As I am writing this, I am getting very close to finishing the first draft of a novel.
I am not excited about this. In fact, I am terrified.
This is not the fear that settles in when you realize you’re about to finish something that may never expand beyond the state it is in now. And it isn’t the dark realization that you are going to have to go back to the beginning at some point and (GASP) rewrite a bunch of it, and edit it, and probably do it over again after that.
No. This is the fear of something else. Something worse. It has happened to me before, and I really don’t want it to happen again.
I have been working on this book for what feels like a very long time, in the grand scheme of writing projects. It has consumed so much of my life and so many of my thought space for all the months I’ve been working on it that I’m not sure what I’m going to do, or how I’m going to feel, when it’s over.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that you should let something rest for a while after finishing it before you return to improve it. There are different recommendations for how long you’re typically supposed to wait between finishing a novel and going back to edit it, but really, it’s up to you and how you feel about your story. I typically wait a few months.
This time, I might have to wait a little longer. I feel as if I need to distance myself from it, to forget the small details of it, to let it be for as long as I dare without risking forgetting about it completely.
Which means I’m about to go from “actively working on a novel” to “not currently working on a novel” in a matter of seconds.
I haven’t been “not currently working on a novel” for a very long time.
What if I can’t survive it?
Don’t get me wrong — I will have one less thing to work on, at least for a while, and that won’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. I’m looking forward to taking some time to let my brain relax, as much as it can, while I let the finished book simply exist in a place that is not, technically, all in my head.
But here’s what I’m not looking forward to: The emptiness. The sadness. The loss of momentum.
While I have not finished a book in a very long time — and even though I am extremely grateful to be able to say I have finished many, and will soon add another first draft to that list — I have never forgotten the despair that almost immediately follows typing out that last word.
I suppose, to a parent, it would be kind of like sending your baby off to kindergarten for the first time. You’re so happy for them! And you finally have a few hours to, like, breathe? But also you’re trying not to cry because it feels like you just met them for the first time and all of a sudden they’re basically all grown up.
You worked so hard to give them everything you could and now you have to sit back and watch them get on the bus all by themselves and IT’S JUST TOO MUCH.
You get over it eventually. You realize that they’ll always be your baby no matter how quickly they grow up and it becomes a little easier to find the joy in moments like this, despite the bit of sadness that will always creep up each time you start getting sentimental.
Here’s the good news: This is completely normal. Crying because you wish your book wasn’t over, I mean.
As writers, we leave pieces of ourselves in everything we write. We don’t get those pieces back, not the same ones anyway. It makes total sense that after pouring so much of your energy and time and SELF into your book that by the time it’s over, you’re not quite sure if you can still technically exist in the real world without it.
Here’s some more good news: You will recover. You will rise to write again.
My plan, when I finish this first draft within the next few weeks (fingers crossed), is to celebrate. No matter how sad I feel, no matter how much I just want to crawl into bed and bask in the emptiness, the first thing I will do is let myself be proud of what I have accomplished.
There will always be time for mourning and reflection. But first, we must make time to remind ourselves that while we may feel empty, it is because we have done something amazing. Something many people will never do. Something that is worth jumping up and down and dancing around in your socks and treating yourself to something delicious.
You did it. We did it.
It’s normal to feel sad. Just don’t forget to say, “Good job, self. You did the thing. You. Are. A. Boss.”
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.