When Low Meets Dark

A little over a year ago, for the first time in seven years, I thought: “I want to quit.” I knew even as I thought it that I wouldn’t. I wanted to, but I would never let myself. Still, thinking “I want to quit” was a strange thing for me. I had gone through hard times in my writing before, of course – some really hard times that I thought would never end – but I’d never reached a point that felt quite so defeating. I didn’t want to keep trying.

I’m fine now, if you’re worrying. In fact, I’m quite happy these days, so why am I sharing this now? Because I want any other writers and artists out there (and people in general, when you get down to it) to know that this happens to me – that it happens to everyone. I want you to know and understand and believe that there are low, dark places that we sometimes slide into, and that’s okay. Sometimes we run and jump, sometimes we slip, sometimes we can’t get out, and sometimes it’s where we want to be. Sometimes cool, quiet places are where we need to be to heal; sometimes it feels like drowning.

Writers are told to get on social media. We’re told to network and build platforms. We’re told to be personable but not overly personal. We’re told to keep things positive and fun. We’re told to share the good news and pretend the bad news never happens. And from a sales standpoint, this is all good advice. From a human standpoint, it can be dangerous. It’s easy to get online and follow writers and authors and assume that what we see is all there is. It looks like everyone is flitting around, cheerfully dogged, living lives full of success and releases and acceptances and news.

Please don’t let that be a thing that pulls you down. I promise you, we’re all struggling. If someone’s genuinely not struggling, they probably aren’t trying that hard. For those of us who live this and care deeply and want great things, the rejections can be heartbreaking. The failures feel permanent. The risks seem too ferocious, and the options too few.

It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to embrace the struggle. It’s okay to step away for a while. It’s okay to acknowledge that this is one hard-ass road we’ve chosen, we artists, and that sometimes it’s overwhelming. I believe that. I allow myself to feel every step of this journey, and I try not to run from it. So when I think something like, “I want to quit,” I don’t pretend it never crossed my mind. I acknowledge it, I give myself a break, and I reach out to someone who cares about me for encouragement or support or just simple understanding. We all sink into those dark, low places, but we’re never truly alone unless we want to be.

But we must always come back to the important things. Low and dark is not forever. You have pulled yourself out before, and you can pull yourself out again. Don’t stay in too long. If you need help, there are people who will help you. Please, please ask for it.

Even in the midst of my lowest point as a writer, there was a certain peace that came with knowing I’d get through it. That’s the thing about people who’ve been through a lot. We’ve survived the unthinkable, and we know we can survive it again, coming out the other side not just stronger, but softer and brighter and more sensitive in all the best ways.

I was right; I did survive it. You can too. And you will.

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  • Julia Munroe Martin

    I can really relate to this, Annie. Low and dark is not forever, but it can surely feel that way. I’ve gone through a lot of these same feelings in the past year and have watched someone very close to me deal with a serious depression as well. It’s daunting, overwhelming at times. Writing can take a back seat when coping with things, or at times it’s all we have. As you say, we are all struggling — in one way or another — and it’s good to share that. Thank you. Here’s to brighter and softer days ahead. Glad you’re doing well now. xox

    • It *does* seem that way while we’re in it; that’s part of what feels so terrible (for me, at least). I’m sorry to hear you’ve wrestled with some of this as well, but it’s good to know we aren’t alone. Thank you so much, Julia.

    • jclementwall

      I’m so, so, so grateful that both of you, Annie and Julia, – writers I admire and adore – come out of the dark (again and again, as all artists must). The world is better for the art you both produce.

  • A. B. Davis

    Annie, this hit home. In the midst of major life changes keeping me from being able to write as much as I’d like and the rejections that seem to be hitting my inbox as soon as I submit, it only makes sense that we tread these low, dark places sometimes. Thank you for sharing this necessary hardship with us, and that, in solidarity, you experience it too.

    • Major life changes almost seems like an understatement! I hope you’re kind to yourself. Someone once told me to try to treat yourself the way you’d treat your best friend. I bet if your bestie was juggling everything you are you’d tell her to give herself a break, yeah? 🙂 I’m glad you feel that solidarity. That’s my intention. <3

  • Thanks for posting this, Annie. In this month when so many people are posting their amazing NaNoWriMo word counts, I know I feel better reading a piece that let’s us acknowledge our limitations while still reminding us not to wallow in them.

    • I’m so happy to hear that. It can be so easy to get caught up in everyone else’s successes and play the comparison game; it’s good to remember they’re only sharing their happy stuff, and that they all have sad stuff, too. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  • Caitlin Cunningham

    <3

  • Carie Juettner

    I’m glad you posted this. It gives me courage to post a similar “feeling of defeat” story I’ve been debating that’s not about writing but still applies. However, I think your post was perhaps more powerful because you waited to share it. You waited until the low point had passed so that we can see it (and acknowledge it and honor it) but also see the whole picture and what it looks like on the other side. Thanks. Also here’s a hug. You can use it or save it for later. Whatevs.

    • I’m gonna use it now and hope another one will be available to me later. 🙂 Thank you so much, Carie. Yeah, part of the reason I waited was so it wasn’t just a “venting” post, but something bigger, like you said, where I could see the other side. I’m really glad you thought so.

  • Traci Kenworth

    Oh, how I’ve been there. This life IS hard and the joy slow sometimes but still, with everything against it, I still want to do it. I still want to follow my characters through hell and back and triumph. I’m glad you didn’t quit. And I’m glad you spoke up. Like you said, too often we’re told to keep quiet. You do such beautiful work, Annie. I hope you find your place to soar bold and true to who you are. I wish that for all of us but sadly, I know some of us won’t make it. I pray every day for writers, those at the top of their game, those just starting out, and those in between. May we all stay the course.

    • What a beautiful comment, Traci. It almost read like a poem. “Stay the course” would be a wonderful mantra to post by our work stations. I really love that. Acknowledge the hard and embrace the good, but either way, stay the course. Lovely.

  • I think we’ve all been there at some point. I’m so glad you came out the other side okay, and I hope things are really looking up now.

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I’m so grateful you shared this, Annie. It’s important for other writers to acknowledge the ‘truth’ of the difficulty of the writing life. As you so aptly put it, “It’s okay to acknowledge that this is one hard-ass road we’ve chosen, we artists, and that sometimes it’s overwhelming.” I’m so sorry you went through this, but am glad you came out the other side all the wiser, stronger, and appreciative.

    • Thank you so much, Melissa! I think we all go through this at some point — it’s just the details that change. <3

  • I can always count on you to keep it real 🙂 In all seriousness this is an awesome post. Sometimes we need that low dark place so we can crawl out the other side reborn. Self-care is so important but often forgotten. Great post.

    • Aw, thank you! Yes, sometimes we need it. Agreed. Actually my whole next post is about self-care.

  • Peggy

    Wonderful post & lots of hard earned truth! I love how you try to live authentically even when it’s hard stuff to talk about. You never know whose journey you may impact in a great way!

    • That’s my hope — that my sharing might ease someone else’s burden by even a little. Thank you so much!

  • Not a month goes by that I don’t think about quitting. I think the simple knowledge that I can if I want to soothes me, and then I decide to tough it out a little while longer.

    • Wow, Lexa. I’m glad you don’t. I’m glad you choose this again and again; I guess we all do, when it comes down to it.

  • Truth: “If someone’s genuinely not struggling, they probably aren’t trying that hard.” I agree. We all struggle. This was such a great post. I read it last week and tweeted it then, but wanted you to know how much I admired the honesty and the sentiments here.