A few weeks ago, I finished the complete draft of my Victorian romance that will come out this fall. It’s a bit more than a first draft, having already been through first-round revisions along the way, but it was “the end for now,” and my coach asked me what I was doing to celebrate. Around the same time, I was answering a series of interview questions, and one of them was, “How do you celebrate when you finish writing a book?”
I didn’t have an answer for either of them.
The truth is, I don’t celebrate the end of a stage of the creative process so much as mourn it. And curling up in a blanket on the sofa, rewatching episodes of Dead to Me and Santa Clarita Diet, staring at the pile of TBR books I’ve been so anxious to read but now don’t have the energy to tackle, probably isn’t the answer they want to hear.
Taking Comfort in Community
As it turns out, the post-creativity slump isn’t all that unusual. When interviewed for an article on the Fast Company website, film writer/director Jeffery Lando talked about having post-movie depression. He captured one of the elements of my own creative journey.
“You have to get through the despair of seeing that what you created isn’t what you hoped, and everything’s fucked.”
Yep, that says a lot. I would add that fear–that it’s not good enough, that other people will hate it, that you’re one step closer to sending this fragile book baby out into the world and someone somewhere is going to call it ugly–is part of the despair. But there’s also the aspect of needing to mourn for the end of something that has defined your life for months or even years. Contributing editor Dustin Wax writes about this at Lifehack.com.
“It’s natural…to feel sad, disappointed, even depressed at the end of a big project, even one that’s a resounding success. The things we do define us as people, and the biggest things we do are the biggest part of us; losing them, even by choice and design, is hard.”
Yes, this. So much this! Accepting grief as a natural and necessary part of my creative process alleviates a lot of guilt and the downward spiral into more depression that can come with it.
Working Through the Post-Book Blues
Wax concludes his article about the phenomenon with some practical advice to help creatives through the mourning period. He suggests conducting a debrief to determine what went right and what went wrong on the project, capturing lessons learned to improve and build upon the right things during your next endeavor, and considering the big picture of how the work has impacted your life.
Applying this point to the world of the book writer, some big-picture questions might be: What’s next for this story? Weeks or months of revisions, submission to an agent or editor, self-publishing? How does this particular book fit into my writing career plan? And when I’ve totally finished and let go of this book (whether that means publishing it or filing it away from the world forever), what creative project is next?
Accepting Your Own Creative Path
Whatever your process, whether it includes celebrating each step, mourning it, or quietly moving onto the next project, accept it, embrace it, and only worry about changing it if and when it stops working for you. But maybe consider at least one small indulgence to high-five yourself: a fancy glass of wine, a girls’ night out, a decadent dessert. And this week, just this once, I’ll join you with my own celebration. I don’t know what that will be yet, but I’ll figure it out. Like everything else in this writing journey, it’s a process!