The “Black Moment” of the Writing Process

My friend Jerry Waxler likened the writing of a book to the Hero’s Journey. As most of you know, one of the stages of the Hero’s Journey is the black moment or dark moment–that moment in the story where all seems lost and hope is gone. I think Jerry is on to something with his analogy, because I have experienced a black moment in the writing process just recently.

Over the weekend, I got my YA novel back from my developmental editor, the wonderful Kathryn Craft. I knew I was in for a lot of work, but I didn’t mind because I am one of those writers who actually enjoys revision. I did not have a chance to look at Kathryn’s report over the weekend, so I waited until Monday.

Monday was a bad day to look at the report. My daughter had gotten me up before 6 AM, meaning I was running on about 4.5 hours sleep. That’s never good for morale. And I was in a bad mood for other reasons that had nothing to do with writing. So when I read Kathryn’s report, my eyes filled with tears and I said, “This rewrite is never going to happen. I can’t do this.”

The whole rest of the day I struggled with defeat. Why was I even trying? Why bother? No one really cares if I ever write another word or not. I’m not writing anything deep and meaningful. I’m not going to change anyone’s world.

I have been here before, crushed by the knowledge that my very best effort still is not anywhere near as good as it needs to be–anywhere near where I want it to be. On good days, this is what I love about writing–the knowledge that there is always more to learn, the excitement of scaling the next mountain, reaching the next plateau. On bad days, all I see is a debris pile that used to be my manuscript, and the toil involved in clearing the rubble seems beyond my strength.

I am slowly coming out of the overwhelmed funk. Time helps. Being stubborn (ahem, persistent) helps. Chocolate helps. Being addicted to writing helps. But what really helps is that Kathryn is not only a fabulous editor but an enthusiastic cheerleader, who when I emailed her in a panic told me that I could do it and it would all come clear.

Writing can be lonely, and facing a huge rewrite can be demoralizing. Like our protagonists in their blackest moment, it is our friends who help us find the strength to push through the darkness and continue the journey.

It’s not Thanksgiving yet, but I am thankful for my fellow writers-in-arms. Without them, I would not be where I am, and I certainly would not still be moving forward.

How about you? Do you hit “black moments” in your process? How do you work through them?

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TMI: The More I Learn about Craft, the Less I Know

I’m sure I’m not the only writer in the world to get overwhelmed by the millions of little things we have to think about in every single sentence in our novel. Every time I feel like I’m getting a handle on this writing stuff, I learn something new and that gets added to the list of things to check for in my manuscript.

Don’t get me wrong—most of the time this constant learning curve is what I love about the writing craft. You never do stop learning, and most of the time I love that. I also usually love the challenge of trying to get to that next level with your writing, or making this novel better than the last. Most of the time I can’t wait to dive in and get started.

Most of the time.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit defeated by the whole thing. Perhaps it’s midwinter blues, or just the exhaustion that comes with being a 40-something mom-of-a-toddler who hasn’t had eight hours of sleep at night in about three years. Whatever it is, I have felt less like a mountain climber and more like one who has been caught in an avalanche.

I will bet every writer has felt this way at some point in their career. In fact, I found this eloquent and encouraging post by Stephen Parolini that addresses this very feeling.

I have been taking workshops, and what I have been learning has been fascinating. So many nuanced techniques to use in my writing, the mechanics of which I am still learning. So many details to track while I write. There are times lately where I feel like I will have to revise my manuscript a hundred times just so I can make sure all those details are in order. Which in turn makes me feel like I will never finish said manuscript. Which is a little depressing.


So much to do, so much I WANT to do with my manuscript, and so little time. Part of my feeling of eternal revision is that my writing time is incredibly limited due to my toddler’s demands on my time. So all these millions (okay, thousands) of things I want to track and check and try with my manuscript seem to stretch before me in a stream with no end.

It’s enough to paralyze me.

But, as whenever I get overwhelmed in other areas of life, I know that the only way to the end is through. In theory, giving up is an option, of course. But not in my world. Some would say I am stubborn, but I prefer to consider myself persistent.

So to get through this funk, I will work on one thing at a time. And if that means doing a hundred passes on my manuscript so I can give everything the attention I need, I will do it. I know, too, that the more I work on these skills, the more ingrained they will become. As they become second nature, they will show up in my manuscripts without my having to think so hard or revise so much.

In a word, my plan to get through this funk is to write. How do you get through your funks?

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