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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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You Are the Song That the Morning Brings

Dear Betsy,
I am a huge fan and I rarely like many people sooo that’s how much I value your presence through your blog. My question: Do you recommend getting “away” for writers?

My book is two thirds of the way through the first draft.  For the final push and second draft, I was thinking I really need to get away from my family for a week or two.   Am I kidding myself?  Will this help or should I be able to write anywhere? 

Thanks a million, NAME WITHHELD
Dear Escape Artist:
This is a fantastic question. I’ve always been dubious of writers who need to sequester themselves to get their work done, and I’ve equated doing so with the “geographic cure” popular among drug addicts and alcoholics. Or, to use my mother’s words, you take your problems with you. Or you can’t run away from them. Or, if you can’t write at your own desk, you probably won’t be able to write on a deserted beach.
But you’re talking about making that final push. Yeah, if you can afford it, I think it’s a great idea if you’re temperamentally suited to isolation. I also believe that being quiet for long stretches when you are deeply focusing on your work is ideal.
When you no longer have to serve up the tater tots, or decline brochures from the witnesses, or spread pet friendly rock salt on the drive, or  Woolite your teenager’s lace bando, or worry about the dog’s glands, or make conversation with the dry cleaner’s wife; when all you have to do is pull a robe around lumpy body and write, take a long walk and figure out how to make a transition that’s been vexing, when you can eat a sandwich over the sink so as not to dirty a dish, when you only have so much time and you are old enough to know how to use it, then, yes, it’s a great idea. But if all you think you’ll do is eat Ranch Doritos and surf porn, you really ought stay home.
Where do you go and what do you do?

69 Responses

  1. I read that Sebastian Junger went to his parent’s house on Cape Cod in the middle of winter to finish A Perfect Storm, and allowed himself to light up the wood stove only after he finished a chapter. I believe I’ve over-romanticized that writing getaway a smidge, but it’s still my favorite fantasy.

  2. I sit on my couch, laptop in lap, and I put down words. If I’m lucky, the words form sentences, and then the sentences form paragraphs.

    One of my favorite writing places: Downtown Disney during rush hour, which means when the place is filled with people experiencing the Happiest Place on Earth in droves. The mass of humanity swirling around is easy to ignore, and provides a pleasant background roar. Or a crowded Starbucks, with someone impatiently waiting for me to get up and give them my seat, but I continue working because I can’t even see them when I’m writing. Or in a cemetery, where it’s just me and dead people.

    Or at home, on my couch, with my feet up and a dog napping next to me. (Not to be confused with dognapping, which is another thing altogether.)

  3. I live in a little bus, so I can go wherever I want to write.
    I get more done when I go somewhere by myself AND there is NO PHONE OR INTERNET RECEPTION.
    Sometimes, I stay at my girlfriend’s, where I usually get almost no writing done. Unless I stay up all night while she sleeps.
    So I guess, for me, it comes down to Less Choices Less Distractions More Accomplished.

  4. This Dorito-baby is my baby. I saw the Ob/Gyn today and there were infant photos everywhere. This is soooo my baby. But only if there’s cream cheese to scoop those Doritos into.

  5. i went to ojai for a month one year and it was amazing. i wrote. i hiked. i didn’t have a tv for a month. highly recommend getting away if you can afford it. but sometimes a trip to a new coffee bar works just as well.

    p.s. saw your book at the San Diego Writer’s Conference. i wanted to buy it, but had already dropped about $750 by that point…

    p.s.s. it was a rough weekend. the feedback i got was not what i wanted to hear, but now i have some better direction. but man, one agent was not nice at all. or maybe she was and i was too sensitive.

    p.s.s.s. i can’t believe i just dumped all of this onto your blog.

    • Buy the book asshole.

      • Wry Wryter, you are the reason I hate people that think they are writers. You assume that because you love books you therefore have an innate intelligence but really You are the asshole of the world. I hope you drown in your own shit.

    • Hey Simone, sweetie, calm down, innate intelligence, nooo… I don’t think so. This business takes more than the arrogance of in-utero talent. I have worked hard, ya gotta honey, if you want to do well. My point ‘asshole’ an endearment actually, is that the one book you didn’t buy, Betsy’s, is the one you should have bought.
      I’ll take the title of asshole of the world, universe, would have been better but drowning in my own shit… innately juvenile.
      PS Glug, glug.
      PS You really are into ‘dumping’ on this blog.

      • um, WW that anonymous comment wasn’t mine. i don’t hide behind my words. you should read my blog sometime to get the full picture.

        i actually laughed at your comment. asshole is one of my favorite words.

        and i also LOVE dumping on blogs. i’m incredibly gifted in that department.


  6. I’m not sure I could write more than about 3000 words per day no matter how isolated I was. My brain starts to fry. I’m coasting on 2k per day right now and that seems manageable. And I do that at home, with daughter and husband and students demanding things.

    • I get a maximum of 600 words on the page. Some of them disordered, some sentences with chinks where the brickwork should be. This takes me anywhere between 2-4 hours.I don’t have a job or any dependents. I do have dyslexia, so I guess that’s where I’m working from, though people tend to tell me I’m asking for sympathy, or that I’m exaggerating if I bring it up. I sit on the sofa or lie on the bed and string what little I can together. The beads feel tiny, my hands too large. Or the clay to thick and my fingers numb.

  7. I go to residencies, (although all my recommendation letters have lapsed and I’ve gotten complacent about applying) or I make my own, in borrowed houses or rented ones, or sometimes in motel rooms, preferably with a view of some water and good coffee nearby. I like the residencies better because everyone talks shit about everyone else at dinner, but the truth is I get more work done when I’m lonely. I also get more work done when I’m really busy, so I don’t think it’s necessary, just desirable.

    • There’s something to be said for not having to look at the dust, the dishes in the sink, the garbage to be taken out, the ring around the toilet bowl, the—you get my drift.

  8. I had a day off last week with no appointments and the rest of hte family was busy, so I thought I’d find a place with a steady caffeine supply and bathrooms so I could do a writing marathon.

    Turned out, the best place was my usual writing spot at home–the barista wasn’t very good, but I didn’t have to pack everything up to visit the facilities, either.

    I wrote for eight or so hours, with a couple breaks. It was amazing (if painful on the derrière). I probably couldn’t keep up that pace every day, but oh, I’d love to try it again.

  9. Really, I think the get-away-to-write is about ditching your little kids and your spouse. Am I right? In order to escape myriad demands and interruptions and t-ball games?

    My last kid is now old enough to want to ditch me, so that’s not a problem, and I finally found a spouse who’s got the man servant gene and brings me tea, so that’s not a problem either.

    Got my wi-fi, my big-ass screen, my coffee machine, my various lubricants. I’m not going anywhere.

    • When my kids were young, I didn’t mind traveling so much for work because it gave me a break. Now that they’re older, it’s different. They’re not home that much and when they are, they can do for themselves (even if I have to remind them). The need to escape isn’t so critical anymore.

      I stay home to write. I mean, I call it writing. It’s time alone that I love. The writing (when it happens) is a bonus.

    • Just curious…..was it the fist spouse or the second? My totally lacks that gene and I get so depleted that I never want to write–or send work out that I have written…
      I work in my office…which is meant for other work..

    • OK – i want to know about the man servant gene too! My husband does not even have the “sympathetic about rejections” gene. There should be some sort of lab test or something!

      • As I said, my husband left me alone at the campsite for five days. Since my story is about my life as a Christian bar owner, married to a recovering alcoholic and God’s restoration of our marriage it was great to spend some time with him there to reflect on how far we have come.

      • Here’s the deal with the man-servant gene. Clues include:
        1. single for a long time while raising kids
        2. primary caretaker for mother, now dead
        3. is nicer to pets than I am

        Seriously, don’t hate me because I get waited on now. I paid my dues with a lot of “bad boys”!

  10. When I feel I am growing into my ergonomic chair, a small change of venue has always helped. I’ve even made the most of waiting in line to pay the water bill. When my ex-husband got remarried in the house he bought just down the street from me, however, I checked into the Windsor Court for the weekend and filled notebooks with sketches for Day Job stuff, several plot outlines, reworked poems and determined that one WIP was actually a Work Indescribably Putrid. Best of all, the staff upgraded my room to a suite when they learned why I had checked in! Best $500+ ever spent.

  11. I try to be nice, I really do. And then I think I’m being mean for trying to be nice, I really do. And then I think that I feel relief from trying not to think. Betsy, I love you because you are so damn good at what you do. I say, inquisitive writer, take Betsy’s advice. She knows what she is talking about. If you can’t write about your life, even in so-called fictional characters, while you are living your life, you probably won’t write. Not that writing is everything. Betsy, I owe you a good licking.

  12. Betsy, I gotta say I love the images you find to accompany your words of counsel and advice. Where in the world do you find them? Do you have a photog at your beck and call, “whip me up a kid in a bowl of doritos” or what?

  13. I go to bed and think about that chapter I should have written and should I go back and put it in, and I fall asleep.

    Did you ever write about people you don’t want to leave?

    And, Betsy, how did the Blod Meridian go?

  14. I took out a USB stick with a MS I started n October. I swear someone fucked with it.

  15. From the end of my kitchen table I have been around the world. I killed Margaret, saved Shannon, loved Deacon, hated Henry, been nice to Caroline, been a shit to Vera, rode Spirit, given birth to Allison and watched Dorothy die. I saw Mr. Middles throw up, Lilly scatter ashes, and I sobbed because Gordon had a brain tumor. We have smiled; cried, farted and dreamed dreams that have made my heart soar. And all of this plus so much more was accomplished in the heart of our home, opposite the oven, near the window, and often while my husband had a couch affair with Judge Judy or dozed through Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
    Though life has dealt us a quiet home now I can write on a Jersey-Divider in the middle of The Cross Bronx Expressway. And I don’t mean graffiti.

  16. Since I was never able to leave home due to small kids (at the time) and a family-owned business, I wrote the majority of my book sitting in hard plastic booths at either McDonald’s or Peter Piper Pizza while my kids played in the play areas attached. I can’t write with a little noise but I can write with a lot of noise.

  17. No to eating over the sink. Use a plate. You’re worth it! (TM L’oreal)

  18. “Where do you go and what do you do?”

    I go to my study and I shut the door. I write. I read. I write. I do my best to ignore the rest of the world and I do irreparable harm to my relationships with friends, family, and loved ones, including my wife, who seems to be on the brink of leaving me. Oh well. Can’t please everyone.

  19. Wait for everybody to go to bed and sit at my desk. Don’t need to go anywhere, although it works when possible. Change of scenery can be refreshing. I think if you’re taking a full manuscript that you want to work over completely, run it through the machine and pull out the essence, a quiet getaway to someplace where you can focus fully over a few weeks and get it done, not only works, but makes for a memorable finish.

  20. I work at home where everyone can get at me. Sometimes, it’s a nightmare, trying to fend them off. And then, when I’ve managed to find some time, it all seems too quiet, so I play music when I write. I’ve tried writing in different places – cafes, parks, a favourite spot in the garden. It never ‘feels’ right. The place that suits me most is at my desk, phone constantly ringing, dog barking, music playing – and trying to fend people off.

  21. I need quiet and no kids in the house, that’s enough. I once told a quiet friend I couldn’t have her stay because I was at the jumping bejesus chapter of my book. I stuck to my guns and it was mean. She hated me but the chapter poured out like wine.

  22. I tried this about a year ago – a friend let me use her riverside cottage. The setting was lovely. Just me, my dog and my laptop.

    I learned a few things about myself. First, as much as I like solitude, I recharge with people. Second, my dog and I are both chickens about anything that goes bump in the night. Third, CBC radio re-plays programs. Fourth, it turns out I do like to cook. Fifth, I write best with noise and chaos close at hand.

    And finally, your mother was right. You can run but you can’t hide.

  23. Betsy, I don’t think I’m trying to be too thinkingish when I tell you that perhaps I think I want to throw up. Have I been reading too much? Is drinking myself to death with Taqiula a bad thing? Please, give me your insight, love, your greatest fan.
    P.F. If I shouldn’t kill myself, I gotta tell ya, I have a story that will knock the fuckin’ Jew outta ya. Let me tell ya. let me know, babe. I get ya, I’m with ya.

    • Hi, Jeff. Haven’t seen you around lately. I’m guessing you were inside and now you’re on the outs again. I’m willing to be wrong about that.

      Now, I’m not Betsy and she didn’t send me, but I’m thinking that while only you know for sure if you should kill yourself or not, you might be wanting to find a second opinion closer to home, wherever that is.

      As for drinking yourself to death, yeah, that’s a bad thing. I tried it myself. It’s a waste of time and money. If you’re going to off yourself, either get on with it or get over it. That’s harsh, yeah, I know. But there it is.

      When you sober up I bet you’ll be a kick-ass writer.

      • That’s a nice thing to say. I’m assuming you meant me. It’s not often said. In fact, you may be only the second. The first person who called me a mensch was David Carradine. Yes, I’m blatantly dropping his name now, which probably diminishes my menschlichkeit. I was his bartender one summer. I can see the book now: “The Summer I was Kung-Fu’s Barkeep.” But there’s not much to tell. I know how to structure the story to make a muchness out of its meagerness, but the true parts are trivial so it would have to be fiction. ‘Sides, I was pretty drunk that summer. Quality margaritas, made with Cuervo Gold and Grand Marnier. Makes my mouth water just to think of them. But that was thirty years ago. Hand me down my cane, fasten on my hearing aid, beware my rancid flatulence, ’tis time for me to go. So to speak.

  24. The writing gets done in one place, unless I’m travelling. But many of the ideas come from being out and about. The people, sights, sounds, smells, textures, usually start out there.

    There is one other place, though. A garage next to a cottage, with a director’s chair and a tray table for the laptop and a thermos of coffee. At first light, in the spring, when the birds are rowdy, and 9 a.m. is late.

    • Where else can we read your words? You’re like our dear Catherine, above. Such a soothing voice. I always feel so calmed.

  25. I like long stretches of hours but during the work year can manage one or two hours. I try to go to a residency every year for week or two or three which is ideal. I stay pretty much sequestered except for dinner and walks, and can write well under those conditions. Sometimes I borrow an empty house. I need quiet the more I do this–no more writing in Starbuck’s, sadly. Can only revise there.

  26. I quite agree. I forget who it was – possibly C P Snow – who said that if a writer needs to write in perfect peace in a green room at 70 degrees (or something similar) then one has not much hope of his art. Getting away can be useful but only for odd moments in the writing journey – to get anything done, writing needs to be a daily act

  27. I go into my plum room, or sit in my estate-sale chair by the window, but one time, I went to Martha’s Vineyard in the off-season (November) for an entire month alone in a wonderful house and spent the days alone, writing in the mornings, then walking or wandering or taking yoga classes in obscure church basements; and the evenings I spent with a friend who also was there in the off season, relaxing after finishing her Ph.D. in astrophysics.

    And I also watched reruns of “Beverly Hills 90210” at 5 p.m. every day.

    Perfect. Because I discovered I had it in me.

  28. Both times I went to a conference about forty five minutes away from home, my wife thought it was the perfect time for her to pack up the kid and visit her mother in law a few states away. Last time she told me I should get a hotel room near the conference before she packed up. Some of us are lucky to be able to get away, but I feel truly blessed to have a wife who will desert me when she knows I’d be ignoring her anyway. That, friends, is what I call love.

  29. I can write through sibling MMA matches (Don’t make me go up there!), the codependent cat, and a hundred look-moms, but I cannot concentrate through this cold. I can’t sleep. My brain won’t land. I’m broken. Shake me and you’ll hear the rattle.

  30. A number of writing friends have suggested I isolate myself for a few days to see what happens…see if all the words that spew from my mouth might land on the page if there was no one there to listen to me babble. Though the prospect of being all alone in a room with my dread and no end in sight gives me diarrhea and pit stains.

  31. For years I’ve thought about building a small cabin on our back woodlot, about 1/2 mile from the nearest road and bordering on wild, state protected forest. No electricity and furnished simply with a woodstove, propane light, a comfortable chair, small desk and a cabinet stocked with pads, pens, pencils (for when the ink freezes in the pens), pipe and buds and maybe a small flask of bourbon. I haven’t done it yet, but someday….. I know the proposed building site well, near a large, glacier deposited, thick moss covered boulder, surrounded by large balsam firs and many young (20 – 30 year old) maple and cherry trees. For now, I write when I can, late at night or during stolen moments at work, the latter being not the easiest place to concentrate and focus, focus, focus.

  32. In mid October I’m going to Djerassi for a month–first time away from home to write. Wrote my first book on the back porch listening to the dryer roll and ping. My second deserves a vacation.

  33. In November of last year I took a week away from my business and my husband and I parked our toyhauler at a wonderful campgrounds fifty minutes from our house. My husband spent two nights with me and we enjoyed a ride on our Harley despite the rain.Then he left me alone for five days. With our bike removed from the back of our trailer I set up my office with my laptop, printer, and everything else I needed to get to work. With the back of the trailer open I had a beautiful view of the Redwoods and I wrote 13 to 15 hours a day. I finished the memoir I had been working on for five years and it was a glorious feeling. I’ve finished my second draft and am going back to my new favorite spot in March to do a third. I’m a solitary writer that needs peace and quiet. We’re all built differently but if you’re like me I think a little get away will give you the push you need to finish your book.
    Go for it and God Bless, Cat

  34. I contemplate what I’m going to put down into words as I hike the mile through the woods or along the lake shore I’m have to take to get to my truck to then drive to work. (I live on an island, off the grid.)
    Then each week I have one or two writing days to put down those miles of words; hopefully I get so caught up in the writing that I forget to put wood in the stove; that is at least until I begin to wonder why I’m cold – because the house is cold or because I’ve forgotten to eat.

  35. I think the word is “depends”. Not that, it depends on what I’m doing and where I’m doing it. Assuming I’m busy writing, and the sign on my door is ignored, I take notes–full words, no abbreviations. In other words, I park it. When I get back later, I can usually pick up the thread and do justice to the story.


  36. When I’m really into it, I’ve found it doesn’t much matter where I am–the floor, my bed, or the kitchen table with yes, Judge Judy, blasting in the background! I remember exactly the feelings “Escape Artist” is articulating, but it seems that the older I get, the more grateful I am for the warmth and familiarity of home.

    When I’m really into it, I tune everything (and everyone!) out. inspiration most often hits in the middle of the night (Oh, is THAT how I became nocturnal!), There’s something about the awesome silence of the night that nurtures me. And the shower, of course: Warm water, delicious silence, alone to think my own thoughts. (Just need to remember to leave a notepad and pen nearby or I end up with terrible puddles!). I think being alone is a state of mind–sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

  37. When my former editor, #Lynn Vannucci, was bugging me about finishing the first draft of my memoir (still on my hard drive, alas, awaiting re-write), I was on Rhodes following a week-long bike tour of Greece’s Dodecanese Islands and weeks of foreign travel. I bought a ticket to a semi-deserted island where the only “excitement” came when someone caught a big fish: Kastelorizo, where I spent an idyllic 5 days finishing that draft, fueled by Greek beer, Ouzo, fruit and hard-boiled eggs. I highly recommend a change of scenery/getaway for writers in the final stretch of a project.

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