by Susan Sey
I wouldn't feel right about leading anybody on, so I'm going to say right up front that this is not a Princess Bride blog. Sorry, fans.
In spite of the title, there will be no ROUSes (Rodents of Unusal Size), no Six Fingered Men, & no love in the Fire Swamp. There will also be no more rhyming, & I mean it. (Though I will give props & bonus points to the first person to successfully finish off that quote. It's my mom's favorite.)
No, the Pit of Despair I'm talking about (hereafter referred to as the PoD) is a writerly phenomenon. It's not an underground torture chamber, exactly, though there are similarities. It's more a state of mind.
A moment of clarity.
It's the place you end up when you must reconcile three ugly realities:
1) You have reached the limits of your talent.
Seriously. You have taken every workshop, tried every technique, read every craft book & worked your tail off. You have dug deep, you have summoned up your courage & honesty, & you have put your heart on the page. On lots of pages. Maybe a book or two (or three or four) worth of pages.
2) You have put your work out there.
You've queried every editor, every agent. You're written a kick-ass query letter, your synopsis rocks. You've endured the sound & fury of the contest circuit, & flung yourself on the mercy of every person even remotely interested in critiquing you. You've even (saints preserve you) pitched in person. Maybe you have an agent. Or even a contract. But you're doing the work. You're out there.
3) It isn't enough.
Your contest scores blow. Or maybe they don't. Maybe you're winning contests, but not getting requests from editors. Or maybe you are. Maybe you're getting full requests, but getting form rejections that get your name wrong. Or maybe that agent you sweated blood for just blew you off. Or maybe your long awaited publication date just got pushed back. Again. Or maybe book two on your contract just got shredded by your editor & you're pretty sure you only had one decent book in you.
Welcome to the PoD.
Good news, though. You're in good company. Hell, you're in great company. NYT best-selling company. And how do I (not remotely a NYT best-seller) know this?
Easy. I heard Janet Evanovich speak at the RWA conference a few weeks ago. And of course, she told us her Call Story. Now keep in mind, it's been something like 15 years & several millions of dollars since she got The Call. But between the part where she wrote & failed & wrote & failed for ten years, & the part where her husband & son tracked her down at a roller rink so they could tell her her editor had called--her editor!--she had to stop.
She got choked up & had to stop to collect herself so she could go on. Fifteen years after the fact, fifteen years in which presumably she's gained a certain amount of confidence in her talent, she still remembered so vividly what it was like to live in the PoD--and how it felt to be so miraculously released--it could move her to tears. I don't think there was a person in the audience who wasn't moved by that. Or inspired.
I know I was. Because while I don't have the faintest clue what it must feel like to see your name on the NYT best-seller list, I sure as hell know what it feels like to reach the limits of your talent, & see that big gap between where it ends & your dream begins. I know what the PoD feels like, & I know what it feels like to live there long enough to write a book or two. Or three. Or four.
So when I find myself in total despair (like when I read anything by SEP or Kristin Higgins & realize I will never write anything that witty or charming), I like to reframe things. Because what if the PoD isn't a death sentence? What if it's a prerequisite? Because here's something I know:
Maybe not everybody who lives in the PoD winds up on the NYT best-seller list. But every single writer who hits the NYT list has lived in the PoD. They all served their time.
And if they can go on to own the list, why can't we?
So, tell us. Spent any time in the PoD lately? What--or who--pulls you out when you fall in? Share!