Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The final draft blues

Well, you've been patient with me and answered my questions during the penning of my first manuscript. Today, I sent it off. Instead of feeling delighted, as I did when the first draft came together, I feel something quite unexpected - depression. I miss my characters, I miss controlling their lives and I miss having a large work to fiddle around with, hone and perfect. It really is something close to grief, which I know is daft - I'm mourning for the figments of my imagination. Is this normal? Do lots of writers finish manuscripts and get the blues? What is the cure?

It's not at all daft to call it grief - that's just how human brains work. You were focused on something, quite intensely, and your brain got used to having it there. Now it's not there. That's how the grief mechanism works too (although the extent of grief is, no doubt, determined by how much time your brain has spent thinking about the person, place or novel). People grieve for all sorts of things and then tell themselves that it's silly, but it's not.

Writers tend to be passionate people; they're also isolated a lot of the time. Passion abhors a vacuum, and finalising a novel and sending it off produces a vacuum. So you need to fill the vacuum. Start creating your next story or, if that doesn't seem feasible, find another creative outlet. Sing, knit, cook, dance, whatever. But don't pathologise what you're feeling - it's normal, and you can make it better.

To answer your question about whether or not other writers get the blues when they finish something - I don't know. Whenever one of mine finishes something they have me standing over them pushing them to write something new. Well, actually, that's only true some of the time. Most of them just keep writing on their own. Often it's because they know they need to fend off the vacuum.

I could spend a lot of time talking about the 'creative personality' and what it needs, but I'll just sum it up by saying that once you've engaged in a massive creative task, like writing a novel, you need to keep that part of yourself active. If you do nothing, you're denying a huge part of your personality - and brain - what it needs. What you do is up to you - you don't necessarily have to write - but you do need to do something.

9 comments:

Kylie L said...

This definitely happened to me... I finsihed a novel last year that had been consuming me in the final push, thought I would feel great, went out for dinner that night and to my horror, when someone asked me how my writing was going, promptly burst into tears. Felt hollow for weeks- the best cure is starting something else, even if that's just doodling ideas. When I'm into what I'm writing it lives with me- it's natural to miss it when it's gone off to make its own way in the world.

(Getting the edits back from my publisher also makes me cry, BTW ;))

Anonymous said...

Dear Agent Sydney,

Thank you for such an extensive reply to my question. I'm glad you said it was valid to grieve, and also to move on.

This blog = awesome.

TL said...

This explains a lot. You've saved me from another unnecessary chocolate bar... Thank you, Agent Sydney, and thank you to Anon for asking such a brave question.

C.A. Marshall said...

I like to think of it as moving to a new city.

You've spent quite a bit of time in this present city, making lots of friends, knowing where the cheapest grocery store is, knowing all your local librarians by name, avoiding that one intersection...

And finishing a book is deciding that you have to move. NOW. And you don't get to pack your favorite blankie.

Now you're in a whole new city. You don't know these people. You don't even know where the grocery store is, there's just some weird naan shop on the corner, no library to speak of, and all of the intersections are scary and all you want to do is stay in your room and look at pictures of where you used to live.

Maybe you're lucky and you only moved a few towns over, and maybe you've had to move to a completely foreign place where they don't even speak your language and everyone wanders around in funny yellow hats and you just can't figure out why...

I finished my book yesterday and that is how I feel.

Phillipa said...

I keep writing with the same characters - short stories, chapters never to be seen, what might have happened to them - anything that wasn't relevant to the finished novel. I wean myself off that way and gradually other characters come forward. It's like tapering off any addiction or obsession - gradual, for me, is best.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to those who have commented on my question. I'm comforted to see that I'm not alone in the finishing blues.
C.A. Marshall - I liked your description of how it felt for you. For me, it's kind of similar only on a smaller scale. Writing the story was like going into a dark house, turning the lights on one by one, then seeing it all and giving it a dust and polish and just enjoying living there. I had to leave the house in someone else's hands. And I'm somewhere else, it's completely dark and I can't find the light switches. I can't even move, I'm so scared and it's so empty. I don't know if there even are lights and if I do find them maybe it won't be a house I'm in, but the mouth of a whale, the edge of a cliff, a lolly shop, a zoo, who knows. But, oh, that old house, I knew it so well, what I wouldn't give to sit in its lounge room and have a rest.

Phillipa - a sequel came to mind when I initially had the blues as a kind of way to soften the blow of missing my characters. But I feel I might end up somewhere else completely.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Well, since I'm still unagented, I haven't 'had' to let any of my MS's go for the last time. I suppose it's oddly reassuring but I think whenever that day comes, if I still want to wade in that world with those characters, I'll write a sequel for my own enjoyment. In the meantime, I love changing things up and writing something new....

Phillipa said...

Anonymous, one day you'll be asked to go back into that house and you'll be bored by the idea. You'll have moved on and so far away you'll be surprised. I compared it once to meeting an old lover - it's nice and you catch up and then you think, 'I can't believe I was crazy about him.'

arbraun said...

I've got an idea for a cure: write a sequel. That's what I did for my first novel. I actually wrote two sequels. Or make it a series. Then you can go on and on and on. Being a first novelist, the sequels will probably be better than the first book as it takes time for a writer to become great, and that's an excuse to feel even better.