• THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

    I wrote a book called THE FOREST FOR THE TREES. It's an advice book for writers, though it's more about what makes writers tick. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. I post less frequently now, but hopefully with as much vitriol. Please join in!

    Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I’ve learned one thing about writers, it’s this: we really are all alone. Thanks for reading. Love, Betsy

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It’s Getting to the Point Where I’m No Fun Anymore

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What is summer vacation to a writer? Not a trick question. It’s more time to write. It’s more time to not bathe, more time to stand at the sink eating a sandwich, more time to jerk off, more time to count the headlights on the highway, more time to scrub the tub, to wake up early and stay up all night. You might buy a pack of Marlboro Lights and who could fault you. You might give up on you hair and who could fault you. You might destroy a toe. It’s been known to happen. You do not take vacations even when you take vacation. The world is a sore you need to poke, an engine to tinker. You are nothing, you are everything, this is the sun over Idaho, the clouds in San Marcos, you never picked a fight except right here.

Got any plans?

And I’ve Been Waiting Such a Long Time

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I’m stepping up to the altar and committing to a new project. I thought I wasn’t ready, had trepidation, tried to get people close to me to talk me out of it. They just rolled their eyes. Honestly, how long can you circle the ring, can you watch the electricity snap the wire? How long can you pretend that you’re just tired, burned out, oh the misery, beloved misery. I remember walking up the aisle, my parents by my side, me a step ahead. I was in a hurry to marry my destiny. My husband once said, “you can’t second guess things that haven’t happened.” It sounded good.

How long can you go without writing?

Say a Little Prayer for Me

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This week I got a call from an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a few years. This can only mean one thing. She has a manuscript or someone she knows has a manuscript. I can barely bring myself to return the call.  I can already hear myself explaining how I don’t handle fiction, or not taking on new clients for the foreseeable future, or blinded myself accidentally on a fireplace poker, or threw myself down a flight of cement stairs, or stepped in front of the M5. Turns out she didn’t have a manuscript at all.

 

 

Everything You Love is Gonna Leave You

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I just finished a million page book about one of my favorite poets, Robert Lowell. I’ve read his collected prose, his letters with Elizabeth Bishop, his poems, and yet it came as a horrible shock when I read about his final months, weeks, and his last day. I was a senior in high school when I bought my first collection of his poems, “Day by Day.” I had no idea who he was. I was attracted to the cover and I opened the book to a poem called “For Sheridan.” Thus began a lifelong love of Robert Lowell.

The poem starts:

We only live between/ before we are and what we were

And ends:

Past fifty, we learn with a surprise and a sense

of suicidal absolution

that what we intended and failed

could never have happened —

and must be done better.

 

What was going on in my seventeen year old mind?

 

Get Off of My Cloud

 

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When you’re a writer you don’t get to have it all. You might even get less than everyone else. You have to sacrifice to be a writer. Time, socialization, daylight, sunshine, stability, reasonable goals, human embrace, recognition, hope, financial security, beach body, etc. What you do get: anxiety, therapy, skin diseases, self hair-cutting episodes, insomnia, carpal, weight gain, bleeding cuticles, poor dental care, etc. What is sacrifice, in terms of art? Everything? Nothing?

If you had it to do it all over?

I’m Standing Here Outside Your Door

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I did something today I haven’t done in thirty years. I wrote a god damn poem. I had the first line about six months ago. And the rest showed up today, uninvited, unbidden, nearly unwelcome, I gave this up a long time ago. In fact, the day after I handed in my MFA thesis I stopped writing poetry. Completely. And I didn’t suffer.  Honestly, I miss smoking much more than I miss writing poetry.

What do you miss?

You Always Won Every Time You Placed a Bet

Can you game the system? Write something cynically, just for money, and make a killing? Do you read a bestselling genre novel and think, I could do that, the way some people thinks small children are every bit as gifted as Picasso? I meet a lot of people who believe this to be true, but I’ve never met one that made it work. I know it’s annoying to always hear about passion this and passion that because obviously it takes a shit ton more than passion, but I do believe nothing can succeed without it. And by success I mean cold hard cash, bestseller lists, profiles in the New Yorker, and most important getting so incredibly stoned off your own work, drunk with it, pregnant, mind on fire, the running of the bulls in your brain. That feeling of reaching for the high bar and finding it, if only momentarily, in reach.

What’s your best?