Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Book Under Her Bed... a new blog for writers

HALLIE EPHRON: There's a new blog out there, especially for writers, and the brains behind it belong to writer/editor Lorrie Bodger. It's called THE BOOK UNDER HER BED

When I was first coming out from under the bed as a writer I entrusted my work to Lorrie to help me see in what ways it wasn't good enough and how to make it better.

I learned from Lorrie that I write lean. That I had to layer in character, deepen it through multiple revisions. I learned what it really means to "show don't tell," and how to visualize a setting and bring it to the page.

On the way to getting published (and through a fair number of
rejections), I left more than a few of my early efforts under the bed, so it seems so perfect to me that she calls her new blog THE BOOK UNDER HER BED.

The blog is a kind of water cooler for talking about writers & writing, and it's a serious business, one in which you need all the friends and collective wisdom you can gather.

Lorrie, I know what the term "the book under her bed" evokes for me -- but what is it for you?

LORRIE BODGER: The “book under her bed” is a metaphor for a writer’s anxiety about coming out—as a real writer.  It does, in fact, refer to an actual manuscript: One of the women in the writers’ group I lead and teach had a huge stack of manuscript pages stashed under her bed for a decade.  Her goal in joining what I lovingly call the Girl Group was to unpack those old short stories and rewrite them.  Which she’s doing, with great success. 

HALLIE: Some manuscripts should just be left under the bed and the writer should move on... but how can you tell which ones?

LORRIE: Sometimes you can’t tell until the manuscript has marinated for a year or two (or ten) in the sauce under the bed.  Sometimes you have to put as much courage into leaving a manuscript alone for a while as you may eventually need for pulling it out again.  Objectivity is what you require, and you don’t get that without getting a little distance. 

HALLIE: What do you do while you’re waiting for objectivity?

LORRIE: Write another novel.  Write a memoir, a mystery, a book of poems.  Write a short story.  Write ten short stories.  Keep writing.  Nothing you write is wasted, everything you write is a step toward becoming a better writer.

HALLIE: That’s what I do—I keep writing (those are just a few of my great unpublished works).  And over time I've cannibalized many of my under-the-bed books and used bits and pieces in new works in progress. Is that something you see often?

LORRIE: Your trove of under-bed manuscripts and oddbits is your stock-in-trade.  You own it, you get to use it however you like, wherever you like, whenever you like.  Let’s face it: all writers are word-consuming cannibals.  And most of us do, on occasion, use our old darlings to feed our new darlings.

HALLIE: Lorrie, you have published 30-plus books. Looking back, what has been the biggest help for you in becoming a better writer, and do you have any books left under the bed?

LORRIE: There are two answers to your first question, Hallie: I become a better writer by writing all the time—even e-mails count, if you write them like letters and use real words. And I read as much as possible.  You cannot become a better writer without doing both.  

The answer to your second question is, of course, a resounding YES.  I have oceans of boxed-up manuscript pages that have been waiting patiently for my attention while I’ve written several more oceans of pages.  Wouldn’t have it any other way.

HALLIE: So keep writing. Check. Keep reading. Check. Don't throw away the books under the bed. Check check check check check...

Do you have one, two, more books under your bed? (Please, tell me you've backed them up because, well, you just never know.)

Confess: Do you cannibalize them?


  1. I'd suppose that almost everyone has books under their bed, but I never really thought of it in that particular context before . . . .
    Thanks for introducing us to Lorrie and her blog . . ..

  2. Sometimes the book under the bed gets dated-- ot its premise does. Then it is ONLY good for cannibalization.

    But anything you write-- if you manage to keep from falling in love with your own words-- pokishes your skills.

  3. I have a bay full of unpublished short stories, but my books are all out there, so far!

    I got a prodding on how I also write lean just last night at my writers' group, Hallie. Am currently adding a scene that I had apparently just skipped right over, and it's an important one. Always learning.

    Off to check out Lori's blog.

  4. Oh yes, I have books under the bed but I doubt I'll ever cannibalize them. I'm too scared to look at them now...

  5. Terri - I know what you mean. And sometimes it is TRULY horrifying to go back and then how nice to see how far you've come.

    What I did NOT know about when I started:
    And of course, what it really means to SHOW instead of tell.

    Edith, how clever of you to sharpen your skills on short stories first.

  6. I have a few books under the bed (OK, in the computer), but like Terri, I'm too afraid to look at them!

  7. Good morning, friends! Wow, you're fantastically verbal-in-the-morning group! I'm still on Coffee #!.

    Hi, Joan--please do visit the blog--leave a comment!

    Ellen--Yes, DATED for sure, in some ways, but many gripping ideas stay emotionally up-to-date. They may need a new wardrobe, but…

    There's a post up today on my blog that addresses what I call the "Narcissistic Bubble," that state of mind when you think everything you've written is perfect. It's fun. And important--to pop the bubble.

    Edith's comment reminds me of all the times I've written a sentence and left out the verb. I knew what I meant, but I forgot to tell the reader. Thanks for taking a look at the blog, Edith.

    RECYCLING! Yes, Kathy! My brother, John Javna, who wrote 50 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SAVE THE EARTH and THE RECYCLER'S HANDBOOK would give you a big hug.

    Terri! No! Look at those books under your bed--please! You are going to be very surprised. A) If there's great stuff hiding there, you'll have material to work with. Or B) If it's all drek, think how happy you'll be to find out how much better your writing is NOW. Win-win.

  8. And Hallie, your comment is such a comment on PROGRESS. When we start (we all s t a r t) we don't know about the vast amounts we don't know--and here we are. We know a lot.

  9. I have just one manuscript under the bed, and I don't think--now, wait. I was going to say "I'll never recycle it" because it's about messy (my) family interactions and highly fantastic and all that. And then I remembered I've already stolen a character from that to use in my second mystery. Ha!

    Clearly we all do it.

    I like the idea that that manuscript is marinating or steeping under there, and maybe generating new ideas on its own. Get to work a little faster!

    Looking forward to your new blog, Lorrie!

  10. Thank you, Tammy. You are, if I may say so, the perfect cannibal: picking out the delicious tidbits and leaving the rest for another day.

    Heavens, I didn't realize what a blood-thirsty lot I was getting mixed up with! NAH--I knew. You're mystery/crime writers. Goes with the territory.

  11. Yes. Books in the filing cabinet, books on the top shelf of my closet. Books on the hard drive (and backed up). When I die, they will find them and say, Uh, what are we going to do with these?

    No MSS under the bed. That's reserved for the TBR overflow.


  12. Lorrie, love the idea of the "Narcissistic Bubble." yes, indeed I have days like that when it's all GREAT. But I also have the "it's all a piece of sh-t" days when nothing I write seems even remotely publishable. When I go back and look at all that supposedly awful stuff, it turns out it's not so bad... or some of it isn't.

    Which brings me to my favorite mantra: JUST HOLD YOUR NOSE AND WRITE!

  13. SUSAN D: Go straight to your lawyer and appoint a literary executor, in your will. (Excuse the digression, but having a will is like backing up your writing. You must, especially if you're like Susan D. and you have material stashed everywhere.) I know, I know, it feels kind of silly to have a literary executor, but it's not. Wait--I'm saving this rant for my blog. Susan, thanks so much for the great idea! I mean it. What a great topic for a writers' blog.

    FYI: My agent agreed (not even reluctantly) to be my lit exec. Makes sense.

  14. Hallie, that N.B. is such a special place, isn't it? You feel like you walk on water, until someone points to your feet and says, Hey, no one can walk on water! And then you look down, gasp, and in you go! Wet. Deflated. Discouraged. But not dead. So you wade out of the emotional morass, put yourself back together--and get on with the real work. That's what counts.

  15. I have three major incomplete projects and several small pieces -- I am currently working on major project #3. I have big, complicated ideas and I "write lean" (I like that better than "underwrite"). I also don't focus well.
    I have been trying to "hold my nose and write" -- great words!

  16. Lorrie, hey, this is terrific! Thank you!

    I agree, it's all practice, no matter what I write, I try to make it as good as it can be. I'm grateful for all the years of TV writing--it's made such a storytelling difference. (Although writing for TV news, you don't really need full sentences, so I have had to break myself--unsuccessfully--of my reliance on dashes and ellipses.)

    And on the really terrible days--say, yesterday :-)--I say to myself JUST GO ON. JUST GO ON.

    Cannibalizing? What's so funny about that--I have a couple of book proposals that haven't gone anywhere (yet) and when I look back at them, I think: I wrote that? Wonder how I thought of that.
    I don't even remember thinking of that.

  17. Denise Ann, if you're saying what I think you're saying--that is, you have more projects than you can fit into the time available to you, which gives you trouble with focus--you're in a sticky but not uncommon writer-problem. Or life problem: too much to do, not enough time to do it.

    Next fall I'm giving a talk at the New York Society Library, and what I want to talk about is exactly that. I want to call it "Making a Writing Life: How to Say No to Yourself and Others." By which I mean, quite simply, all artists have to choose what they spend their time on. The meaning is simple--but the execution is not. Sad for us, right?

  18. Hallie, love it. "Hold your nose and write."

    I've got a couple of books stashed under the bed, er, on the hard drive. I don't know if I'll ever go back to them or cannibalize them. They are things I wrote on the journey to find out what I really loved and wanted to write - what spoke to me.

    And yes, some of it is pure dreck.

    I'm not sure I have much of a Narcissistic Bubble. I'm always a little shocked (and a lot pleased) when someone says, "I really enjoyed reading this." I think, "Wow you did? How cool, because I enjoyed writing it." It's immediately followed by my own inner mantra, which I swear is going on a T-shirt someday. I DON'T SUCK!

    And yes, yes, yes to marinating. I think I eventually trashed almost half of the first draft of my current WIP after the marination stage.

  19. Hi, Hank--So sorry to hear about yesterday's pain…ok, yesterday's agony. I get scared when I DON"T hear a writer saying, even in agony, JUST GO ON, JUST GO ON. That's a writer in serious trouble.

    One of the best writers in the Girl Group, my beloved students, learned to write by writing the scripts for soaps for many years. Frankly, best training imaginable: drama, dialog, emotion, pacing, plot.

  20. Mary, such a good point you're pointing out: The opposite of the writer in the N.B. is the writer who's always sure she's written a mess. But really, the N.B writer is hiding her fear that the material is actually awful. I wonder if the unconfident writer also harbors a little bit of opposite--that the work might actually be good. I hope so.

  21. The first book I ever tried to write was based on Sweet Dreams Romances--remember those? 20-odd years later, I found the typed out manuscript and transcribed it into the computer. I was shocked to discover my voice really hadn't changed much!

  22. Marination works! That's a great story, Diane. Did you or will you cannibalize any of the old pages?

  23. What a clever name, "The Book Under Her Bed," Lorrie! I would love to spend a day talking to you about writing, even though I have no books under my bed. What I do have is papers I wrote in grad school, folders of notes and articles on different subjects, especially reading, material from teaching writing and novels, lots of book reviews and blog material. What I've always wanted to do is to find my way back to the second grade, when my teacher took me and two stories I'd written to the principal's office, where I proceeded to read the stories to her and received high praise. People have told me for the longest time that I should really write a book, like one can just decide to do that and it's done. I have yet to figure out how to transition to a story teller, and, perhaps, that just isn't in the cards for me. Of course, the first step is what you mention, and one I haven't adhered to. Write, write, write. I do write everyday here on the blog, write reviews, and other places online. Martin Luther King described "faith" as taking the first step on a staircase where the rest of the steps are obscured. I know that until I start on the staircase of fiction writing, I stand no chance of a successful climb. Oh, what we know and what we resist, even when it would benefit us. I wish for the "faith" and fearlessness I had as a child when I wrote those two stories and a mystery play, which my class acted out for the school. One action I follow that you, Lorri, suggest is to read, read, read. And, if that is my path, it's certainly not a bad one at all. There's just that small child's voice still asking, but what if.

  24. Ah, Lorrie, there is (in most states) no such thing as a literary executor. Not a term that is recognized-- and most lawyers who draft wills know nothing about copyrights, and have no idea how to work around that myth.

    Copyrights are intangible personal property. They pass by will or intestate succession, usually in the residuary clause of the will ("the rest, residue and remainder of my property I leave to...."). "Copyright" is the name we give to the "bundle of rights" someone has in any original work once it is fixed in any tangible medium from which it can be read back (whether via eyeball, electronic or mechanical device). With the rights usually go the control. Most lawyers who are not well versed in intellectual property don't get that.

    Also, termination rights cannot be willed-- those are defined by law, and only belong to an author's surviving spouse and/or children and/or grandchildren.

    It gets complex. DO NOT GO TO YOUR BROTHER-IN-LAW THE DIVORCE LAWYER or the lawyer who handled your home sale or your auto accident claim-- even the lawyer who drafts your will doesn't know what he/she doesn't know about this kind of thing.

    I have given presentations to groups of estate planning lawyers about this kind of thing, but most of them are more concerned about tax consequences than rights in your literary material. This is a very specialized area, and your estate planning lawyer should work with a copyright (not patent-- different area of law and most of them don't understand about copyrights) lawyer on this kind of plan.

    I addressed this to a certain extent in my book "Every Writer's Guide to Copyright and Publishing Law" (3rd ed. 2004, Henry Holt/MacMillan). The book is now O.P., but even in mentioning it there, I did note that every state-- and every estate plan-- are different. You need a KNOWLEDGEABLE attorney on this.

  25. To Kathy--You've said it yourself: in order to write, you have to start writing. But why do it alone? Join a writing group, take a class, get some structure. You're floating around in a fantasy--but that fantasy can easily be made real if you want to write. Go for it!

    To Ellen--Thank you so much for sharing such useful and enlightening information, which I hope every single one of us will take to heart. I did NOT mean to sound glib about this important stuff, and I certainly did not handle the problem in a ditzy way.

    I was lucky: My agent is a literary lawyer with a lot of experience in these matters, but your injunction stands: avoid the brother-in-law.

    Thank you again for taking time to clarify and set us straight.

  26. Love the blog, Lorrie. I've bookmarked it and will spread the word.

    I found the nerve this past winter to pull a full manuscript out from under the bed and am now a couple of weeks out from completing a revision that involved changing the timeline, adding depth to characters and dimension to settings.

    This mss had been under the bed for more than two years. When I stashed it, I figured time apart would do us both good, and that all it really needed was some tinkering.

    With the benefit of two years of distance and writerly development, I was amazed how much work it needed. Even more amazing was how obvious the flaws were and how easy it was to kill off sentences, paragraphs and passages that I loved with all my heart two years ago.

    Delete. Delete. Delete.

    Writing the new sentences, paragraphs and passages has been more difficult, and my betas will have to tell me if I've done it successfully, but it I am happy not to have abandoned this mss.

  27. Mary, LOVE that Tshirt. I want one.

  28. Brenda: Laughing - "changing the timeline, adding depth to characters and dimension to settings." Piece of cake, right?!!

    And yet, and yet, it's so much easier when you have SOMETHING to start with. Which is why yesterday's dreck is such a happy place to begin today's writing. Hmmm you say, I can fix this.

  29. Brenda, what a terrific story. This is just what I love to hear--allow yourself to get some distance, take out the nicely marinated ms, see it with new eyes--and rewrite it. Makes my writerteachereditor's heart happy.

    An orphan of the under-bed is saved and brought back into the family.

    Thank you for bookmarking The Book Under Her Bed and telling your friends. Friend me on FB--stay in touch, ALL of you.

  30. Thank you for alerting us to this. I've subscribed. Thelma in Manhattan

  31. Thanks so much, Thelma. Delighted you'll be reading The Book Under Her Bed.

  32. Welcome to JRW Lorrie! a great discussion here already...

    I bet I have 2 completed books and 3 half-books stuffed under the bed. Some should never come out, but a few of those projects I'd like to work on again. Managing the time and figuring out what might really be polished into something worthwhile--not so easy! Make sure you let us know when that talk will be...

  33. Just noticed the typos in my posts. Note to self: do not type on the laptop on the patio table on a bright sunny day.

  34. Hallie, I've had a number of requests. I'll put you on the list. =)

    Now I'm wondering if I should pull out that first ms, the one that started with four chapters of (lovingly crafted) backstory. I'd have to punch up the main character though.


  35. Lucy/Roberta--Thanks for the welcome. It's a pleasure to spend time with you all. I will let you know when the library talk is coming up, but you'll have to join the NYSL in order to attend. It will be part of a members-only program called "The Writing Life."
    But the beauty of having a BLOG is that one can then take one's speech and serialize it for the blog! So you'll get to hear or read it one way or another.

  36. Lucy/Roberta--Thanks for the welcome. It's a pleasure to spend time with you all. I will let you know when the library talk is coming up, but you'll have to join the NYSL in order to attend. It will be part of a members-only program called "The Writing Life."
    But the beauty of having a BLOG is that one can then take one's speech and serialize it for the blog! So you'll get to hear or read it one way or another.

  37. WHOOPS! sorry--don't know why that posted twice...

  38. Lorrie-I'm toying with the idea of changing the characters and making it a prequel to one of my series!