Andromeda/Your turn: Heading toward the solstice, what has helped you through dark times?

You probably don’t want to hear that I’m experiencing t-shirt weather right now in L.A., where I’m working on my MFA — though honest, I’ve been in classrooms, not lounging poolside as I hoped. (And still hope!) Yet, I have not forgotten how dark and cold Anchorage was feeling when I left, and I sure know there is PLENTY of dark and cold waiting for me when I get back.

So here’s the question I’ve been saving: What have some of your darkest times as a writer been? And how do you know when you’re getting to that point — I suppose it could be called rock-bottom, though that has such a negative ring to it — when things are about to turn around?

A little aside:

I had the pleasure of hearing Tobias Wolff do a reading two nights ago, and one thing he mentioned was that he fairly recently dropped a novel he’d been working on for 18 months, when he realized that it just didn’t have enough life in it. This surprised some audience members, predictably. (An old pro, “failing” at a novel? But of course, it happens all the time.) Wolff didn’t seem crushed. He is writing another novel, again. And though I wasn’t taking notes, I believe he said something about age and experience helping. We can only hope — for our own less-experienced sakes — that it does.

In any case, I’ve asked you to share your stories, and with that in mind, I’d better share one of my own. I think my darkest time came not when I had to set aside a novel (which I’ve done twice now) but when I effectively lost the attention and confidence of my first agent. Losing my trusted professional reader, my advocate — and having no idea how to fill the gap, no faith that I’d ever find an agent or editor again — felt like exile to Siberia. I was back to square one. And it’s not something you realize at first, in this writing life: that you may be set back to square one again, and again, and again.

What was my “solstice” moment — the darkest time before the turn? Not when I got a new agent (that would come later) but when I officially finalized the de facto break with agent number one, in the form of an amicable letter that I hoped would communicate what had gone wrong, and why we were better apart, and all that other awful divorce stuff that hurt to say. By complete coincidence, it was the month of December, one year ago, when I wrote that letter. I’d wanted a clean break for the new year. And I got it. Freedom granted, I could hear the whistling sound of my career ending, quietly, peacefully, as the snow fell, blanketing everything.


Oh yes — what helped? (Part of my question, after all.) What helped was realizing that commercial success is so beyond our control anyway, and all we can do is write what we want to write, and even if no one is available to read it professionally (much less publish it), that’s really OK. I’ve come to that realization more than once, but then I get amnesia, and I have to learn it all over again, usually when things aren’t going well. But when I truly believe it, it feels good every time: liberating, and bracing. A shock of cold, clean air on the skin. Or a snowball suddenly hitting the tender back of your neck. You can get mad or just turn around and start playing.

So, what have your literary solstice moments been? A particularly painful rejection letter? A bad review? Writer’s block? A sudden loss of interest in a topic once held dear? A life crisis that got in the way of a writing dream? Share if you dare, and let us shiver alongside you, looking forward to the glimmer of light and hope at the end of your dark tale. If no one comments, I’ll just have to assume you’re all so full of mid-winter happiness that you can’t remember any tribulations.

5 thoughts on “Andromeda/Your turn: Heading toward the solstice, what has helped you through dark times?”

  1. Some of my darkest moments have been in the throws of writer’s block. One of my teacher’s said he didn’t believe in it, but it I know it’s real. It usually happens when my brain clamps down like a vise with depression. But I’m good now. I’m finally happy! And this is a monumental success for me. So I’m finally experiencing a “dark time” in the midst of happiness, or some days, neutrality. It’s interesting.

    Solstice = change. To my eye, solstice is just as dark, just as dreary, but the incremental change takes hold until one day I finally notice that change, notice that I’m closing the shades later in the day, notice that light streaming in through the windows. But it’s the knowledge that things are changing that we celebrate, a recognition of change.

    Like today, as I look at my itinerary for my trip home, and realize that while I’m in the middle of a “dark time as a writer,” feeling cut off from the community at large (a story I can’t share in any public venue), and while all I can think of is a geographic cure, I recognize that I’ve never called Alaska “home.” Maybe home for me is where I feel that community and I’ve never found that except back “home.” I have a community by blood ties there. My community (in this case my nephew), who I haven’t seen in 5 years, is making me a welcome home card. He’s only 8. And he’s already an artist and a writer, as I was at his age, and I can’t wait to work on projects together. And then there’s my mom who has this book project she’s worked on, on and off, for years. I can’t wait to go home and foster that as well. (BTW: I applaud all you and Deb have done to build a community of writer’s in Alaska.)

    Anyway, my solstice is in that itinerary. My imagination is full of ideas of what else I will get involved in there. Sometimes, a fresh beginning is where it’s at.

    But in more general terms, I think I tend to know something is about to turn around when I recognize some change even if incremental. Sometimes it only takes a small change to shake things up and turn them for the better.

    And what has helped me through dark times? Knowing i'm a writer and i have a story to tell.

  2. I had already been going through many recent challenges with a book manuscript and a couple of shorter pieces, all of which seemed chock full of problems. Then came the blow that sent my ego straight to the bottom of a deep, dark hole. A magazine editor wrote me about a piece I had submitted (that they had asked for) and wanted me to do a total redo. The total piece was only about 400 words long. It was at that point I thought, if I can't even write 400 words that are cohesive, maybe it's time to reconsider my career path.

    What helped? Sitting my butt in the chair and doing the rewrite, and being quite happy with the result. (As was the editor.) And the same holds true for any piece that is undergoing problems, whether full book or short short. One thing that helps me is thinking about all those people who have told me I can't or shouldn't do this. I admit it's an immature motivation, but the idea of proving them wrong helps keep me going. The thought of proving them right makes me feel ill.

    But the biggest help is the continuing pull toward something new and interesting, when the only thing I can think about for days or weeks is how much I want to write about it. Until that longing disappears, you may as well make yourself happy by continuing to fulfill it.

  3. Wow, Andromeda, you have really hit home with this one as this has been an exceptionally dark winter for me. How have I dealt with it? By writing, taking pictures and putting the two together.

    This is not new for me in times of sorrow but what is new is that in the past I would do it inside my journals which no one, not even me, would ever even likely read again.

    But ever since I started keeping this damn blog, I don't have time to keep a journal, too, so I have wound up writing all this grief into my blog and maybe I have written too much, but that is what I have done.

    While I do not really expect you or your visitors here to go back through and read all this stuff, I just put up the latest related post:

    If you are curious enough to go back and visit on the day that the sun set in the literal sense, you can find that here:

    Should you desire to witness the moment when it began to grow truly dark, it is recorded here:

    And this is when the plunge into deep darkness came:

    And everything that I have written, photographed and posted since pertains and I suspect this will be the case for awhile.

    Even responding to your post is part of the process, because logic tells me I shouldn't do it, but my fingers keep typing, anyway, and, in just moments, although perhaps I should not, I know that I will click the "publish your comment" button.

    See? I told you I would.

  4. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thank you, Bill. Your comment got caught in the spam filter (due to the numerous links) but we know who you are (not a spammer!) and so glad you shared these sober thoughts. My condolences to you and I hope that your writing and photography continue to be some consolation to you.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top