THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is about writing, publishing and what makes writers tick. This blog is dedicated to the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gather here. 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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What happens when your skills as a writer fail you? When you can’t get something to say what it needs to say? When the words fail you? When the plot peters out? When your characters are hopelessly two dimensional? What happens when you’ve written more than 150,000 words and you have no idea what your book is about? What does “about” even mean? What happens when you hit a wall and keep hitting it and you start to wonder why you do this writing thing at all? I’m asking for a friend.

Well East Coast Girls are Hip

I’ve been in LA for the last nine days. Why do I love that city so much, every crumbling bungalow and broken neon sign. I love the palms and cypress, a shock of bougainvillea crawling over a cement wall. I love the cars, the traffic, the fumes. I love the lot where my sister’s directing a film, the fridge filled with Popo Gigio and Perrier, the golf cart, the white board, the stars (I didn’t actually see any, but I feel I did). Even the biggest cliche of all, the Hollywood Sign, moves me in a kind of Tarantino way in that I’m both in awe of it and want to torch it. I wish I had brought my cape and leather gloves. I love LA because I’ve been living the dream in my own mind since I was seven years old.

What’s your secret dream?

I Watch the Ripples Change Their Size

I wish I could tell you it’s going to be okay.Terry Gross will interview you, you’ll win a prize! Your editor will be charming and alarming. Buckets of moonbeams in your hair. Is it hyperbolic to say writing saved my life? Poetry saved my life? That therapy and meds saved my life, but really without all those fucking journals, the pages tufted from pressing too hard, from pressing too hard in general, from wanting to be someone else and understanding that misery and happiness were not opposite sides of the same coin. I wish I could say getting published will change your life, or that one accomplishment or another will be enshrined in the tree of life. I wish I could say ten years of research into insect life will manifest in a garden full or neon green and the quiet sound of continuous crunching. I wish I could take you on a writer’s retreat inside a volcano and wait for it to explode.

Do you write out of pain or what?

The Windows are Illuminated

I’m in LA and can’t sleep. Sort of a Barton Fink moment. Can’t read, can’t write, a mosquito dancing around my ankles. I used to go nuts when writers blamed geography for their writer’s block. You’re not a princess. I wrote the bulk of my first two books on Metronorth, a loud and smelly commuter train where six people would cram into the six seater, their broadway playbills in hand, and yak about how dirty the city is, the portions at Carmines, their kids bringing home college laundry, a rude receptionist at the podiatrist. I worked with an author who needed complete silence. Another who couldn’t work if anyone was home. Another who could only work in cafes with a symphony behind him of cups and saucers, the sound of milk being steamed, the tapping of a small spoon inside a tea cup. Saying you can’t write somewhere is a mattress and a pea. Any restriction is avoidance in my opinion. Unless you’re in LA, in which case it’s totally justified so get yourself an Arnold Palmer and shut the fuck up.

What circumstances do you need to write?.

Ain’t No Valley Low Enough

Someone recently asked me if my clients wrote a lot or had trouble writing during Covid. One writer called me three weeks into the pandemic and said, “I have an idea. I want a contract. If I don’t have something to do I’ll go crazy.” Another client calls every two weeks to describe in detail why she couldn’t write, obsessed with every detail of Covid. But everyone else mostly chugged along, many grateful for their screen and keyboard, their sandbox.

How have you managed and how are you managing?

Now Come and Join the Living

Early risers, midnight writers. The charcoal hours. The deep eddy. The driftwood. The light inside the refrigerator. It’s inky, still, the quiet click. All over the world, crickets are singing. Word, line, paragraph, page. Accrual like paint. This is a long, slow process. The hundreds of days, the one thing you forget on a shopping list, an insult from more than a decade ago. What you wish you would have said and then the world and all its false starts and sad endings might have turned out.

When do you write?

Do What You Want To Do

Do you read book reviews? Do they influence you? How do you find out about new books? Authors? Can you get to your local bookseller. I’ve always been a fan of staff picks. Do you have that friend or cousin or acquaintance whose always recommending a new book? Do you go the library and take out books wrapped in glassine, the pages worn smooth as stones. When you find an author you love do you devour their backlist? Do you read blurbs on the back of books, the first line or paragraph? Author photo?

How the hell do you choose a book?

Dream Up, Dream Up, Let Me Fill Your Cup

I don’t garden, cook, crochet, scrapbook, take photographs, do crossword puzzles, no birding, boating, butterflying, biking or hiking. I like to take walks, go to movies, poke around bookstores and antique stores. I like to scroll. Writing is pretty much all I do. Sometimes I think this is tremendous focus on my part. I’ve been known to spend 12 hours at my desk, happy as a mollusk. Other times, I think I am hugely missing out on life. I mean I know how to walk down a beach, appreciate a sunset or moonrise. Oh, almost forgot, I love to people watch. Could sit on a city bench and do that ALL day. I don’t like to bake but I’m good at it. I’m good at plucking eyebrows. Is that a hobby? Oh, for god’s sake, I play bridge, though I haven’t played since covid. Thank you for reminding me. I guess what I’m saying is I’d rather be writing.

Do you have any hobbies?

You Came and You Gave Without Taking

I can no longer remember the name of the first poems I got published or the name of the magazine that published them. I remember sending them out, individually typed on onion skin paper with polite cover notes and self-addressed stamped envelopes. I remember my two tone Smith Corona with the ribbon cartridges. I remember seeing my poems in the magazine and not feeling all that much. Angels didn’t sing. My parents didn’t suddenly understand me. Young men didn’t flock to me, leave love notes, swing from trees. I think I knew then that getting published was really good, was the goal, but it wasn’t the end. It was a hole on a putting green. A little plastic flag.

How was your first time?

They Sat Together in the Park

When I was a young editor, I signed up lots of writers, many without agents. If I saw a great one woman show, I’d sign the actress. If I read a cool article in an off beat magazine, I’d track down the writer. My best friend at the time loved hearing every detail of every deal and he called me Star Maker. I’d always feign humility, but I loved his attention. Loved the idea of finding a writer under a mushroom or beside a stream and help elevate their work. We’d eat dinner at the bar at the Brasserie at 11:00 at night drinking dirty martinis. We’d walk through the east village, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Sid and Nancy. Holly and Paul. We were beautiful nobodies.

Who were you?