2013 was a bad year for writing.

I was in a slump. A bad one. I was on the wrong side of an emotional roller coaster. To stick with that analogy, I hit a high peak early in the year, then plummeted downwards, went off the rails, and crashed in a ball of flames. It was bad.

It was all because of one manuscript. It was an exceptionally strong first draft, and I had the best of all hopes for it: it was going to be published, it was going to be amazing. All my hopes and dreams for publication rode on this beautiful little pile of words. I loved it! My betas loved it! It was great! But then I edited it, and the editing was hard. And I edited more, and I grew to hate it. And I queried it, and absolutely no one wanted it.

No amount of rationalizing, logic, common sense, and emotional moderation worked. I was so sad I couldn’t write. When I could write, I hated everything I created. I forced myself to write, and it was awful. I had writer’s block, and bad–and it lingered for months.

Here’s how I pulled out.

1. I joined a writing community.

To be more specific, I joined Absolute Write. But any will do, as long as it fills your needs.

I have always been a hermit. I talked shop with my one friend who writes, and I had no interest in a community. I could do my research all by myself, thank you very much!

I was wrong. Absolute Write helped.

Weirdly, what helped the most–at least when I was sad–were the “Outwitting Writer’s Block” and the “Rejection and Dejection” forums, two of the saddest places on AW. This is where people who are struggling post–the ones who are having a hard time writing anything, who are having major crises of confidence, or who did their best and still didn’t reach the goals they were hoping for. They’re not happy places.

But they helped. I was sad, too. And realizing that I wasn’t alone was liberating. I wasn’t just uniquely bad–I was in the same vulnerable place as a legion of other authors. And better yet, many of them had broken through and gotten better, and I could, too.

2. I got a new, impartial beta.

I normally have one beta who reads all my stuff. This normally works fine… except for this novel. He had already read it twice. We had talked it to death. He had nothing more to share.

So I got a new beta, and intentionally got the harshest, most brutally honest one I could find. I was convinced that my novel needed a complete rewrite to be salvageable. So I asked Mr. Brutally Honest Reviewer to do his worst.

The conclusion: It didn’t need a total rewrite. The bones were good. The story flowed well. The first 1/4 of the story needed to be restructured, one character didn’t work, and there were a few key moments that were totally bewildering.

I was thrilled. He was proposing a huge amount of work, but it was specific. I was coming from an emotional place of “I don’t know what’s wrong, so I’m guessing it’s EVERYTHING, and it ALL needs to be tossed.” Meanwhile, his review was a light in the darkness: The story was good. The characters were fine. I didn’t need to change much. The worldbuilding in the first 1/4 of the novel was rough. We could work on that. He had specific ideas.

And suddenly, I had a plan. I had homework. I could do something.

3. I started writing short stories.

By this point, my writer’s block was already beginning to crack. It was early 2014 and I hadn’t written anything significant since, oh… September 2013? I was ready to get back in the saddle. The new beta had given me hope, and I was busily fixing my novel. But I also wanted to write new stuff.

But I wasn’t quite ready to write a new novel. So I finally gave in, got a Duotrope subscription, and started writing short stories.

I started with 3 short stories. I sent them to 3 very different markets, and one of them sold. A couple months later, another story sold AND placed in a short story contest.

This was the first time in my entire life I had ever been published. Sure, they were semi-pro markets. They weren’t the best of the best. But who cares? They were competitive publications, and they paid me. And they meant I had gone from “completely unpublished, anywhere” to “published” barely 3 months after I wrote my first short story.

It was a huge, huge confidence boost. Someone on this earth liked my writing enough to read it.

And that was it. I was free.¬† My writer’s block was, ultimately, a result of a lack of confidence. It was agonizing to watch a promising manuscript turn into a grueling edit job and a disappointing query. What healed me was perspective–the very real reminder that I was being overly harsh to myself, that my manuscript could be helped, and that my writing had worth.

I know–and I hope everyone who reads this knows–that you can’t use other people to replace the confidence you don’t have in yourself. But when I got into that dark, dark place, locked in my own thoughts and obsessing over my own mistakes, it helped to have someone shine a light on it and say, “See? That’s just you thinking harsh things about yourself. Here’s the truth.” And that’s what I needed to see.