When you first start out on the writer’s journey, you’re excited. Full of energy. Full of strength. Full of hope. That is as it should be, at the beginning of any journey, of all journeys – everything is still to come, still ahead, and all you have is eager anticipation.
You might be writing for yourself, or for a handful of dedicated readers, at the start of it all. And that’s the first quiet level stretch of the road, and it’s perfectly easy going – if you want to describe it in terms of walking terminology, it’s an “easy hike”, up to a point. You are carrying a light pack. Your feet are fresh, you are rested, and you think you’re making good progress.
It’s when you get lulled into this frame of mind that you suddenly realize that the road has been climbing slowly for some time, and that you’re getting out of breath, and that night is coming on, and you’d better find a place to stop and sleep – but there often isn’t a comfy inn available just when you want it, so you spend a night, several nights, lots of nights, sleeping out in the rough, just you and your sleeping bag and the stars.
You’re still climbing.
You get to a certain point, a plateau, and you stop for a breather – and the world looks wonderful. The sun is shining, you’re in a high meadow and there’s flowers in wild profusion all around you, you might start to glimpse other walkers and they’re friendly and they’ll wave back at you if you smile, and there might even be a friendly inn along the way where you can lay your weary head and count on a hot breakfast in the morning. This is where you are when you sell something, when your words are published, when somebody reads you, when somebody actually seems to enjoy reading you.
Occasionally there’s a squall (somebody hates your stuff) or a bigger storm (rejection # 30 arrives in the mail…) but on the whole you’re still on the road, and yes, it’s still climbing, but at least it’s still a reasonably smooth walk, and although your pack seems to get heavier with every stop you make (this is a trip on which you accumulate baggage…) you can handle it.
You get to the first peak – a book’s sold! You’re at the top of the world, looking down on creation! You could not possibly be any happier! – and then you look ahead, a little. And realize that the road just got steeper. And more treacherous. There’s a sheer cliff now, on one side, and a steep drop-off on the other. And the road is narrower now, and all those other walkers to whom you’ve been waving and smiling all this time, they all want to be on the road at the same time as you, and sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough room, and occasionally you hear a cry as somebody loses their footing and falls off the cliff to the rocks way way way below you. But you’re on the road, and the only way is up, and you grimly shoulder your pack and soldier on.
You hear word, from up ahead, that others have done well. That they have found their place, built their palaces, are living in rooms with a view. Or at least that is the rumour. You don’t seem to pass many of those mansions on your trudge up the mountain (although sometimes you think you glimpse one, a long way away, but it’s hard to tell anything about it from that distance).
You reach the peak, and you start to breathe a sigh of relief – perhaps you can rest now, deservedly, and surely there has to be a way to get a new pair of shoes to replace the ones you’ve begun to wear out on your feet which are starting to hurt…
And then you realize that up ahead there are only more mountains…
At some point in a writing career we all hit it – that point of “what’s the use of going on? It’s just more of the same. And everything good I have ever heard is just a whisper in the wind…” The dark night of the soul. The moment when you look at your writing and you cannot see a purpose in it, or any redeeming value, and you ask yourself why anybody would want to read anything like that at all, and wonder why you’ve ever found it difficult to accept or believe that you have maybe a hundred and seven readers out there and twenty of them are your relatives, or your very best friends, or they married you before you were “famous” and now have a vested interest in keeping the faith, as it were.
But here’s the thing. The sun rises beyond those mountains. Every day. And if you wake up in time to see it, you can see the dawn break on the forbidding rocks, and they are washed in shades of rose-pink and gold, and it’s all QUITE beautiful. And you find a pair of shoes – they aren’t necessarily new, or particularly pretty, but they are sturdy and will serve – and you shoulder your pack, and you start up again. Because this is a road that you cannot bring yourself to leave, if your heart is truly set upon it (it’s VERY easy to abandon if it is not, actually) and once you have set your feet upon it there is no real turning back. If you look over your shoulder you will only see things you’ve already left behind – been there, done that – and they will hold little allure for you. It’s that new sunrise that will, every time.
There’s a well-known parody movie which has brought forth an iconic quote – from Galaxy Quest, “NEVER give up. NEVER surrender.”
It’s okay to have a dark night of the soul. Many of us have had them. Many of us have them regularly, in fact, and learn to recognize their coming, like the arrival of a bad headache. But if we are writers, we are not permitted to languish in that night for long. Only until the sun comes up the next morning.
If you believe in this writing part of your soul…never give up. Never surrender. And always keep your face turned to the sunrise.
~ Alma Alexander