I continue to struggle with what I guess I can call “writer’s block.” I do write this blog every week, the occasional poem, even finished the (very) rough draft of a short story yesterday, but the novel continues to elude me. Why is that?

Am I really “too busy”? No. I was pretty busy when I wrote all those Forgotten Realms books. That’s really not it.

Am I out of ideas? Not at all—ideas abound.

But maybe that’s the problem…

The ideas—all at the outline stage or beyond—are pretty fucking depressing.

One is the “novelization” of a screenplay I wrote years ago that of course was never produced in any form. It’s a monumentally sad story about a person who does something terrible, over and over again. Another is a dark fantasy, emphasis on dark, about a sort of post-apocalyptic, but not really, world in which a simple farmer tries to do the right thing but it’s really not possible to do the right thing, or even know what the right thing is. The third idea is so fucking bleak thinking about it makes me think I really need to get into therapy. And the last is a complicated historical novel about a bad person struggling to be better in a terrible moment in history, and of course he fails because everyone involved in that moment in history failed to be better than they were.

What is it about me that the only stories I seem to come up with are about powerless people ground down by impossible to overcome circumstances, all leading to, at best, qualified “wins,” and more likely some hopeless continuation of the unavoidable central tragedy. I guess I do read stuff like that, watch movies like that… But is the overwhelmingly depressing nature of these stories what’s stopping me from progressing on any of the four ideas?

Should I just ditch that shit and write the random fantasy dungeon crawl novel instead?

I could make that fun, I think. Fun to write as well as fun to read.

But that dark fantasy says more. The screenplay gave me nightmares and had me abandoning it a few times until I found myself forced to finish it, so that must mean it’s of real value, no? The other thing might help me work through some of my own shit—it’s more personal. The historical has something to say about the world we live in now—at least what I think about certain big subjects.

The random fantasy dungeon crawl will have more monsters, and characters that can have a sense of humor, though. That’s not bad, is it?

I had to pause right then, sigh, and drum my fingers on my desk before writing this last bit.

—Philip Athans

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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Phil!

    The world is depressing enough right now (though what depresses us varies). Write the dungeon crawl! Write the monsters! Have FUN. We write for so many reasons and can get into our own heads too much. We forget the joy. Remember Jane Yolen’s Take Joy? It is not only okay, it will do more for you than trying to work out your demons on the page. At least right now.

    Ad Astra, Meg MacDonald Sent from my iPhone


    • Philip Athans says:

      You know what? I’m convinced. I’m going to dive into the random dungeon crawl. Seriously. I’ve advised other authors to have fun with it, why not me?

  2. mjtedin says:

    I say write what makes you happy. If writing dark fantasy is too depressing, try humor. I’ve read quite a few things that are humorous, but still have some depth. John Scalzi’s work is a good example.

  3. DM Woolston says:

    I say work out your demons… then laugh with them =:o

    • Philip Athans says:

      Oh, there will still be demons in there, it’s still me, after all. Just maybe not, y’know, all demons…

  4. Pingback: SHOULD WE STOP CONJURING THE APOCALYPSE? | Fantasy Author's Handbook

  5. isoltblog says:

    A good dungeon crawl is always fun.

  6. Pingback: I RANDOMLY GENERATED A RELIGION | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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