Long Shadows of November: The Reality of Post-Novel Depression

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When you finish a novel, there is a major rush of exhillartation. You have climbed the mountain and as is your right you are ready to celebrate. Your mind begins to fill with dreams of publishing contracts and interviews, the book tours and the awards. You see the cover of your book quite clearly. You see your name in tall letters, your characters enshrined in the literary canon, your plot praised, your writing revered. You never want this feeling to end (who would), and if you are inexperienced, you may believe that it never will.

The feeling of euphoria fades, sometimes as quickly as it comes.

I am a NaNoWriMo winner, but I still have a lot of work to do. I estimate at least another 100K words before I begin my process of revision. There are many months ahead. But even now, I am beginning to feel the twinge of post-novel depression. I suppose it has something to do with the artificial schedule and deadline of NaNo.

I suspect there are many of your who are done-done with your book and are now grappling with the full effects of post-novel depression, so I thought I’d take a moment to share my experience.

You’ve just spent days, weeks, months (even years) working through the pain and triumph of your story. The characters you created are no longer just ideas or names, they are family, friends, and lovers. They are a part of you, as inseparable from you as your own face.

Yet, the story must end… The characters exit. The audience leaves the house. A single light shines on the empty stage. As silence descends, you are left alone in the theater of your mind.

You may try to work through it by writing more or working on other projects. You may try to exercise your way out of it, or distract yourself with a vacation. I’ve tried all of these avenues and each time I found that I was only delaying the inevitable.

Take heart though, this deep anguish is something that most, if not all, novelists experience. So while you cannot “beat” it, you do not suffer alone, and eventually it will end.

Personally, I have come to recognize post-novel depression as part of the process. Instead of dreading it, I welcome the experience as a natural part of writing. This does little to cushion the darkness but it does fend off the worst of despair.

Just remember that this will pass. The story in your hands is yours alone and you will turn it into a bright and shining miracle once the clouds clear. :)

15 thoughts on “Long Shadows of November: The Reality of Post-Novel Depression

  1. Thanks for this post, it’s perfect at explaining the feelings coming on. My book isn’t finished either and I think I have a scratch on my eyeball from rubbing my tired sad eyes. I did watch the first half of PBS’s “Mark Twain” documentary to keep that feeling of being a great prolific writer but I won’t watch the 2nd half because his life goes to hell in a hand basket after 50. But I did edit “ONE” paragraph last night as a baby step toward continuing the process. Good luck to you and everyone else toward finishing these novels.

  2. Depressed here. As I was typing the ending I felt so sad. But then i realize I had typed a complete novel and felt happy. Then I realized it was over, and i haven’t cheered up since. I’m not letting myself write the sequel though, as much as I wanted to.

    AravisGirl´s last blog post..I Finished My Novel… Now What?

  3. Great post and my feelings exactly. I reached the 50k mark but have a lot more to write before the book is complete. The excitement of nano helped push me to the goal of 50k. Now I’ve set the next goal for the month of December. However, once nano was over, I suddenly felt bereft and glad to know I’m not alone.

    Robin´s last blog post..

  4. I think some of it has to do with our cultural fear that feeling sad is a fault which is not true. Sadness is just one of a full-spectrum of feelings at our disposal to navigate through life. So the trick is to learn to embrace it without wallowing there permanently.

    And while I am much better at this I still take a long time to get that I’m not sentenced to stay there.

    Great post as always.

    Deb´s last blog post..Fall beauties to enjoy

  5. @Kevin Oh, you’ve just been waiting for a reason to drag that out, huh? :)

    @Deborah Oh do I love the editing process! So much in fact that I usually rewrite my stories from five different angles. I wonder if that has any connection to the fact I never get to send anything out? lol

    @Jupiter-Pluto-Sun Thanks for stopping by! :) We need to find you some editing war people so that you can race through to the end!

    @AravisGirl When I’m done-done with a draft, I let it sit for a few weeks before I dive back in. I think it’s easier when there’s some distance. The sadness though, well, you might be surprised how that seems to evaporate when you return to the text later.

    @Robin Thanks! I posted a link to this on the NaNo forums and there were a number of replies where people felt alone. I think it would be good of the NaNo folks to send out a post-NaNo email to let everyone know what to expect. Best of luck in December!!!

    @Deb Yes, I think so many people work to avoid sadness which itself is sad. Being sad is a natural part of life. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful comment.

  6. For some reason, I had to opposite response, maybe because the writing was so hard this year, until the end. As I wrote in my blog, I reached a kind of glorious ecstasy that has stayed with me. On the other hand, I may just be in denial, as is often the case. Whatever it is, I appreciate your articulate honesty and look forward to following the rest of your novel’s journey!

    Elizabeth Stark´s last blog post..Where the Wild Things Are: NaNoWriMo in Perspective

  7. No clouds here yet, but I’m not done with my story either. I reached my 50K in time, but I still have to wrap up a few loose ends. No dark clouds yet, but definitely a short break after that last sprint. It’s back to the keyboard for me on Friday.

    Laura´s last blog post..I Finished My NaNoWriMo Manuscript!

  8. @Elizabeth I’m glad to share what I know since that’s all I’ve got. :) I’m glad to hear you’re happy though. Let’s hope it’s not denial and that you’re swimming through to the next grand adventure!

    @Laura Best of luck as you charge on to the finish line!!!!

  9. Jamie
    I’ve got about 25k still to go, but I *did* get to 50k (50035, to be exact) at exactly 5 minutes to midnight. I still have a bad headache from writing about 11k on Sunday. Seriously.

    Still, I like the book and am giving myself until the end of Dec to finish it. I’m thinking that, starting Jan 1, I’ll have all my 2009 goals to jump into, so I’ll be too busy to get the PND (post-novel depression).

    Anyway, I really skimped on my Nov blogs, so it feels good to get back to them. Now I’ve got to find a way to get both the book and the blogs done during a big holiday month. Somehow, I’m not too worried. I only wrote 19 days last month toward NaNoWriMo, so I think that as long as I take it 500 words at a time, it’ll be done.

    Tamara Sellman´s last blog post..Change is good for writers: Pocket change, that is. Nickels, dimes, quarters.

  10. Jamie, the NaNo experience had so many parallels to training for and running a marathon. Both are distances that demand respect. Both share long training sessions, pre-race anxiety. On race day or writing month, you are then faced with needing to finish. You start off on pace, you get a little wobbly, you become doubtful even afraid, you hit a wall around Mile 18 and then tell yourself there is no wall, you gut it out in pain and agony, and then the final stretch…you pick up speed, you see the banner, you’re gonna do it even if you have to crawl the last mile, closer, closer, yes finish line. Then you cry, dance sing with joy and the next day you are happy you’re done, sore but suffer from post-race depression. Fortunately, for me the post-novel letdown has been minor but only because I am being flooded with work and left without the luxury of time to think. Still, it’s there lurking in the background, that little voice. I will edit soon and I am cringing in anticipation. I know I have several months of work ahead but thanks to you, I know I can do it.

    Karen Swim´s last blog post..Is It Far Better to Give than Receive?

  11. @Tamara I can empathize with your 11K headache. I had one of those myself in the mad rush to get done before the crush of late November. I think you have the right idea, taking it 500 words at a time. This is really the only way to make real progress in writing, plugging away day in and out and allowing for spurts of inspiration as they come.

    @Karen The marathon is such a great metaphor. I think that many people write their first novels out of the same place that drives them to run their first marathon. When the race is run, there’s the reflection on the driving forces and the realization that there is always so much further to go. This is both the joy and curse of writing as well as life in general. I think the key is to surround yourself with wonderful people who can support you when you need it and clap and scream as you cross the finish. I’m glad to be on your team! :)

  12. Jamie,

    Great post. I hit 76K and still did not finish. I’m somewhere near-ish the end, but not really sure where….maybe at 90K? Regardless, there has been some post-NaNo depression. I think part of it for me was that we had a neat local group, and I will miss the rush of the write-ins that we had. Neat people to work with!

    My challenge now is to finish this dude, to press on when there’s no throng of internet buddies clamoring about how dismayed/exalted/tired we all are to reach the end. Fortunately, we will still be having some folks meeting in smaller numbers through the year, so I hope to talk them into berating me whenever I don’t have progress to report. Again – neat people to work with!

    Tom´s last blog post..On Winning NaNoWriMo, (Not) Finishing, and The Artist’s Way

  13. @Tom Our local NaNo group (Columbus, Ohio) is having a party next Sunday. I think I’m going to crash it and drink in all the post-NaNo goodness. :)

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