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The Darkest Hour

Originally published at Joely Sue Burkhart. You can comment here or there.

I’ve seen a lot of things on this five-year climb. The road winds up the Mountain, sometimes so steeply my wrists ache from the constant typing. I can’t type fast enough and come up for air, gasping, arms hurting, hungry and bleary eyed, only to realize I was supposed to have gone to bed hours ago. Sometimes those steep climbs merely dump me into another Valley of the Shadow of Death, all the more unexpected because of the heights I thought I’d reached.

A soft voice whispers on the still night air: There’s no safety on this Mountain, didn’t you know that, silly grasshopper? No stage of the Mountain is easy. Other than quitting and trudging home with my tail between my legs. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how flat and safe the way back appears if I turn around, and how steep and dangerous the road remains ahead.

Don’t look back, the voice whispers. Don’t look down. Don’t stop now.

~ * ~

Why the melodramatic references to the Mountain today? I’ve been thinking off and on for days about expectations–specifically reader expectations. For the first time, I’m writing a book with full knowledge that PEOPLE will actually READ this book. Not safe people…like my beloved sis and Wanda who are going to love me even if I mess up this story, although they’ll YELL at me until I fix it…but….READERS.

Laugh if you will, but that’s a rather scary proposition.

Oh, I don’t know when, exactly, that this Valley began to inch its insiduous shadow into my path. It might have been while reading a piece May is writing about The Ruthless Reader. Or more likely, it’s my own ruthless dissatisfaction with a recent book. Mix that in with some positive reviews on my own work, and I suddenly find myself wanting to huddle by a campfire and peer around fearfully at the shadows instead of trudging onward.

Those shadows start to whisper such horrible things. What if…the writer’s question, you know…I’ve messed up this book? What if people hate me because I killed a character? What if people are sickened by the villain(s)? What if people want to tar and feather Shannari because she…No, no, why not stich a big red “A” on her chest?!?

Worrying about what people might think, I started making little mistakes. I flinched away from scenes I knew must happen. In fact, I tried to hide the very complex and gritty characters I’d struggled so hard to breathe life into in a silly effort to make them safe, clean, and pretty.

Instead of letting them bleed and rage on the page in all their dark glory.

Oh, okay, Gregar was still pretty, even when I messed him up, but you know what I mean.

On the bright side, at least I realized I messed these things up and have already fixed them, instead of finishing the first draft and realizing… oops! Will the real murderously sexy Gregar please return to the story? Will this whiny, whimpy Shannari PLEASE go away? Will this insanely secure and never ruffled Rhaekhar please fall down on your sword and let the jealous, aggressive Khul back on the page, please?

I finally realized today that I’m in my Dark Moment. I hit this Valley with every book, the moment when I quail before the feat and wonder what the hell I was thinking. I thought this story would be safe. I thought I’d write confidently to the end and not flinch from the truth of my own premise, but even this story threatens me with doubt. Even these beloved characters wonder if the light truly shines brighter in the midst of the midnight’s shadow, if in the end, even love can save them after the misdeeds they’ve committed and/or seen.

I realized there is nothing more ruthless than a writer doubting herself in the darkest moment of Story. Yet the moon shines above, dimly but still there, a silver beacon of beauty and love and I know what I must do.

I block those whispers from my mind. I refuse to consider the shadows writhing on either side. And I trudge on through the Valley. Don’t look back. Don’t look down. Don’t stop now.

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