Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 3, 2013

The “Black Moment” of the Writing Process

My friend Jerry Waxler likened the writing of a book to the Hero’s Journey. As most of you know, one of the stages of the Hero’s Journey is the black moment or dark moment–that moment in the story where all seems lost and hope is gone. I think Jerry is on to something with his analogy, because I have experienced a black moment in the writing process just recently.

Over the weekend, I got my YA novel back from my developmental editor, the wonderful Kathryn Craft. I knew I was in for a lot of work, but I didn’t mind because I am one of those writers who actually enjoys revision. I did not have a chance to look at Kathryn’s report over the weekend, so I waited until Monday.

Monday was a bad day to look at the report. My daughter had gotten me up before 6 AM, meaning I was running on about 4.5 hours sleep. That’s never good for morale. And I was in a bad mood for other reasons that had nothing to do with writing. So when I read Kathryn’s report, my eyes filled with tears and I said, “This rewrite is never going to happen. I can’t do this.”

The whole rest of the day I struggled with defeat. Why was I even trying? Why bother? No one really cares if I ever write another word or not. I’m not writing anything deep and meaningful. I’m not going to change anyone’s world.

I have been here before, crushed by the knowledge that my very best effort still is not anywhere near as good as it needs to be–anywhere near where I want it to be. On good days, this is what I love about writing–the knowledge that there is always more to learn, the excitement of scaling the next mountain, reaching the next plateau. On bad days, all I see is a debris pile that used to be my manuscript, and the toil involved in clearing the rubble seems beyond my strength.

I am slowly coming out of the overwhelmed funk. Time helps. Being stubborn (ahem, persistent) helps. Chocolate helps. Being addicted to writing helps. But what really helps is that Kathryn is not only a fabulous editor but an enthusiastic cheerleader, who when I emailed her in a panic told me that I could do it and it would all come clear.

Writing can be lonely, and facing a huge rewrite can be demoralizing. Like our protagonists in their blackest moment, it is our friends who help us find the strength to push through the darkness and continue the journey.

It’s not Thanksgiving yet, but I am thankful for my fellow writers-in-arms. Without them, I would not be where I am, and I certainly would not still be moving forward.

How about you? Do you hit “black moments” in your process? How do you work through them?

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Responses

  1. {{{{Hugs}}}}
    It’s frustrating, I know, but every useful rewrite suggestion, is a signpost towards making your book gooder than what it was 😉

    Good luck!

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    • Thanks, Jon! As the black moment lifts, it becomes exciting to see the possibilities raised by the feedback offered.

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  2. I’ve had my black moments also, Kerry. Steel Rose needed serious editing and revisions, but at the time, I was glad to do them because the book before needed serious editing…and didn’t get it. It showed on the reviews, and for me that was my black moment. My way was to keep going, but look over my shoulder, so the rewriting did not faze me. Perhaps I should bite my tongue – eventually I’ll face a developmental edit for my current WIP.
    Sometimes I’ve gotten through with it by using my best swear words. 🙂

    Thanks for a great post.
    Barbara of the Balloons

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    • Hmm, swear words… Gotta make sure the little one can’t overhear! 🙂

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  3. Kerry, what you say reminds me of a talk given some time back by my longtime friend Maureen McHugh. She listed the 9 Stages of Writing a Novel. And right there, 2/3 of the way through, is the stage she calls “Dark Night of Despair.” As Maureen says, everybody hits this for one reason or another (and there are many). But following that is the stage she calls “Slogging: At least if I write two pages a day, I’ll finish this bastard in four months.”

    I’ve been in “slogging” mode on a book for awhile now. I keep looking for a “pom-poms” stage. That would be nice. For what it’s worth, you are in very good company where ‘black moments’ are concerned.

    -gf

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    • Thanks, Greg! I knew I could not be the only writer to have this experience. Good to know we can make it through. Keep slogging–we’ll both get there!

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  4. […] week I discussed the “black moment” of writing, and Greg Frost commented that author Maureen F. McHugh said that the dark moment was followed by […]

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