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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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Everybody Knows This is Nowhere


My Screenplay


I haven’t looked at my screenplay in months. I haven’t exactly been playing mahjong either. The Hose and I wrote our new pilot, I’ve sold a half dozen books, and I’ve gained five pounds. Time consuming! I determined that I would take it out just as soon as we finished the pilot, and that is this weekend. I’m actually afraid to look at it. I actually feel sick thinking about taking it out. I can’t picture anything except Topher Grace pushing himself away from a desk in an Aeron chair. And Marisa Tomei in a wrap-around dress.

I’ve always said that a work in progress is like a patient on an operating table. If you leave it for too long, it flatlines. You have to work on it every day to keep a pulse going. What does it mean to leave your patient on the table? Why does it feel so sickening to get back into it? Why do I sometimes feel I have to “make myself write?”  I fuckin’ hate that. What about you? Do you write every day? How hard is it to get back into once you stop?

48 Responses

  1. I write every day, but lately it has all been trivial little pieces shot off the way an eighteen-year-old boy might compulsively masturbate. I’m a long way from eighteen. It doesn’t feel dirty but it doesn’t really feel good. It’s just to keep in the game, keep loose, keep it flowing.

    When I’m working on a serious piece, I have to be on it every day until I have a finished draft. Then it might spend years in and out of re-write, like a patient with a chronic disease, while I’m off creating other new pieces, which in turn might spend years in and out of re-write. My files are a packed convalescent home for a small town of crippled lit undergoing rehabilitative therapy.

  2. When I get into a groove I may write for 2 or 3 weeks literally just barely coming up for air (and food, always food, preferably something chocolate) until the groove wears thin. After that, I might not even open up a Word document for weeks while I learn how to recover the couch or try out a new software program, paint the house a weird color or order exotic seeds from other countries to plant in my greenhouse or…..

    Then, one day out of the blue, I’ll think about that patient on the tably and ideas will start zipping around my head and I’ll drag out the paddles, yell “all clear” and start zapping that puppy with experimental drug and treatments until it’s not only alive and awake but orgasmic. And then I’m usually in for a couple of weeks of being a hermit until the groove wears thin again.

    I admire writers who say they keep to a strict schedule and force themselves to write every day for specific hours whether they want to or not. Personally, if I have to force myself to do something, anything, the end result better be that I’m twenty (or fifty) pounds lighter or my bank account is noticeably healthier. A few more words on a page enough. Life’s just too short.

    I have never missed a deadline and when it comes to rewrites or something equally necessary, I’m a workaholic. Otherwise, I write when I have something I want to say or that I think needs saying. The rest of the time, I dance. (Metaphorically speaking of course, I may have the soul of a dancer, but I have the ass of a rhinocerous)

  3. i’ve got TWO manuscripts (one 85k+ words, one 120k+ words) that have both flat lined. it’s been more than a month since i gave either serious attention. my method of revival was to print each out, 3-hole punch them and put them into binders that are both now on the backseat floor of my car because i take them back and forth to work every morning convincing myself i’m going to pull one out and start working on a new set of revisions at lunch. they are there every morning so that i have to tell my daughter not to stand on them when she climbs in the back seat. i keep thinking about the guy in that documentary ‘Finishing Heaven’ who never finished a film he started in the 70s that was supposed to be this hugely successful warhol-esque production. he carried the reels of unedited film around with for decades, traveling with it, moving it from place to place. every time i look at those binders on the floor of my car, i see him in his thick black framed glasses fighting with a female who was his long ago girlfriend and the star of the unfinished film.

    thanks, i needed to get that out.

  4. Since I suddenly HAD TO (as in that’s what my brain said) write a new book this summer and do so on a daily basis even though I am not a write-every-day writer, I’m feeling guilty about not writing now which blows. I’d not been writing in my novel WIPs before that because my head was in screenplay mode and I feel completely screwed up because now I have a clear idea of how I want to progress in two of those novels but. I. Can’t. (Do not ask me why; I do not know why.) I dismembered one of them and it stinks in there now so I’m avoiding it. O_O

    The only thing keeping me sane is that I’m still an insomniac which isn’t so much awesome as at least normal for me.

  5. I’m not a disciplined writer. I write nearly every day, but it’s not necessarily the writing I should be doing to finish a project. Lately it’s easier for me to scribble out a short story or write a blog post while I dick around avoiding revisions on my work in progress.

  6. ‘Why do I sometimes feel I have to “make myself write?”’

    Because you have a day job. Otherwise, you’d -always- feel that way.

    Walking away from your half-finished novel is like walking away from your half-fucked wife. Stumbling around the bedroom with your dick out and your pulse up, knowing you started something you’re not particularly good at and didn’t have the stamina to finish.

    Getting back in there is tough. You failed once. You lost the rhythm, you lost the leading edge. But you go through the motions and what the hell: it’s not good but it’s done. She’s known you long enough, she doesn’t expect better than that.

    • August…..wake me up! The last time I lost my rhythm I had another kid.

      • I’m getting snipped, once I have the balls to face this: “Post-vasectomy pain syndrome is a chronic scrotal pain of varying intensity lasting more than three months, possibly indefinitely.”

        A three to ten percent chance of pain every time I come. I asked my wife for sympathy and she said, “I should be the only one?”

        Having one kid is a tragedy–having a second is just mean.

        (No, she didn’t actually say that. And the silver lining is that I’d already have the trailer for my memoir: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_4jrMwvZ2A)

  7. This is the most heartening blog post, and the comments make me feel better too. I always think that I’m the only one who lets things slide, and who beats herself up for it.

    When I *was* writing, I’d do it in spurts, obsessively. I’d go without eating, sleeping, etc. I’ve never learned to be workmanlike about anything except housework, and even then. I recently edited a tiny little video piece for a friend, staying up thirty-six hours to complete it, then crashed for two days. I tend to hole up, too, when working, which is hard to do with a husband around. Add to that no drugs, alcohol or caffeine, whatever would relax me enough to get started or crank me up enough to finish themand I’m bereft of all the good writers’ crutches available.

    I do write almost everyday, if you count essays masquerading as comments on Facebook writing. I don’t think of my work as flatlined so much as in a coma. Or maybe it’s much worse than it seems, and it’s actually in a persistent vegetative state. Either way, I just can’t bring myself pull the plug. I don’t expect a miracle, but as long as there’s life, there’s hope.

  8. like the analogy August…i wasted three-quarters of my day making myself write, sitting in the refurbished attic on a faded red sofa, in my nightgown, cell phone on quiet, all three kids at school, inventing reasons to run downstairs, forgot to take my vitamin B, let the dog in, let the cat out, more coffee, oh and water, don’t drink enough water, stuck now i better read, who best to unstick me? gaitskill, where is that copy of veronica, find it, no it wasn’t veronica, it wasn’t even gaitskill, etc.,

  9. I object to the idea that an 18 year old boy “compulsively” masterubates (see reply 1). A 40 year old man might compulsively masturbate but an 18 year old boy, generic version as envisioned here, necessarily masturbates. Or compelllingly masturbates. Or admirably masturbates.

    Take your pick.

    I also don’t think writing is this way. IT (the work) doesn’t die. We die. Our soul dies. But it can be revived. Like getting your body into decent shape: the older you are, the longer you’ve neglected it, the harder it is. But it can be done.

    He said.

  10. They are my buried children. One has sort of been resuscitated by some interested producers…but I still feel like Mommy Dearest. The other has become a buried step-child…good thing I don’t have kids.

  11. After finishing the 3rd draft of my current novel, I shelved it for 9 months (that is probably symbolic), didn’t even peek at it. Then I took it out and it was like editing a different book, ‘fresh eyes’ doesn’t even begin to cover it! I think it was better to get the first draft out of the way in a couple of months so that I didn’t lose the momentum, though.

    • This is exactly what I do. That rush of excitement followed by a good idea and the need to regurgitate the words onto the page is usually completed to first draft status and then set aside for as long as I can.

      Then when I get back to it, things that need to be changed are obvious and I get to enjoy the experience of reading the completed story as I edit.

      I used to feel guilty when I wasn’t writing something but now I don’t sit down to work on a novel unless it’s impossible to do otherwise. Since I’m so busy and have to multi-task anyway, it works perfectly. And I’ve always got one I’m working on and one on the back burner to go back to when I’m ready for the next draft. This keeps me from feeling guilty and I always have something to write.

      PS–glad you’re back from your trip safe and sound! The mouse thing would have been a deal breaker for me. I’d have rather them told me Sasquatch was prone to making midnight guest appearances. 😉

      There’s something about rodents that sends me right over the fucking the edge. Them and cockroaches.

  12. Complete serendipity what you wrote here. Like Anne Lamott says, I can find a thousand other things to do before sitting down and getting to work. Flossing teeth, writes Lamott, worrying about getting cancer, mucking around in the Internet, all with the constant drumbeat in the background. I’ve tried bargaining, which seems to work: just a page a day, that’s all. Or a paragraph, or whatever….

  13. I try to write whenever possible, sometimes 15 minutes a day, sometimes 2 hours, rarely longer. Sometimes I can’t sleep at night, revise things in my head, think of a perfect sentence, get up, scribble down the brillant idea and fall back to sleep content (there have been times when it’s cold, I don’t want to get up and I repeat the line over and over so I won’t forget it, but it always manages to get lost). When I look at my words in the morning I just sigh and say, “hoo boy, that sucks.” and wonder why everything sounds so good at 3AM. Overall I keep writing because, well, I just love it. Sometimes I have no idea where things come from, but if I hadn’t sat down to write, where would they be?

  14. How many of us go here for a Betsy bite before we start writing? Does that stop the process? Does it help the process? For me, well, I intended to start a whole new book, then I woke up and I hate to feed Pete. I blame it all on Pete….poor fella…arf. That’s done, I came here and got a jump start, and now I begin: “My best friend Pinch was murdered while I slept.”

  15. This is hitting a little too close to home this morning. I’ve been a few days away from my WIP due to travel and feeling a most unsavory trepidation in diving back in. I don’t doubt I’ll be able to use the paddles to get its heart pumping again, but until then…

    That said, in I go! Clear!

  16. There are times i know i have to stop and turn loose of it. But my brain doesn’t stop working on it. If I can forget about it and put myself into something else for a while that is even better. It doesn’t feel dead when I get back to it, it feels kind of new and other and I find myself in it in a different way, and can see things I didn’t see before. For me being able to consciously forget about it for a while is a key thing.

  17. I added an Aeron chair to a scene yesterday.

    I’m an every day writer, and every day, I reinvent the wheel. What helped yesterday is useless today. It’s sort of like that movie, 50 First Dates.

    Not writing makes me feel worse. My nine year old has it figured out. She tells everyone, “Leave Mom alone. She’ll be better after she’s finished this scene.”

  18. I hate writing. Just loathe it. I hate the way you have to do it, one pain-in-the-ass word at a time, pickaxing your way through your first and second and third shitty attemps to get a half-way decent sentence written, and then having to start all over again from scratch for the following sentence. I spent the past two days excavating three passable paragraphs (total word count: 263) and I did not enjoy one minute of it. Except for when I came up with the perfect adjective — “raucus” — and felt so pleased with myself until I listened to NPR and heard the exact same adjective TWICE in one hour. Is “raucus” the new “arguably” and I’m the last to know?

    But since writing is the only job that I can’t get fired from, it’s the one I’m sticking with. One hateful word at a time.

  19. If I can’t get into writing, I save my last few pages as a pdf file and read them like they were someone else’s story. Works every time. Within 30 minutes tops, I’ve opened the actual document to fix one phrase and then I’m into it.

  20. Writing terrifies me; it is my elixir, it heals me, but it also scares the shit out of me–so, no, I do not write every day. When I write I sink into my writing and feel more alive than when I do not write; but I can also circle my writing for weeks, like a crow around a carcass down below. There is nothing that I hate more than writing; and if there is one thing I could say that I cannot live without, it is my writing.

  21. I wrote 3/4 of my first novel, then stopped and didn’t write for a year (we had 3 deaths in the family). When I picked it up again I was terrified that it was dead too. I couldn’t bear to read it straight through, so I went back to the beginning and did a light edit, a few pages a day, all the way through to where I stopped. Then I kept going. It was fine. It was a good book.

    More or less the same thing happened with the 2nd, but without the excuse of trauma. I was stumped over the ending. But after the (too long!) break, I could see it.

    I’m approaching the 3/4 point of the current project and getting nervous.

  22. I don’t have time to write any more. With a full-time job, and two kids ages 5 and under, I just can’t do it. Am I lame?

    • Not lame but I bet you could find a way. I don’t say this from personal experience or any place of judgement (my only responsibilities outside work right now involve happy hours) but I worked with a writer once who wrote her first novel when she was had three girls under the age of ten and was working full time as a magazine editor. She wrote in the mornings and said she loved it and relied on that time to just have SOMETHING for herself. I always think of her every time I feel like I’m getting too busy to write.

  23. I do write every day, not due to any sort of innate discipline but because I’m terrified to stop. I’m hanging by my fingertips on the ledge of a very tall building, and if I relax even for a moment I’ll plummet to the ground. I’d probably let that happen if it meant the metaphorical death of my writing compulsion, but I’m afraid what it would really mean is an insurmountable wall of brick and glass, with me alive and well on the ground trying to fit suction cups on my knees.

  24. It’s like the gym: do it every day and you can keep at it. Once you lose the habit, it’s hard to get back, even though you know you’d feel better if you’d just go.

    Works in progress are like brief relationships: walk away for too long, and I can’t remember what I ever saw in them. If too much time has passed we just don’t connect anymore.

  25. I think to walk away from things when you need to is a good thing but only for a definite period of time. I started going with a month after someone on here said that’s what Capote did. Who was that? Thanks you.

    When I’m on with the daily writing, it’s two hours a day no matter what comes out. And when I’m coming up on a self-imposed deadline, it’s as many hours as I need to get it done.

  26. Sometimes an hour a paragraph often a passage a day in my head I am writing all the time but then in my head the world is mine. The dog doesn’t need to be fed and husbands don’t have heart attacks.

    I m never not trying to make meaning.

  27. two hours a day, minimum. when i’m bored, i write a side piece and that energizes me to complete my primary piece.

  28. I don’t write every day. I wish I was that disciplined but hey, I’m not. I’ll always convince myself that my day job keeps me away. Which is total crap. I’ve been away from my WIP now for two weeks. That is, my fingers haven’t been on the keyboard. But it’s never out of my mind and I have pockets stuffed with random notes. When I’m ready to return, I’ll blow through chapters like crazy and feel all unnecessarily proud of myself. Then the cycle starts all over again.

    • That’s me. too. A pocket full of notes. I’ve found that most of my notes are reminders of what the story is. Some are new plotting or an adding to a character’s character, but most are more like my finger stuck in the hole of the crumbling dam. And then I sit down and blow through a couple chapters. Exhausted, wiped-out, relieved, I don’t feel unnecessarily proud of myself, I know that I am a giant, unrecognized genius. And then, like you, the cycle starts all over again. Time will tell.

  29. I’ve been doing a lot of WIP switching of late, but I find just because you’re fingers aren’t banging out brilliance on a particular WIP, doesn’t mean your brain isn’t sorting through data and creating a file bank of new ideas for other projects, ready to go for when you open the doc onto the screen in a moment of AHA!

  30. This post describes me right now. I haven’t even opened the envelope with the marked-up manuscript that Betsy (yes, our dear Betsy) sent back to me many many months ago. It’s been feeling so much more important to me to be an attentive father than a writer because I’m not confidant I can be both and do the day job as well. Dead project? Possibly. There was a time when I considered storing my notebooks in some kind of fire proof safe because the thought of losing them made me think I’d burn the city down. But now the note- books and my computer could levitate and fly out of the house and I’m not sure it would affect me any differently than clouds moving through the sky.

  31. I write every day, but intermittently. What seems to work best is writing for a couple of hours first thing in the morning (before the doubts awaken and sink their pointy little claws into me) and then again from, say, 6-10 in the evening. My inner editor shouts a lot, but tends to be quieter mornings and evenings, when it seems to be winding down and gives less of a fuck.

    Underconfidence and impatience due to the pressure of near-constant inner criticism seems to be the main sticking point in keeping to a consistent schedule. And there’s the depression, which I’ve been in denial about for a long time–only recently got proper treatment and seem to have it pretty much under control. So now I have big plans to be carried out in small and consistent ways (meaning: I am going to write every day if it kills me).

    Often I write two or three things at once. Well, at least two. Also read two or three books at once, so at least there’s some largely useless consistency in the magnitudes of my distractions.

    Right now I’m trying to learn copywriting. Seem to be capable of writing only about products that are sustainably made and that I like. And when I try to write ads jokes come tumbling out instead. So, yeah, we’ll see.

    My husband works fulltime and I have worked fulltime mostly since I was 21 (I’m 43). This and dealing with some intense and ongoing family issues have made me tired and frustrated, I think. Though the energy is returning now that I’m recovering from the depression. Determined to get through whatever this is. And to get down to it, whatever it is.


    The projects I’m most passionate about are the ones that have been characterized by others as “quirky” and “difficult to understand.” Which is okay. Part of the time I write to communicate clearly. Other times I write what I think, feel and experience to be true–and often this writing is not remotely as clear or straightforward as the former. I like playing with language, being surprised and creating worlds and characters that are colorful and intense. Otherwise I get bored.

    Right now I’m writing in fits and starts due to inner critic stuff–am working on it, applying newspaper to nose, tap-tap–and due to financial stress. When I’m super-anxious about finances, and not contributing my share, I find it hard to focus on giving myself permission to write, period. Same with family issues, when they intensify.

    Blahdy blahdy. Thanks for the opportunity to answer the question! Hope you’re well!


  32. Should have edited that post, sorry.

  33. God help us. One fine day. I know this is a little off subject but I just lost a few more hairs. I started to write up my notes this morning at 1am and being who I am auto-inspired Betsy Lerner’s blog. I don’t even know this girl. I’m a little lame, but hear me out. It just struck me that you can scour the history books of humanity, consult a professor, hold a psychic hostage, but you will not find a time in history where unpublished writers, or under-published, I’m taking a little liberty here, have ever, EVER, been able to communicate like this. Un-fucking-believable. I’m officially in love with people. Un-fucking-believable. I no longer know what to think. So, I’m going to go back to working on my notes. It’s good shit. Let me tell ya. Keep it up everybody!

    • Dude, it *is* phenomenal, but it’s also ephemeral. It could all evaporate in less than a puff of smoke due to some crazy electronic hiccup. Thank goodness she has an actual book out. Everything else on the internet will be lost or forgotten in relatively short order. Even a palm leaf scroll or a graffiti tag on the side of the overpass has more durability than this medium.

  34. Roar where you can.

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