Sometimes it is a pothole. Sometimes, it’s a chasm. Sometimes, as soul-sucking as the übergravity of a black hole from which no personal light escapes.

The sinkhole of the writer at 3 a.m.

You don’t want it to happen—you never do. You can’t predict when it will appear. It doesn’t wake you up, necessarily…but it’s there waiting when you do, ready for you to stumble into it and never be seen again.

The sinkhole swallows your work. And your will. It throws everything you’ve done up ’til then into a chaos of doubt. It’s a deep, dark, bottomless hole. And there are voices down there. Your worst inner critic is waiting in the depths to tear you to bits. “You are a hack,” that hated troll tells you. “You are delusional if you think that any of this works.” “Your plot is weak, your characters are flaccid, your story is inexcusable.”

Bad juju in this hexy, middle-of-the-night mirage. A visit from a malevolent alternate universe. The same stuff that took your breath during the day—the same damned stuff—suffocates you in the depths of the hole. The voices in the sinkhole claim to know the truth about you. They claim to be the voices of the reality that scares you most…and face it, sweetie, they’re just saying about you what the rest of the world would if given a chance.

And here’s the other thing…. The Sinkhole is like quicksand: The more you struggle against it, the deeper you go. Best thing you can do is to throw another pillow over your head and pick up sleep where you left off…because there is another reality just hours away:

The sinkhole vanishes in daylight. Come morning, the cavernous doubt will have filled itself it. The sheer-wall impossibility of the task, the stupid amateurishness of the story, will have become balance and work-harder determination by light of day.

How do we avoid it? How do we keep ourselves from falling into it in the middle of the night? What mental climbing gear can we don at bedtime to keep ourselves safe in the dark? And how do we teach ourselves not to fall but to climb?