- Chronic disappointment
- Inability to fully engage with other works of fiction
- Indecision about what direction to take
- Apathy/dread when asked about our work
- Mood swings with regards to publishing/writing
- Loss of “innocence” and optimism
To name a few.
All of these are indicators of a malady I like to call the “Post-First Novel Syndrome” (PFNS). Just like the loss of virginity, once a writer has finished that first novel and rendered it to the world, she will never be able to go back to that innocent era of carefree writing where there weren’t enough hours in a day to complete the stories sketched in her mind. The pleasure of writing without restrictions of word count, plot structure or character arc will never come back. The second/third-novel-writer knows now that he may not be the exception (like he thought as he heard rumors about word count, POV, or other atrocities) but he could—sadly—be the rule, and there may be some validity to the advice he didn’t want to hear back when he was immersed in first-novel bliss.
Once a first novel has left the safety of a writer’s hard drive to receive feedback from critique partners and industry professionals, a shift takes place in the novice writer’s psyche. Pain, surprise, denial, embarrassment are some of the first emotions she may experience—as tender as blisters in the palm of a child’s hand after playing at the monkey bars for too long. After some time, when rejection letters start coming in and a second novel has been written, a sort of numbness sets in—the callousness of too many recesses hanging from a metal bar. Except that this callousness is not tangible. It’s embedded in our souls and in our confidence (or lack therof) as writers.
Most manuals and classes focus on getting that first novel written. They call it a big accomplishment (and it is) but I haven’t seen a lot of advice on how to continue after/if that novel doesn’t get published.
And it’s harder to write once we’ve had a bitter taste of reality.
Trying to find a solution to this common dilemma, I came across a couple of interesting articles. One blames writer inertia on fear, while this one tries to shake us all from our comfortably numb state.
As agent Rachelle Gardner states in this post, the test of persistence doesn’t come when we’re writing and revising our manuscripts. It comes when we’ve gotten 40 + rejection letters and yet we continue to polish our manuscripts, start new projects, or query more agents.
They say this is the period where most writers get weeded out.
(Not while penning their first novel, like we would like to think.) I know many people dream of writing a novel and never do it, but THOUSANDS are completing novels every year, and they’re competing against us. They’re being persistent, while we commiserate. Or research. Or take time off. Or develop our platforms.
There was a time when you would have laughed if someone suggested that you implement a writing schedule to force yourself to sit in front of the keyboard every day. (You needed a schedule for everything else you were forgetting to do while you wrote your novel!) Sadly, your new cynic self may have to trick your brain into doing just that in order to get that next project written. Back when you started writing and you relied on a dial up connection, your internet visits were short, to the point, and then you logged off to focus on your WIP. You didn’t know what blogs were and Facebook were two separate words. You were able to focus and concentrate in your story. You were so productive.
Now, as a PFNS writer, you have many good reasons for not writing:
One of the things that helped me get out of my endless revision stage was to sit down with pony-tailed colleague and write down a list of concrete writing goals (with deadlines) for the fall.
- You’re doing research.
- You’re busy and don’t have time.
- You’re trying to be productive elsewhere.
- You need time off to think and plan your next move.
- You have priorities and writing is not one of them.
- Send manuscript to beta readers/critique partners by X-day (whether revisions are ready or not!)
- Enter such and such contest on Y-day.
- Query 10-20 agents by Z-day.
In the end, though, it all boils down to being honest with yourself. Do you really want to be a novelist? Maybe it’s an old dream and the reality of a writer’s life doesn’t excite you as it once did. And that may be fine for you. You may find another passion. After all, writing is a gamble. This is not a four-year college where you know that if you work hard, you’ll be guaranteed a degree. No guarantees here. But if you're just shutting the inner voice that keeps telling you “what if” because it’s just too difficult/painful, you are the one who’ll be miserable. It’s your dream. No one else’s.
Please share your thoughts. Do you feel drained after years of writing/querying? Have you lost your love for writing or you still haven’t found another occupation as gratifying as the written word? Do you still see scenes in your mind? Are total strangers (potential characters) talking to you?
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
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