Yesterday I typed those two little words every writer dreams of when we’re in the middle of a WIP…The End. I finally finished the novel I’ve been feverishly working on for the past seven months. For me, seven months is a record-breaking length of time to write a novel, but with this one, I just couldn’t help it. It was one of those novels that forced me to drop everything and write it, whether I wanted to or not.
You would think I would feel happy. You would think I would be out celebrating. But, I feel the exact opposite. Now that the book is out of me (the sloppy first draft anyway) and I know the entire story of my characters, I kind of feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest.
What is wrong with me?
Well, actually nothing. In fact, for writers, this is pretty normal.
It is something not a whole lot of writers talk about, however. It’s that weird, low, tired, slightly depressed and/or super bummed feeling you get when you finish a novel, or any other big creative project that’s been consuming most of your thought space for a long period of time. We assume that we should be throwing a party and telling everyone we know that we finally finished. But, while a deep sense of pride and accomplishment might be present, we are also, unavoidably, just plain sad.
The depression that might hit you when you finish writing a book happens for a couple of different reasons. Number one, after finishing such a big work, we are at our lowest creative ebb. The tide has gone out. Way, way out. Our creative muscles have been stretched to the max as we pushed ourselves through the marathon of writing a book. Now, we’re depleted. We need rest and nourishment and time to recuperate. This is all part of the normal cycle of any life endeavor. You push yourself and expend a lot of effort and then, at some point, the rubber band has to snap back to its original shape.
That’s the first reason. However, the second reason isn’t so obvious.
Writing a book is pretty much the same as being in a turbulent and emotionally charged intimate relationship with another person. We make demands and the book makes demands. We figure out we have to compromise. We discover things about ourselves as writers that we never knew. On top of that, the book surprises us with its own twists and turns. We’re tested, broken apart, and then stitched up anew.
In a word, it’s intense.
And it’s not like we go through this process with a cold and sterile collection of sentences that happen to make up a story. No, we go through this trial with our characters. Our feisty and curious, funny and beautiful characters that we love so much, and that we know, now, almost better than anyone in real life. So, when we come to the end of the road, is it any wonder it feels so brutal to say goodbye to them?
That’s how I’ve been feeling this week, after writing my last chapter. Yes, I know revisions lay in my future and my characters will live forever on the page and blah blah blah but it’s not the same. Never again will I be in that space with them that is so fresh and alive, where I’m learning everything about them and they’re showing me magical new pieces every day. Never again will they surprise me and take a huge left turn in the story when all along I expected them to go right.
Never again will they show up as just a whisper in my ear, begging me to see them and write their story, begging me to acknowledge that they are alive and real.
The wise rational part of me knows that’s okay. This is as it should be. It is the natural cycle of the creative process. I have to say goodbye to these characters and this story because my consciousness needs to make room for new characters and new stories to come into my field. I get that. I really do.
But, I’m still sad. And I can’t pretend that I’m not.
If you’ve just recently finished a book or a big creative project and you’re feeling down in spirits, just know that it’s normal. And it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to question if you’ll ever get inspiration like that again, or write another book that will pull you in so completely. It’s okay to not want to do anything for a little while but sit on the couch and eat cookies and watch bad cable TV.
As writers, it’s all part of the process, and the more we embrace that, the better every one of our endings will be.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, a guide to help any HSP, INFJ, INFP, or introvert writer move past resistance to selling and marketing their work. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.