mention. Why do people write if it makes them feel this way? I just don’t get it. Sure, I have (more than) my share of bad days and words no one may ever read but the process is so essentially uplifting and healing, I can’t imagine ever thinking it is anything other than good and pure.

    Happy Release Day, Betsy!

  19. I just signed up for your She Writes event. Good thing it’s on the West Side — my favorite bars are on the West Side, and the LIRR is right there at 34th Street, within crawling distance.

    Not that I intend to have to find my way back to Penn Station on my hands and knees just because I’m getting all writerly and literate for the night. But just in case, I’m not wearing a dress.

    • Dude–
      That’s way too nice. I think only 14 people have signed up so I’m agitating to take everyone for Chinese.
      And I ain’t wearing a dress. And the August thing was a total lie.
      So, I see you doodled all over your contracts. Will have to see if it flies.

  20. Oh, Krishna, I wish I could go to the SheWrites event. Let me know when you’re up on YouTube.

    No, I would never tell anyone to stop writing, even if I felt insanely envious and competitive. I’m a reader first, and the more good stuff that gets put out, the better off we all are.

    Then again, I might gently let them know that self-publishing might be their best option.

    • OMG, my husband’s shopping airfares on Orbitz.com. Maybe I’ll come after all!

      • I just bought tickets and will be flying over New York about starting time of SW. Back into the wolves’ den for a few days. I’d rather be checking out the west side with Vivian and Betsy.

  21. I don’t feel like ‘should I quit writing?’ is a question for anyone but oneself.

    It’s a question I’ve never asked myself in any real way. I’ve occasionally wondered what if I WASN’T a writer but that’s more of a daydream than anything.

  22. If I had an escape clause in my day job, I’d be there tomorrow.

    But this summer’s nearly wide open. The Tin House gig has been on my wish list for a while. 2011 may be the year… unless I convince myself to quit writing, which is always possible.

  23. Hmmm . . . if you have to ask “Should I stop this (insert creative endeavor)?” then you probably already know the answer.

    It’s not doing what you want it to do, on some level or another.

    Are you writing to win the lottery? To appear on Oprah, to quit your daytime job and eat bon-bons? And so far, the people who have read your masterpiece of 10,000 words have all been kind of “meh.”

    Then maybe you should stop, and turn your hand to something that could support you in the style to which you’d love to become accustomed. There will be fallow places; there are always fallow places. But you’ll have the fainting couch to recline on, and sweets to nosh.

    Are you writing because your hair is on fire and the only way to get any relief is to pound the keyboard until your fingers blister and bleed? Would you write like the M. deSade in _Quills_, scrawling on the walls of your cell in bodily fluids if they took away your pen?

    Then don’t give it up–not for no one or nothing.

  24. I have wished I could quit writing, but I’ve never asked anyone if I should. I don’t want to have been told I should quit, when I know that I can’t.

    In any case, I doubt anyone I’d ask would give me an honest answer. It’s like asking someone if you should break up with your boyfriend. If he’s not beating you (and even if he is, in some cases), they’re going to hedge.

  25. I’m wondering if I *should* encourage my son to write. He’s dutifully pursuing an MBA but I find it hard to ignore his raw talent for observation and the written word. Yeah, yeah, every mother says that but he writes stuff that’s incredibly idealistic, pessimistic, tragic and triumphant at the same time. A prof at school has approached him to colaborate on a memoir type project and he’s looking to me for guidance. I’ve always been a bohemian in a business suit. WTH do I know?

  26. One of the things that make the bottom half of my spine turn into the Tasmanian devil and try to rip out of its meat sack, its those smug, almost intelligent sounding, answers that some wanna-be super smart and admired fuck face, which is all they are good for, gives to a question of doubt. Doubt? That’s not cool. Real artists don’t have doubt. Doubt is for losers. They answer with nauseating little one liners like, if you have to ask, you’ll never know. Or, if you have to ask, I think you already know the answer. And other such ultra cool hip artist in the know Bullshit! If anyone every asked me if they should quit writing, I would tell them fuck no! What, are you nuts? Try writing for yourself for a while. And if you smoke, quit. That’ll get you nice and pissed. Quit fucking for a while. That’ll bring it back. Something, anything, but don’t be stupid and let all those schmucks that surround you get you down. Something like that. Glad you made it back from the death trap. I guess it’s not as dangerous as I heard.

  27. Aside from the conferences . . .

    Happy Publication Day!

  28. won’t make it to She Writes, but am seriously considering Tin House 2011, still my all-time favorite writing conference…

  29. What Terre Spencer said, how Terre Spencer said. Gorgeousness! 🙂

  30. Just walked in the door with the new edition of FFTT in hand.

  31. Thank you Terre. And happy to be of even small helpings. 🙂

  32. About that picture of August. Pshaw. My lust is lustier. My picture is more … um … picturesque.


  33. I doubt I’d say what I really think. It’d depend on whom I was talking to.

    What I really think is something like this: First, there are many kinds of writing. Most people who follow this blog are interested in fiction and nonfiction with books and short stories as the main aim, but to name a few others there’s also journalism, screenwriting, playwriting, advertising and marketing (potentially a very creative field, as one of my friends has learned). Beyond that, there’s stuff you write for a relatively small audience, such as blogs, or for yourself, such as journals, which can be valuable as a form of wrestling with oneself and recording one’s experiences and keeping one’s mind in shape. There may be danger in becoming determined to write _AND_ to be published; it’s up to you whether you write, but not up to you whether you’re published or whether you’re “successful.”

    Second, you can write without making writing the only thing you do. Being able to write is an advantage in many other fields and may give you an entire second career. Well-known examples are easy to think of: Atul Gawande, whom someone else already named; Carl Sagan and many other science writers; Wallace Stevens, who worked in life insurance. Some less well-known examples, off the top of my head: Rivka Galchen, who works as a physician as well as a novelist, and Janna Levin, a physicist who has written a novel.

    This may read like career counseling, but I think it’s true.

  34. I am not sure a writer would ask this question.
    I would answer that the choice is theirs, that a writer writes foremost for himself, not for the reader. I would not feel legitimate in answering.

  35. would you quit your music/art/writing for $20 million?


  36. “If you want to write, then write. If you want to stop, then stop.”

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