Every serious writer has been there. That awful place of self-doubt, frustration, and hopelessness. I call it the Pit of Despair.

We work in a business that’s full of rejection but the irony is that you have to put your work “out there” if your goal is publication. At first, you might play it safe and show family members (who always love your work, which is why they’re not reliable for honest feedback but that’s another story). Then we venture out into the writing community and share of work with other writers, teachers, enter contests, etc. After we feel confident, we expand to editors and agents, the “gatekeepers.” The progress from idea to book deal is full of crests and valleys. But sometimes the valleys are low. I mean really, really low, where you feel like you’re in a big ol’ hole in the ground filled with uncertainty and hopelessness. The Pit of Despair.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. EMU’s Debuts posts are usually cheerful and upbeat. What’s up with you, Terry? You goin’ through a rough patch?

Well, not anymore. I’ll admit that last spring I did go through a rough patch. I’d worked for over two years on a nonfiction picture book that I was convinced was going to be the breakout story that would launch my writing career to a new place. The story was a biography about someone I highly respect and admire. Tears would stream down my face as I wrote, amazed at his story. Yep, this was going to be the one.

And then my agent emailed me, “We’ve been scooped.” Another writer had written a picture book biography about the same person and a major publisher was releasing the book this fall. She said there wasn’t any point to us pursuing my story any further.

Helloooo, Pit of Despair. It felt like I’d been kicked in my gut so hard I couldn’t breathe. I was numb for days. I wanted to give up. And this was while I already had four (4!) book deals in hand, which goes to show that anyone at any time can slip into The Pit of Despair.

Then, I recalled a scene from what I think is one of the best television shows ever, West Wing.

In the clip, Leo McGarry reminds us that we’re not alone in that hole. There is always someone who has been there before, who knows the way out, who has our back.

This is why networking and writing connections are so important. I turned to my closest writing friends during this time (and of course, my spouse). I connected with people close to me. They reminded me that my value as a writer (a human being who writes) doesn’t come from acceptances or rejections or circumstance beyond my control, but by my efforts and having the courage to put myself “out there.”

Eventually, I clawed my way out of the pit, through journaling, yoga and a promise to be kinder to myself. I thought I was back on track with my writing but it wasn’t until I attended the annual EMLA Retreat in June that I experienced an overwhelming amount of support (unintended happy incidences and connections) that launched me out of the pit and into a standing position. Only two people at the retreat knew how I had struggled just weeks prior, yet I felt lifted by everyone. This is what a writing community does. We lift each other through compassion, empathy and encouragement.


In July, while backpacking with my family, I saw a signpost that reminded me of the writing journey. We do need to “use the existing trail” but we also need places for “restoration” where we can connect with others.

I hope anyone who reads this has found, or works to find, that special place of restoration and support so when they’re in The Pit of Despair they’ll have someone who can help them find their way out and bring them into the light of day with sunshine warming their writing soul.





PierceHeadshotUCLA (2) About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a  middle-grade adventure novel. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!). Terry has two books coming out in the spring 2017, MAMA LOVES YOU SO (Little Simon) and MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN (Tilbury House).


Filed under Connections and Networking, Writing and Life

21 responses to “THE PIT OF DESPAIR

  1. annbedichek

    Oh, thank you so much for this post, Terry! It was needed! And I’m bookmarking it because I know I’m going to need it again and again.


  2. Wow! Thanks for the post. And the warning. Beginners need to know these things. 🙂


  3. Yes, thank you for today’s post. We all need to know that this can happen to anyone and through networking we know that this is not an arena of isolation. Like the others who have responded thus far, I am tucking this away in my emotional arsenal. What you are doing in sharing this is helping us to protect and enhance our EI (emotional intelligence). Thank you!


    • Oh my gosh, Beverly, you’re so right. We have to protect ourselves and learn that the “downs” aren’t a reflection of who we are, just what can happen when we put our work out there. And talking to our support people helps so much.


  4. Carleen M. Tjader

    Good words to turn to again and again. Thank you.


  5. Pete Millett

    Writing requires zen like focus. It’s harder than going on a diet + starting an exercise program + giving up coffee (combined) all on the same day. Over and over and over… Then there’s the job security – you go to work half-expecting to hear the news you’re going to be fired that day. Every day carries that risk. Then you risk mental harm from processing all of the above relentlessly (Not to mention the self-doubt incurred by public humiliation from online book trolls.) So, it’s a little harder than most folk understand!


  6. I can understand why that news came as such a shock to the system, and I know what you mean about the power of restoration areas. Thanks for this post.


  7. mirkabreen

    Oh, my. So familiar.
    {Only difference is that my family and friends don’t necessarily say AMEN to all my offerings 😉 }
    I’ve been scooped in reverse, twice. That means I had two manuscripts that were turned down because “such could never be done,” only to see someone doing it and successfully from a big publisher a few years later. I was happy for them, and in one case an editor remembered my much earlier offering and sent me a note of apology. 🙂

    It’s always a tough haul. So happy for you that you have TWO coming out soon.


  8. Terry, I really needed this post, having visited the Pit of Despair. Thanks for the encouragement.


  9. Elly Swartz

    Thank you for this, Terry! We all experience the Pit at some point. It’s so important to be surrounded by those who love and support you unconditionally. Xoxo


  10. Hugs, Terry. Thank you. I was deep into the ugly, and you brought a ladder.


  11. Pingback: Interview: Terry Pierce – Book Turnip

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