In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about postpartum depression — as well we should, since it affects quite a few moms. Even those without full-blown depression can experience a form of “baby blues.” Just when you think you should be infused with unending stores of joy — finally having given birth to the child you anticipated for so long — you’re feeling blah times two, or ten.
I’m starting to wonder if the same thing can happen with writing a book.
A couple of weeks ago, I finished The Book — that is, the book I’d been working on in some way or other for three years. But now, it’s done. Drafted, rewritten, critiqued, edited, polished. As good as I can make it. I did a little happy dance and then opened up a new project, jumping with excitement about tackling a new novel.
And then the blahs hit.
Instead of working, I really wanted to watch TV and take naps and chat on Facebook and clean my closet. Which, admittedly, needs cleaning.
But still… What happened to my enthusiasm? Wasn’t this what I’d been excited about since forever? I’d been thrilled to finish the book, and now, suddenly, I felt meh. Meh about writing. Meh about editing. Meh about blogging too.
Perhaps this is something like a post-novel depression. Not a true, full-blown depression. (Don’t send me “happy pills” or a psychiatrist. I promise, I’m fine.) More like Finished Book Blues. Just a sense of letdown, because I’d been aiming at this Big Massive Goal for so long, and once I crossed the finish line . . . well, what now?
Yes, I should be writing. I should be editing. And I still should be cleaning out my closet.
But I haven’t yet.
Maybe you’ve been through a similar circumstance.
WebMD suggests 10 natural treatments to fight depression, and I think they might apply with Finished Book Blues as well. Here are each of the 10 — with my own take on what that means for writers.
1. Get in a routine. Sit down at a regular time each day and write something, anything. Don’t get up until the timer has sounded or the word count has been met.
2. Set goals. Old goal has been met? Set new ones — with a deadline. That sense of urgency with the almost-finished book doesn’t exist with the new project, so you have to create that motivation.
3. Exercise. Yep, your brain works better when the blood flows well throughout your body. And you’ll get a burst of energy from a good workout.
4. Eat healthy. Too many carbs and sugar come with a after-eating malaise, so make better food choices that feed your brain cells as well as your body.
5. Get enough sleep. Getting enough, but not lying around all day, is the trick here. It’s about balance — figuring out how much sleep you need to function well. (Which, by the way, is typically more than you’re getting. Most people are sleep-deprived.)
6. Take on responsibilities. Get involved in a writers’ group, offer to beta read or critique for someone, join a writing accountability group. Don’t wallow; get busy.
7. Challenge negative thoughts. Maybe you’re thinking that you wrote one great book, but you’re not sure you have another one in you. Or perhaps you fear that this next project will be as grueling, or more grueling, than the last. Answer all that self-doubt with affirmations about your writing ability and zeal. You. Can. Do. This. (Again.)
8. Check with your doctor before using supplements. Don’t grab the 5-hour energy bottle, or whatever, just yet. Artificial boosts aren’t likely to suddenly morph you into J.K. Rowling or John Green. If you are sinking into true depression, though, see a doctor.
9. Do something new. Do some writing exercises. Write a short story. Try writing a scene in a different genre. Take a current scene and rewrite from the viewpoint of an alternate character. Read a writing craft book. Take an online writing course or attend a conference. Re-awaken your excitement for storytelling.
10. Try to have fun. Writing and editing are work, but this is also a truly fun job. Writers get to create characters, weave worlds, and saturate ourselves in beautiful language. We get to craft a story that enables a shared experience with readers. We get to make things up, play pretend, lie on the page. What fun!
I’d probably add one more to their list: Drink plenty of water. According to PsychCentral, “even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly.” Sometimes I get a mid-afternoon dip in energy and realize I haven’t been drinking enough, so I grab the bottled water and swig a bunch of ounces. And I feel better.
Have you ever experienced “post-novel depression,” or Finished Book Blues? What’s your advice for snapping out of it?