Looking into the Abyss

As some of you will doubtless be aware, I am a person who is currently working on a novel. I am almost 58,000 words into that novel. Earlier this year, I wrote another novel (it came in at about 62,000 words, fact fans), and late last year, I wrote a third – the behemoth that was the first ‘Tider’ – which weighed in at over 150,000 words. I have written nearly 300 blog posts, many of which come in at around 1,000 words apiece.

That’s a lot of words, for one person, over the course of one calendar year. I’m not saying they’re good words, but still. I wrote them all. That counts for something. Right?

Image: wordmedia.co

Image: wordmedia.co

There are times when I sit and think about my writing, and where I want to go with it. I know I love it, and I don’t want to stop, but one thing that bothers me very badly is: what will I do if I reach a point where I really, truly don’t have anything left to write about?

Everyone knows this quote: ‘And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.’ This piece of wisdom from Friedrich Nietzsche has always interested me. It makes me think about how easy it is to allow yourself to get stuck into a particular way of thinking, and how hard it can be to turn your mind around when it over-focuses on something. Certain thoughts have that ‘abyss’ quality – you create a sort of ‘feedback loop’ inside yourself. You feed the abyss, and it feeds you.

If your abyss holds candyfloss and rivers full of rainbows, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. However, if you’re like most people, your abyss will tend to be full of nothing except darkness, and a howling wind will be licking its way around the sharp, pointed rocks that line it all the way down, like teeth around a gullet.

A writer’s greatest fear is lack of inspiration, I think. I tend to get a little worried when I read interviews with other writers where they talk about their ‘boxes’ full of ideas, or I see they’ve written hundreds of books already, or they mention that they have too many ideas to ever make use of during their lifetime. I get ideas, too, but not like that. Mine don’t come to me in a torrent, leaving me grabbing frantically at them in an attempt to salvage as many as possible before they get washed away. It’s more gentle than that – they come, dropping slow, into my brain every once in a while, in a completely unpredictable way. I have a list of ideas saved on my computer, but I don’t have hundreds of them, by any means. I have some, and I hope to have more eventually. I guess I’m not one of these people who is overrun with inspiration, so blessed by the Muses that they can’t get out of bed in the morning because their brain is too full; every time a flicker of an idea suggests itself to me, it’s a cause for celebration. I work hard to keep my eyes and ears peeled for ideas, and I work hard to craft them into sentences and – sometimes – into stories or even novels. It’s not an easy thing.

My abyss laughs up at me, in all its emptiness. It says ‘I have nothing. There’s nothing in here! Go on, have a good look. Shine a light into all my nooks and crannies. You won’t find anything, trust me.’ The abyss I can’t stop myself from looking into is the death of my inspiration. It’s the abyss of fear that, one day, the ideas will stop coming, and that if this does happen, I won’t have any idea what to do next.

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

Image: onthebridgeway.wordpress.com

I hope to finish my current book in the next couple of weeks. I already have my next project lined up, and when I finish that, I intend to redraft the book I’m currently working on with a view to getting it ready to submit. I have a book doing the rounds at the moment, and who knows but I’ll pick up some agent interest from that. I’m keeping busy, and so far this has stopped the abyss from chewing me up and spitting me out. I’m not sure if I can keep doing this forever, though. Once all my current projects have been completed, I am very afraid that there will be a hole in the road, or a wall of nothingness across my path. I dread the feeling of ‘not knowing’ – not knowing whether any of what I’m doing has a point, or whether any of it is worthwhile, or whether there is a way to bridge the gap.

I have to keep remembering a few truths about life. The first truth is: ideas are everywhere, and the only way to miss them is to stop looking. The second is: nobody really knows what they’re doing. Some people are better at pretending they do than others, but in reality we’re all just doing our best to get along. The third: there is no such thing as an inescapable abyss. The fourth: help is always there when you need it.

The fifth: the world is packed full of wonder.

Happy Friday. Keep your eyes on the road ahead, and don’t let anything knock you off your stride.

Image: pdpics.com

Image: pdpics.com


7 thoughts on “Looking into the Abyss

  1. Kate Curtis

    I used to write poetry. A lot. My most prolific time fell between the age of 10 and 16, but it carried on to my early twenties. And ideas would ‘drop’ and I’d make notes and later I’d spend hours sometimes days forming a poem around it (usually the last line first). I had this worry that one day those ideas would run out, that the drip would become less constant and my well would run dry (you have your abyss, I have my less ambitious well). And I wrote less, and worried more and I wrote even less and I worried even more. And I stopped writing – my greatest fears were confirmed. The idea-well was dry.

    I believed this up until fairly recently. Then I started writing my blog and I learned that I write my blog like I once wrote poetry, back to front with a drip of ideas. It showed me that my idea-mechanism hadn’t failed. My brain was still plumbed into the well and it wasn’t that the well was dry, I just wasn’t thirsty. I wrote poetry at a time when I needed to, it sustained me through my teenage years and it had been a big enough part of my life to miss it and worry about its demise. It did not end my love of writing.

    Anyhow, my point is, while you *want* it – the well is always full. It’s just a shame those ideas flow through the valley of self-doubt before they get there. 🙂

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Kate. That’s a beautifully written and wonderfully observed comment, and it has made me feel much better. Of course, the greatest killer of inspiration is fear, so it’s a bit of a nasty vicious circle… and so easy to get trapped in!

      I’m so glad you’ve rediscovered your love of writing, and that your ideas have been flowing all these years. 🙂

      1. Kate Curtis

        Ha! Those ideas are flowing through the valley of self-doubt certainly but only dripping otherwise. I’m not one of those people with ‘boxes’ of ideas either. In this last year though, I’ve felt more reassured that the ‘well’ is something you maintain and if you care for it, those ideas will come.

        I meant to say in my previous comment, that I loved your truths of life, expecially ‘nobody really knows what they’re doing’. 🙂

  2. Gretta

    Do not fear, there will always be new things to write about as life unfolds before you! It come be something from the recent or distant past that will present itself when least expected. I know, i have always had ideas but never had and never will have the “wherewithall” to commit it to paper or indeed hard disc… When you get despondent don’t dwell on it or worry about it, look for other distractions, totally removed from writing. Redesign a room in your home or part of the garden, no need to carry out the changes unless you feel energetic, but the distraction will take your mind elsewhere.. You have a long life of writing and dreaming ahead of you and remember dreams do often materialise even if we have to wait a little while. . Good luck.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you, Gretta – that was a beautiful comment, and all very true. You’re right – I can never tell how things will unfold as time goes on, and there’s no need for despondency. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me, and thank you for your support. X

  3. Sam

    I can’t imagine the infamous SJ running out of ideas. No. You have too keen a mind.

    I worry too that I’m not having enough ideas, and that’s atop the worry that the idea I do have is incomplete because I’ve not found all of the shards yet. Putting together an incomplete pot in the dark when I don’t know what it looks like fully formed, is my bane. There are pieces all over the place and I have only my fingers to feel which edges fit where.

    Sometimes they are mismatched. Much of the time there are holes.

    I think ideas fade when we fail to recognise the tenants you have stated. I for one have become ashamed of myself for not being able to do better and that stops me writing. That shame gives me fear and mutes me. Do I ask for help? Rarely. I retract if I do, in contempt of myself.

    Such thin vanity.

    No. I do not believe you will falter. You write too much.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Writing that is mismatched and full of holes is sometimes the most beautiful. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘I cannot do better, and therefore I cannot be good enough, and therefore I will stop writing’ – that is such an insidious place to get stuck, and I know because I was there for years. It took immense willpower and no small amount of foolhardiness to get myself out of that dark place.

      Yes, I write a lot. Not all of it is good. Much of it is lumpy, full of holes, glued together wrongly, back to front or upside down or both – but every word strengthens me. Looking back over some of the writing I have made public makes me cringe – but that is a sign that I am learning and progressing, and I try to see it as a good thing.

      No idea comes to a writer complete. I learn what my idea is by writing it. The more intricately I attempt to plot a piece of writing, the less successful – on the whole – it turns out to be. Writing has to have the space to grow and change, both as its writer grows and as its characters grow. Your second and third drafts are for filling in the holes, smoothing over the cracks, standing back and looking at the whole and seeing: ‘Yes. This is good,’ or at least ‘Yes – this will do.’

      Shame is something you should not be feeling. Please put it aside, and allow yourself some of that wonderful, supportive kindness you so generously give to others.

      You are immensely talented, Sam. I believe it. I hope you will, too, one day soon.


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