Back from the Brink

A few years ago, I had reached an all-time low.  I had recently finished my two-book contract and the publisher declined book three (given that they had announced it as a duology, I was not especially surprised), and my agent stopped responding to phone calls, including the message I left which said it sounded like I should be looking for a new agent.  I guess that’s one way to unload clients, if not a very professional one.

During this slow-motion career nosedive, I had tried, and failed to write anything new. I did have one project I really believed in, but my agent’s inability to sell it (or perhaps even to submit it, it’s hard to say) had undercut my faith in what I felt to be the best book I had ever written.  And if your best book isn’t good enough, well, you’re screwed.  I started a few other projects and played around with some ideas I liked, but nothing seemed to stick.

The absolute nadir came at the World Fantasy Convention that year, when a friend of mine had just sold in a Major Deal to an editor I hoped to work with, and had his work praised in the exact terms I had envisioned for myself.  Seriously—imagining your success in great detail is supposed to be a good motivator, but when it seems that this detailed success is bestowed on another, well, you kinda think about finding a different career.  Outside Sales, for instance, starts to seem much less soul-killing.   Then, just to rub it in, the one meal I had outside the con, meeting up with family in a distant restaurant—that same friend was dining at the next table, positively glowing.  No, I did not pick up my steak knife and apply it to one or both of us. I think I even managed to convey some enthusiasm for his success.

But that night at the hotel, I knew I had to turn it around.  Sure, this contract hadn’t worked out, and that agent had left me worse off than I would have been—I couldn’t do anything about the past—but I could still take charge of the future.  That had to begin with the present, but what to do?  I re-read my other project and decided it was still worthy. I could not find an agent to take me on, so I shrugged and started submitting to publishers on my own.  What did I have to lose?

The fact that I wasn’t writing, however, troubled me even more.  If this project didn’t sell, where would I be?  I had nothing else to offer, and I still couldn’t get traction on a new project.  Note to self, and others:  one of the signs of depression is that you can no longer enjoy the things you used to love, like writing, for example.  The simple act of writing no longer brought comfort, hope and energy.

I was griping—er—commiserating with a friend who was in a similar place.  Wanted to write, couldn’t get the momentum.  How about a challenge?  But how do two people who feel totally incapable challenge each other?  We agreed on a hundred words.  We could write a hundred words a day—that’s like one paragraph, less than half a page.  After all, we still called ourselves writers.  And when we had finished our hundred words, we would email each other.  If we hadn’t heard from the other person, we could nudge, cajole and taunt them until the one hundred words were done.

Picture a steam engine starting out from the station.  It starts out real slow, the wheels rotating just a few words at a time.  I struggled those first few days, as if I were hauling a string of boxcars up a mountainside.  Then, after a while, I wrote a couple hundred words, then a thousand, then—as I used to do a long time before—I started losing track, simply writing, not worrying about my count, but getting into the flow, racing out across the plains, full steam ahead.  I was writing again.

Soon after this breakthrough, I was not only writing again, but I had an offer from a publisher—then an agent (funny, how quickly they respond when you have an offer on the table)—then a contract for the series that is The Dark Apostle.

I dragged myself back from the brink, with a little help from my friend, and by remembering what it was that I loved:  not the contracts, nor the agents, not the praise, nor the publishing, but the writing that still lies at the heart of it all.  There are always a thousand aspects of your world you can’t control, but when you claim responsibility for the things that you can, pick yourself up and keep working, that’s when the dream can come true.

E.C. Ambrose

E.C. Can be found online here: thedarkapostle.com/books

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