Oh, the giddy excitement of it all. You’ve completed your final read through. You’ve revised to the point where you can quote reams of the thing by heart. Every word and punctuation mark has been squeezed, polished, tightened or adjusted in a manner appropriate to your masterpiece: You’ve written a novel.
Celebrate. Go on, you’ve earned it. Get drunk, throw a party, tell the neighbours… That great giddy feeling is like nothing on earth.
I give it a week.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing better than savouring that sense of accomplishment. But if you’ve devoted a huge part of your life to working on one specific project, the lack of that work can cause a major case of desolation. You feel bereft. It’s like post-partum depression.
What to do?
You Need a Handy-Dandy, Don’t Waste Time in Chat-Rooms, Post-Book Survival Guide:
In an episode of Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw attends her book launch. It’s not until her friendly chauffeur makes a big fuss of her accomplishment that Carrie realises she’s done something amazing. Something very few people do. She wrote a book.
And so did you! So… Celebrate. Go wild. Get drunk. Acknowledge your magnificence! You deserve it.
2. TREAT YOURSELF:
While you’re at it, treat yourself to a present. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. A snappy notebook or a new pen would do. A piece of jewellery or a painting if you’re able to splurge. Something that’s ‘you’. Something that, every time you look at it, will remind you that you accomplished something incredible. Writers suffer enough dark nights of the soul. Having a tangible reminder that you did this extraordinary thing can cast brilliant light when you need it.
Start the marketing campaign for your novel. Writing your cover letter, synopsis and so on are important. They’re also a good way of continuing the good work you’ve done already.
4. CHANGE TRACK:
Work on something completely different: a play or a short story perhaps. Maybe even some art work or music. You’ve focused on one particular area of creativity for a long time now. Time to exercise those auxiliary muscles that have been suffering atrophy.
5. SAY HELLO:
Renew old relationships. Call friends you haven’t seen for a while. Be prepared to buy the drinks. Some feelings may be hurt that you’ve been AWOL for so long.
Visit your mum.
And your driving license in case she doesn’t recognise you…
Write your blog. Write it every week – or even every day if you like. Just remember it’s not a substitute for your fiction, poetry or playwriting.
Take a class, attend a conference, join a writers’ group. If you have a dim idea of what your next book may be about, this is a good time to start your research.
Even if you don’t have a future work in mind, learning a new skill or language is likely to be useful down the road, and not only for your writing.
There’s a great big world out there and you’ve seen nothing but your desk and computer for lo these many months. Live a little. Take a trip. Even if you just take a walk or a bus ride, go exploring.
If you’re staying in your native land, pretend you’re a visitor. Take a notebook and pen and write down snippets of dialogue that catch your ear. Imagine you suddenly awoke in that town or city without being told where you were, what would help you identify your location? Easy if you’re in full view of the Ha’Penny Bridge or the Eiffel Tower, but what if you were in a small town in the middle of Yorkshire?
If you are lucky enough to be able to travel abroad, take pictures and write descriptions of places that intrigue you. You may be able to fit the location into another book in the future. Yes, you’re on holiday, but there’s no reason you can’t do a little research too.
You’ve spent months – or more – sitting at a desk. Time to reacquaint yourself with the gym, or just walking in fresh air. Oh, go on. It probably won’t kill you.
10. TALK TO OTHER WRITERS:
Go back to your writers’ group, if you have one. Have coffee with other writers you know.
If you don’t know other writers, look them up on social networks. Writers love to chat (for many, it’s an excuse not to work) so you should be able to find some on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or in chat rooms. True, online relationships aren’t as enriching as having real close friends you can talk to, but there’s no reason some online friendships can’t evolve into the real world too.
It’s a place to start.
No one will understand post-book blues, nor your euphoria at finally being done, better than other writers.
I’m sure you don’t need to be told this.
I find that when I’m absorbed in writing my novel, the time I spend reading starts to decrease. I know it’s part of keeping true to my own style, but still, I hate it.
Reading is such a part of who I am, I feel lost when I can’t do it. But once the novel is done, part of the great pleasure – other than the joy of completing the work – is being able to get back to my other love.
If writing is my wife then reading is my mistress. My tastes are pretty diverse. I read classics, crime novels, humour, horror, fantasy… I read plays and short stories and poetry. I read books about writers and about writing.
Sometime when I’m in in the middle of my own writing, I hear of a novel I’d love to read but can’t get to right away. What that happens, I put the title on my list of things I want to read. You have a list like that, don’t you? Mine’s at the back of my journal and I update it fairly regularly.
Because everyone who knows me knows of my reading obsession, I often get books as presents. Right now, I have about twenty novels, collections of short stories, and poetry in the house all waiting for me to crack their spines. You can’t imagine the discipline it takes not to start reading them before my work is finished. What am I saying? Of course you understand… You’re a writer too!
12. PLAN SOMETHING:
In this case, I mean planning your next book. Now maybe I’m weird – steady! – but I find it very difficult to plan book two when I’m still on book one. Probably you’re a better multi-tasker than I am, but in case you’re not, here are a few things that I’ve found helpful:
Keep a journal while you’re still writing your novel. Primarily you’ll be using it to work out problems with the plot, to remind yourself to check facts, to give your hero a slight list because it makes him adorable… But not all these fabulous ideas will work. For this book.
When the novel is done, go back over the journal and highlight all the ideas you weren’t able to use. Maybe these can be recycled in the next work.
Sometimes your research for Book A will spark an idea for Book B. Your main character is fascinated by The Fairie Queen and you’ve just learned that Spenser was a friend of Walter Raleigh’s. Hmm, that could lead somewhere… and off you go.
Use all the above tips to spark ideas. Maybe your trip to Plymouth or your class in reading ancient runes could be turned into something special…
Don’t sweat it if nothing comes to you immediately. Continue to sit at your desk at your usual time and write other things: your blog, short stories, a description of somewhere you’ve been… If you build it… Well, you know.
No survival guide worth its salt would neglect to warn you of some potential pitfalls. So, without further ado, here’s
The survival guide list of things not to do:
- Don’t party for too long. Yes, celebrate and enjoy yourself, but if three months pass and you’re still dancing around with your knickers on your head, it may be time to stop.
- Don’t fixate on how the book is doing. You’ve done your work now let the agents and publishers do theirs. You’re right. It is much easier said than done.
- Don’t stop writing. Even if you don’t have another project ready to go, you can and should do your morning pages. Are you familiar with this concept? The idea is every day, preferably before you even get out of bed, you start writing. You have a specific number of pages: I usually
- Set a time-limit – fifteen minutes is usually sufficient for me – and write without stopping for that period.
- Set a timer so you don’t have to keep checking the clock.
- Use a set of writing prompts to get you going. You’ll find these in books and there are websites as well. You can also make your own list. Here are some sites that I like:
- The only rule is you don’t stop writing. Your hand must keep moving. Don’t think about the words just plonk down anything that pops into your head.
- Some writing prompts suggest activities. For instance, pick a colour and take a walk. Notice every time you spot that colour. Now write about it. Yes, I know it sounds a bit daft and New-Agey, but it can be a surprisingly effective tool to spark your creativity.
- Panic. That is: DON’T panic.
When I finished my first novel I sank into a deep depression. It felt like I was all alone in this sort of despair. To make matters worse, I attended a conference that was led by a group of Smug, Fatuous Women.
They invited questions.
I asked, “How do you deal with the post-book blues?” SFW’s reply: “Oh, I never feel that way. I just immediately start the next book.”
Stuff and nonsense, my friends. Take it from me: You are not alone. It’s perfectly normal to feel down after you’ve achieved something big. Don’t let SFWs kid you into thinking you’re unusual or odd. Accept that your blues are normal and focus on all the activities my survival guide. You don’t have to do all of them, but it may help if you can, at least, do some.
According to this article in The Guardian, Writers are in the top ten list of professions most at risk for depression: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/dec/13/writers-depression-top-10-risk It’s really irresponsible for anyone to dismiss those feelings.
If the blues don’t lift, it’s not a bad idea to talk to someone.
Other writers should understand (other than the aforementioned SFW, that is.) Your best friend or someone in your family should listen sympathetically. There are spiritual advisers and doctors too.
If the blues turn into full blown depression, you need to get help.
Don’t suffer alone. And don’t self-medicate. And don’t hurt yourself.
Seriously. Get help.
Next Week: The Best Books for Writers