Most of us find ourselves beset by a dreary attitude once and a while. The holidays—with all the stress, family obligations, and expectations good or not-so-good—can pack a hefty punch to one’s psychic equilibrium. But things get especially dire when the season delivers a double whammy, like like when you’re trying to launch a new project amid the post-partum blues. The year’s end itself can sometimes bring on that post-partum feeling of emptiness and dislocation.
If these are troubles you deal with, you are certainly not alone. All kinds of endings (and beginnings, too, come to think of it…) plague me with despondency. Having been there many times, I’ve got a few helpful hints to share. Please add your own suggestions in the comments section. We need all the tools we can get to keep our productivity going!
As writers, we know it’s not fun to find ourselves stumped on a scene halfway through a book that’s been going well (more or less) up to that point. When this happens to me, it usually means I’ve procrastinated on some essential piece of research that can’t be delayed any longer. For example, 200 pages into my novel, Our Orbit, it came time to write the scene in which two young girls visit their father in prison. I had put off drafting this episode as long as possible, but once I got out from behind my desk and went to visit a prison myself, that influx of information gave me the confidence to send words flowing freely out my fingers and onto the page.
Such blocks to the writing process are bad enough. What’s even worse—in my case, at any rate—is the paralyzing letdown that lies in wait after the completion of an important project. I call this “post-partum writer’s block.” It can devolve into a fallow period of months’ duration.
This is understandable up to a point: there’s bound to be a sense of dangling at loose ends after a big job that has occupied one’s mind for a long time, perhaps years. One positive interpretation is that the springs of creativity need to recharge before one feels ready to start something new. Unfortunately, a chorus of nagging voices may tend to overwhelm the mind:
Why aren’t you writing? How long can this drag on, this doing-nothing?? You really don’t have another book in you, after all! I knew it—everybody always knew it!!
Some of my writer-friends swear by planning ahead for these pitfalls: keep the next project simmering on the back burner—make notes, maybe an outline, engage with the characters just enough so they’re ready to pop when the time is ripe. As soon as a front burner frees up, move the simmering project forward and carry on like nothing has changed.
Voilà —post-partum blues outsmarted!
This is surely sage advice…indeed, it’s a bit too wise for the likes of me. My psyche seems to require a fallow time to grieve, as it were, for the fruit of my imagination that is now separate and independent. For the characters that have grown up and moved on. Or maybe for my unrealistic expectation that life would glow forever golden once I managed to publish the novel. This grieving process seems to entail a very low word count for as long as it takes.
I don’t mean to discount my friends’ advice. Shifting a new project rapidly to the front burner may prove very helpful for some. I’ve actually followed this advice as best I can. But when I need more time to get the next creative endeavor up and going, here are some of the things that make my days pass productively and hopefully hasten the joy of finding my way back to the writing zone—
• Don’t begrudge yourself plenty of rest. Other obligations permitting, sleep as much as you like at least a few nights per week. Ditto on relaxation. I would recommend avoiding addictions (especially electronic ones), but if TV dramas help you unwind, now’s a fine time to soak up that expert plotting without self-reproach.
• Go outside for a few minutes every day, minimum. It’s true that winter is setting in across North America, but try to find a sheltered place to get a bit of sunshine on your skin.
• In a related move, get some exercise whether indoors or out. Your next book is likely to require a lot of unhealthful sitting, so shape up now in order to withstand those long writing sessions to come.
• It’s fashionable these days to recommend meditation for whatever ails us. Personally, I never cared for it—in the past when I tried it, I always fell asleep, or just wound up fretting over the same problems I’d fretted over all day without benefit of meditation. More recently, though, I’ve allowed myself to sit and count breaths for a modest ten minutes at a stretch without any big expectations. I find it does give rise to a serene state of mind.
• Indulge yourself in something you’ve never done before: try a new craft or sport, listen to some foreign-language lessons, visit a place you’ve never seen. Or if novelty doesn’t attract you, page back to an old neglected hobby, a creative road perhaps tried but not taken in the past: quilt a pillow, build a birdhouse, bake a pie.
• And no matter what, keep journaling! It doesn’t matter what you write—some of it will no doubt be drivel, but the first sentence for your next book may turn up there soon. And your fingers will stay limber for the words you’ll eventually want to share with the world.