• 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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Sometimes Your Dreams Get Broken In Pieces

I think I’m done with the five part series on fame. It’s all such a mind fuck anyway. There’s no winning the fame game because everything fades. Because someone else will be anointed, crowned, bequeathed, and beheaded. Of the many lies I hear writers say is that they would just be happy to have their book published. That’s like not being asked to dance after you’ve put on your party dress and stood eagerly all night on the sidelines. It’s like being the last girl at the bar, 3 a.m. with your legs shaved. You are the tree in the forest no one heard fall. The nail in your own casket.

How are we to understand this desire to write and the desire to be read. Are they the same or different? Is writing enough in itself. Would you quit if someone told you that you will never be published?

89 Responses

  1. Right on. I totally agree. And I’d still write. Because I’m a know-it-all and wouldn’t believe someone who said that I’ll never be published. I’m hopelessly hopeful.

  2. If I knew for sure I would never be published I would bite down even harder on the hand that feeds me, take names and notes and charge on. Let that lost enerve me unapologetic I would ditch the backup drive and write the bitch down on rotting paper write until I had my own skin in the game until I’d made something that would never die.

  3. I wouldn’t write novels. I’d still write – just more along the lines of observation and personal philosophy. Maybe even some poetry. Not because I don’t like novels. I just wouldn’t have time anymore because I’d have a real job.

  4. Oh look I’m first LOL. I would like to think that I would keep writing even if I knew I wouldn’t be published. I think that it is with me like Edward P. Jones states in his essay WE TELL STORIES that I am doomed to write. Jones states this about writers

    ” We are doomed but perhaps we also tell these “lies,” these tiny fictions, with some hope that at the end of it all, we will have one piece of the larger truth. And we are not noble, just human. We get up to our day, however wonderful, however horrible, as they have been doing since before there were white blank pages, before the blank computer screen, when there were only grunts and hand gestures, and we tell stories”

    It a great piece see the rest at the link below.

  5. My husband once asked me (in just a general kind of way, not about my writing specifically) why publication was necessary, why the writing couldn’t be enough on its own. I actually had a hard time answering this at first. Do we secretly want to be published so people will think we’re smart and accomplished and wonderful? Or, rather, is it like Stephen King said, that writing is telepathy? Because it’s communication, transferring what you feel about the world to someone else? Assuming, of course, your book is capable and strong enough to do so, and don’t we all have broken little darlings not accomplishing what we wished for them.

    To answer your question: Yeah, I’d keep writing. I’m just that much of a cliche. I also want a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere and a creepy amount of cats and tea in my favorite mug and the words coming and coming and coming. So sue me. (Oh wait: I’m a writer. Good luck with that.)

  6. Well, I am always writing one way or another. But as far as trying to get published, I am planning to stop after four, and I am just kind of messing with three and a half and querying a little. And I am thinking maybe Kindle if no one else wants them. I’ve decided to send a few queries defining my work as “mindless fluff with obligatory sex” since the classic form doesn’t seem to be drawing any attention. I, too, state I just want to be read, but I think the writing was a therapeutic thing as I was in a huge manic phase that is kind of levelling out.

  7. Writing is not enough, any more than talking to oneself is enough.

    But publication is not equivalent of being read. Not today, not ever. We write to communicate, to tell stories, to be seen and heard. Publication is a wet dream that, for the lucky few, is remembered in the morning. For the rest of us, writing is an embarrassing mess on the sheets.

    Still, if I were told I would never again be read, I’d flay my soul and pin it to the page, and hope that someday, someone would find it and understand.

  8. I’m writing to preserve the story of a Holocaust survivor. Three others have tried to write about his life before me. One moved away and lost interest. One other was writing a screenplay and the other a biography. Fred put the cabosh on both efforts. Fred died in 2009 so he can’t complain about my writing and I have the essential element required–PASSION! Whether published or self-published this story will become a piece of the collective narrative because we need stories of heroism and hope and to preserve the voice that whispers in our ear…”be kind to one another because every life affirming gesture has the power to change the world.”

  9. If someone told me I would never be published , I would tell them to go fuck themselves, shove that crystal ball up your willing ass. If I Knew that I will never be published, if God himself split the fabric of life open to give a personal chat and told me I would never be published, I would probably give it up. There is much more to this life than trying to change this life for the better. Perhaps, life is already pretty cool, depending on how you look at it , or what you want. That would be the only thing that would stop me. I think writing is too romantic, and too quieting? to give up. I think it has purpose. That’s a whole book in itself, but I don’t write those kinds of books. Betsy! Finish the five days of fame! You must! It’s going good! This is good stuff. (Still don’t have any money to buy your books but I’m working at it. By Christmas! I swear. And other such disheartening things. Love ya anyway. Is that good enough?)

  10. PS. As far as the mind fuck, Yeah, I agree with you, but it exists and therefore, in my opinion, it’s interesting, so I think it would be better to carry it through, or let it carry you, some place. Gheez, maybe I Have been mind fucked. Damn-it!

  11. Hell, no, I wouldn’t quit — I haven’t quit. I don’t accept the authority of anyone who would say that to any writer. How dare they?

    Even if the deity of my choice sent a messenger to tell me that I’d been blacklisted at ever agency, publishing house, and blogsite in the universe and even PublishAmerica and GoDaddy won’t accept my credit cards . . .

    Well, that would suck evil, rotten, septic things.

    But I’d still be telling tall tales, typing scenes and scribbling dialogue, and telling my younger daughter bedtime stories about a peanut-sized superhero who is four-years old (just like her) and has curly, curly hair (just like her).

    ‘Swhat I do.

  12. I WAS told that pursuing a literary career was a waste of time. Despite numerous academic awards for my writing, I trusted this person’s opinion, changed majors, got a different degree and entered the Working World.

    And yet, I still wrote. Wrote in the clandestine moments, on scraps of paper, in inexpensive notebooks. Wrote. For years. Content that would be enough.

    A series of unlikely events allowed me to consider doing more than compiling folders of small jottings and filling hard drive space with verse. The exploration of the literary/publishing industry has been a true blood rush of ideas and possibilities. Often I feel I have rediscovered a hidden, magical, parallel-universe-type place that I vaguely sense was waiting for me all this time.

    Should the fates align and I enter the world of Being Published, that would be wonderful. Yet far more wonderful is finally being true to that particular part of myself that needed expression through the written word.

  13. The desire to speak implies the desire to be heard; so, the desire to write implies the desire to be read. Communication is of something to someone, even if it’s just from the individual to the mind of God, or from the person you are now to the person you will someday be.

    As for being published, publishing’s the easy part. It’s publishing something that matters in a way that matters, that’s the hard part.

  14. The real question is would I believe him if someone told me I’d never be published. And the answer, of course, is no.

    • Never say never. This guy could be a hypnotist or a top-notch salesman. You wouldn’t believe some of the crap guys like that have persuaded me to do and/or buy!

      Sometimes you think that if you just go ahead and sign all the stupid papers they have, they’ll go away.



      Especially if you have neighbors.

      • This is how you end up married to a troupe of thespian gypsies, friend. The more you know.

      • Bethany … please … they prefer to called Romani.

        I don’t regret a single second of the group marriage, at least, until the night they disappeared from my life.

        They were charming, eccentric, and so absent-minded that, on the evening they left me, they mistakenly took all of my things along with their own! I mean … hello….

    • I love your stubborn optimism. Hang on to that.

  15. it’s no secret within myself that i write to get read, and it’s no secret within myself that i want people to think i’m smart and wonderful because i’ve had a book published.

    if i was told it would never happen? i’m stubborn. heels would dig in, i guess. if i secretly believed the teller was right, i might start that band i’ve always meant to…

  16. No. I may change my outlet through poetry or another form of writing, but I need the creative outlet.

  17. I write because if I didn’t, I’d explode and resort to Homer Simpson type behavior. While nothing beats an audience, I’d still keep creating without one. Robbed of artistic expression, I am nothing.

  18. “Because someone else will be anointed, crowned, bequeathed, and beheaded”

    That sentence, combined with the upcoming royal wedding, is forcing me to relive a trauma from a decade and a half ago.

    I’m referring, of course, to Prince Charles and his ill-considered decision to formally divorce Diana, Princess of Wales, in August, 1996.

    Betsy, this is one subject that causes me, at times, to bristle with righteous fury!

    Why? Because, the fact is that in divorcing Princess Diana, Charles breached all royal protocols and made a pathetic mockery of the English royal family’s most cherished and longstanding doctrines.

    If the Prince had only adhered to already well-established royal traditions for dealing with this type of marital discord, he would have simply had his young wife safely escorted to the Tower of London where, after a few days of rest and relaxation, she would have been publicly beheaded in front of 200 or so well-heeled and still-headed onlookers.

    Diana would have been given the same royal treatment that King Henry VIII offered his second and fifth wives, Anne Bolelyn and Catherine Howard, respectively.

    Following her execution, Diana’s severed head would have been held proudly aloft by the executioner. No, not to show the crowd her head (LOL), but show Diana’s head the faces of crowd andher own still ravishing body!

    Most people don’t realize this, but after you’re beheaded you’re not instantly dead. Hell no! Your consciousness remains for at least eight seconds, so you can use that time to finally see what you look like from behind without a mirror, and then, I don’t know, soak up the atmosphere, see if there’s anyone in the crowd that you recognize. I can easily imagine myself seeing someone and then stupidly trying to give him a “thumbs up” signal. D’oh!

    After the initial rush and excitement of all that has transpired, you then face the grim reality that the lack of oxygen really sucks. You die. Your head gets popped up a tall spike for commemorative purposes. Then audience members waddle out the gates complaining about the lack of pageantry in today’s beheadings.

    That is what SHOULD have happened.

    But…. no-o-o-o….. Prince Bonehead Fuckwit of Wales didn’t follow history’s guidelines.

    Instead, the world had to suffer through yet another senseless, unexpected automobile accident.

    As we all know, America’s Sweetheart, the lovely Princess Diana, met her horrific fate in the back seat of a cheap Mercedes being driven well over the speed limit by the hopped up chauffeur of her then current two-bit Egyptian playboy, Dodi Al-Fayed, in that dark Parisien tunnel on that oppressively hot night of August 31st, 1997.

    When I think of how much my world changed on that night — the thing that really gets me so angry is the fact that this was all so unnecessarily out of the blue.

  19. I’ve been dealing with, “what will people think if I don’t get published?” The answer is simple. Nothing. Move on and I will. Just feeling stuck right now.

  20. It depends on what I’m writing, but most of what I write is intended to be read. Being told I’ll never be published hasn’t stopped me yet.

  21. The desire to write and the desire to be published are tangential but ultimately mutually exclusive obsessions

  22. I don’t believe I’ll be published because I don’t believe I’ll ever finish the damn thing. I wish to GOODNESS I would stop thinking that I could become a published (famous) writer, and just read all the time, which is what I love to do more than anything.

    Actually, the reading inflames my writing ambitions. I so want to be a person who writes books that make people laugh, as so many writers have made me laugh.

    Apropos, Lisa Lutz’s latest is out, written in cooperation/competition with an ex-boyfriend, and it’s pretty funny. I get at least one loud laugh per chapter, especially at the notes they exchange at the end of each stint.

    Jasper Fforde’s latest was terrific, too. I have high hopes for Terry Pratchett’s latest, coming soon, although he hasn’t been really funny for a while. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie books still make me laugh, but I think she’s running out of that vein. I want to be like them! (In their prime.)

  23. Hey, I just want someone (everyone) to listen to blab or blog, as the case may be.

  24. I would still write, but I would write different things. My poetry would probably be the same, but the prose would be less polished and more fragmentary. I’m not sure that says anything good about my prose style.

    Writing is enough in itself, in its own way, but it’s not the mindfuck if you’re not trying to get published. Sometimes I like the mindfuck.

  25. If just any old someone told me that I would never be published again, I’d keep writing. If I could see into the future and found out for sure that I’d never be published again, I’d stop writing. Then I’d try to land a job as an agent’s assistant so I could help launch other writers’ work and stay “in the business.”

  26. It’s like singing in the shower–writing.

    Sing away. No one can hear you and it’s lots of fun. I’m not gonna stop. Why should I?

    But my novels and stories I create are to be read. If they’re not read they’re just words on a page.

    What good’s a song that’s written down but then locked in a drawer and never sung, you know?

    A story is meant to be told, shared, escaped into. Even if only one person hears your song that’s all you need, because until then it’s just notes.

    So. I would keep writing. But I wouldn’t create a novel or story if I didn’t try and fulfill its purpose–to be read. Even if only by one other person.

    An unread story is a really sad thing.

  27. I wish I was one of these people who could say I write therefore I am but I am too goal-oriented…still going for the tiny gold star my mother can’t quite bring herself to peel off and stick on my chart, though I am a pathological story-teller, god knows what my verbal word-count is at the end of the day…and I don’t suppose that way of navigating will ever end but if someone said you’ll never be published then the obsessive piece, the insane impulse to dig and dig and dig and cut and cut and cut until I don’t hate it so much would likely go away…to be replaced by the devil knows what –

  28. Give up writing? No, it’s just someone else’s opinion. I think the tricky part is to keep it all in perspective. That and working to improve and tell a better story. I’ve received enough positive feedback to keep going and also know I’m swimming in a very large pond (lake? Ocean???) of writers struggling to stay afloat. At some point I’ll figure out how to hold my breath long enough to swim under the thrashing bodies, around the breaking wave maze of jagged rocks and beyond the storm on the horizon. I’ve already spent time on the deserted island with contrasting loneliness and peace. Leave there forever? No. Thank you.

  29. I would like to think that I would still write. I often tell myself that the work is its own reward. But giving up weekend after weekend to sit in a room by myself and make shit up WITHOUT the prospect of being published, feels a little crazy. Like straight jacket crazy. Plus there’s the very real (very sad) idea that without publication you’re not REAL. That the work, somehow, doesn’t count.

    Still, what matters most is that you live your life as well as you know how. And for most writers that I know, living well means writing. Without it, what’s the point?

  30. Maybe I’d write long, long handwritten letters on beautiful stationery to all my friends and my cousins and my far-away aunt. And maybe I’d get one in return? Maybe not, but I would be read.

  31. There’s that moment when you write and you can’t recall the act of doing it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, there is magic in those lines. It is the quest for that high in writing, when it happens through and outside of ourselves, that makes the writing alone enough.
    It would be great to publish if I could write a piece that was full of that magic, to bring it forth, cut the cord, and pass that baby around hoping people don’t mutter under their breath, “That’s one ugly baby.”
    To connect in the world with people attempting the same feat doesn’t take publishing, it takes faith in people, that art is the goal in whatever form it takes.

  32. no. i’m a capricorn. we’re tenacious bastards.

  33. Although I got no representation, agents loved my pitch for “The Sidewalk Smokers Club,” which began in this fashion:

    “I am an extremely needy person desirous of attention and adulation from people I don’t know personally. To this end I have penned “The Sidewalk Smokers Club,” the research for which has had an adverse affect upon my health…”

    It is only party true, of course. Success in the book game imposes fame and attention requirements. PUBlishing is PUBlic thing.

    But I had come to believe agents feel this way about writers and was looking to grab their attention, because I’m sure wading through queries is a wearisome business.

    In her book, “The Moon is Always Feminine,” Marge Piercy has a lovely poem entitled “For the young who want to,” which closes thusly:

    “The real writer is one
    who really writes. Talent
    is an invention like phlogiston
    after the fact of fire.
    Work is its own cure. You have to
    like it better than being loved.”

  34. […] by Rennie EllisThis week, Betsy has been blogging about fame-what it is, what it does, whether it’s something for which […]

  35. I bought the cabin in the woods. Not within walking distance of the ocean but with a real pretty river flowing by. Blackberries are not in season, but my strawberry patch is producing sweet red berries (too good for jam really).
    Better than imported cheese, there is a dairy farm about a half hour’s drive that makes award winning farmstead cheese. The owner became a friend of mine after I did a 13-part series on his dairy operation—my first claim to fame as a journalist, winning a first place award for agricultural and environmental reporting from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. But awards don’t keep newspapers afloat.
    Y’all are invited to come on by. I’ll fire up the tea kettle and see if there’s any applejack left in the cellar. We can read one another’s stories, published or not.
    It’s not about the fleeting fickle finger of fame. It’s about communicating, at least for me, here in the backcountry.

  36. Even if I never made a dime on it, I would keep writing. But, I don’t write just for me. I need an audience, even if it’s just my friends.

  37. What a series of pathetic posts, culminating in the pretend invitation.

    • It’s true. I can’t help but to wonder if our Betsy sometimes passes her pen onto the nearest assistant. This series definitely lacks her usual punch.

    • I’m midway between Fresno and Bakersfield in the Sierra foothills on the doorstep of the Sequoia National Forest. My contact information is on my blog. If you want to come by just let me know.

    • Rats! As I fell asleep last night, I had a premonition that Betsy’s posts and the comments that followed might have failed to meet um’s standards.

      Um, thank you for providing us with this much needed “wake-up call.”

      I’d be willing to bet that every commenter here has absorbed your rebuke, and now feels both humbled and deservedly chastised.

      I know we can’t delete the past, um, but please know that, in the future, I believe that everyone here will do their utmost to atone for our collective sins.

      I’ve just made a couple of little signs for my computer screen:

      “No More Pathetic Comments!”

      “Don’t invite um to visit, unless you REALLY mean it.”

      • Why is it that the assholes who want to piss on everything never have a real name. Um might as well be Anonymous. Hey, if you don’t like the company or the discourse, why do you care?

      • Teri,

        There is already someone who comments here named, Anonymous.

        And judging by just that particular commenter’s name, I’m guessing that he or she is of Latin or Greek descent.

        At present, I’m … er… hesitant to express where I believe um may be from, because … uh … I’m not exactly sure. (For all I know, um could merely be a premature interjection from a dimwit’s imagination, or lack thereof. )

  38. I only use my assistant to thread my eyebrows, fill up the car and shag my husband. I write this shit all on my own.

    • How much does your assistant make, and how do I go about applying for that job? We’re talking eyebrows here so don’t get fancy on me, right? Please, send me some secret code that I can reply to, or just be simple and sane and e-mail me. I’d work for you. I make $15 an hour driving a truck so it better be better than that, or I’m just an artist and we’ll do business on the other side, or most likely not. But you never know! I might be good! Be well. Be happy. First there was the word. You know how it goes. Or have I been drinking too much?

      • Yikes! I forgot a very important part in my resume: I ain’t shaggin’ your husband. I’ll punch him in the face a couple of times for you, if that’s what you want, but that’s as far as that angle goes. Just to clarify our agreement.

  39. Your analogies are the “shit”…So effin funny 🙂

    I would still write but I would def be less dogged & formulaic about it…I would be free to just craft whatever the hell I wanted to…but I do want someone to touch & enjoy my smooth legs 🙂

  40. I sometimes wonder if the desire has anything to do with either being read or being published, and maybe something more to do with being CELEBRATED. Maybe we think that when we get into print, finally (or again), we are going to get noticed by the people we love. That those people — that tiny circle of people, whether it’s friends or family or lovers or whomever — are finally going to applaud our efforts and say, “Hey, look at YOU! Good job.”

    Or maybe it’s just me that is fuelled (at least partly) by a hunger for validation? (And also a paycheque.) (And, not the least of which, a continuous compulsion to write novels.)

    • CELEBRATED? Really? Doesn’t that sound just a wee bit egotistical?

      I’ll bet that most of the people here would graciously settle for adoration, devotion, reverence, awe-struck allegiance, and the calm self-assurance that comes from knowing that practically everyone you meet is hoping you might deign to scribble them something hot, steamy, and intimate with your magic mayonnaise pen.

      I don’t mean to imply that any of us would object to being celebrated, per se, but we would expect a substantial honorarium to be forthcoming in exchange for an appearance at the celebration being held in our honor.

      It would be crass to discuss figures, but Rutgers University recently paid Snooki $32,000 for a brief Q and A appearance at a pep rally, so you should take that figure and kick it around … exponentially.

      (Have some fun for Christ’s sake!)

      But don’t bother caling unless you’re ready to get serious.

      Seriously, don’t.

  41. If you want to see what a killer book trailer looks like, pop over to Karen’s blog and check it the trailer for her new novel, “What Is Real.”


  42. Thank you, TheOldSchool!


    Maybe it sounds egotistical to you, and I didn’t mean celebrated by the masses and featured in People magazine, I mean celebrated in a small way by people around you. I am pretty sure you missed my meaning. I mean that the bigger thrill (for me) comes from when my family and friends are proud of me than from the publication itself or comments from strangers. What keeps me going is that. I’m sure it’s unique for everyone. Not sure how you got from “being celebrated by loved ones” to “Snooki’s $32,000 Q&A”, which is why I’m assuming my meaning wasn’t clear. I was trying to answer the question honestly: Is it being published or is it being read that matters more? And for me, it’s more an overall validation stamp from the people around me. Egotistical, sure. But isn’t all of it? Being read, being published, being validated, all different forms of ego fertilizer.

    • Oops, not sure where I got the name “Tim” from. Sorry! Serves me right for skimming comments. Sorry, OldSchool. D’oh.

      • Karen,

        Not a day goes by when, at some point or another, I don’t stop whatever it is that I am doing, close my eyes, and utter a silent prayer of thanks to my mom and dad for not naming me Tim. I honestly don’t know if I could have carried such a burden.

        Believe me, David was hardship enough.

        Addressing my response to your comment, you state: “Maybe it sounds egotistical to you….”

        Karen, I don’t see how you could possibly reach such a harsh conclusion.

        What I said was: “CELEBRATED? Really? Doesn’t that sound just a wee bit egotistical?”

        I’m guessing that the road, which took you from my tentative and sincere observation and lead you to your recklessly grandiose proclamation, was long, winding, and twisted. I also suspect that you were either drunk or high on drugs and cough syrup before the journey even began.

        Look, I don’t believe in playing the “he said, she said” game, particularly when it comes to the words that he and she said.

        The most important thing to me right now is the fact that you are OK. Just promise me that the next time you feel the urge to drive that road to nowhere, you’ll call a cab.

        Hell, I could possibly even be persuaded to be your wing man.

        (Yes, all of the services I offer do require honoraria, but the good news is that I accept paypal.)

  43. I want to be good enough so that many people will want to read me after I’m dead.

    I can’t quit, published or not. I spent 20 years trying to quit instead of taking my writing seriously. I can not quit, so I’m finally working hard at it. It’s funny, I just sold my first story, and I feel half pleased, and half tired and suspicious. Not especially excited.

    I want to get to the point where I’m publishing regularly, and I’m not sentimental enough at this point to be all that excited about my own first steps.

    • sc, Please tell me that you meant to say that you hope people will want to read what you’ve written after you’re dead.

      I’ve got no problems with doing that.

      Performing an autopsy on you is another matter entirely.

  44. It’s all very confusing. I just want people to like me, damn it. Does anyone have any cough syrup?

    • Karen,

      I like you A LOT! I’ll track down your books. Read them. And post your book trailer on my facebook page.

  45. Kind of a random thought on fame-seeking:

    Writing is hard work. So is editing. And all the other crap. However, talking about the writing/the book … glorious! Just sitting around, over coffee, gabbing away about inspirations for characters and funny anecdotes about major plot changes.

    And if we got some sort of fame, we’d be getting interviewed all the time, right? We’d get to have coffee and just gab about our wonderful, wonderful work. And people would listen! Not just our one supportive friend (who is a cat), but people. And we could just go on and on about plans for future books while they hang on our every word … never having once to sit at the computer and look at word count.

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