Literary Post-Partum Blues ~ when the book is done, what then?

  The Flow Form pool, at the Chalice well gardens, in Glastonbury. I thought it looked womb-like.

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.

11 thoughts on “Literary Post-Partum Blues ~ when the book is done, what then?

  1. So true Viv

    Sometimes when I read a good book, I miss the characters because I feel they’ve become friends. But to put your heart, soul, tears, etc into your own characters, you can times that feeling by a hundred.

    Your analogy is perfect, because you HAVE ‘given birth’ to the characters you’ve created. They didn’t exist before your novel and as they came from your imagination, there’s an awful lot of you in them.

    I agree you can’t move on to another novel immediately, but how about reading more now you have a little more time? Relax into someone else’s story.

    Many congratulations on finishing your book by the way. So many people just dream of writing a novel but never get round to starting or finishing one.

    Love Ange xx


    • Hi Ange,
      I think the house and garden probably need my attention more than books do! Plus I need to gear myself up for work; heading out to France next week and then when I get back from that, need to focus on teaching as I am back with that. I’ve also got to fine tune the logistics of getting to work as the school has changed premises. From being able to stroll to work in about 20 minutes, I’m going have to cycle. I used to cycle a lot, had a nasty accident and stopped. Started again wwith a new bike some years ago, then stopped again after another accident. So today I got on two wheels again and…well, there’s a blog post in this somewhere.
      I have a theory that stories are a life form, or a kind of temporal blip; a writer receives a real story from another version of the universe, via some sort of mental wormhole in space time.
      As for the numbers of people who dream of writing a novel, I know. I wrote my first when I was 10, and so it never held any sort of awe or fear for me. I’ve lost count now of how many I’ve created, more than 20, I think. most I have burned.
      I’m gonna just try and sort my head out a bit, and hope that things just recover without the need for mental Kegel exercises.


  2. I completely agree with what you say here. I was bereft when I completed my novel. It’s been very hard to let go and stop bothering them. And you’re right, you can’t just immedialtely plunge into a new book. Recovery and replenishment is essential.

    Great blog, by the way. Glad to have found it. It was flagged up by @SesshaBatto on Twitter.



    • Hi Anne,
      good to meet you and many thanks to Sessha for sending you over.
      Bereft is EXACTLY the right word. It is a bereavement in truth, but I’m not sure how many nonwriters(or even many writers for that matter) could see it that way.
      Thanks for visiting and hope to see you again.


  3. I am sorry you are suffering. Not being a woman, I can’t really relate to the womb thing, but I did finish a novel. I finished it, wrote a blog post the next day. The day after that I stated the next one. When I finished it, I don’t know if I took a day off or not, before starting the 3rd.

    I enjoy the process of writing too much to stop. That is just me.

    Writing is fun. If my silly ramblings ever feed me and become my ‘day job’, I will probably do more of it.

    I hope you find a way to feel better. If not, your depression might make a good story…you could write it down.


    • Not sure I can think of a male equivalent.
      The first time I finished a novel, I was about ten, and I started again the following day, I think. As the years roll by, while writing remains fun, the challenges increase. Not only that, my life itself has become increasingly complicated and hard to deal with. There is only so much emotional energy available.
      Thanks for dropping by. I wish you all the very best with your writing. It is a strange journey, this writing lark.


    • Not all, from what I have gathered. Many have felt almost diametrically different; one said he began a new one immediately.
      But for many of us, yes.
      Good to see you here.


  4. I think, maybe, I’m not sure, but I think it depends on the writer and the subject. I know some writers who seem to bang stuff out at an incredible rate and go straight back to another. Then there are others that, like myself, finding writing like getting every last drop of blood out of your viens onto a page, and when you are done you feel empty inside – you have given so much of yourself to it. Writing for me is like trying to capture a ghost, a mist, and it is so very hard to do, every time you think you have it you find you were just chasing a shadow, a fog and it was not the ghost at all. And it twists around inside your gut and it hurts, it physically hurts that you have failed again. …And then, when you look at what you have done, you find that, although you never captured the ghost, you discovered so much about what it is, that it has opened up a doorway, and others can see that, thought ultimately you failed, you came so very close. I KNOW I failed, but I like to think I was a spectacular failure! And next time…? Next time I know a little more about the thing I chase that I will never catch – but I will chase it any way. But in the meantime, there is the emptiness inside. In my own novel I talked about the ‘womb’ quite a lot, and yes, that is how it felt, and as a man that is a strange feeling. Men don’t give birth – but in a way, I did. And, like seeing my own daughter, now 16, something inside me rips away at me gut and I know I will never feel those things I felt for her as I watched her grow, again. Yes Viv, writing a book is like giving birth, and the empty womb, yes, even though I am a man, I think i have just an inkling what that feels like.


    • YOu are not a failure.
      What people find in a book, or fail to find, is a different thing; once the book is gone, it stops being up to us what others discover there.
      And yes, some do rattle off lots and lots of books. I have done it myself, but there had been a great backwash built up from years of little or no self expresssion. I’ve slowed now.
      Your book deserves to be widely read and talked about aand will be one day.


  5. Pingback: The Year in Review: highs, lows, triumphs and tragedies of 2011 « Zen and the art of tightrope walking

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