Writer Despair for a Cheery Monday!

(Is it dawn or is it dusk? Photo by Jeremy Tolbert.)

Good morning! How’re you feeling this morning? Optimistic? Not so optimistic? Still need your coffee? Regardless of how happy you are now, chances are you’ve had bouts of despair about your writing. I know I have–and not just as a beginner trying to get published. Over the entire course of my career waves of despair have at times washed over me. Writing is such a perilous calling that you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone engaged in it who hasn’t succumbed to these kinds of feelings. Here’s an excerpt of what Booklife has to say about despair. Will you feel better or worse after reading it? It might not matter. The point is: acknowledging that despair is something everyone has to deal with can be a kind of balm. We’re all in this together.


Despair is a companion who keeps coming back to you no matter how far you’ve traveled along the path toward a sustainable Booklife. Things go wrong. What you have visualized does not come to pass. That opportunity you thought you had turns to dust. This is most difficult for beginning writers.

If you have not yet held your own book in your hands, despair over the here-and-now can seem like it will last an eternity. You walk into the bookstore and your book is not there, will never be there, no matter how much you want it to be there. (Cue: violins and videos of endless rain.)

But it’s important to know that even widely published writers experience despair, too. The setback that threatens a whole career. The sense of being so close to something major, which then recedes, like some amazing deep-sea creature glimpsed for just a moment through the murk. Granted, a writer with a few published books has perspective. That writer knows, if they think about it, that the despair one feels today can turn to triumph in a month or a
year or a decade. Sometimes, too, it is more satisfying when it comes to you later. Sometimes, despair is the vanguard of great success…

The writing life is hard, and it is a constant struggle to keep the engine running, to make progress, often in the face of random cruelty, stupidity, incompetence, and indifference. You get scar tissue. You get paranoid at times. You forget that the deal you think is make-or-break important, the situation that must go your way, is only part of the journey. (Usually, there’s another deal, another break, out there.)

Another important point, which came up in conversation with Tessa
Kum, whom I’ve quoted elsewhere in this book, concerns the fact that, as she puts it, “Despair is not clean. Returning to writing is not necessarily a happy ending. Discovering what is right for you is a better ending.” A tumultuous relationship with writing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a writer, but if the decision “not to write gives you exactly no regret, then so be it. You tried, and now you know for sure.”

Above all, then, you make yourself vulnerable in many different ways, even if you don’t show this to many other people. Letting go of all of this can be a relief or a release, even if it means giving in, or, even, giving up something, or part of something, that you love.

If you do decide, after a bout of despair, to continue writing–no one can make that decision but you–remember that, although not always easy, the writing life usually does reward talent and perseverance to some degree. But, at core, especially if everything goes to hell career-wise, you have to ask yourself one question that speaks directly to despair: Is my Private Booklife about my expectations of success or is it about the work?