The Forest for the Trees

If you can’t start or finish a project, or can’t figure out what you should be writing, or if your neuroses are getting in the way of your writing, or you constantly sabotage your own efforts, if you have had success and are now stalled between projects, if you have too many ideas, or if the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart has run dry, Betsy Lerner can help with her engaging book The Forest for the Trees.

Lerner was an executive editor at Doubleday and draws on years of experience as a poet, teacher of creative writing, editor and agent in writing this book. In the first half of the book Lerner quotes Lorrie Moore, who advises fledging writers to “First, try to be something, anything, else” other than a writer. As anyone who writes knows, writing is not for the feint hearted. We do it, because we are compelled to. We are like Pablo Neruda, who said, “Writing is like breathing. I could not live without breathing.”  Lerner believes, however, while writers are indeed driven, there are a variety of reasons which urge us to take up the pen, reasons which we are not necessarily aware of. By understanding our own writer personality and what motivates us to write, she suggests we will be better equipped to deal with the myriad of difficulties and delusions we face as a writer and be more likely to achieve, or get closer to, our goals. She identifies six general writer types, describing each of them with humour and insight, and suggest ways in which we can make our writing personality work for us rather than against us.

The six types are:

The Ambivalent Writer – someone who has a new idea almost every day but doesn’t ever see it to fruition.

The Natural Writer – someone who shows early ‘natural’ promise but fails to continue producing or finds their work is met with stony silence.

The Wicked Writer – someone who is angry, who wants to kiss and tell and lift the veil on an awful family life or a friend’s betrayal but who hasn’t (or has!) the stomach for it.

The Self Promoter – someone who either doesn’t promote herself enough or can’t focus on anything else.

The Neurotic Writer – someone who worries so much that he or she is too immobilised to write.

The Addict or Mentally ill Writer – someone who is flying so high on drugs or alcohol or is sinking so low into depression that he or she can’t write.

The second half of the book offers a fascinating insight into the brute realities of the publishing and editing world, and provides the novice writer a step-by-step guide into the process of becoming a published author.

The Forest for the Trees is not another how to write book, but a well written, sympathetic and engaging guide for all types of writers, which forces us to “confront our inner dreams, demons and strengths”, by a savvy editor, who knows the ropes and is not afraid to tell it as it is.

My favourite quoted quote from the book is:

I wasn’t the prettiest, I wasn’t the most talented. I simply wanted it more than anyone else.” Marilyn Monroe.

Betsy Lerner writes a great blog where, as she says, she “hopes to continue in the spirit of the book, answering basic questions such as how to write an effective query letter to more complex issues involving writers’ personalities, especially but not limited to their self-destructive proclivities. But mostly, it’s a place to regularly vent about publishing.”

To buy the book click below:

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2 Responses to The Forest for the Trees

  1. Hi Marianne, sounds like a very interesting book. I’m not sure which of the six I am, but fear it may be Neurotic, at least when it comes to fiction! I found the best way around the paralysis for me was to start entering my novel-in-progress into competitions — gave me a deadline and a “reason why”. This technique has seen me finally complete the first draft, and first rewrite, and I am now on the gruesome Major Edit. =:-O

  2. Marianne Wheelaghan says:

    Hi Belinda,
    nice to meet you. It is a helpful book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and the insight it gives into the publishing-agent world is enlightening if you are new to it all. I have a heap of other creative writing text books here which I aim to post reviews on – most good, some excellent, some not so good. But first, I too have to finish the dreaded Major Edit! Good luck with your edit and the book. I read somewhere it is a psycho thriller. Very exciting!!!!

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