A Writer’s Life: The Pit of Despair

Whenever I watch The Princess Bride, I skip the Pit of Despair segments. Popcorn, anyone? Maybe rewind to the Fire Swamp?

Sure, the Albino with the needs-to-cough-up-a-hairball voice is a bit of comedic relief before discovering our hero Westley is in the Pit of Despair. His future? Torture — attached to a life-sucking machine. His only escape? Death.

Am I the only one who skips these scenes?

As writers, there are days we are trapped in our personal Pit of Despair, without even a somewhat friendly Albino nearby. Life — our passion — is being sucked out of us, bit by bit.

What does Westley’s trip to the Pit teach us? Consider two truths:

  1. Truth # 1: Enemies get you into the Pit.
  2.  Truth # 2: Friends get you out of the Pit.

What about those enemies?
Inconceivable, isn’t it, how both success and failure dump us in the Pit.

When you succeed as a writer — land an agent, sign a contract — you think: Other people have expectations for me. What if I fail? Overloading yourself with the real or imaginary expectations of others tumble you into the Pit faster than the Dread Pirate Roberts can scale the Cliffs of Insanity.

And then there’s the slippery slope of failure: never attaining your goals, never quite grasping whatever spells “victory” for you. The root problem is the same: expectations. Fear you won’t meet others’ expectations or disappointment in yourself for not fulfilling your own. The bigger question? How do you navigate both success and failure?

At last! It’s time for the friends.
Westley didn’t rescue himself. The heroes? Fezzik and Inigo, who found a “mostly dead” Westley in the Pit. But that didn’t stop his friends from hauling his body out to go looking for a miracle.

When you can’t see the faintest hope of a miracle for the forest of despair surrounding your writing dreams, who searches for you? When you no longer believe in yourself, in your story, who believes in it for you? And — perhaps even more importantly — who do you go looking for when they’ve been dragged off into the Pit of Despair?

We’ve peered over the Cliffs of Insanity, survived the Fire Swamp, and now find ourselves at the Pit of Despair. Which have you found to be the greater enemy: success or failure? How have friends rescued you? Like Miracle Max, I believe it takes a miracle sometimes for changes to happen … so if you have any of those to share, please do!

For Fun: The Princess Bride 25th Anniversary cast reunion

Post Author: Beth K. Vogt

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an air force physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” She writes contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.

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56 thoughts on “A Writer’s Life: The Pit of Despair

  1. Thanks for the lighthearted view on the despair all writers feel at one point or another. This is a perfect illustration why writers need others for support and encouragement.

    Write on!

    • Megan,
      How perfect that you commented first, since we spent time together earlier this week encouraging one another!! There’s nothing like face to face time with another writer who “gets” you and the whole writing life –ups, downs and in-betweens.

    • I must thank my personal photographer, aka as my husband, for that perfect photograph for this post.
      And yes, while writers work alone, we can’t go it alone.

  2. I spent a some time this past year in my own pit, one I call Second Book Syndrome. I had a contract, but I still faced doubts when I set out to write, just like I had before my first book sold. My critique partners threw me a line and rescued me. With their help, I finished that story. Friends are one of life’s richest blessings. =)

    • Yay for friends throwing us a line and rescuing us — from Second Book Syndrome or Writer’s Fright … whatever drags us into the Pit of Despair.
      🙂

  3. Success is the greater enemy. C.S. Lewis said something in The Problem of Pain about how, like children, we only reach for God when all our toys lie broken around us and we have nothing left to put between ourselves and Him.

    • So, so insightful, Rosslyn.
      While failure trips me up, I remember how one of my mentors challenged me when I landed my contract for my debut novel. Her words were a warning that how I handled myself now that I was “successful” was very important … and to remember that being successful didn’t mean that God loved me more than He did the day before success arrived.

    • Paula, you can join me for popcorn while the others watch that scene! I’ve never, ever watched it. Ever.

      • I can’t do the torture scene, either. Not Wesley’s, or anyone else’s—including mine! I know I’m prone to overreaction, Beth, but this post actually made me cry. Hmm.

  4. Great post Beth. It has been so long since I saw Princess Bride. I know what I’m doing this weekend!

  5. Thanks for the encouragement.
    Enjoy the movie … the R.O.U.S.’s, storming the castle, Miracle Max … all of it!

    • Peter,
      My writing buddies make all the difference in my writing life — defending me from the Brute Squad, warning me of R.O.U.S.’s, and pulling me out of the Pit. And, yeah, I’ve been blessed with a miracle or two!

  6. Thank you Beth for this. I seem to throw ‘myself’ into the pit quite frequently, usually due to ‘perceived’ failure!!! It is at those times that a gentle nudge from Jesus helps me to look beyond my life as an author.

    • Dee,
      Yep, I’ve done that too — those “perceived” failures toss me into the Pit pretty quickly! And the Friend who sticks closer than a brother is a true comfort at those times.

  7. I love this & the picture is great. Songs and/or verses like “every valley shall be exalted and every hill made low” help me know things will equalize and stabilize so I hunker into Him and wait for what I know is true to become reality.

    • I gotta tell you, I just may post a copy of this self-portrait over my desk as a reminder to avoid the Pit of Despair … LOL 😉

    • Good morning, Edward! Glad to know I helped start your day off well! 🙂 Have fun storming the castle. (Sorry! Couldn’t resist!) 🙂

  8. I came by on a rec from Rachelle Gardner, and I’m glad that I did. This is a brilliant post. The Princess Bride is my favorite movie, and the comparisons that you draw are dead on. Thanks for writing this!

    • Ali,
      Thanks for stopping by.
      I love The Princess Bride too — and taking literary license with Westley and Buttercup and even R.O.U.S.’s has been a lot of fun!

  9. Beth, thanks for this post – for me friends, mentors, and faith in God help me. One of my friends gave me a great piece of advice. We are in charge of our emotions. When we see our emotional roller coaster can take us from great highs to the depths of despair, we need to come to a point where we choose not to take the ride. Don’t get on that roller coaster. I still take some hair-raising rides but some days I can remind myself I don’t have to ride.

    Have a blessed day.
    Heather

    • Heather,
      Great insight.
      We can always decline the ticket to get on the ride. Just say “No, thanks.”
      And sometimes it takes a friend to drag us away, saying, “Do Not Get On That Ride!”

  10. Yes! This! Exactly this! I don’t have a contract but still – those *am I doing enough* and *will it ever work out* pits.
    But I don’t skip those scenes in the film – those scenes make the good ones feel better – as in life. It’s the low bits that make the high bits feel so good. The low bits still suck though…!

    • Katherine,
      You’re braver than me.
      Maybe it’s because I can’t skip the Pit scenes in real life that I opt out on them in the movies …

  11. Beth, great post. My DH and I recently watched this movie again. Your analogy so aptly describes the writing journey. I am not to the place yet, where I’ve experienced great success or failure. It seems like success would be the greater enemy me, because it would tempt me to stop relying on Jesus. I thank God for giving me friends who encourage me to keep my eyes on Him, and also to move beyond where I am now to a place of being a better writer. Thanks for a great post!

    • It was a lot of fun to write the posts — and I have to credit my son, Josh, who is also a write. He urged me to jump deeper into the whole Princess Bride analogy, and I’m glad I did! It was loads of fun. My husband (not a writer, but a great brainstormer) asked, “Aren’t you talking about Miracle Max next?” But I think this is it for The Princess Bride posts.

  12. Great analogy! You had me at Cliffs of Insanity – I loooove Princess Bride! I’ve seen it a gazillion times, but have never skipped the Pit of Despair… Thanks for the post!

    • You’re made of stronger stuff than me, Angela. While I wrote this post, I actually watched a YouTube clip where the Count asked Westley how he felt after being on the Machine for just a little bit … and Westley whimpered. That was enough for me.

  13. Hi Beth,
    Love the pic and the post. Book 2 in my series almost dumped me in the pit permanently. But with lots of support from others including my publisher and agent I was rescued from the pit of despair and just turned in book 2. I’ve learned a lot but I don’t think I want to go there again. Pass the popcorn please.

    • Popcorn — my favorite snack food of all time! 🙂
      I’m working on book 2 right now, Jillian. So far I’ve managed to skirt the Pit …

  14. Umm… so why does that song keep running through my head: “Gloom, despair and agony on my. . . ” Wouldn’t it be great if we had a remote control to fast-forward through those times of despair?!

    • Thanks for providing a theme song for this post. And I like the remote control idea too. 🙂

    • Jennifer,
      Glad you were encouraged.
      I had a lot of fun digging into the literary lessons found in The Princess Bride. I love to learn and laugh at the same time!

  15. Beth, How did you read my mind today? Seriously. I just got off the phone with a writing friend who called me after reading an email about my time struggles. A real-life example of your post! 🙂

    • Sarah,
      Glad the post was so timely. Now get out from underneath your desk and get back to writing! 😉
      Cheering you on!

  16. Beth, I so needed this today. I’ve gone through a bout of sickness that’s not serious, but will sap my energy for the next few months, I’m afraid. The first thing I tend to give up on? My writing. My wise husband, who, like Westley, is wise, encouraged me to not make ANY decisions or pronouncements while feeling ill. I’m glad I have him, and my writing friends who carry me through, even when they have their own pits they’re trying to dodge. I always get a little tickled at Inigo’s single-mindedness in searching for his father’s killer to the exclusion of everything – until his friend needs him. That’s love.

    • Regina,
      I can so empathize with how illness can derail your writing. The year my first book came out, I was literally sick unto death. (No exaggeration, despite the fact that I write fiction.) Struggling to recover wasn’t in my plans … and I spent quite a few months just clinging to the edge of a Pit. Thank God for a very faithful and supportive husband, family and friends. You’re in my prayers.
      And, I’m with you. Ya gotta love Inigo! 🙂

  17. I have not had success yet but I have been so discouraged that I want to give up. My family have managed to help me out of the pit and I have a couple of friends, Cyndi and Cassie who are always there for me. Trying to get someone to even read a manuscript is a difficult task. God always has someone there when I need them. Thank you for your post. It helped me greatly.
    Glenda Parker
    http:glendaparkerfictionwriter.blogspot.com

    • Glenda,
      There have been times I’ve wanted to give up too.
      I’m thankful to hear you have your own real life “Inigos” and “Fezziks” to rescue you from the Pit of Despair.
      And I’m glad I provided some encouragement for you today too.

  18. Fabulous post, Beth (and great movie pick too 😉

    Success is harder for me. Failure just makes me want to work harder to prove myself, but success scares me to pieces. The whole ‘what if’ happens – but I have to remember that “I am not left-handed” and switch over to strongest arm for me to fight against those fears. The ‘right arm of the Lord’ so to speak 😉

    Being surrounded by friends who speak truth instead of confirming the lies I tell myself, help push me from the fear that leads me (much too quickly) to despair. It’s a constant struggle to say ‘as you wish’ to the Holy Spirit on His truth and not the lies of my own making.

    Thanks for sharing, Beth. 🙂

    Blessings for your words

    • Absolutely brilliant observation, Pepper.
      I will always try to remember that “I am not left-handed” too.
      Love your sound bite application of The Princess Bride.

  19. Love, love, love this article. The Bible hunter in me just heard an old story from a new angle. Remember the guys who brought the paralized man to Jesus for healing. He may not have been mostly dead, but he’s pert-darn near that vicinity.

    We all need people to lift us and carry us. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Paula,
      The story of the paralyzed man and his believing-in-a-miracle friends is the first Bible story I ever remember hearing.
      Yep, there’s a definite parallel between them and Inigo and Fezzik!

  20. Inconceivable how we can fear both the failure and the success. That fear can be so paralyzing, but you are right. The answer is in our friends…or more so our great Friend who never leaves us or forsakes us. A constant.

    I loved this post and how it spoke to my heart. Thank you!

  21. Sherrinda,
    I could have done an entire post on that whole failure/success paradox. Who knows, maybe I will one day.
    And friends … the great Friend … make all the difference. Truly.

  22. I love Princess Bride, so I appreciate your analogy (so fun!). It’s interesting, I thought it was nowhere but up once I published, but the marketing is tough and so is my book being out there and “under the microscope.”

    Now, I’m writing the follow-up to my book… more fear. The first one won a few unexpected rewards, but you only get to be a first-time author once! Next time, people will have expectations. What if I second, third, forth (EEK!) don’t meet what readers want?

    If only failure was as easy to circumvent as it is in a fairy tale… or at least you knew in the end, the good-hearted would prevail.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

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