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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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May Be Factual, May Be Cruel

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Spent hours on an editorial letter today. I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t figure out how to say it. I got hung up thinking about the best way to make my case. I’ve never given notes to this particular writer and I wasn’t sure how open she would be to “suggestions.” Sometimes I think writing an editorial letter is like drafting closing arguments in which you roll out a series of facts that feed a particular narrative. Other times, it feels like a dance, tentative at first, then more assured. You both need to manage the writer and not manage the writer inso far as you have to be honest. You have to be willing to be the bad guy, the whistle blower, the fact checker, the naysayer. YOu have to say the emperor’s clothes are shabby and ill-fitting.

Can you handle the truth?

 

 

19 Responses

  1. I generally handle the truth just fine. Taking that truth and managing to successfully implement it is often a bigger issue.

  2. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down…

  3. yes. i appreciate a direct approach. i have few problems with suggestions, directions. i’ve learned a lot by being editing and i appreciate what it’s done for my craft.

  4. Betsy Lerner, you frigging rock. To care so much about this writer and her story to spend the time to parse through what will ultimately serve both—the artist and the art? What more can anyone ever ask for?

  5. Delivery outweighs message.

    Good-bad-good, people listen.
    Deviate and some folks shut done, get defensive or feel worthless.

    It’s a fine line we walk when expounding on a persons best efforts. I don’t envy the messenger but I do revere the strength it takes to do it well.

  6. as we say in my biz: feedback is a gift; craft your conversation!

  7. I once wrote what I felt was an encouraging but not uncritical editorial letter to a rock star about her at-the-time unfinished and way overdue memoir. She responded not to me but to my boss, who took me off the project after showing me her letter, the only sentence of which I can remember was, in all caps, “I AM THE ARTIST.” My psychological acuity is generally keen, but it for sure failed me there.

  8. Mostly, all good, as long as the editor actually just edits, and doesn’t try to rewrite my whole book in their own voice.

    For the record, I’ve tried to edit other people’s work, and am terrible at it. By terrible, I don’t mean Not Very Good, I mean appalling, atrocious, just fugglebugglewugglefucked, really. I am in awe of good editors.

  9. What 2N’s describes above is the “sandwich method.” Give some good news, wedge in the bad, and end with good. I proposed this as a viable solution for feedback on another blog some months back, and some folks stepped up to say nothing should be sugar coated – the bad should be delivered, end of story. (ha, I love it when I drop a pun)

    I thought then, as I do now, okay, and what if you’re on the receiving end of a sharply worded critique with nothing positive to it? Would you wish to have heard something good? I bet so.

    As to how I handle the feedback – I do want truth. And I also realize it’s subjective. Having said that, when someone who’s been in the biz for some time offers up an opinion, there is this thing called acuity, and being a subject matter expert, so to speak. At some point, a writer has to be able to receive opinions, and direction, and understand it’s in good faith towards the work.

  10. Depends. How good the editor is, after all. Once an editor attempted to channel my book into to a “how-to” configuration and I was appalled. Different format for a different audience—she just didn’t get it. Or me. I chucked her misbegotten letter and laughed. Do I need to be coddled? Not at all. But I do appreciate good perspective and commentary, and some consideration for the toil and sweat and heart that has gone into a project.

  11. Not so long ago my ex agent/editor, from a cool NYC boutique place, said about my semi-historical mss., “Well, mermaids are the new vampires. Might we work in something like that?”

    True story.
    I am now happily divorced.

  12. Yeah.
    The problem is, the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

  13. There’s no truth in art, there are only opinions. I think writers need to do whatever they have to do to protect the psychological space they’ve built around their work, because without it there’s no room for generative material. I’ve been pretty quick to take suggestions to heart and slower about deciding which of those make sense to me, and I think over time that willingness to be directed has drained my confidence and probably a lot of my interest in writing.

    That said, a good editor who understands the spirit and tone of the work can be a huge help, so long as the writer remains the boss and final arbiter of the work.

  14. Having been edited by Betsy, here’s what I can tell any writer who has the honor: Just let her make a list of what has to be done AND DO IT. Cripes. If you need to feel warm and fuzzy about an edit, you are in the wrong line of work.

  15. Yes. I can handle it. Lay it on me. Spare nothing.

  16. Yes. I learned a long time ago to let the denial and anger and sadness dance around and then settle in order to hear the truth.

    (Someone—maybe famous? maybe in grad school?—said that when a poet shares a poem all she really wants is someone to say, “that is the most amazing poem I have ever read, I must change my life,” but no one ever does. So you accept it and move on.)

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