• THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

    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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But What a Shame That All We’ve Shared Can’t Last

I’m an early bird. I have to write before the sun comes up and the birds start their chorus. I can’t touch email, facebook, insta or my latest obsession tik tok. Tik tok is a brilliant name for the platform because you literally hear the clock ticking down as you throw the best years of your life away watching videos of dogs sleeping and middle aged couples trying to lure each other to dance, and firemen who dance to Billie Jean. You hear the sound of your life being drained from you, your mind retreating into a fine bowl of apple sauce. So before that and work and children and husband and my own darn dog needing a walk and water and food and belly rubs, I get up to write. My house quiet, my brain as quiet as it will get. I used to write at night when I was young. I also used to smoke. Writing and smoking was heaven. Of course, I used to write poetry then. One boy I kissed said my mouth tasted like an ashtray.

When do you write?

There is No One Here Beside Me

I hate the expression “you really find out who your friends are”. People say it all the time when there’s a crisis. A death, a job loss, illness, etc. Who comes running with the casserole, who sends a text every day with a cute fucking emoji. (BTW, no friend would do that. There’s nothing worse than “thinking of you” smiley smiley red balloon. How are you doing abashed eyes, kissy heart, puppy, rose. My friends are the people who forget my birthday, who stopped sending cards in the late eighties, who don’t have my back and I don’t have theirs. They’re just people I’ve known for a long time who tolerate me and vice versa. They are the people that didn’t get dropped, cancelled, or quit. Or haven’t dropped, cancelled, or quit me. They are people with whom an intense interest at the beginning didn’t destroy long-term potential like so many. Longevity: is it what it’s cracked up to be? Cause for celebration when a friend moves across the country. Like is as good and in many ways better than love where friends are concerned. Friends are the people you don’t fuck.

Define friendship.

I hopped off the plane at LAX With a dream and my cardigan

Dear DJ:

First, thanks for forking over the $2 bucks for my book and fuck that library for getting rid of it. That is really a slap in the fucking face. Your teacher shouldn’t have told you to give up and keep a diary. She just should have said, keep a diary. Because all you need, or need right now, is like five years of writing under your belt. You wouldn’t expect to be picked for a an orchestra with less than ten years of practice, you wouldn’t perform surgery with less than what 10 years of medical school, you wouldn’t get recruited by the MLB. Writers have to write a lot, and get rejected a lot, and take workshops as you are, if you can stand them. Get feedback, listen to what you don’t want to hear, and keep going. It’s really good to be lonely and frustrated if you’re a writer. Couldn’t be better. Fuck that library. I love libraries, but that hurts.

How long did you write for before you got your first nibble or publication anywhere?

If You Wanted the Sky I Would Write Across the Sky

I’m often asked if getting an MFA is worth getting. Well, if you like to be shredded, if you enjoy alienation, if you welcome debt, if you enjoy spending time in an asylum, if you take pleasure in discovering that poets you once adored are douche bags, if you want your father to disown you, if want to watch your imagination shrivel and your sense of humor dismissed as unserious, if you want a costly useless degree then I would say, you should get an MFA. Go for it.

Curious if any degree you have has helped you.

Am I Hard Enough, Am I Rough Enough, Am I Rich Enough?

I went to the dentist today and there was a new technician. She asked me what I did for a living. You can see my rat brain darting around while she’s going on her archeological dig in my mouth. How to answer? Well, I never say writer. I want to. I wrote a few books. I mean I’m fucking entitled to, but unless you train ten sharpshooters at my head the words do not come out, spill forth, are uttered or muttered or whispered or coughed out. I just can’t say, “I’m a writer.” It would be easier to say I’m a surgeon or a fabric consultant or a social psychologist. And what does she care behind her two masks and Darth Vader visor. I could tell her anything. Finally, I say I’m a literary agent. She cocks her head. Most people haven’t heard of literary agents, so I rush in to say, I work with writers, I sell their books to publishers, I take their first born children and use their blood to make a sign upon the door.

What do you do?

You Take a Piece of Me With You

Sometimes when I’m really frustrated with writing, I get the most intense urge to clean an organize. I suspect this is better than shooting up, but it feels rat-like and pathetic. My little dust up. My mini purge. Today, it was all about the piles, labeling, organizing. There was a little face picking and scalp digging. Fun! Then I found a folder mysteriously titled “Film.” It had decaying articles with movie ideas, or kernels of ideas, or something even smaller than a kernel. A kern? There was an aborted memoir about an older gent I took pottery lessons from. Now there’s a money maker! It had the first tv pitch I ever wrote with my sister Gail (now a famous writer/director in Hollywood, ten years my junior, 20 pounds lighter – so annoying). Then I threw the whole thing out. Then I retrieved it.

Good story?

I Wanna Belong to the Living

I really didn’t want to bring up the whole platform thing, and you’re correct that being a good writer and being a successful internet promoter are two different things. But it’s the wall we’re up against. Publishers want assurances that their authors can get media and sell books. My mother always said there’s more than one way to skin a cat. She also said all cats are grey in the dark. And when in doubt don’t. Shit, I miss her. I remember when this all happened. It was about 15 years ago and I called an editor to pitch a short story collection. She asked about the writer’s platform. I don’t think I had even heard of the term. Was she published in the high end literary journals. Nope. Did she go to Iowa or one of the prestigious writing programs? Nope. Were there any prominent authors willing to support her work in the form of blurbs? Negative. If that conversation wasn’t boner killing, I don’t know what was. I wasn’t able to sell the collection. Did it make me think twice before taking on a person with little to no platform? When I was an editor, I worked for a man who only wanted authors who went to the Ivy Leagues, or worked for the top five papers in the country. Wherever you go, there will be gatekeepers. I guess you have to decide if you want in, what you have do to get there, or if you’re your own gatekeeper. And if those winged monkeys flying out of your belfry aren’t living angels.

Who are you writing for?

Nowhere Could You Get That Happy Feeling

We never talk about it, I don’t want to talk about it, but it’s time. It’s a question every publisher asks an agent when we pitch a book. What is the writer’s PLATFORM. What’s their SOCIAL? How many FOLLOWERS? If Nabokov were around today, I truly hope he’d have a gorgeous Instagram of his butterflies. If Papa was around, I’d love to see him do the dance challenge on Tik Tok. I believe Emily Dickinson would have torn up Twitter. One of my clients started putting pieces of his memoir on Facebook before it was finished. I was apoplectic, afraid that editors would reject the book due to the exposure. Instead, editors started calling me. They were eager to see the manuscript. And over time, thousands of people started following him. And when the book came out, their pre-orders launched the book on to the NYT bestseller list. It was a turning point for me. I saw how a writer could find his audience, one post at a time.

What’s your social?

Girl, Girl, Girl, Girl

I have about sixty diaries from 1976 to the present. They all are variations on a theme: I hate myself, I hate my body, I hate my friends, I hate my shrink. I’m depressed, blue, melancholy, lonely, lonely, lonely. There are the requisite injunctions: write every day, lose weight, accept people for who they are! There are the requisite recriminations: be better, nicer, kinder. Exercise! Meet new people (to hate), send out poems. Go to a poetry reading! I wrote in cafes, on trains, in parks. Mostly I wrote in bed at night in the pre-scrolling era. Smoked and wrote in a steady drumbeat of remorse and complaints. Now, I’m faced with a question: to shred or not to shred.

What do you do with your old diaries?

I Can Never Leave the Past Behind

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Someone once described writing a novel like walking into a forest. At first, it’s a fun adventure, then you get completely lost and have no idea where you’re going, and if you’re lucky you get out alive. Whatever you want to call it, the light at the end of the tunnel, the darkness before the dawn, the serial killer sitting beside you, it’s so fucking hard to write a book. I’ve been midwife, doula, nursemaid. I’ve been personal coach, personal trainer, armchair shrink. I’ve gotten writers into rehab, into therapy, into jobs and relationships. It’s this monster of a thing and it doesn’t even matter how many times you’ve done it. It’s like holding the phone book in your head, or juggling with organs, or biting the head off a monkey. All who enter beware. Okay, it’s not that bad. It’s just a slog and a half.

Where are you in your project?