How To Handle The Despair That Comes With Writing

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Eventually, if you’re trying to make it as a writer, you’re going to despair.  You can’t write well enough. This story will never sell.  If you do sell it, it’ll never be popular.
This terrible feeling like you’re just wasting your time and nobody cares happens, absurdly enough, to very popular writers.  It happens to nobodys.  It happens to writers, period.  If you’re putting words down and trying to get people to read them, there will be times you’ll want to take everything you wrote, set it on fire, and then fling yourself in to burn with it.
Here is what you do when those down days come: you write more.
Took a nasty rejection straight to the sternum?  Write more.
Had a confidence-shredding bad review?  Write more.
This grand story in your head is completely beyond your ability to commit it to the page?  Write more.
This terrible book you’re reading made millions, and your better work can’t find a home?  Write more.
Feel like you’re a fraud who’s somehow lucked out when better writers languish behind you?  Write more.
Your favorite author just told you he abhorred what you wrote? Write more.
The thing about writing is that so much of it comes down to tenacity.  The most popular writers in the world can all tell you about this fellow they knew when they were starting out, a colleague who could write stories that would charm the petals from a rose… and yet these natural geniuses didn’t stick with it.  They either let life swamp them, or couldn’t stand the rejections, or didn’t feel like it.  And these magnificently talented people never became Writers, because for whatever reason they never pushed through.
It’s not that they weren’t very good.  It’s just that they stopped knocking on doors.  While the writer you’ve heard of kept ringing doorbells until she got an answer.
So pushing through is what you need to do.  Write when you’re sad.  Write when you’re busy.  Write when you’re uninspired.  Write when you’re utterly consumed with the idea that you cannot do this.  Learn to take all of that despondence and to transform it into beauty, for writing in the throes of despair will do two things: when you are writing sad scenes, you will have so many more emotions to cram into it, and when you are writing happy scenes, you will be forced to emulate joy. One will make for better writing, the other will elevate your mood.
The truth is, though I’ve written in both despair and elation, I can’t really tell which mood I was in when I go back to revise.  You must learn to write without hope.  Keep creating through those dry spells, keep sending out stories during the rejections; decouple your personal contentment from your creative muse and make that bitch dance for you.  She’ll be clumsy at first, foolish… but with time, you can make her do the most elaborate pirouettes when you’re barely able to move off the couch.
In fiction, there’s often a plot sequence: Try/fail, try/fail, try/succeed.  In real life, there may be a hundred try/fails before you get to that succeed.  But you’ll never know unless you stay in that execution loop.
Write more.
And then write more still.
(Inspired by Catherine Schaff-Stump’s Writers and Despair.)


  1. Catherine
    May 19, 2013

    Well, yeah. You keep writing, and you by God write some more, and then you f***ing wrote some more.
    But I think you made that point.

  2. JJ Roth
    May 21, 2013

    The right kick in the ass at the right time. Thanks.

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