The Trough of Disillusionment and the Writing Cycle

By Stacey Graham

I live among geeks. Five daughters and a husband all snarled within technology and its sleek designs butt up against my bookish ways and have left me with never ending updates and new apps. Some of it has wormed its into my writing and agenting life. The Hype Cycle, coined by the IT firm Gartner, is used to describe the way technology is introduced, matures, is adopted by the masses, then plateaus.

At last I can identify something within my world: As writers, we hit the same bumps and climb the same mountains as the journey your iPhone took while developing our stories or work on our nonfiction projects. Sort of. Let’s break it down:

The trigger: An idea hits us that is so groundbreaking—so revolutionary—that we can’t believe no one thought of it yet. We hold it to our bosoms as if it were Daniel Craig and Idris Elba, hiding it away from prying eyes until able to develop this poorly formed nugget of a thought into an actual idea. We enter the honeymoon phase where all heroes are victorious, sidekicks are hilarious, and write notes feverishly into notebooks. Children and laundry are shoved aside while you We dare to share our idea with our trusted friends and writing group. Terrible idea.

“Peak of Inflated Expectations”: We should have seen this coming. Our mom loves it, the teenager tolerates it, and our best friend thinks the moon rises from our fingertips because she’s awesome like that. Slowly, we start to believe them. The idea has legs—this is the best one yet—you’ll be on NPR within the month if they can stop playing that damn polka and get to the book reviews. The stacks of trunked novels are forgotten; we’ve even deleted some folders to make room for the stock photos collected of characters so we’ll know whom to thank when accepting the awards. We’re in deep, baby, but we’re on a roll and NOTHING will fight this feeling. We’ve got Journey on loop and this next chapter will make history.

“Trough of Disillusionment”: Oh god. We hit the wall. If we have to name one more goddamn elf, we’re going to scream. The outline so carefully plotted on sticky notes a month ago has become dusty cat playthings littering the floor of the office and we’re ready to give it up and see the sun again. We’ve been wearing the same Star Wars t-shirt for a week and our children have taken to calling the old man across the street “Mama” because he gives them ten-year-old hard candy his dead wife kept in a butter cookie tin and he can’t bear to throw it out. Now is the time to put up or shut up. Or at least take a shower.

“Slope of Enlightenment”: Just before we drain that last bottle of pinot noir and toast another trunked novel: a breakthrough. It’s just a glimmer, mind you. A faint tease of that long ago idea that sparked a thousand sticky notes—but it’s a start. PLOT TWIST! We’ll show those stupid elves.

“Plateau of Productivity”: We’re finally in the groove. The twist was just what we needed to see this bad boy through to the end of the first draft. Steve Perry gives us the thumbs up and we’re off to finally wear a bra again and go into public. We are winners! Or will be until we face the first round of edits. But until then…WINNERS!

Well done, writers. Remember that all writers face the same hurdles during the writing process. Time pressure, work, family, self-doubt, lack of funds or support—it happens. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there or when you start (I started writing professionally at 39), get in the game. We’re waiting for you.



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