• 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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I Want To Know What Love Is

After two years and three months of posting every day with the exception of guest bloggers when I’m away, it finally happened (and I know it happens to everyone and it’s not a reflection of my masculinity), but I couldn’t get it up. I started one post after another and I just didn’t feel it, couldn’t muster the desire or passion or just plain bone for life.

My head is swirling with the comments of the last few days and I don’t where to go with that. Much is happening at work, but I’m duty bound not to talk about projects and clients in play. I’m in the middle of three writing projects and suddenly feeling that a train is about to hit me as I dance on the tracks. And someone said my blog isn’t really about publishing and I feel defensive and wounded. Imagine that! My writing book is about publishing from an editor’s perspective, but the part that people seem more interested in is the inner life of writers. The wicked child and all that jazz. Touching fire! All that matters is release. I think that’s why I write. Bring my roots rain.

Have you ever had this problem?

85 Responses

  1. Hang in there. Your book and your blog are great pick-me-ups.

    As a (slightly) older guy and former member of the newspaper industry (reporter, editor, etc.) who has struggled to find full-time work for longer than I’d like to mention, your efforts have eased the pain.


  2. I only post once a week, so I am not under the same pressure to come up with ideas. Still, I told my husband that all I want for Valentine’s Day is for him to write the guest post he’s been promising.

  3. I can’t get mine down, I have to resist the temptation to play with it all the time, or think about playing with it. We’re talking about writing, right ?

  4. Needing some literary Viagra for my W-I-P. I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.

  5. I’ve never been the hub but I can imagine there is pressure to be at the center. Take a break, if you need. We’ll be okay. Scouts honor.

  6. I don’t know how in the hell you do it. Amazing.

  7. There are always going to be people to say whatever you’re doing isn’t enough, isn’t right, just isn’t. Hit and run comments are all they are. You have written a fantastic book for those who want more. I can only speak for myself, but that’s not why I come here. You write beautifully about things so personal, things that most people wouldn’t tell their close friends no less strangers on the internet.
    You make the world a little less lonely, Betsy, so thank you for that. It is the way you say what you say that keeps me coming back.

    The other day, my husband who doesn’t follow the business end of books, my husband who adores poetry, sent me a link to your blog. He had given me your book for Christmas but didn’t make the connection. One of your posts was linked from a blog that he follows, one reviewing books, dissecting literature that sort of thing. His comment to me was just “Yes.” High praise from him. He didn’t realize I’d been following you for years.

    Yes, indeed, Ms. Lerner.

  8. Dear Betsy,

    Last year one of my writing tutors said I might want to “dip” into your blog. As I said in a post about it, “Reader I nearly drowned.”

    I was hooked immediately by your wit, your way with words, your sass, but most of all your humanity. So I went back to the beginning and read every post and all of the comments. (I realise that makes me look a little sad, but I prefer to think of it as type A) What gumption you had to keep posting for so long when no one was commenting.

    I think you finally got the lurkers to start commenting by asking who they would rather sleep with – Gabriel Byrne or some other guy I’ve forgotten (obviously I would picked Gabriel Byrne).

    So maybe you need to take a break. Or maybe you don’t need to post everyday. You don’t owe us anything.

    But I don’t buy for one minute that your blog is not about publishing. It’s eclectic, eccentric, it’s goddamn ELECTRIC, but at its core it’s about publishing.

  9. But then…you pulled one out! I have been on the once a day plan for a few months now and am always afraid of running dry. I have missed a couple, but overall the schlock keeps on flowing. People do seem most interested in confession and self-exposure.

  10. i think this blog is about the life of writers which by extension is about writing and publishing (and not getting published). it’s about a whole lot more than what to include in a query or how to format your MSS. Thank god, right? (Because we can all buy another Writer’s Digest Magazine.) What we can’t buy are the pretty and ugly details you have the balls to dish up for us writers and wannabes (i use that latter word endearingly as i look in the mirror).

    it’s also about you. and us. for me it’s about inspiration. (and i know that sounds cheesy, but fuck it. i do get inspired here.)

    and just because i’m already going down this road…who doesn’t enjoy a hostile support group with poisonous discussions? if i want empty compliments with lots of, “wow, i love your…” i’ll go to a pampered chef party. sometimes it gets ugly. so do my family thanksgiving dinners, but i still go every year.

    wait—that wasn’t your question. yes, i have that problem all the time.

  11. There are blogs I read strictly for publishing info. And with those, it’s all about–What can you do for me? What do you have to teach me today?

    And there is many, many good versions of that blog out there.

    I come to your blog, repeatedly, for the something (however you what to label it) that you dish out. I’m never exactly sure what’s going to be here when I click over–it’s a surprise. I also don’t know how intimidating the comments section is going to be (but I’m also free to not participate.) But I do know that I’ve read, in the archives, every one of your posts and I realize what I love about this blog is less about the content and everything about your voice.

    You could post your grocery list and I still think your voice would come through.

    Which, by the way, is also why I have a very tattered copy of Forest.

    • Yes! Grocery lists! Betsy could post her grocery list and it would still be the best blog about the publishing biz and I’d read it and Comment and Comment on all the other Comments– because Betsy’s choice of groceries would be the most thought-provoking, intense, debatable, and delicious bunch of foodstuffs any of us have ever seen on the interwebs.

      • Yeah, they used to say that a good actor could recite the telephone book and it would be fascinating. I’d love to hear about Betsy’s trip to the supermarket and every item she drops in her basket. Betsy’s thoughts and the way she expresses them hit me in just the right place. They give me the jolt that I need. Missed that jolt last night!

      • Exactly what I was thinking…


  12. My main problem is that I have an editing project due and all I want to do is write, write, write! I have editors’ block.

  13. “Have you ever had this problem?”

    Yes. Or something similar, if I understand you correctly.

    Now, you haven’t asked for advice, but I used to be a bartender–and it wasn’t for a season, it went on for years–and people do talk to their bartenders. Discuss situations and float ideas, that kind of stuff. You’re sounding a little overwhelmed right now. Is there a way you can take some of the load off, at least for a while? Recharge your batteries? Say “fuck all” to the things that are not really crucial, and do it without second thoughts or feelings of remorse? If people get their feelings hurt, well, too bad for them, right? You can’t help that. No one would expect you to. Anyway, I think that’s what I would do, if I were feeling overwhelmed–and misunderstood, and burned out, maybe, too–just close off those rooms, as it were, that I can’t afford to heat or cool or work in right now, and hunker down on my core activities in the most important parts of the house of myself until I feel the load lightening.

    You’re welcome. The poison is rather pricey, but the advice is always free. And Tipping is not a city in China.

    • Tetman, you and I posted yesterday at the exact same time. Your over the rainbow, my Dorothy in Oz. Now where could I get that ping connect but here. Where, I ask you?

      Reading Betsy and you guys in the morning beats the hell out of reading the news with my coffee.

    • Such good advice.

  14. Three or four of my major passions have died in the last year. I am lost, especially one of them is writing. All I can think of to do about it is get a dog. Well, I can think of something else, but that’s why I always have a pet to be responsible for.

    • Someone once told me that the dormancy of passion isn’t death. It’s replenishment.

      And like seventeen-year cicadas, some passions have longer cycles than others. But when the time arrives, it’s well worth the wait . . .

      Meanwhile, *One step, two step, breathe. Repeat from*

      • Oh, Sarah, this is very helpful. I’m all about the cycles.

      • *Dormancy of passion isn’t death. It’s replenishment.* That is just flat out brilliant. It’s going up on my wall. So that’s what I’m doing so often? Replenishing!

  15. You’re a professional blogger now, baby! It’s not that the well is dry but that there’s no end, that there are a million possible topics but no points on any of them, no twists, no three para encapsulations. You don’t go in for the old standard fall backs, and so you’re bound to scramble.

    What has started to happen to me, after just a little more than a year paid to blog on “women’s views on politics and culture” is that I am finding that after a while, the things that interest me enough to blog on them, and my views on them, tend to repeat themselves if I’m not careful.

  16. Your blog isn’t about publishing–bullshit query letters and bullshit ebooks and bullshit agents–your blog is about writing. There are plenty of blogs for writers who wanna stroke agents, which is what that commenter enjoys, having spent years developing her grip. How to pitch an editor. How to write a query letter. How to minister to the delicate sensibility of our superiors.

    That’s all well and good and banal, but there’s only one blog that admits the possibility that publishing isn’t composed entirely of pixie dust rainbows with sprinkles on top. Re-read the comment. You can judge the quality of the commenter’s mind by his words. Criticism from smug mediocrity is compliment. Hell, I got scolded by someone whose prose would’ve been improved by the use of a smiley. Bask in the glow. Or stop blogging and bring us to our knees.

    In unrelated news, I’m working on a project called “Love Letters to Betsy.” Anyone who’s interested can send submissions to me at askbetsylerner@gmail.com.

    • “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”

      I dunno why, that just sprang to mind….

      Love letter duly sent. Great idea August.

    • Yes. I’m not interested in blogs about publishing–how best to squeeze through a needle’s eye–I stay up late Pacific time for the prose Betsy, the prose.

    • And I’m working on a project called “Will August Be My Valentine?” Because I like my chocolate dark with a wasabi center.

  17. Take a break. You deserve it. Everybody will be here when you return.

  18. Don’t get discouraged. Your posts are always smart and refreshing; they stay with us and make us think. There’s plenty of publishing insight, but more importantly, you give us a persona that we can respect and love.

  19. Sorry to add to your discomfort, Betsy, but coming here every morning is like getting a glimpse of the something shiny I’ve been digging around in subordial crap for.

    • Oh.. perfect. Reminded me of the scene in Freedom where Joey’s looking for his wedding ring. He didn’t have a clue it meant so much to him.

      The digging part aside, the something shiny is always here as far as I’m concerned. If you stopped posting for awhile because you needed to, I’d be happy with all the old posts to read through. Take care of yourself=#1 priority. And it’s obvious you know what love is even on the days you think you’ve forgotten.

  20. As someone with at least three jobs, I get it. There are days I show up in my classroom, start teaching, then stop, look at the kids, and say, “Have I said this to you before?” And then vacation week comes along, and the break leaves me feeling inspired and ready to return. Next week is winter break at my school (which means full-time writing and mommy week for me, but still). Maybe you just need a February vacation, Betsy.

    Thank you for all you do to help us keep the words flowing onto the page.

  21. Yes. Yes I can. I just lie back and think of England.

  22. I come for Betsy’s voice. There’s a raw, diamond glint to these posts, a thrill of reading something that most people only dare to think in the confines and privacy of their own minds. That plus the gorgeous writing. The images, the juxtapositions, the acid wit, the wry observations.

    There’s a style of bath in Japan called a denkiburo which is charged with a low level of electricity at all times. You dip in your toe at your own peril. Betsy’s blog is like a literary version of that.

  23. I really enjoy this blog because you are a writer, former editor, agent etc…lots of interesting perspectives and no b.s.

  24. Sycophants.

    Neediest cases.

    Cranky, articulate writers and wannabe writers.

    Internecine warriors.

    A raw and silent community.

    You have created us. And we will be here as long as you want us to be. We’ll be doing a raindance for your thirsty roots.

    • “A raw and silent community.”

      I don’t come here for the inside scoop on publishing, or posts about How to Write an Attention-Getting Query Letter. You don’t rep my trashy genre and I’m not looking for a leg up.

      This blog is about the inner lives of a disparate group of people, who live rich and silent lives in our own minds. We come here to get a voyeuristic peek at yours, to reveal bits of our own, to get that connected ping Teri mentioned. Yes, we’re flawed and needy, but so is everyone else, including the writers who snivel or preen or declaim because they got 69’d when they were expecting missionary.

      This is what head space sounds like. Yours, mine, ours. It makes perfect sense that we get a little rowdy now and then. You know we like it rough.

  25. 1. Post what you want, when you want. We’ll all still be here. It’s the best playground.

    2. Last week CBS Sunday Morning interviewed will.I.am. They said, Crtics don’t like your music. He smiled and said, If they weren’t Critics they’d be … Fans.

  26. Ms. Lerner – here is a short and sweet response to today’s post. Whoever told you your blog isn’t about publishing has missed the boat entirely. Your blog is about the emotions around publishing; it’s about the people and their hang ups that make up publishing; it’s about life and the hurdles we lowly writers face every single friggin day while trying to make a name for ourselves in publishing.

  27. Fuck them. I’m new to your blog, but the posts I’ve seen have been about the huge world of publishing and all it entails. Just because your view of publishing doesn’t match what they’re looking for, they’re crying foul? TFB. I *love* your posts–please continue and let those not wanting to be on board fall by the wayside.

  28. Sometimes it’s too damn depressing to write. You look at the empty text block and wonder: will anyone ever see this? if they do, will they care? The best way to get over that, i’ve found, is to just keep writing. Write when you’re in the car, waiting for your teenager to finish practice. Write when you’re waiting to see the dentist. Write whenever you can. Don’t give up. And remember – We’re reading. And we care.

  29. Even when you tell us you can’t get it up, by the time you’re done you’ve got a raging…well I think you get the point. What’s so great about you is that you become whatever any of us needs you to be. If we’re virgins, you talk to us real sweet, tell us we can do it, to not be afraid. If we’re published, then you have the experience to really teach us to take it to the next level. But no matter where we’re at, we believe you when you say you love us. And that’s what makes you great. Take some time off if ya want, like so many have said, we’re not going anywhere.

  30. Betsy:

    I have 20 Writing and Publishing Blogs in my Reader. I treasure yours because it is different. Your stream-of-consciousness style helps spark ideas for me and points me in directions I might not have taken on my own.

    Thank you.

  31. keep calm. carry on.

  32. It’s not that your blog “isn’t really about publishing,” it’s that your blog isn’t only about publishing. Your poet’s heart shows us that publishing isn’t just business. And when you get right down to it, even business isn’t just business.

    Your blog is one of the few example of real art, and not just marketing, in this medium. Other bloggers, even successful ones, wish they could be you.

    That said, if you only published once or twice a week, it’s not like we’d forget about you. On the contrary, we might spend more time thinking about what you’ve written, and coming up with better comments.

  33. Oh, sister, this is winter talk. Get a steam and take a break. Everyone I know is overwhelmed right now. Your blog is about what you say it’s about, and you’ve proved your mettle.

  34. Your blog is what it is. A gem. Why angst over labels. I read it for your insights, your words and how you often touch my soul. What more could anyone desire? Keep on keeping on. There just isn’t anyone else like you. And isn’t that grand?

  35. May there be rain and sunshine, cool nights and warmer days, a loosening of the damp earth and nourishing moisture filtering down. This blog and The Forest for the Trees has helped me want to write more, write harder and write better. I know I’m not alone in feeling that. Sometimes there’s chaos, but shit, that’s what happens when anarchists come out to play.

  36. Ah, the self-imposed obligation fueled by love.

    Somehow my working life has become 75% blog posts –some in behalf of clients, some in behalf of my business, and a couple personal writing/project-based. I do know of what you speak, Betsy. There are some days I wake up and want to run off into the woods with a loin cloth and unbrushed hair. I long for the feral days of pre-technology when the term poetess was thrown about like so much fairy dust. Where’s my trusty steed? Where’s my woolen mittens? Fuck needing to deliver my being in 140 character increments. Fuck ahi salads made from butter and garlic premium croutons.

    But then, like an addict, I crawl over to one of the four, yup four, computer screens in my sphere to see what cool picture Betsy has chosen to set off her thoughts.

    So, thanks for that.

  37. Yeah, what CJ and Glasseye said.

  38. Well, fuck ’em, they are so wrong. This sacred place IS about publishing, but not the nuts and bolts crap. It’s about the inner life, the soul of writing. And thank you for that. We all come to you to be inspired and entertained — if you need to go away for awhile to find some inspirations and entertainment of your own, you deserve it. Like someone else said above, we’ll still be here when you get back. Go, find peace, eat a cookie, and come back to us when it’s good again.

  39. That comment got under my skin as well; it was after all an attack on the blog AND its regular commenters. But then I thought about how many people I know IRL who work for or have worked for major houses and agencies who read this blog on the regular and who’ve added their two cents on here. So that was just nonsense actually, that comment. I could give you a dozen names that prove my point; it’s science people

  40. Betsy,

    A man can have an orgasm without a hard on. Yup, it’s true! There may not be penetration, but there’s ORGASM.


    I love, love, love this blog. Please don’t worry about hard-on’s. Just come, and we’ll come, and it shall be a coming.


  41. And another thing: you wanna know what love is?

    This blog is love: love for books, love for writing, love for writers, love for publishing, love for the story that we find ourselves in, the one we call “the human condition.” We all feel it. I don’t know if it’s possible for you to get as good as you’re giving here, but getting is never as good as giving anyway. But we do love you.

  42. I’m reading your book right now. And it’s amazing. And I love your blog – which, it seems to me, is about all kinds of things…publishing is just one of them. And bravo for that.

    Your comment about dancing on the train tracks reminded me of a poem (okay, so it’s one I wrote, but it still applies): Scene of a Boy About to be Killed by an Oncoming Train. Here’s a link, if you’re interested:


    Chin up! You’re doing great things.

  43. You’re doing the work of 10 women! Which is the work of, like, 100 men! Or three cats!

    Sending Piagra! (Viagra for pubishing types.)

  44. Geez, can’t get past fantasies of Gabriel Byrne and Jon Hamm. Thanks Downith and Vivian.

    For me, blog posts are to my wip like coloring pages are to painting a canvas. I’m in awe of anyone who can consistently come up with a Van Gogh no matter the medium.

  45. Hi Betsy,

    If it makes you feel any better, I hit a wall with my blog posts, too, and I’m nowhere near as prolific a writer or blogger as you are. Fortunately I have a young blog and a small readership so I was able to take a break while I figured out where the writer’s block was coming from. I realized the creative flow and ability to hear ‘what wants to come through my, inner wisdom, heart, and hand” were being suffocated by a case of the “shoulds.”

    I just finished reading your book The Forest for the Trees, and I thought I’d check out your blog. As an independent editor, what I most appreciated about the book was hearing about another editor’s perspectives on working with writers to help them with both the textual and “extra-textual” , to use your term, issues. The insights and knowledge that you bring to the book from your professional experience with the publishing industry has also helped me to be more aware of other considerations that I need to pass along to “my” writers. I’ll definitely be referring some of them to your blog as a helpful resource.

  46. You’re the only blogger I read and want to read. There was a cartoon in the NYT years ago, tons of little illustrations in concentric circles, all about things we do to learn about ourselves (something like that). You belong there. You give a lot.

    You’ve also said this kind of thing before (and I’m a relative newbie, lurking included). Sounds like you need a real break. Do as the lovely bartender suggested or at least consider it.

  47. I’ve pretty much broken the BL habit. Sometimes the whining gets to me. Plus blogging both as reader and writer is time consuming.

    But ocassionally I check in to see what Betsy and August have to say. I think that should I, on one of these ocassions, find the blog missing, I would feel a deep sense of loss.

  48. Thank god you’re here! You didn’t show up last night. I woke up at 2 a.m (PST), still no Betsy’s blog. Had I been blacklisted? What have I done?

    I sat at my computer after a few cups of java and a little CNN and got to work on my memoir. When I quit around noon, I had gone from 53,616 to 57,011 words punctuated only by think breaks. I couldn’t believe it. I did some chores and found myself hyperventilating, even after taking BP medicine.

    At 2 p.m. I once again, cautiously checked my email. There you were! Hallelujah! And, after reading the 75 responses above, including the lovely bartender, I am breathing easy.

    Maybe just little breaks, to push panic buttons? Maybe we would all benefit?

  49. I am a loyal lurker, but the time has come for me to make a comment. Betsy, I think your blog is fabulous. I look forward to reading it every morning – it makes me laugh and makes me think! You free the thoughts that so many of us carry around and hold onto so tightly in our heads. This is one of the smartest and most honest blogs around.

  50. A more accurate description would be to say your blog isn’t JUST about publishing. I’ve read through hundreds of sites about publishing, and most of them say the same things about the same topics.

    What keeps me coming back here is you, and everyone above, and what everyone said above.

    And about all the projects going on? Congrats! Post when you feel like it, take days off when you want, and when in doubt, breathe.

  51. I agree with Bonnie Shimko (I knew a Bonnie Shimko once. Can there be two–Bonnie, did you go to Bryn Mawr?)

    Take a break.. Announce a hiatus. Then come back slowly. Who says we have to blog every #%@*ing day? On my blog, I preach “slow blogging”–started by the Slow Blog Manifesto five years ago. Post twice a week, or even once. You know we’ll keep coming back, if only to be snarky….

  52. BETSY–I LOVE YOUR BLOG! Don’t leave! (But if you have to, I understand.)

  53. Stop blogging and I’ll beat you and make you write hot checks.
    It’s love, babay.

  54. Betsy, do what you need to do to replenish your spirit. But this. I am yet another who comes to this blog for, I don’t know, thoughtful stimulating community (I know the community word will make you go “ick,” but there it is). And your blog and you have created this kinky funky thoughtful space where always always always there is reality. Amid all the bullshit in our days we can always count on you to inject a chunk of reality, provocative reality. I have it delivered to my email inbox so I can read it without needing my laptop. And I read it every single day and feel like, ok, now I can start. Thanks for being here.

    And I for one would love to read a blog about your grocery shopping. Not so much for what you buy — interesting enough — but what you have to say about.

    Finally, my spouse now knows you, as “Betsy said…” or “Betsy wrote today…” I don’t have to tell him who Betsy is. I refer to you that often. Thanks then for being here. And take your meds. (Spoken as one who also…)

  55. […] recently posted on her blog that: “My writing book is about publishing from an editor’s perspective, but the part that […]

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