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

Let’s talk about a subject near and dear to my gall bladder. The way writers talk about their own work. Often they tell me that they think their work is good, quickly followed by a caveat, “but what do I know,” or ” but you’ll tell me.”  Some will go out on a limb and tell me that they think they are better than Franzen or (insert the name of the author about whom you are most envious). Other writers tell you their work is crap, shit, etc., and you are meant to rush in like a wave and banish that thought. Though some, even highly decorated writers, do believe their work is crap, and it is a sign of mental illness. I love it when someone says they are not great, but they are good. And we are meant to understand that good, in this context, is somehow better than great, somehow more real, more honest. “I’m not saying I’m the best,” means “I’m the best.”  “I don’t care if I win a Pulitzer” means “give me a god damn Pulitzer.”

I think how you feel about your work is an extension of how you feel about yourself. Does this make sense or am I blowing more Lerner smoke? Better yet: tell us how do you feel about your work?

73 Responses

  1. I am fucking hilarious, but I am afraid.

  2. I think I am honest about myself. In this “reveal” as have said in your book, I hope that it is *good*, or else I am wasting my time.

  3. I love my work and I never get tired of reading it. (Well, maybe a little when I’m proofing.) But I am in a very small crowd. I love my people. I love their lives. But I’ve already been diagnosed.

  4. Things I know for sure: I’m tired this week. My daughter just ditched her fiance, canceled the wedding I paid for, and moved to Chicago. My steroided-out brother was arrested and his 15 yr old daughter is on a psych hold. My 3 month old puppy loves to get up at 4:30 a.m and play with a toy we call Monkey Man. Monkey man sings awesome songs. Like James Taylor in a plastic box.

    I swear, the harder the times, the better the writing goes. I feel brilliant this week. Next week, we’ll see.

  5. My work is my best friend. It’s where I go to banish to-do lists and the need to retweet stuff or whatever the fuck.

    Analyzing whether it’s good or great or shit tends to fuck with me in ways that brings the to-do lists and the “thank you for following me on the twitter” bullshit way too close.

    Probably, if popular opinion counts, I’m sunk. My work is the thing that’s lower than meh. I don’t know. Today I rewrote a fraction of a scene. Just crawling up the ass of that fraction of a scene was splendid enough to keep me from going back to bed.

  6. I’m a better writer than I am at other things. Like ice skating. And being a good wife. And complex math calculations.

  7. I think my writing is pretty good most of the time, pretty sucky some of the time, and occasionally really sparkles. I’m too tired to be clever right now. It’s been a long day. (That often shows up in my work, too.)

  8. I’m not great, but I’m good.

    My work’s okay. I’ve never aimed high, because I’d rather think of myself as an unrealized genius than a fully-actualized mediocrity.

  9. There are things I tell myself about my work, for good or ill, that would be unseemly for me to share in a forum so open as this. Neither founts of self-aggrandizement nor cesspools of self-loathing need be so publicly exposed.

    I’m a writer like any writer. Sometimes I love myself and what I do, and sometimes I don’t. But I never give up. I suppose that says something.

  10. i’m a writer. i write short stories with an emphasis on character development. in the end, i enjoy writing which is not to say i find it easy. i don’t anticipate making much money but that won’t stop me.

    i’ve been listening to adele’s new album really, really loud. god, it’s good.

  11. Still needs work, but improves every damn day.

  12. Two things.

    First, I’ll just say, I like my work, a lot.

    Secondly, Franzen as a marker, as some kind of standard? I DON’T THINK SO! I don’t care about the critical praise of The Corrections. I didn’t like it and most of it (as with many novels) seemed unnecessary/superfluous. Give me a tight little novel like Coetzee’s “Disgrace” any old day. I believe “Disgrace” is one of the best novels to be published in the last twenty years.

    Keith Hood

  13. I’m a late blooming long distance writer who doesn’t give up, a girl with a good imagination, a strong dramatic voice and much grit. Though I admit to being discouraged, I trudge on the best I can.

  14. I’m pretty good!

  15. my husband just fell dead asleep–deep, loud snoring, crazy dream, don’t know where you are when you wake up sleep–right smack in the middle of me reading my latest column to him.

    that pretty much sums up how i feel about my writing right now.

    • Never judge your writing by your significant other’s response. Never.

      • Agreed. My husband is my best first reader, but it doesn’t always go well. I have a military essay coming out this month and when he read the proofs he said, “Eh, not your best work.” So very casual. I wanted to strangle him.

        Let him sleep and dream away, AmyG….

  16. I like doing it. I don’t think I’m amazing but I guess I’m good enough that I don’t think I should give up yet.

  17. Damn, this is a hard one. How do I feel about my work? Some days I’m proud, sometimes not so much. Overall though, I think my writing is improving as I keep at it. But the whole self-promotion thing is hard. It is deeply ingrained within my psyche to not say good things about myself or anything I accomplish. It would be more my style to say something self-deprecating as to not sound like a braggart. I still have a moment of panic right after I hit “publish” on my blog, even if I think what I’ve written is good. So, in addition to working on writing I’m working on how I feel about my writing. In addition to my day job.

  18. For what it is — illustrated travel memoir — my work is impeccable. And ten times better than [insert name of author I am most envious, who is a ham-handed girly whinge artist by comparison].

  19. Thanks for writing this. I get a bit dismayed by the way writers talk about their own work. I wonder, if you think it’s so bad, why do you keep writing it?

  20. It’s almost there…always.

  21. I don’t have ‘work’ per se but the blog I write is fun in a Mary Tyler Moore kind of way.

  22. Off point: Borders is gone. There is not a book store within 20 miles. Should I open a book store?

  23. I think you summed it up pretty well in Forest for the Trees: I am great I am shit I am great I am shit …

  24. I’m not persuaded that my opinion of my own work matters very much. If people want to read my work — and thank God they do, in my books and articles and blogs — well, woo fucking hoo. I write for others, and the more the merrier. The more people show up, and consistently, the more confidence I gain in my work. Is it good…or popular?

    Hand flap.

  25. Let’s see… At the beginning of my writing life, when a person asked what I did for a living I’d reply, “Oh, I work at ___ and I write and paint.” Now, I answer I’m a writer, artist and I have a day job. Who knows if the writing is better? My attitude sure is and I like myself more.

  26. I write the kinds of books I like to read — stories told by half-grown kids. I think they’re pretty okay. Reviewers have been kind. The writing part is soothing. The publication part — not so soothing — still fun, though.

  27. I suck! Everything I write is soooooo far from what I want it to be. I keep doing it because I can’t shake the feeling that one day it won’t suck. Sometimes, it’s close to not sucking. It kills me.

  28. Dear Betsy,

    Every little vignette you give applies to me. There are the godawful days, there are the windswept operatic days when I hold my words to my chest.

    I think it is better that I never talk about my work. Especially as it is (groan) an extension of myself.

  29. Am loving writing my story, but then it is about me 🙂 (memoir), what’s not to love. It is vastly improved from the rendition I sent out 25 years ago, and is already touching lives on Critique Circle. Since I’m almost done with the first draft, I’m eager to begin re-writing and then sending it out.

    I love your blog posts, they inspire and at times make me laugh.
    Heather

  30. I’m afraid to think about your question, because I think my writing IS better than I am. But sometimes I think it reflects my best self, the one nobody sees in person.

  31. ”I don’t care if I win a Pulitzer” means “give me a god damn Pulitzer.” Hahaha. I’ve found myself in that fake, humble tone before. “I just write for myself as a hobby” really means “why aren’t a million people in love with my blog?”. I think the real concern for a lot of writers is finding a balance between confidence in their work and obnoxious arrogance.

  32. It depends on where in the process I am at the moment. If the writing is going smoothly I’m thinking I’m right in there with everyone else. If it is going really good, I’m moving myself up the ladder to thinking I’m right up there with the top-tier writers in my genre. If it isn’t going well and I’m struggling with plotting, etc. then I’m questioning whether I’ve got what it takes and maybe I’m not as good as I’ve led myself to believe. When it’s finished, I typically believe the work is certainly good enough to sell. A few projects I think are darn right potential break-out books. Mind you, this from someone who has yet to sell a single book. So I suspect that my opinion of how good I am may not jive with the editors who will make the decision to buy me. Thus far it would appear I ain’t as good as I think I am and my work not as good as I like to think it is. To sum it up, I’m a bit schizoid as to my writing. Some days I’m a friggin’ undiscovered brilliant crime writer and other days I’m a pathetic wannabe who has a very unrealistic high opinion of myself. At the moment I’m on a downswing. Rejections will do that to you.

  33. My writing frequently accomplishes its mission, and that makes me happy. Sometimes it is published, and that is rewarding, but since I am not privy to reader response, I don’t get as much joy out of that. When I am finished with a piece, I think it is glorious, but know in my heart that I am in the league of hundreds of thousands of other writers who have the same feeling about their just-finished work.

    No one has ever asked me this question before, and I’ve never had cause to introduce my writing or offer a self-critique of it. I’ve had fun this morning, looking for the answer.

  34. Yup, how I feel about my work is exactly how I feel about myself. Smart, funny, occasionally gorgeous from specific angles, frequently bloated.

  35. If I didn’t think it is good writing, I wouldn’t be submitting. Also, I think of the reader, and how he/she would feel pleased to have read it. I want them to care about my people, and sympathize with all the dumb mistakes they make–just like real life.

    And so it goes. . .

    Webb

  36. My work is pretty good, but, like the shadow monster that chases me up the stairs, the thing that’s always in the back of my mind is that it’s not *exactly* what I wanted or intended it to be. It’s a little less than I meant or hoped for and one of the things that keeps me writing is the question of whether or not I can get to *that* place where my work is just a little richer, deeper, and more complex than it is.

    I sound like a wine snob. Shit.

  37. this is why I don’t talk about my work!

  38. In an industry so driven by the opinion of others, how can one NOT have those moments of self-doubt and timidity? As the rejection letters stack up and the “crab pot” mentality of critique groups opines mercilessly on one’s WIP and one’s family stops asking about It, self esteem will buckle. At least writers seem to be spared the additional, unkind trend of the music world: where physical beauty trumps a quality voice (unless, you are cast as the “anomaly” on Idol…).

  39. I think I’m getting better. Sometimes I read my work and love it, sometimes I cringe. I read writers all the time who I think are much better and also those who are much worse.

    You work hard, you try to improve. Like anything.

  40. Good, room for improvement. The best stories I’ve read intially have me thinking, what the hell, this is simple; I write better than this! But by the end I’m thinking, huh, how the hell did he/she manage to do that? Maybe it’s manipulative, but I prefer to think of it as developement, letting the pieces of the puzzle come together in a way the reader may have suspected, but is still impressed with at the end. Along the way, a well turned phrase, beautiful passages or perfectly crafted sentences allow me to smile with admiration. My goal is to write well enough so the reader is still with me at the end, pleasantly surprized with where the journey has ended.
    Mike D sitting at a computer other than my own and wondering what icon will appear on the screen

  41. Is it possible for a person to accept “disillusioned” as a self-evaluation? Or can that only be attributed to you by another? I am pretty sure I am disallusioned. I think I used to call it “hopeful”, but it feels the same.

  42. I’ve figured out what to wear to the Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay from my best selling novel). It will be black, simple, and hide my body fat with style. I’ll meet Matt Damon. His mother will have made him read my novel. He’ll think I’m hot for my age. The crowd will freak me out so I’ll eat a tuna sandwich in the kitchen with the help at the after party. This will make me seem humble and cool to the press.

    When I get home I’ll throw on a ratty t-shirt and flip flops, give my partner a peck on the cheek, hug my kids, descend into the basement with the spiders and my desktop and my unfinished novels and my short stories in desperate need of revision. I’ll scratch at a scab on my scalp, check for ear wax, read Betsy’s blog, eat half a bag of Fritos, swear I’ll never eat them again and throw the rest away. Then I’ll reread a story I’m working on, laugh at a particularly funny line I wrote, scratch at my scalp some more, wonder if I’ll ever have the balls to send anything out, shut off the computer and start the laundry.

  43. I think writers should be both confident and humble in equal porportions. Neither one nor the other should dominate…

  44. Betsy, I think you have just summed up why I am so uncomfortable talking about my own writing, or even the fact that I do it at all. There is nothing to say that doesn’t feel like pretensious bullshit or a lie. And no matter what I would say about myself on any given day I would feel like an ass later.

    So I don’t say anything. And even then, once when trying to avoid the topic of writing, I was accused of trying to appear “mysterious.” *sigh*

  45. The big goal in talking about one’s own writing is not sounding like an asshole, right? Whatever anyone says, it’s got to be his or her latest technology in making you smile, not a reflection of any real feelings. Is there something a person could say about her own face at the age of fifty that would convince you?

  46. I can tell a good yarn and don’t believe in going lightly on the adverbs just because a few believe the trend is to do otherwise. I like my writing. If not, I’d never have been offered a contract.

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