Writers and Despair

So, there I was, writing along on the new novel on Sunday, and posting bits and progress to Twitter, like I do. And a tweet pops up from Kate Elliot (an author I have not read, but discovered that I will be reading for book group in December…) about despair. Her tweet was a riff on Galadriel, I think, but Stephen Gould, one of my teachers from Viable Paradise mentioned that he understood about despair because he was despairing in his living room the night before.

Then, Beth Bernobich, who is a great writer four books or so into her career asked these two very established writers, “Wait. You guys despair?” And Stephen said, “Of course we despair. We’re writers.” And Kate suggested she might write a post about despair. I would like to read a post about despair. I told them I was despairing even as I was writing.


Yesterday’s post, was, I think, a very realistic post. It was also me working through some feelings about this round of queries and rejections. The only way I can avoid sinking into sadness about the great void is to keep working, either on the new story, or at work. That’s one of the types of trying to break in despair. Stephen suggested if I was despairing, I must be doing something write.


However, I notice that every writer has their level of despair. It’s like being a monk in the old Dungeons and Dragons system–by the time you become a Grand Master of Flowers, your despair must be as mighty as your universe reversing martial arts. Here are some examples of recent level ups that I know about from others.

Fellow Taos Toolboxer Fran Wilde just got her agent (a really good one, I might add) yesterday. I am nosy, so I knew a little in advance about this, and sat on the news, but as we were discussing things the other night, I mentioned my spring of discontent (sorry, Shakespeare!), and having just been there, she was very sympathetic. But I quipped that she was going to get a whole new set of writer issues. Yup. Maybe imposter syndrome (one I think that runs up and down the stair steps of artistic ability) or will my book sell, or what do I do after this series…a very natural set of things for a new agented writer.

And Jim Hines, another writer friend, is leveling up. His despair? Ambitious books that he’s not sure he can write, fan expectations that he’s not sure he can meet. Of course both Fran and Jim have the abilities to meet their challenges. Fran’s book is nigh unto poetic, and Jim’s fans wouldn’t have embraced him if they didn’t like his work, but you know, despair. You get it free with your writer’s union dues.

And then there are problems. Other writers I know have been delayed by editors, contracts, agent silence, health, family. These too add to the despair factor, things that we can’t control that are in the hands of others, that can spin our careers in different, unexpected directions.

Deadlines, sales figures, will I fail to write the next book, does my agent/publisher/editor want to keep me anymore, what will I do next, how can I find the energy to write another one, is what I’m writing marketable, when do I get nominated for an award, why can’t I write a break out novel, why am I even doing this when no one wants to read the stuff I’m writing anyway?

And on and on and on and on…

What can we do? Frankly, I don’t know for sure. Even as I write this post, even as I work on the next novel, I despair. I thought that Abigail Rath would make it. But now I think that it won’t. But realistically, there’s a full out and a partial out. Why couldn’t one of those be the one yes that is necessary? But the odds are that I won’t Abigail Rath makes it or not is such a small problem in the scale of the universe, and I feel a little silly despairing about it. When I’m not despairing about it. šŸ˜€

Last night, talking to a fellow writer, he suggested that we live in such a culture of rejection in publishing that it is hard not to sink into despair from time to time. True. Given. As I keep saying, the only way out is through. The only thing you can do is write more and send things out, and try to not think about the rejection, or take it personally.

Or…if all this really bothers you…you could stop. Some do. Even though there’s no sure way to get over whatever that next hump is, that’s the one sure way to not make it. But if you are really unhappy, I don’t think it’s worth it.


All right. Enough headology for a while. This weekend I am staying at home while Bryon is off to Minneapolis. Striking role reversal, yes? I have to go to Kirkwood’s graduation tomorrow (must put in an appearance every 3 years!), so I have to dig out the Academic Regalia tonight. I think there’s a meeting I need to pop in on. Also, important shoe shopping for Wiscon. Writing. Household chores. Writing.

Monday or Tuesday (depending on next week’s student rush as classes start) I’ll be posting my last Taos Toolbox profile. Look forward to it!

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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