Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Black Days

By Amy

If you can do anything else, do it. Don’t write.

It was advice given to me once at a reading, offered by a debut novelist. We were surrounded by tables with thick linen tablecloths and lovely crystal glasses, a view of the harbor and robust coffee. All in her honor. She should have been beaming, celebrating this first reading of hers before a restaurant filled with eager readers. Instead, her shoulders were hunched and her young face had about it the weight of someone who’s suffered a great loss and knows not to trust that everything will be all right.

Though it was her debut novel, it wasn’t the first book she’d written. She had two more under her bed. Talking with writers, it’s a familiar scenario. Some manage to pick themselves up and move on to the next project, while others cut themselves free of the writer's life, make their way doing something far more reasonable, less damaging: Accounting or office work, perhaps bartending because one night’s tips are better than all the money your writing has earned in a year.

If you’re a writer, you understand the melancholy. That sense of numbness that descends after too many rejections or a particularly difficult one. Or worse, silence. You give into the voices, playing on an endless loop inside your head, voices you’re afraid others will hear, too: You’re not good enough, you have no right to hope to be something you’re not. Your dreams will never come true.

I’ve heard from writers, ones whose names you undoubtedly know, that they’ve shared this affliction. Some call it “angst,” others the “in-between days.” It all amounts to the same. Sometimes all that can see a person through the Black Days is fear. Fear of never being the person you want to be, I want to be. It leaves no choice.

So have a good cry, the kind that wells from the core, painful, wrenching sobs that leave your eyes horribly swollen and your insides twisted, and then catch your breath and press on. Keep moving. Forward. One step, then another because there’s nothing else you can do. Not really. And know there’s hope.

You’ll find it on the next blank page.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Oh, Amy, you're so right. I have to look at that blank page as opportunity not an abyss. I love the new sheet of paper and giving in to the voices that will soon fill it. Except when I don't. But I also know this is the best job I'll ever have--and given that I was a public school teacher in my former life, the pay's pretty good!

Therese said...

Amy, such kind, encouraging words--and very true words as well.

I've had two of those discouraging unsold novel experiences, but my third novel was a winner for me. If I'd quit after #2 I'd have missed all the fun I'm having now.

My mantra: "Just keep writing..."

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Judy, so good that you're living the dream.

Therese, it's a wonderful mantra. Congratulations on making your dream come true.

Larramie said...

Aw, the dejected/rejected debut novelist needs a lesson in "bygones" and moving on to celebrate success.

Such "pained" writers don't impress me because the truth is that no matter what you do in life, there will be disappointments. And so, for everyone, it's all about tomorrow, a blank page or a new chapter.

Anonymous said...

Amy - Though it is dark, maybe because it is dark, I love this entry. I think that fear definitely has a place and serves a purpose both in writing and in life. Everyone has a fear (or many fears) and these create our individual dark places, snake pits, hells. But aren't these also part of the collective dark? The very dark that we write to illuminate for ourselves and others? The dark that gradually recedes as we alone and then together begin to name it? Fear comes with the territory of consciousness. Only the brave consciously move not only in spite of fear but because of it, because that is where the unknown is, that is where the life we haven't grown big enough to hold yet is waiting.
Phew! Where did that come from I wonder?!
Thank you for creating this blog that I now visit each day - a small island of creative sanity. It brings light into darkness- and you made it happen.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Anon, Thanks so much. You've given all of us much to consider.