Even Writers Get the Blues

One month ago, I released the first completed draft of my novel Second Chance to an executive editor at a large publishing house. He had requested the manuscript several weeks earlier, and I didn’t want him to forget who I was by the time my literary baby arrived in his inbox.

It was my last official act before the weekend preceding Christmas. The holidays were upon us. I’d finished the manuscript over which I had labored for the past nine months. I even had a handle on my next novel idea. Time for celebration, no?

As it turned out, no. Not so much.

Emotional rollercoaster

Instead of feeling wild elation at my achievement, I fell into a quagmire of negativity. A few of the highlights:

Doubt. As Hemingway famously wrote, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.” Did I just shoot myself in the foot by sending over this draft? The fact that early readers kept giving me a thumbs up seemed inconsequential. If anyone could spot my hopeless lack of talent, it would be an executive editor who reviews hundreds of manuscripts each year.

Fear. Regardless of how crappy this last novel was, what if it was far superior to the fledgling idea kicking around in my brain? Maybe my electronic pile of offal represented the greatest literary achievement to which I could ever aspire—not that it would ever be good enough, mind you—and I should really take up another hobby, like macramé or perhaps BASE jumping.

Confusion. What was wrong with me? For years, I’d beaten myself up over not writing enough. Last year, by comparison, I completed my single best literary effort to date, from start to finish. I could finally wear the badge of “writer” with pride, having earned it over months of consistently churning out 2,000 to 3,000 words per day. And yet I felt zero sense of satisfaction.

A dose of self-care

First, I immediately plowed through a trashy romance, a Fifty Shades wannabe that offered a more interesting voice and heroine than the E.L. James trilogy, but ultimately proved just as ridiculous. Okay, so I could take solace in knowing that my book was better than this bit of published tripe. But I still felt slightly sick and unsatisfied, as if I’d singlehandedly consumed the entire inventory of a cotton candy cart.

Then, I returned to Julia Cameron, that nurturing guide for struggling creatives at every stage. This time, the book at hand was the second in her Artist’s Way series, Walking in This World. Interestingly, the later chapters—where I had left off to finish my novel draft—addressed these puzzling emotions following the completion of a creative endeavor.

It seems that, when in the throes of a creative project, we sometimes forget how to function in the “real world,” and re-entry requires a sort of decompression period, sort of like returning to the surface after a deep-sea dive. Cameron, guided by other artists before her, recommends gentle grounding activities that place us back on terra firma.

For me, these activities included simple tasks such as the following:

  • Sending out monthly invoices to marketing clients
  • Filing the paperwork that had accumulated in my writing loft
  • Going on a leisurely run through forest trails
  • Catching up on email and physical correspondence
  • Washing and folding laundry

The mundane activities of everyday life remind us how to function as people, which then frees us to function as artists when the time is right. The trick is to realize that these basic tasks play an essential role in the creative process and to keep moving forward, instead of berating ourselves for lack of artistic output.

Have you encountered any re-entry issues after finishing a project? How did you break out of your funk and bring yourself back to creative play?

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