Hello Story Nurse,
I’m currently in revisions for a project that has been a major part of my life for a year. While I’m incredibly pleased with it and am excited for its upcoming completion, I feel deflated about other writing work, and apprehensive about working on other things once this is completed.
Due to life circumstances (positive but exhausting travel soon after submitting the complete draft), I didn’t end up having much time to decompress, and I keep obsessively checking my email to see if my editors’ notes have arrived yet! When I try to sort out pitches and writing samples for other projects, my focus slides away, and it’s hard to try to write something small in scale. I want to take advantage of having a sliver of spare time by writing something else (whether for publication or for fun) but there is such broad scope that I don’t know where to start!
How do you switch gears when you’re between projects or waiting for editorial feedback? And how do you deal gracefully with the sudden gap in your life after finishing a big project or milestone?
—Searching for Energy Over Ennui (she/her)
I’ve had this Spider Robinson quote in my quote file for a long, long time:
Funny feeling, isn’t it, when you bust a tough one? Triumph, sure. Maybe a little secret relief that you pulled it off. But there’s a fine sweet sadness in there, too, because now the golden moment is behind you. For a moment in there you were God… and now you’re just a guy who used to be God for a minute, and will be again some day.
That is a lot of feelings to feel, and it takes time to sort through them all and come to terms with them. A big project changes you—it develops your skills and makes you think in ways you hadn’t before. A big project can make you feel all sorts of things that you weren’t expecting. You haven’t just brought your reader through emotional catharsis, but experienced it yourself. And you know that stories don’t end with the climax; you need that final chapter or three, the gradual descent from peak intensity (finishing the draft! turning it in!) to your lower-key everyday life.
That focus-slide sounds like you have some thoughts or feelings about completing your draft that still need your attention and aren’t ready for you to move on yet. Listen to your writer’s block and sit with those feelings. Think about how to apply what you learned to future projects (in general or in specific). Consider what emotions and memories came up in you as you were writing. There’s a neurochemical aspect to emotion that means it doesn’t always fade when its instigating event fades (think about how you can stay wired up for a long while after something startles you), so you may still have some lingering stress or worry about that draft even though intellectually you’re aware that it’s done and off your plate. You might also be anxious about revision and wondering what your editor is going to say. Whatever’s going on, take time to process it, on your own or with the help of someone understanding.
Your last questions remind me a lot of how people sometimes talk about going through a break-up. Even if you and your project parted amicably and remain friends (or are just taking a break from each other until revision time), it can feel like your life is emptier without it. But your life still has you in it, and after all that focus on something external to you, it can be wonderful to renew your relationship with yourself.
My advice is to let writing go for a little bit. Your skills won’t atrophy and your time won’t be wasted if you take a week or two to do self-care. You mentioned not having time to decompress, so decompress now. In addition to whatever emotional processing needs to happen, treat yourself to something nice, especially if it’s something you put off while you were hammering on that draft. Did you turn down evenings with friends or mornings with kids so you could have writing time? Spend time with them now. Are your arms and shoulders achy from all the typing? Get a massage or take a long hot bath. Stroll around a park or along a beach. Listen to a guided meditation. Nap. Take time to just be.
You don’t have to chase writing constantly. If it doesn’t want to be caught right now, turn your attention elsewhere. Eventually the writing will come seeking you, in the form of your editor’s notes or a new idea, and then you’ll know it’s time to start the next cycle of your journey.
Happy not writing!