by Paul Jessup
It seems to happen every single time I work on something larger than a novella. The minute I finish it, it seems like all of my creativity for fiction dries up. I can work on non-fiction, certainly. I can hammer out just about anything that doesn’t involve that work of pure unfettered imagination. But my mind recoils at writing even a short story. Nothing seems to feel right, none of the ideas I have feel like the right ideas to work on.
Usually near the end of a novel, I start taking notes. My mind just wants it to be over with already, and it’s looking towards something else. Something completely different than the world I’m writing. And yet, when I finish? These notes all feel alien to me. As if they were written by someone else.
I wouldn’t call it writer’s block. It’s not quite the same thing. I don’t feel blocked, I feel exhausted. As if I stretched my imagination out to far, and now it’s sore and meaningless and ready to collapse. Like the next day after an intense workout, my creative muscles are sore and red and raw, and needing of rest and healing.
I’ve had various ways of coping through the years, but none of them seem to work that great. The only tried and true method I’ve found that works is reading. I pick up books outside of my chosen genres, I read plays and literary fiction, books of poetry, huge swaths of nonfiction. I refill the well as best as I can, not taking any notes, not jotting down any ideas.
Just letting my mind ease back into it. Letting the new things sink and soak up, and get ready to be pulled out just at the right moment. When the writing blazes forth again like a forest fire, consuming my world with words.
Getting to that point takes patience. It’s frustrating, for certain. And once I actually start getting back into it, I find myself with a million false starts and stops. Books that feel right, but go nowhere. Ideas that sing, then fizzle out. Yet, I keep reading. Keep writing bits and pieces. Eventually it comes back to me and everything is right again.
But it takes a while. A decade ago, and I would have no way to explain this to a non-writer. You can’t quite make them understand why it’s so frustrating, so exhausting. Why it can be depressing, to the point of crippling inertia. Why can’t you just work on something?
But these days, we have a good analogy for non-writers. Binge watching a television show. It has the same effect on someone, mentally speaking, emotionally speaking. You spend a vast amount of time in this world, with these characters.
Living as they live, breathing as they breathe. It’s very much like writing a novel. And even near the end, when you’re close to finishing all there is to watch? You even have that desire for it to be over already, damnit. To just move onto the next thing and be freed from this obsession.
But then, what happens when you’re done? When there are no more episodes to watch? That’s when the frustration sets in. The depression sets in. The world is gone, sucked away. You don’t feel like watching anything else. You try to watch the shows you thought about watching before it ended, and they just don’t seem right.
There is depression. Anger. Frustration. Exhaustion.
And that’s what the post novel blues are like. But eventually you find something else to be just as entertaining, and the same goes with the post novel blues. I fight my way back from the brink. I look for a new in, a new story. And I start the process all over again.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here’s to others like me, struggling through those highs and lows of being a novelist. It’s a maddening experience, and an enjoyable experience, and a depressing experience. But it’s our experience. One we created from sand and bone and words.
I’ll take that over binge watching television any day of the week. Post novel blues and all.
Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. With a career spanning over ten years in the field, he’s had works published in so many magazines he’s lost count and three or four books published in the small press. You can visit him at http://pauljessup.com or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pauljessup.