Whenever I talk with my non-writer friends about writing, it’s clear they don’t fully understand what goes into the creation of a novel. It’s the usual complaint of writers: They’re supportive, have a bit of interest, but don’t get the way writing sucks us in and wraps us in a cocoon of isolation and effort. But this week I had an experience that might explain, as much as possible, what’s happening when writers tuck into our worlds.

I’ve been working on my current novel for almost a year. It’s been through four complete revisions and I’ve been working on my fifth (and hopefully last) major revision. I got some insightful feedback and a few problems clicked into place, so I was zipping along through the revisions, averaging around 10k words a day. It was a beautiful, zen feeling–like driving a car on an open road with gentle curves.

Then, as happens every 3-4 weeks, my kids got sick. I ended up with them at home for two weeks, making writing nearly impossible. Usually this would be a minor hiccough. But because I was so deep into my world, it was actually difficult to pull out of it. I was irritated and short tempered, itching to get back at the keyboard.

Eventually I packed up the kids and took them to my mother-in-law so they could have some fun at the beach and I could finally get the end written. I holed up for two days and then wrote the all-powerful words that give breathing room at the end of each draft: The End.

I stared at them. Aren’t they beautiful? So complete. So perfect. I shared my news with my writing group. I tweeted. I let the euphoria wash over me.

But after my elation settled–which only took about ten minutes–a fog rolled in on me. It wasn’t any kind of sadness or depression. I wasn’t missing my WIP. But I was somehow lost without it. I wandered into the kitchen. Back to the bedroom. I picked up a book to read. Put it down. Tried to engage with a game. But I couldn’t get into anything.

It was a giant question: what now? After holding the complications of my world and plot and characters in my head, I felt emptied and unsure of myself. Almost like this world, the real one, wasn’t solid.

That feeling stuck with me for about a day. It doesn’t hit me when I take a break in writing. But when I finish a project, or a phase of a project, it comes in like a wave. I no longer know what to do with myself when that flow state leaves me.

Eventually the sensation fades and I get back to my life. But I thought it would be important to share how bittersweet and overwhelming “The End” can be for an author. The beginning can be exciting. The middle a drag. But the end? It’s like graduating from college without a job lined up. What next?

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