The Forest for the Trees

By Betsy Lerner; Published In 2000
Genres: Language, Writing, Nonfiction, Reference
All writers are like bomb-throwers, whether they attack with dense academic prose or jazzy riffs of stream-of-consciousness writing.

But editors are still the world's readers. And thus the eyes of the world.

...but every person who does serious time with a keyboard is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood.

But I also believe there is enormous value in the piece of writing that goes no further than the one person for whom it was intended, that no combination of written words is more eloquent than those exchanged in letters between lovers or friends, or along the pale blue lines of private diaries, where people take communion with themselves.

Chances are you have a deep connection to books because at some point you discovered that they were the one truly safe place to discover and explore feelings that are banished from the dinner table, the cocktail party, the golf foursome, the bridge game. Because the writers who mattered to you have dared to say I am a sick man. And because within the world of books there is no censure.

For most writers, reading is also a very intense experience; they don’t read so much as compete. The writer measure’s himself against every text he encounters, imagining he could do it better or wishing he had thought of it first. The natural writer would almost always rather be reading, writing, or alone, except of course when he needs to come up for air (that is, for subject matter, food, sex, love, attention). He may be a selfish son of a bitch, he may seem to care more about his work than about the people in his life, he may be a social misfit, a freak, or a smooth operator, but every person who does serious time with a keyboard is attempting to translate his version of the world into words so that he might be understood. Indeed, the great paradox of the writer’s life is how much time he spends alone trying to connect with other people.

For the writer who truly loves language, a trip to the copy editor is like a week at a spa. You come out looking younger, trimmer, and standing straighter.

[I]t's the child writer who has figured out, early on, that writing is about saving your soul.

It was a miracle to me, this transformation of my acorns into an oak.

I understood Truman Capote’s brilliant assessment of the writer’s dilemma: “When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip.

No matter how many compromises were made along the way, no matter what happens in the future, a book is a thing to behold.

Reading The Facts, one gets the impression that Roth is the ultimate mama's boy, a prince, and that he could only paint a portrait of an über-Jewish mother because he was supremely confident of his own mother's love.

There is a necessary gestation period during which a writer should protect his work, because the minute he sends it out, or joins a writing group, or enrolls in an MFA program, he engages the part of himself that is focused on the result more than the work. For

The world doesn't fully make sense until the writer has secured his version of it on the page. And the act of writing is strangely more lifelike than life.

When an editor works with an author, she cannot help seeing into the medicine cabinet of his soul. All the terrible emotions, the desire for vindications, the paranoia, and the projection are bottled in there, along with all the excesses of envy, desire for revenge, all the hypochondriacal responses, rituals, defenses, and the twin obsessions with sex and money. It other words, the stuff of great books.

Writing, like drugs and recreational sex, becomes an activity associated with youth.