Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Old New Castle, Delaware
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As we continue looking at the hero’s journey, we’ll examine step four, The Abyss. This is one that’s familiar to almost anyone who’s following the writer’s journey.
Step Four: The Abyss. The challenge is so great at this point that the hero must surrender himself completely to the adventure and become one with it. This is usually where he faces his greatest fear, needing to conquer it. It often takes the shape of the confrontation he dreads, a great fear that has been repressed or a deep need that needs to be resolved.
So many writers I know stand at the abyss. The publishing industry itself is probably at this stage—a challenge so great that it must be met head on. But because of industry change, writers are feeling the effect.
So if we are standing at the abyss how do we meet the challenge?
Let’s look at the fears, dread and deep need and see how we can meet those challenges for those who are not yet published.
- Rejection—how many times can a writer receive agent and editor rejections before walking away? Nothing is as hard as having our hopes dashed time and time again. It’s important to remember that most rejections have little to do with either the writer or the work. It’s a product of a very full pipeline. Agents have precious few openings for clients and publishers have even tighter slots on their lists. It’s not so different from trying to break into Hollywood– lots of talent and a shortage of opportunities. Is this a reason to quit? It is if the process is too painful, but if you know you are called and believe there’s a place for your work, keep trying. Remember that rejection is only temporary. It means you haven’t found the right place or right time yet.
- Changing Market—Every time a proposal is finished the market has shifted away again. How do we hit a moving target? Don’t even try. The market is fickle and cyclical. If you try to write to the market you’ll only frustrate yourself. Write what you are called to write. If it doesn’t appeal to the market right now, just wait.
- Lack of Feedback— Queries and proposals go out and nothing comes back. There’s no way to know if we’re even close. And here’s why: editors and agents don’t give feedback for a number of reasons. You do need feedback but you need to get it from your critique group, writing conferences and freelance editors you can hire.
- Not Enough Information— How does a writer know if it’s worth staying the course of if he is headed toward a dead end? That’s one of the reasons you want feedback. Find out if your work is publishable and keep working toward it.
And what causes published writers to face the abyss?
- Dire Financial Situation— if lack of security is a huge fear for you, you’ll undoubtedly approach the abyss many times in your career. There are no financial guarantees in writing. As we’ve talked about many times– don’t quit your day job.
- Competitive Failure— If you are a competitive person, writing will test your very mettle. There will always be other writers who appear to do so much better. There’s an easy solution to this– don’t compare yourself to other writers. Whenever I hear one writer comparing his career to another writer’s career, he is comparing apples to oranges. There is no way you have enough information to compare.
- Artistic Failure— The review process is one of the toughest element of writing. Writers tend to give negative comments ten times the weight of positive ones, so any criticism stings. Each writer must find his way of dealing with critique. Don’t let the opinion of others drive you toward the abyss.
- Lack of Career Progress— Sensing a career stall is one of the most debilitating challenges a writer faces. This is the time to persevere until all the doors close permanently. Too often a seeming stall seems to precede a huge career uptick.
- Too Much Success— Although most writers would gladly trade places, when a bestselling writer’s career takes off, it brings all kinds of problems. This is the time to set boundaries, gather a gifted team and set a strategy for continued success. Balancing work and life is the challenge.
If you feel you are teetering on the abyss, what are the challenges that threaten to push you over the edge? How do those challenges grow out of your own fears or deep need? What will it take for you to crawl out of the abyss or avoid it altogether?