Literary Post-Partum Blues ~ when the book is done, what then?
I finally completed a novel yesterday. You’d imagine that’d make me deliriously happy, wouldn’t you? However, I think most experienced writers make few assumptions about how it might feel, because it varies so much. With some books you feel like having a party; others you feel like getting hammered quietly somewhere alone, curled up in a corner with a bottle of Scotch. And yet others you sit there and think, OK, what now.
I don’t mean the obvious side of things, like editing or proofreading, or if you are intending to submit to a publisher, query letters or the rest of that side of things. Nor do I mean leaving it alone for a month or two and then ripping it up and starting again.
It’s the emptiness.
I’ve said goodbye to people who have been intimately close to me for however long it’s taken. People, not characters. I’ve said goodbye to friends who mean a lot to me and I need to let them go. I mustn’t obsessively spy on them as they make their way.
And the emptiness feels a lot like a condition that affects a surprising number of women each year: Empty Womb Syndrome. You’ve carried this baby for nine months, under your heart and now it’s out. But the baby inside is gone forever. That tiny being with only potential to protect it no longer exists: the sleeping bundle in the crib cannot be the passenger who kicked and squirmed inside you for so long. I felt the same when I had my only child, and for a few days, the solution was obvious.
The solution for this ache is obvious and yet, just as it is for Empty Womb syndrome, so wrong.
I can’t just start another novel immediately. Just as my body needed time to recover from birthing a child, so my psyche needs time to recover from birthing a book.
So you see, the question What now, is a lot more complicated than it sounds.
Last night I made a decision that whatever comes later, I would go through the process of marking this event with a small celebration. So we had a Thai takeaway, a bottle of fizzy wine (I’m not a big fan of champagne, but bubbles of some sort are obligatory celebration aides) and I also had a large Scotch. (Highland Park single malt, if anyone’s interested. I really like good whisky and I have a collection of them.)
Today, I am waking up to face the emptiness and to sit at the side of that void and wait.
At least I don’t have to face nappies as well.