• 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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Ain’t It Hard When You Discover That

There’s no scale, yardstick, measurement or victory lap. No touchdown, gold star, or pat on the back. How the hell do you know if you’re making progress as a writer when you’re out there on your own? When there are no takers? I always tell my writers when I can’t place one of their books that it’s not wasted. That everything you put into every book is like a jet pilot logging hours or a musician practicing eight hours a day. That you’re not the same writer when you start the next project. You’re more limber, more agile, your sentences are more beautiful, your details more telling. You’ve learned a few more licks. That’s what I like to think. That the more writing you do the better you get.

Are you getting better?

12 Responses

  1. “Are you getting better?”

    I like to think so. Or not so much better, as improving in some way. Learning new tricks, this old dog. Staying engaging. Paying attention. Making it worth it. I ask someone to read my work, I want it — the reading of my work — to be worth it — it being the time and attention they give.

    Don’t want to fool myself about it. Don’t want to wake from the dream. Wants in conflict with each other? Can’t say. Hope not.

    Remaining hopeful. What else is there? I’ve given my life to this.

    What else is there? Love? Death? Well, there are those. Could be a movie. Could be a band.

  2. I’m nothing if not honest, and that includes to myself. So when I
    read something I wrote long long ago, i think, holy shit, that’s really good. I wrote that? Where’d that come from? Not sure I could write that today. Words used to come unsolicited. Manna. Now have to stretch for them. Still, I’m nothing if not meticulous, demanding, still searching, still shooting for the mark.

  3. i hope so.

    thinking about applying for an MFA program. it happens every 4 years or so. talk me out of it.


    • Maybe on of those low residency programs would be good if you’re looking for some community, structure, feedback.

  4. I’m not sure. I can’t tell a story as well as I used to and when I look at some of my work, it’s long on description and short on actual prose. Fragments. Clipped. In some cases, this style works, but I still believe to be a writer you have to be able to transcribe the words from thoughts to paper and create a story that flows. Otherwise it’s notes without a song.

    ps — nice Strat.

  5. Yes. I can stare down any sentence until it works.

  6. No. I’ve never been a confident person but I used to have hope, which amounted to the same thing. Now I’m writing bad poetry in my car and stuffing it into my junk journal. So, no. No, I’m not getting better.

  7. Yes. I am getting better.

    • P.S. Here is the best advise I ever got:
      Say what you mean and mean what you say.
      Try it. Really try it. It works.

  8. Better? Sigh.

    Yes. No. I’m not really sure. But probably no.

    Glad we cleared that all up.

  9. Having waited several days to make sure I’m not having a pesky episode, I’ll now publish the comment I wrote, which would have been first on this post, and therefore seen by others — many of whom would not think of me as a real writer. But maybe, Betsy, you’ll read it, and perhaps think about it, and maybe change your thinking a little on what you tell writers whose book you can’t place.
    Or not…

    Yes. I know I’m getting better over time — but not EVERY book is better than the one before. Some are better in one way, not in another. But every year, I write at least one better book than I did the previous year.

    I work hard at getting better, read and study a lot of great stuff about writing, and I learn a LOT from my editors. I do occasional online writing classes, and work my skinny old arse off writing several books a year. Usually three or four, but it varies. (Because aforementioned mental illness.)
    When you get three or four great edits a year, that is a pretty good writing course tailored to suit you.

    I know my writing’s now better, because I have a vague sense of that.
    But also, because we (self) publish it all, I don’t have to guess, and can’t lie to myself either way. I know it’s better by the (many) reviews. Strangers have no reason to lie to me (like my mum does).
    As sales numbers of each book increase, so do the number of reviews and the quality of (some of) those reviews. And these strangers confirm we’re on the right track and improving.

    The editors mostly teach us what we’re doing wrong, and how to do better — while the readers and reviewers mostly tell us what they love about the books, so we can focus on our strengths. Somehow, all that balances our education.

    I think, for many people (obviously not all), those books a great agent likes but can’t place would be better off self published under a pen name, than left to rot on a hard drive.
    Partly because some reader may really need that book. But also, for reasons of Writerly Improvement.
    See, maybe, let’s say seven years ago, my books weren’t good enough to find a home with a “big” publisher — but since then, I’ve written and published almost 30 books, under a few different pen names.
    Each sale of those early ones encouraged me to keep going, each good review helped, an occasional bad review told me where I was going wrong. ( Most bad reviews are just evidence that stupid people sometimes read and review books, in order to prove the Dunning-Kruger effect.)
    Also, money. Every copy those books sold I received actual money. Never underestimate the effect a few bucks has on encouraging someone to write better.

    Today, I believe a “big” publisher would be much more interested in my books. Because (a) my books ARE better. And (b) I have a proven track record of sales. Also thousands of reviews from actual strangers — and almost every book I write goes into the top 1000 in Amazon’s Kindle store for some weeks (without any advertising).

    So these days about 2500 to 3000 people a week buy and read my books. I sure ain’t got no million-selling titles — and my books are not in the book stores in your town or mine. But I know for sure I’m improving. I get paid to improve. And if I did go to a “big” publisher now, they just might take me more seriously than they would if I’d never published the books I’ve written.

    All to say, Yes to the question — but also, in addition to your excellent advice, Betsy, perhaps you might consider suggesting to some of those excellent writers with books you can’t place, to go self publish it under a pen name with a good cover, then sit back and ignore it while they write the next book.

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