Thursday, June 10, 2021

Writing: When Things Get Tough

By Dario Ciriello, @Dario_Ciriello 

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: No job is perfect, and being a writer has its bad days. Dario Ciriello discusses the darker times writers face, and why we still keep writing.

Sometimes writing is so difficult that all you can do is laugh. The laugh is not one of humor, but more like that of Holmes as he goes over the Reichenbach falls, or perhaps one of Lovecraft’s characters as he fully realizes the depth of the unspeakable cosmic horror which is about to devour his soul.

Every seasoned writer is, I think, deeply mistrustful of anyone who claims to love the process—I mean the entire process, especially the in-the-trenches bayonet-work, when you’re locked in a life-and-death struggle with yourself and every fiber of your being screams give up, surrender, you can’t win, because each sentence you craft, each line of dialogue, is worthless, stilted nonsense. At these times there’s nothing to love about the process, and to hell with inspirational quotes and touchy-feely nonsense. All you have is will and determination, and it had better be up to the task.

There are times when any of us who are honest with ourselves wonder why we’re doing this.

Perhaps you worked like a dog on that last novel, and it’s lying dead in the water. Nobody gives a damn for your work. The competition out there is so brutal you can’t even get an agent to read your query, let alone your novel. You’ll never break through, no matter how hard you try. You wonder why you’re doing this when you could be doing something fun. You’re a fool. You’re beat. You want to reclaim your life.

Writing is a tough gig. Darwin red in tooth and claw. If you’re like me, you go to this bad place periodically. You have your pity party, kick and scream and pound and cry…and pretty soon you square your shoulders and get back to work.

(Here's more with 3 Reasons You Should Quit Writing)  

It’s okay to have doubts and fears.

When I go to the bad place, I look hard at my reasons for writing. If I told you I didn’t care about earning money at it, I’d be lying. Of course I care. But that’s not why I write. Bear with me while I fill in some backstory.

I was lucky with my very first book, Aegean Dream. The book sold exceptionally well in the U.K. and was picked up by a foreign publisher as well, selling over 11,000 copies to date. All through one glorious summer, fat checks were rolling in monthly. It felt great. Before that I’d only sold a few science fiction short stories for beer money; now I was somebody!

My second book, Sutherland’s Rules, released in early 2013, was a brutal reality check. Although everyone who reads it loves it and asks for a sequel, and the reviews are great, sales have been very disappointing, in the low hundreds. I went into a funk. I’d put my heart and the best part of a year of my life into this book—what the heck happened?

Well, for one thing I’d switched not just genre but a whole category, going from a nonfiction travel memoir to a thriller. Worse, Sutherland’s Rules is a very quirky thriller, really an action-adventure/suspense/buddy-caper/police procedural with a shimmer of the fantastic around the edges, and featuring older protagonists to boot! Effectively, I was starting all over again, with an oddball book in a far more crowded category.

But I wasn’t giving up.

I began working on another novel, a supernatural thriller. By then I’d started publishing other people’s novels through my micropress, Panverse Publishing, and that, coupled with the need to work part-time, ate up every second of my time and more. The novel I’d written 30k words of got abandoned. I was a failure, a pretend writer.

Somehow, crazy as life was, I managed to get a few new short stories written, tidied up a few others, and glued them together into a collection, Free Verse and Other Stories. The collection got some good reviews, and even plaudits such as “a writer who deserves wider recognition” and “underappreciated writer.” Sales to date? Not much over a hundred copies.

Go to the bad place. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

What went wrong?

Collections are never an easy sell, even for name writers. Also, this was a science fiction collection. Never mind that a few people thought it a strong volume, I’d switched genres again! Oh, sweet Jesus, would I never learn?

I went back to the abandoned novel, Black Easter, and just a few months later wrote those glorious words we all love, THE END. I was a writer again, and now I’d written a second novel in the same genre (thriller)!

But why? Why do this? The chances of success in this game are not good, and I’m not young. So why be a writer when I could be hiking, visiting art galleries, taking photographs, learning East Coast Swing…

(Here's more with How to Persevere When the Mountain Seems Unconquerable)  

I write because I need to.

Because there are stories I want to tell, characters and situations I want to read about which nobody else has written. Because I want to share these stories with other people, perhaps intriguing and even delighting them in the process. Because the high of getting fan mail from a total stranger whose life I’ve touched is worth any number of lows. Because I want to leave a legacy of some sort. Because I have this weird idea that if a creative person stops doing what they feel driven to do, something inside them will sicken, and that hurts the soul.

And I write as an indie because I want be in charge of my creations.

It’s okay to go the bad place. Like a warrior, a writer needs courage, and plenty of it. But courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s facing our fears and carrying on in spite of them. Go to the bad place, explore it, despair in it. And when you’re done, come back.

And besides, there’s always a chance that the next book will be a bestseller.

Dario Ciriello is a professional author and freelance editor as well as the founder of Panverse Publishing.

Dario’s fiction includes Sutherland's Rules, a crime caper/thriller with a shimmer of the fantastic; Black Easter, a supernatural suspense novel which pits love against black magic and demonic possession on a remote, idyllic Greek island; and Free Verse and Other Stories, a collection of Dario's short science fiction work.

Dario’s 2011 nonfiction book, Aegean Dream, the bittersweet memoir of a year spent on the small Greek island of Sk√≥pelos (the real Mamma Mia! island), was an Amazon UK travel bestseller. The Fiction Writing Handbook: The Professional Author’s Guide to Writing Beyond the Rules (Panverse, 2017) is his second nonfiction work.

In addition to writing, Dario, who lives in the Los Angeles Area, offers professional editing, copyediting, and mentoring services to indie authors.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Panverse Publishing

About The Fiction Writing Handbook

A Unique Approach to the Craft of Writing Fiction

The Fiction Writing Handbook
 is a complete guide for the fiction writer who wants to develop an individual voice and understand the reasons underlying the so-called rules of writing. Although a few rules really are necessary, the vast majority are either dogma or passing fads. Worse, so much advice like “show don’t tell” and “open with action” is often poorly explained and entirely misunderstood, causing writers no end of problems. Similarly, the importance of both character and narrative voice, as well as tone, cannot be overstated.

Drawing on twenty years of writing, critiquing, editing and mentoring experience, Dario Ciriello explodes writing myths, shreds conventional wisdom, and dissects the often misleading advice and diktats shouted at writers by books and blogs, agents and publishers. The Fiction Writing Handbook gives authors the necessary tools and insights to retake control of their story and make it unique.

Other topics covered in The Fiction Writing Handbook include external and internal dialog, writers' block, traditional vs. indie publishing, PoV (point of view), creating suspense, and much more.

Whether your interest lies in short stories, novels or screenwriting, The Fiction Writing Handbook shows you how to tell your story in your voice and place it before your audience, eschewing novel plotting formulas and cookie-cutter fiction to remain true to your own, exceptional vision while adhering to the few rules that actually matter. Because writing isn’t about prose wonks and industry insiders: it’s about the reader, and most of all it’s about telling a story. Your story.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | iTunes | Indie Bound | Kobo | Panverse


  1. I think I'm on my way back from that bad place... but for a while it seemed like the will to write yet another novel was gone for bad. I just self-published my 12th novel to complete a middle-grade time-slip adventure series of 4 books. I was determined to finish what I'd started, but as soon as I posted it for sale, the empty feeling set in. I'll see how that goes. I don't usually give up for more than a few days.

  2. I'll bet your books have good advice for my students in Advanced Writing.