WFMAD Day 3: Pit of Despair

This will be a crazy day for me. (Update: It HAS been a crazy day!) I leave for the SCBWI National conference tomorrow, so today involves laundry, packing, cleaning, more work on speeches and an entire page of various and sundry errands. My short writing break is not listed on my MUST DO!! list. It is on the much shorter “want to do” list. That is a critical distinction.

I was going to finish the “Think Big, Write Small” post today, but a comment from yesterday took me down a detour, because it was so heartfelt and raw. This is what a
WFMAD participant wrote:

“I kind of feel like a poser. I have no characters fighting their ways out of my mind. I have no settings dying to be painted with my words and syntax. There no plot twists, messages, lessons, stories, anything waiting to be brought to life. No poems dancing across the page, or stabbing through the paper/screen with the truth. I have no essays filled with opinions, noticing, wonderings, or truths. I used to have all of these. Where have they gone? And will they ever come back? I am not sure if I can divorce myself from the teacher inside me long enough to stop saying, “That’s a really nice sentence. I should use this in a craft study on…fill in the blank… . That leaves me wondering if my identity as a teacher is eclipsing every other part of me. Has the inspiration for teaching engaging lessons sucked the life out of all other inspiration in my life?”

THAT, my friends, is why we write; to find our truth. Even when the truth is sucky because it contradicts what we want to believe about ourselves. I completely understand what this writer is feeling. I have been stuck there many, many times. (I suspect everyone who writes for a living runs into this.) She is a writer lost in a soul-draining fog. She’s out of balance. The thing that would help her recenter herself is the thing that feels the hardest: writing.

When I’m stuck in this kind of Pit of Despair, journaling helps me build a ladder that I can use when I’m ready to escape. I write about what’s making me feel bad, mad, sad, and scared. I vent big time about the conditions of my life. I can go on for page after page after page (this can take days, weeks, or months) and then, finally, the fog lifts. I find my rhythm, my voice. Inspiration is everywhere. I see interesting conflicts I want to develop and I can hear the characters. I have once again broken through that chainmail veil that separates this reality from the world of pretend. I feel like a writer again. The woman who wrote the question will feel like that very soon, as long as she’s willing to write about her struggle first.

Ready… Take a moment of gratitude. Be thankful that you’ve found the courage to follow your dream, even though it feels scary.

Set… Make sure your pets have done their necessary business outside, and any infants in your house are fed, dry, and comfy. Make sure that you are fed, dry, and comfy, too!

Today’s prompt: Write for fifteen minutes about what gets in the way of your writing. Write a detailed scene about a time you wanted to write, but then [fill in the blank] happened. Why did you let that happen? What could you have done differently? How can you prevent that from happening again?


Write about how you feel when your draft isn’t flowing easily. And what you are able to write is a stinking turd of a story that seems irredeemable. Why are you being so hard on yourself? What do you get out of pressuring yourself with unrealistic expectations (namely, that writing should be easy and that the quality of your writing should be higher)?


What would it feel like if you weren’t dogged by this poisonous sense of inadequecy and failure? Imagine (and write) what your life would look like – what would be different about your life – if you could find or recover the happiness of making up stories and writing them down. When we find ourselves in the Pit of Despair, it helps to acgknowledge that we put ourselves there. That means we can get out, too. What can you do this week to help yourself?

7 Replies to “WFMAD Day 3: Pit of Despair”

  1. Wow. I am a teacher and I feel exactly the same way. I have wonderful summers full of writing and ideas, and as soon as September rolls around I turn into a creativity zombie. I feed off of other people’s ideas but I can’t seem to find the extra brain capacity to be creative myself.

    Thank you for the suggestion: just write. Journaling is a wonderful idea.

  2. Great blog. I hear ya. And Kristen, I completely understand your pain. School starts in 6 days for me. While I love my students and write books with my reluctant readers in mind, I’m sad I get so little time to write during the school year. I thought about making one night a week a Write Night. Kids and DH get pizza, I get to type away. I also thought about getting that speech to text software so I can write on my commute. I always have great ideas in the car anyway. Lol. Sometimes I call my mom and have her jot down my notes so I don’t forget them. Good luck my fellow teacher/writer friends.

  3. I’m writing! I’m reflecting, lamenting, and whining—but it’s writing. Thanks for providing the incentive.

  4. Like Susan, I’m reflecting, lamenting, and whining. Mainly whining.
    But the point is that my inner editor likes to kill my creative soul and stop me before I even start. I fear failure so much that I can’t even accept it when I write first drafts (and if first drafts are **, mine are double **).
    So it felt good to get that sorted out. In about fifteen minutes, I’m going to turn off the internet again and WRITE.
    I’m not going to censor myself with this story. I am NOT going to care how terrible it is or how much detail it lacks; I’m going to write until I finish those two chapters that have been left unfisnished for far too long.

  5. I SO get this feeling. Teaching is such a creative process that it really can seem impossible to also find the energy to write. But I think this challenge is a start. If we just give ourselves at least 15 minutes a day to start then we will have accomplished so much more than we would have if we just sat around thinking about writing. I’m guilty of this…I’m a “perfectionist” which is my way of avoiding the real dirty work of writing (or cleaning, or making those appointments). I’m beginning to learn that imperfection is the way to go when it comes to most things in life.

  6. I did the second prompt yesterday – it was hard, because I didn’t like admitting to myself that getting worked up when my writing doesn’t flow easily only prolongs the amount of time I don’t write for. I needed to tell myself the things I wrote during those fifteen minutes, so thank you for providing a prompt that was so helpful. I concluded that it was okay to have periods of doubt about my writing, so long as I wrote SOMETHING even when my flow is slow. Thanks again, Laurie.

  7. I am studying to be a teacher and when I am in school my days are so chaotic that I feel too exhausted to even pick up a pen. I understand what some of you mean by going from that analytical style of thinking when teaching (or in my case, doing homework) to letting your creativity flow. I have a 6 year old son and 4 year old daughter to attend to as well and it’s just hard, hard, hard. It’s gotten somewhat easier as they get older and especially since I took a Creative Writing class this past school semester to help refresh my mind. I hadn’t done any writing since the class finished up though, so I am thankful for this opportunity to challenge myself now before school starts up again in a few weeks. Perhaps if I can get myself in the habit of writing daily now while my life is slow, I will find myself working harder to manage that time once things pick up again. All I know is that writing will always be important to me and without it I find myself feeling lost very easily. Great advice Laurie — it’s better to pick up that pen and vent away. In my opinion, old-fashion journal writing is still the best way to vent — over venting on facebook, or any blog, or anything else the internet has to offer. Who knows what kind of creative juices you will then get flowing.

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