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.
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).