Over the years, I have read, and written, a lot of advice about writing, but I have to admit, this is a subject I don’t read very much about. My guess is, though, that it effects more writers than not. There certainly has been a great deal of research and writing about the connection between creativity and madness, writing and depression. Thankfully, I  am not writing about anything quite so severe as that right now. Maybe what I want to write about now is not so much the black dog as, perhaps, the black puppy.
So your book or story or poem has been published. You’ve held the printed matter in your hands or seen it as an ebook on your screen. You’ve been feted at the book launch. Maybe a newspaper or two have interviewed you. Maybe you’ve even shown up on the radio or tv. The book tour is over. Your 15 minutes of fame have come and gone. And you wake up one morning and wonder if it’s worth getting out of bed. Will I ever write anything again, and even if I do, will anyone ever care? Now what?
I remember once hanging my head in frustration years ago and proclaiming to my writing teacher, “if I only ever get one poem published in a magazine, I’ll be happy.” She, correctly, sneered at me and said, “Don’t be stupid. When you get that first one published, then you’ll want the next and the next and the next. That’s just the way it is.” And she’s right, but I have to wonder why. Is it just ego? Are we writers such superficial characters that we can’t abide the lack of attention, even (or especially) if heaps of attention have been bestowed on us and our work already? For example, anyone who has been following my activities over the last few months would think I must be thrilled at all I’ve accomplished. And I am. But that was yesterday, and now I’m looking around and only seeing all I am not accomplishing. Are we such mean-spirited people that we are immediately jealous of all the competition wins and sky-rocketing Amazon ratings of our fellow writers, and not just pleased for them?
Writers are complicated sorts, to be sure, but I refuse to believe that we are any more superficial or mean-spirited than anyone else. But we do tend to live in our heads, experiencing lives with great intensity whether they are “real” or not. We do tend to feel those 5 degrees off kilter from the rest of the world, and that makes us easily feel misunderstood and alone. And all of this comes into high relief just after something wonderful has happened to us and our work. The journey from contract to shelf is a very exciting one. But once you step away from the book shelf and walk back out the door and into the street full of other lives and other preoccupations, you can’t help but feel the black puppy yapping at your heels (oy, so many metaphors….). The let-down comes and it sucks.
So what to do about it? I suppose everyone has their own methods. Alcohol and chocolate are of course the first things that come to mind. Exercise, including sex, are sure-fire ways of releasing those endorphins. Some people find taking long walks helps, preferably in the sunshine (if you can find some). Spending time with friends. Getting plenty of sleep. Going to an artistic happening, like a film or play or concert. Planning a trip. Going on holiday. I’ve done it all and it all helps — temporarily. But only one thing, for me, provides the real, long lasting cure. And that’s getting back to work, and I don’t mean emailing people about the next event or submitting to yet another long-shot competition. I mean sitting down with my writing. It can be writing something completely new or editing something I had set aside or researching my next big project. What I call sitting down with your writing can take many forms (and not always physically sitting), but “sitting down” it must be. For me, the only cure for the let-down is to re-engage with the work, and not just once, but every day. Every day that I don’t do it, the let-down returns, and so I keep at it, whether it makes sense or not, day after day, until enough time has passed that the present let-down is just a memory. And then I’m fine, until some new wonderful thing happens to me and my writing, and then the next inevitable let-down comes along.
——— This post may, or may not be the last in this series of From Contract to Shelf. To read the other instalments, follow these links:
1. The Headshot
2. The Cover and the Blurb
3. What’s a Book Rep?
4. How to Wait
5. The Website
6. The Book Tour
7. Final Edits