• 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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Should I Cool It Or Should I Blow

THE FIRST IN A FIVE PART SERIES: How Writers Sometimes Think

Sometimes when you can’t sell a writer’s work, he blames you, the fault is in the agent or in the literary community whose doors are closed. The fault lies squarely outside himself. Another writer will blame himself, fears he has wasted your time. The fault lies within himself and his book. Which attitude  is more healthy or helpful to the writer in the long term? Does the first writer have the huge ego needed by most to survive the writing life? DOes the second writer have the kind of humility that allows him to see and feel beyond himself. Is the angry writer energized? The guilty writer  deflated? Which one is his own worst enemy? Are both deluded, blind, looking for a toehold of any kind? Does it even matter what we tell ourselves?

Isn’t the big question here : which writer is more likely or better equipped, temperamentally, to go on to write the next book?

32 Responses

  1. I’m hoping that the answer is, “Whomever doesn’t allow their temperament to stop them from actually writing the next book.”

    Because (to steal from and misquote Ann Lamott) I often believe that I’m the turd around which the world revolves. This is not always a helpful attitude, but I’m still working.

  2. I think neither writer is equipped. A writer needs to have a certain fatalism: it’s not the community, it’s not her or her book, it’s just not “the one”. I knew a writer who would send X queries for each book (20? maybe, I can’t remember). If nothing happened, she’d start the next book. I think it was her seventh that finally sold.

  3. I blame myself for not researching the business side throughly enough. For not knowing that all the good feedback that came with a but that turned into a pattern meant the book should have been pulled back and the but adjusted. But I also blame my (ex) agent for not knowing this or not caring or being in too much of a hurry. Regardless, It had nothing to do with the next book,which I wrote because I wanted to, and which is better because of the first experience.

    I think what we tell ourselves only matters if we listen.

  4. Lord, I always blame myself for everything. It’s a major personality flaw. Writers who are of the other variety always surprise me and I’m secretly suspicious about what tender underbellies those expanding egos are protecting from harm.

    But I think both can come around to writing the next one–I probably just spent more time crying and he spent more time ranting.

  5. If you’re not angry, why bother? Humility might be spiritually rewarding, but it’s the opposite of writing. Writing is the act of shoving the contents of your mind into someone else’s face and hoping they choke. That’s humble the way jerking off on the subway is shy.

    But self-blame and humility don’t overlap, do they? Blaming yourself isn’t humble, it’s the opposite of humble. Self-loathing increases with the conviction that you’re the stellar genius around which the heavens revolve. Look at David Foster Wallace; he found himself so unutterably brilliant that he crawled onto an altar and killed himself.

    I blame my agents like you wouldn’t believe, and I blame myself even more. My shit sucks. I know that. But so does 90% of the regurgitated sputum out there, and what’s standing between my crappy books and an advance check? My bullshit agents. I blame them every day they don’t call with an offer. I don’t know. I don’t believe in harmless, inoffensive writers. Maybe they’re quiet, but they’re still looking to stick the shiv in. Does temperament matter, or only desperation?

    • I love my angry little smart ass self. But I don’t read or write angry books.
      Hmmm… maybe that’s the problem.

    • Only desperation. Whatever makes the pot boil over long enough to spill some words onto the page.

      Actually I think the best attitude for a writer is to blame the reading public at large, with rueful head shakes all around: They just don’t get it! They’ve never seen the likes of ME before! They can’t fucking keep up, and I will be beloved twenty years after I die.

      • I think, for me, it’s 150 yrs. after I die, when they find the manuscripts in the box that MSB suggested last week.

  6. If the ego driven writer blames the outside world for not publishing his book then he will probably not send any more books out for publication. He will continue to write and will publish them himself. His big ego will allow him to start up his own company knowing that it will be a huge success.
    The writer who blames himself for the lack of acceptance will keep writing since he is still a writer. After he has gotten over his rejection he will most likely try to improve his writing.

  7. I dunno. I have been trying this thing for an indecently long time, and can’t even conceive of myself as being anywhere near the brink of success. So I would trudge home and try to write a better book, get better critiques, target better. I’d call it diligence rather than humility (so close to humiliation).

    But basic belief – not as towering as Foster Wallace’s – it shouldn’t flinch at this point. Let it eat what it wants, run amok, but get back to the barn and sharpen your instruments.

  8. This is what you call your false dichotomy. A range of writers and books have been failed by their agents and the publishing community, which had their collective heads up their collective asses, and one hopes in each case the owner’s head was in the owner’s ass, but I digress; and another range of writers, good bad and that most successful group, mediocre, has been all humble and shit; and in both cases some of the writers saw the situation accurately and some did not. And the ones who perceived the world and its workings most astutely should have been the best writers, but even that doesn’t always work out to be the case. I think you were having trouble coming up with something tonight my good lady. Me, I woke up coughing due to a cold.

  9. I blame Bob.
    He was the head of the publishing house which, (through no effort of my own), threw an advance at me in 1971, based on three drawings and less than one hundred words and an idea; an idea HE came up with.
    He was the man who convinced me I would be a writing success story. He was the one who said my name would be a household word. He was the man who never, ever, in any way guided me down the path of HIS dream for me. I was left to flounder, to fail, to always wonder what could have been if someone had only helped me remove my naïve head from my ass.
    As I said in one of my quotes which I posted elsewhere last week,
    “Regret is the present criticizing the past”.
    Bob is dead; his dream for me is too. I changed it and made it mine. It’s coming true all these years later.

    • I remember you mentioning good ole Bob before – maybe not by name but something about your story rings a bell. Sounds like he had ego enough for the both of you.

      Appreciate your comment the other day – I just saw it this a.m. That situation was so negative (the shit on shoe feeling I had)…I had to take a break.

  10. Good things happen to bad writers and bad things happen to good writers. Writing is an art and publishing is a business. Of course we need to have big enough egos to believe our work is good enough to matter, how else would we get it written? Of course there are reasons that good work is badly published and bad work is well published. And of course sometimes everyone gets it right, when inadequate work is cast aside and appealing work is published. And then there are all the shades of gray inbetween.

  11. “Writing is an art and publishing is a business.”

    It’s this contradiction that annihilates me over & over. For now, I’m retreating from the fight, in order to write.
    I’m an artist. Period. The end.

  12. I’ve had books that sold and ones that didn’t. I don’t blame anybody for the ones that didn’t. Funny this topic came up today, though. Over the weekend, I was going through old manuscripts. I spent a lot of time reading parts of one that I’d worked especially hard on, but it didn’t sell. After I finished reading I thought well, no wonder.

  13. One time I mistakenly put salt in my coffee. I use a ton of sugar, so it was quite revolting. But unsalted potato chips? Worthless.
    Salt is the ego of the spice world. You just need to know when to use it and when to pull back. Humility is for life, ego for business.

  14. I suppose writers might typically vacillate between the two when their work is ceremoniously kicked through the field goal of life. Neither extreme is helpful though if push came to shove I might lean toward the egotist as more likely to succeed as they seem better prepared to soldier on through sheer cussedness. The self-flagellating writer may defeat himself and retire the field in the ingominious literary equivalent of premature ejaculation. Sitting in a box and proclaiming you are not worthy is stinkin’ thinkin’ and will likely doom you to a world too narrowly circumscribed and ending not with a bang but a whimper. With apologies to Zig Ziggler and T.S. Elliot.

  15. No, it doesn’t matter. Maybe it matters to them, matters which of them avoids sticking his head in the oven. What matters is how good the next book is. Good books have been fueled by ego and by anguish. The kicker is you can’t just magically be either of those people. You have to take yourself as you are. Just write the second or rewrite the first or take up wood carving.

  16. It does matter what we tell ourselves. It matters very much. Writers of either of the temperaments described above “could go on to write the next book” if they told themselves they could.

    Jeez, I sound so Californy and all this morning. What I tell myself when I need to plump up the bolster is that only I can defeat myself. That may not be true. It may be the last line of defense which I do not dare abandon, for if I do, then for me all is lost. I must go on. I can’t go back. I can’t stay in place. I must go on.

  17. A writer who is willing to look beyond him/herself is probably the healthiest. Maybe I place too much faith in agents, but if a book is accepted for representation, that’s some sort of validation. It’s like going beyond dreaming of the sky to entering the first color of the rainbow. There’re still a number of layers/stages to go through before the promised pot of gold appears, but it’s a step in the right direction. Once inside that whirlwind of colors, anything can happen, including getting kicked in the balls by a leprechaun or inhaling too much pixie dust.
    Part of it is the business, mostly it’s the writer, but yeah, you just have to sit down and start on the next one.

  18. I can’t stop admiring the photo of the shoes in this post. Mr. Bojangles, dance.

  19. I agree with some others here…either one could go on and write the next book as long as they weren’t extremists in their particular temperament…

    Which do agents prefer… ?

  20. Insufficient faith or trust in oneself is always a loss for that individual; too much faith or trust in oneself seems invaritably to be more of a burden to everyone else.

  21. Those shoes look like two right shoes, which makes for walking in circles; appropriate i think considering some of the answers 🙂

    • I did not put a fucking smiley face at the end of my sentence. Who did that? I am not a smiley face kind of person. Nothing against little yellow smiling balls but it’s just not me.

  22. We’re a writing team and while I tend to get defensive and angry, my mother is the patient, yet self-depricating one. I’d like to think we balance each other.

  23. Those writers who would spend their time assigning blame would be better off if they either rethink the book in question, accept the fact that the publishing industry is dying, or go on and write another one.

    Ego is the end result of self-centered thinking. If you write for yourself, you will never have an audience of more than one.

  24. […] THE TREES, poses five open-ended questions to writers via five blog posts. The first one’s here.  Then comes the second, the third, the fourth, and the […]

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