I recently completed a rough first draft of a new middle grade novel and felt absolutely elated to have reached that milestone. That high lasted…oh, less than twenty-four hours.
After that? I settled into a potent mental cocktail of dread, fear, and existential malaise.
I cycled through destructive thoughts. No one is going to care about this book as much as I do. I’ve already passed the fun part of the writing process. Now it’s just revising AKA fixating on everything that’s bad about the book, waiting waiting and waiting some more, and, if I’m really lucky, some horrible reviews.
Reader, I got through it. I’m back enjoying polishing my first draft and turning my messy sketch of a draft into the sparkling painting I’d intended it to be.
Whether it’s finishing a draft, getting an agent, publication day, or even, I’m told, hitting the bestseller list, writers often experience a significant crash after reaching writing milestones. This is a totally normal part of the process that people don’t talk about enough (I agree with Jessica Mason here). After all, you should feel great! You’ve done it! Yay!
Yeah. It doesn’t always keep feeling great. I’ve written six novels, two nonfiction guides, had three books traditionally published, and self-published two more. I still feel these crashes.
Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with them.
Milestone hangovers are hard to avoid
The first thing to understand about milestone hangovers is that you’re almost assuredly going to have them.
You are likely a more well-adjusted individual than I am, but even if you are adept at staying on an even keel, it’s virtually impossible to avoid the hedonic treadmill.
Your brain is simply hard-wired to adjust to new realities. Once you’ve reached a milestone, it will fade from being thrilling to becoming your new normal. You may retain some pride in the accomplishment, but any euphoria will be short lived. It may even be accompanied by a corresponding crash back to earth.
One thing that is positively unhelpful when facing a milestone hangover is to compound your stress by beating yourself up for having one. They’re just part of the process.
You’re not a bad person or ungrateful if you struggle to sustain your positive feelings about your achievements. This is why having writing friends is important. They’ll understand when you complain about what non-writers may see as nothing but good fortune.
Stay in the present
One fun feature with my milestone hangovers is that my mind starts concocting various scenarios in the future for me to be upset about.
People are going to hate the book. No one is going to care. Worse, they’ll be mad at you for writing it. I’ll never be able to fix its oh-so-awful problems.
In other words, I’m extrapolating from my present circumstances (I’m tired and experiencing an endorphin crash while I sit in front of a messy first draft) into a future that feels quite real to me but only exists in my head and will almost assuredly never come to pass in the way I’m imagining it.
Try not to skip steps! When you’ve just finished a messy first draft, it’s not the time to imagine what people are going to think of it because you’re not even done fixing it yet. You’re going to feel very differently about your book when it’s actually time to send it out than when you’re staring at a messy heap that needs a whole lot more work.
Until you’re really, truly done with the writing stage, try to retain your excitement about writing it. Yes, it’s not always fun to turn a critical eye on your work. Chin up. It just means you’re not finished yet. You’re making it the book you always wanted it to be.
That goes for every step of the process. If you find yourself drowning in despair about what might happen in the future, you’ve probably lost sight of enjoying the stage you’re at.
Reset your expectations
Particularly for your first book, publication day can feel absolutely momentous. You are a published author. You’ve done it. You’re holding your dreams in your hand.
But it’s often accompanied with a very palpable dark shadow. The day after your book party, you are still you and all of your problems remain. Not much has actually changed. Your reviews are never good enough. Your sales are never high enough. And you have to gear up for doing the same thing all over again.
As you’re proceeding along your writing journey, it’s so easy to daydream about what might happen if your book meets with success. You get that agent. You get that book deal. You make that bestseller list. It all sounds lovely! And while you were in the writing trenches, maybe you used those dreams for a little extra motivation.
What you risk with daydreaming about being a wild success is that you subtly raise the bar for the threshold that will make you happy. Instead of treating any reader as a blessing, you start to cling to those best case scenarios where you are the toast of the book world.
Don’t overrate how much any milestone is going to change your life. It’s become cringe to talk about practicing gratitude, but really do try to retain a sense of wonder that literally anyone on Earth would want to take time out of their life to read your words.
If they do read your book? And they even like what you’ve written? Wow. Pretty pretty nice indeed.
Have you experienced a milestone crash? What worked for you? Let me know in the comments!
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Art: The Hangover by Henrie de Toulouse-Lautrec