An Editor’s Advice to Writers

I am reading Betsy Lerner’s The Forest For The Trees.  I came upon it serendipitously while browsing the book shelves at my library. I like to think that fate placed it in my writing pathway.   

Ms Lerner has solid credentials behind her. She worked in the editorial departments at Simon & Schuster, Ballantine, and Houghton Mifflin, and as executive editor at Doubleday. She now is an agent with the Gernert Company in NYC.

In her introduction Betsy Lerner states, “This is not a book about how to write.”  However, I think it is in part a book on what it takes to be a successful writer.

So here’s what she has to say:

  • A certain obsession in not only writing but what you want to write about and the form you will write it in.
  • Necessary discipline. This is not new of course, but it’s good to be reminded.
  • Fear of not being heard. Interesting here that Betsy Lerner says that although fear of failure explains why writers don’t realize their dreams “…it’s that same fear of failure that absolutely invigorates those who do push through…”
  • Understanding what motivates you to write and then honoring that impulse.
  • A deep connection to books. I am reminded of Susan Sontag who said, “Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.”
  • A writer stalks his/her demons and then embraces them.
  • Don’t censor yourself (that’s what editor’s are for).
  • Find your inspiration and models within yourself. “How do you stop trying to sound like Raymond Carver and find your own material and voice?”
  • Find the structure that shows your stuff off to its best effect.
  • Your work must bear your own stamp. “You must be willing to hone your sentences until they are yours alone…You must have a belief in your vision and voice that is nothing short of fiction.”

Not bad advice and all contained in her first chapter. There are eleven more to go.

Plenty of accolades have been given regarding this book: how it provides insight on the publishing industry;  the trajectory of a book as it travels out of the hands of the writer until it reaches the bookshelf (if you think you are alone,  writer, read this);  her wit (Betsy Lerner is a bit chick lit with a literary edge).

Then there are her delightful one-liners (“The only place you’re likely to find more alcoholics than an AA  meeting is a writing program”), her darling quotes from literati greats on their own writing (“I don’t think that style is consciously arrived at,” said Truman Capote, “anymore than one arrives at the color of one’s eyes. “)  her informative anecdotes about writers’ addictions, neurosis , writing accoutrements , loneliness and mood swings;  her advice about writing proposals and getting an agent (yes, you do need one). Plenty of blogs extend on all of these. So check them out. And while you’re at it check out her own blog at

If you’re going to the seashore you might want to tuck in her book in your beach bag. Even if you’re not a writer.  It’s that kind of fun, informative read.

3 thoughts on “An Editor’s Advice to Writers

    • Hi Carol Ann,
      Enjoyed reading this post and learning more about the profound challenges that writers face on their journey. Happy travels!


  1. Sounds like an interesting book.

    I agree that fear of failure can affect us in one way or the other – give us a huge case of writer’s block or feel motivated to keep going (“I’ll show you!” attitude). I’ve seen it happen to others and it happened to me.

    I got past my fear by committing to the process and making the story the best I could. Fixating on outcomes can be deadly!


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