Anatomy of a Novel Part 2: Post-project blues

In this series of posts I’m going to be giving you a warts-and-all look at the process of writing my next novel. Part 1 can be viewed here.

Art blues

A couple of days after I wrote about unexpectedly bombing out of NaNoWriMo, this article from ArtsHub, ‘Eight ways to deal with post-project blues’, fortuitously popped up in my Facebook feed. It was quite a revelation to me, because I hadn’t realised that what I’ve been feeling lately is actually kind of normal for artists (of all persuasions) coming to the end of a major project. This part in particular rang especially true:

For cabaret artist and jazz singer Mama Alto, post-show blues take the form of exhaustion and deep questioning. While the exhaustion passes over time, the questioning is the scary part, said Alto. ‘The mind races: What will I do next? What’s the next step? What’s my next project? Has the work been received favourably?

‘These questions sometimes devolve into unhelpful, overly critical, and unrealistic perspectives. Am I good enough? Was this work good enough? If it was, how on earth can my next work be as good? Am I a fraud?’

The tl;dr version of the eight tips is this:

  1. Accept that it’s normal
  2. Understand that you’re experiencing loss
  3. Face down the critic within
  4. Learn to anticipate the blues
  5. Take a break
  6. Start thinking about the next project
  7. Look after yourself
  8. Don’t forget to celebrate the achievement

I’ve found all of these to be really helpful, and the good news is I’m starting to find my way back through an unexpected avenue. Sometimes when I’m at a bit of a creative loss I go back and look at some of my old writing to see if there’s anything worth resurrecting, even just the glimmer of an idea that has merit. Lurking in my ‘Stories’ folder (which is a treasure trove of 20 years’ worth of writing – some of which I still can’t bear to look at) is a 70,000 word young adult fantasy manuscript called Dragonscale that is so close to being finished I can almost taste it (although when I say ‘finished’ I mean a first draft – there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done after that). And, surprisingly, parts of it aren’t too bad. Even better, I wrote it during an obsessive ‘plotting’ stage, so there’s also a meticulous chapter-by-chapter outline and backstory. So I can pretty much pick up where I left off, even though the last time I worked on it was two years ago.

I have no idea if this manuscript will ever see the light of day, even after it’s finished – it’s very different to Greythorne and doesn’t really fit with my new incarnation as a horror writer. But it’s the book that taught me how to write, and so I feel that I owe it to the story to at least finish it.  Quite a few of the Greythorne reviews have mentioned that it doesn’t read like a debut novel, and that’s because it’s not. Although it’s the first novel I’ve published, Dragonscale is what I cut my novelist’s teeth on and where I found my voice. It’s no wonder really that it’s been eight years in the making. It’s also just a fun story – I enjoy spending time with the characters and it’s a good old fantasy romp. The Dark Before the Dawn will not be either of those things – the protagonist and the plot are far darker and more complex, and I just don’t have the emotional energy for that right now. Ultimately, I write because it brings me joy, and what I’ve learned over the last little while is that stories have their own time and place. For whatever reason, it seems that now is Dragonscale‘s time. I’ll keep you posted.

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