So there’s this thing that happens after you complete a book. I call it “the hangover” but it could just as easily be called the “post-book malaise.”
Novels take a long time to write. Granted, they take less time now that they used to. My first novel took nine months. My most recent one took about four while I was also juggling grad school and writing two novellas at the same time. But I’m a full-timer now so I’m not grabbing writing time during the kid’s naps any more.
Anyway, The Hangover. After months of constant anxiety wherein you’re convinced you’ll never make this story work and OMG I NEED TO BE WRITING during every other life activity, it’s disorienting at best to suddenly find yourself with free time. You kind of wander around listlessly, wondering who you are without the stress and the story to define you.
It’s sort of like crash-landing back into the real world. After months spent in a place where you call the shots, you arrive back home where people are unpredictable and place demands on you. You have to do all the laundry that’s piled up. There are decisions to be made and you’re so tired from making all the decisions in that world you just left.
I turned in the aforementioned novel and novellas on Saturday. Sunday was easy because my family was around to distract me. Monday, I went to buy a pair of shoes and spent my afternoon reading a book for grad school at a coffee shop. I also spent a lot of the day crying. Suddenly, my brain isn’t preoccupied with story problems so it has a lot of time to worry about things like mortality and the unbearable randomness of life. So I went to yoga and spent a good hour out of my head, which was a huge relief.
I woke up this morning, ready to go back to yoga only to find out class was cancelled. I told my husband in a bit of a panic, “What am I going to do today?” He shot me a level look. “Anything you want.”
Being a full-time writer isn’t like other professions. You don’t ever leave the work behind. I can’t even escape my office because I have to walk by it every day. It’s hard to turn it off and just be present. This is why I’ve started doing yoga five days a week–to give myself a break from the constant worry.
I know I’m not selling this. Mostly I sound like a neurotic Type A who can’t relax, which, in fact, I am. But I’ve also recently realized that this mode of living isn’t working for me. So on top of the normal post-book hangover, I’m also reassessing my relationship with writing, and figuring out how to make it a less fraught experience. To figure out how to spend more time in The Zone and less in the panic zone.
But first I have to figure out what to do with my day. First, I’m going to sit on my ass and watch cooking shows without guilt. Then I am going to dive into my closet and clear out anything that doesn’t fit any more. Maybe this doesn’t sound fun to anyone else, but a little spring cleaning is great for the mental feng shui.
In the middle of all this, I’ll catch myself thinking, “Oh God, I need to be writing!” and gently remind myself that I already did my writing and I deserve a little rest. Then I’ll worry that maybe right at that very moment my editor might be reading the book and thinking I’ve finally lost my magic. Then I’ll shh myself and remind me that no story is perfect and any story problem can be fixed. But she won’t be calling today because that call never comes until you’re finally at peace with having a break.
Soon enough there will be a new book to write. But for now, I’m trying to adjust to reentering the atmosphere and remember I have a place here, too. Maybe other writers don’t go through this strange experience, but if you do, just know you’re not alone. Be gentle with yourself and practice being present. We spend far too much time in other places of our own making. It’s important to learn how to be in this world–the one we don’t control–too.