I suspect, with any large project, which takes a lot of your concentration and time… once the elation of getting to the end passes (and usually, with me anyway, that’s in an exhausted haze.) there’s a little period where that’s a sudden empty hole.

I know. ‘The king is dead. Long live the king!’ It’s good advice, but not that easy to take (that’s how you know it is good advice. Bad advice is easy to take.) I definitely go through a series of stages, finishing a book.

First draft ‘the end’ is mostly relief. I collapse into bed (it’s usually 2-3 AM, by then.). The next day, is my read-through and fixing all the # (things to look up, names I can’t remember and didn’t want to stop and look back for, etc.) This is usually when I spend a lot of time with a wrinkled forehead, trying to work out just what I meant by that bit… And inevitably when the last dash for the finish line gets expanded and made coherent, coherency being something which may be slipping away by early morning and the typical Monkey finale. When that is done, I print it and give it Barbs to cover in red (or blue or whatever comes to hand) ink. This takes her a few days, and improves the readability a great deal.

It’s also my bleakest point with any project, because until that clean-up is done, I certainly don’t want anyone else to look at it. And then the self-doubt starts up in earnest. I’ve invested huge effort and time into whatever the book is… will anyone want to read it? Will anyone pay to read it? Is it any good? Have I just wasted months getting the plot into a story?

This particular book — because it is a complete break from anything else I have ever written, different genre and style… I have those doubts and depression quintupled. Frankly, this is insanity, largely brought on by the stress of our petty bureaucrats. I have to write to earn, and this was what wanted to come out, so, I wrote it, something being better than nothing.

After that I send off to various first readers, who tear into it in their own specific fashion. All makes it better to read… and hopefully they tell me that it doesn’t entirely suck. I know I won’t be entirely satisfied, until I have left it for a few years, when, suddenly, I will discover that I actually enjoy it very much and would like to meet the guy who wrote it, and maybe even read some of his other books…

Then of course it gets into the process, proofs, covers, blurbs etc. By this stage it’s an annoyance, because I am engaged in the reign of the new king (whatever book I working on next).

But the slough of despond – which I arrived at when I finished and printed early this morning, while I still wait for even Barbs first response to the books (yes, her liking varies a lot. At this stage, I’ll take ‘I don’t hate it’.) is a particularly hard time… in which I am trying to find direction, pick up the next book to work on (I have 3 others in progress – this one just caught fire)

So: how do you pick that next project? In some ways it was easier when I had contracted them ahead.

17 thoughts on “burnout

  1. I’ve only been stuck for a ‘next project’ once, and that was at the very start, after my first novel, ‘To Truckee’s Trail”. I knew that I wanted another relatively unknown character/incident, something on the 19th century American frontier, since I already had all the reference books and felt comfortable writing 19th century vernacular. It took a few weeks for the idea for Adelsverein to hit, and that has since grown to a sequence of nine linked novels, stretching out over a hundred years. I usually am working two books at a time, and then there is always the Luna City series. Right now I have one novel half-done, and another in the conceptual stages … so for me, there is always an easy leap to the next project.

    1. Same here WRT software development and testing. I find that if I get stuck on one thing, I can put it on the back burner until it’s simmered.

  2. Oh that’s easy! I have eight thing at various staged listed right there on my white board.

    So something completely new pops up and I write that. (sob)

  3. I have a list of books “that I want to write before I die.” It started back about 2008, when I realized I had something in this writing career I had started. Anyhow, titles go on as they occur to me, and come off as I start them (generally after getting a contract for one of the books on the list).

    There are also about four editors that ping me asking if I want to write a book about “X.” (If the answer is yes I send in a proposal which is sure to be accepted.) Occasionally the requested title is one on my “write before I die list,” since part of what I do is shop those titles around to potential publishers.

    Some of the books on the list are outre by the standards of what I normally write (which is maritime nonfiction). I am in final negotiations for a series of children’s fiction – a series of lives of the saints stories with juvenile protagonists. (Long story. I wrote them for my kids when they were little and carried on with my grandkids, and . . . well, they are written, and I found a publisher, so . . .)

    Currently I have about a year’s worth of books under contract and on my writing calendar, and I am beginning to put together a list of books to write in 2024. I could write a lot more if not for the day job, and am old enough and financially-secure enough that I could quit it, but . . . well . . . the job is a dream job for someone into SF – turning science fiction into reality. So my wish list will continue to get longer for the time being as I have more projects than time to write.

    1. Is it okay for me to ask your name? The saints book series looks very interesting to me, and my spouse is much into naval books so I would like to look for your name and possibly purchase some of your books.

      1. Go to Ricochet.com and look for the weekly book reviews by Seawriter. This week’s is Fantastic Numbers. Check the bottom line.

        1. Thank you sir. Some of your work looks like it could be very useful for background in my ‘Republic of Texas Navy’ series. I’ve just bought the German vs Royal Navy Heavy Cruisers book.

      2. Well, I responded, but it may have gotten blocked because I used a link. So, go to ricochet dot com and look for the weekly book review I do there every week under the Seawriter handle. Go to the bottom of one of the reviews. This week I reviewed Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them.

  4. My only emotion when I finish a first draft is relief, although part of that may be because I always put it away for several months after that. I need an “aging” period of anywhere from a few months to a year where I just don’t look at things, after which I can come back with fresh eyes and start the “cleaning” process before I send things to beta readers.

    I also usually take a couple weeks to a month off after I finish a project like that, although with the baby going into kindergarten and Mom’s free time about doubling, that may change as I get more serious about this stuff.

  5. It isn’t just with books either. Finally finished the death-march fixing my lawnmower. When It fired the first time I thought of Dave’s body-swap with the car. Satisfaction.

    It runs, drives and cuts. The lawn looks good, finally. But after three solid months of dismantlement, cutting, grinding, welding and machining little parts, sticking it all back together again, there’s a big open space in the workshop.

    Something will come along to fill that space, of this one can be sure. Hopefully something I -want- to do, possibly another broken machine that needs fixing.

    Conversely, running out of problems in current WIP is an issue. The characters are getting very efficient at clearing eruptions and calamities. Some shadowy group tried to nuke their farm in current WIP and they had it sorted by tea time. It took me a long time to set that up, and they tossed it off like nothing. 😡

    Now I have to go think up a new outrage for the climax of the book. Frickin’ characters, frickin’ smart-asses. [grumble, swear, kick]

  6. I usually have two or three ideas, started projects, bits-and-pieces, and so on waiting. Right now? I’m forcing myself through the middle-muddle of the next book, and research reading for the one after that.

    This is after I play brain-numb for a day or two or three and do all the things I put off working on to finish the last book.

  7. There is A Plan. Stuff to do next, stuff that needs work, stuff I want to go back and fix…

    The problem is, The Plan is usually just a word that means “Things That Don’t Actually Happen.” What I’d like to do is create coherent, engaging storylines in the universes that are knocking around in my head. Ones that don’t rely on cheap tricks like cliffhangers that seem to happen whether I want them to or not.

    This post makes me think that I’d probably do better to have a more coherent plan than “write the golem story next, because that might sell better.”

  8. For me, a plan usually means “Things that happen sometimes If I’m feeling up to it or am forced into it, but usually don’t”. For writing, there’s an ongoing dispute between between “planning the work and working the plan” and “write scenes in random order and hope I get enough of them to get a story out of it someday.”

  9. The last few books I have enjoyed the first few days of a brain without a story in it. It’s very quiet. I can get a lot done because I don’t have the time filled with story like a freight train trying to push out my head.

    And then I start to worry that the writing thing is broken, and then I start coming up with little disconnected bits, things that aren’t full stories, just glimpses and bits of scenes or characters. I write those down, because at least I’m writing something. And then I’ll start whimsically on what seems a very short little story… say, “Cindarella, if there were terrorists attacking the ball.” And then it grows, and grows, and accretes bits I’d come up with before that hadn’t seem connected at all, often changed in the retelling, until it grows into a story.

    Or I’ll pick up an old project that I got blocked on, and start over on it, often changing the premise slightly to avoid where it went wrong the time before. When I get frustrated and blocked on it again, that’s when another story likes to come and take over. Like when I swear that the next story I write will be a shopping trip at a mall and will be a perfect day in which nothing goes wrong. Well, it was a perfect day with explosions, instead.

    Amazingly enough, I’m actually getting serious headway in the story I’ve started and stopped so very many times to write other things in the last 6 years. A chance comment by a reader on my love’s blog made me go “Oh! I could do that!” and I started the latest draft in November 2020. It’s now, despite multiple interruptions for other books, finally over 40K words, and I know where it’s going. Maybe I’ll even get there this time. Maybe I’ll get something else instead. I’m not too good at this, but I’m persistent.

  10. I’m very fortunate that I haven’t hit that point yet. My current series is looking like it’s going to be at least four books just to get through World War 2, then I’ve got ideas percolating for the Cold War and the Space Race.

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