Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Books: The Forest for the Trees

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers
By Betsy Lerner
285 pages
Copyright 2000, 2010

This is an advice book for writers. That said, I was a little disappointed in that, while the first pages described me perfectly, in the end I came away without really knowing how to get over and around myself in order to move forward. It's long been a problem and I guess I was looking for a magic bullet. Apparently, there isn't one.

The first chapter of the book, titled "The Ambivalent Writer," is me. The chapter starts out like this:

Do you have a new idea almost every day for a writing project? [yes]Do you either start them all and don't see them to fruition or think about starting but never actually get going? [yes]Are you a short-story writer one day and a novelist the next? [maybe not so much but I haven't yet found any other genre than newspaper article writing that fits like a good shoe]

The author goes on in this same vein for most of the first page of the first chapter and into the second page of the first chapter, ending with, "How is that some no-talent you went to high school with is being published everywhere you look? Or how some suck-up from graduate school is racking up prizes and being interviewed in the Arts section of The New York Times?" I have asked myself that question more than once. I think most writers have at some point.

She also writes this in the first chapter:

You have something to say, something you may feel desperate to express, but you have no idea how to go about it. As a result, you are highly impressionable; everything strikes you but nothing sticks. You are volatile and vulnerable, but the energy it takes to quiet the voices leaves you depressed and listless. Every time you hear an author exchange barbs with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, or browse you local bookstore, you think: I could do that. You are both omnipotent and impotent.


All of this struck a mighty chord with me, and I read on eagerly, hoping that at last someone would tell me how to get out of my own way. Alas, that was not the case. The book validated me in that I am not alone, but it did not really offer a solution, unless finding an editor who will hold my hand and support me while I try to find my words is the answer. However, being an introvert who scarcely leaves the farm for groceries, I don't really see how I might go about finding this person.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book and I do recommend it to any writer who has self-doubts or who flagellates herself on a nightly basis because she's not where she thinks she ought to be at this point in her career. If nothing else, it will enforce the message that you're not alone in the struggle, and perhaps this will make a difference.

The author has a blog at the link above where I first listed her name, and while I have looked at it briefly I haven't studied it. Maybe the answer to my quandary is there, but from what I see on the page today, I am thinking not. Obviously it's a personality issue shared by many.

Other personality types also have issues with their writing, and she has chapters for those folks, too.

The second half of the book talks about the publishing industry, explaining what editors want, why books are rejected, and how to make contact with agents. If you've written a book or novella or something and are ready to take it to the next level, that is, out of your drawer, you might find this very interesting. It's an intriguing back-door look at the process.

The author, Betsy Lerner, was a book editor for a long time before becoming an agent. She knows what she's talking about.

But she didn't have the answers for me.

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