Putting It Down
I did it. I finished my draft. And fell off a cliff.
Have you ever had this experience? You put all your energy into a creative project. You finish it. And then end up moody and depressed. This used to happen to me every time I finished a show in high school. The show would close, and I’d mope around for at least a week afterwards, the high of performing giving way to the low of regular life. But I hadn’t experienced it since I stopped doing theatre, until I finished my draft.
It was a teensy bit comforting, the familiarity of it, but mostly it was … moody and depressing. I wanted to bask in my accomplishment, rest for a few days, and then pickup another project. If only it was that simple.
The standard advice for writers is to let a project sit for six weeks in between drafts. I vividly remember the first time I followed it. I fidgeted the whole time. Instead of getting distance from it I thought about it constantly, so that by the time the six weeks had elapsed, and I went back to the story my perspective wasn’t that different than when I put it down.
That distance, I have come to learn, is extremely important. Stories almost always need changes to make them work. Sometimes they need drastic changes. Without distance or a different perspective, I have found myself clinging to ideas or details that I need to let go of. To make the necessary changes, to move things forward and make a story work, I have to be ruthless and able to throw things out even if it means making a major change.
Putting down a creative project, really putting it down, is hard. Even after the immediate mood dip has worn off, I find myself thinking about my story. Asking myself questions about character, plot points, motivations, etc. Then I catch myself, jot down whatever thought I had, and try to put it out of my mind. I have also picked up another story that I want to finish, but it has been slow going. Like wading through mud.
I think it may take more than six weeks to get the distance that I need, before I can go back to working on it. It’s been three weeks since I put it down. The urgency to pick it up again and get it done, will no doubt make me itch as I get closer to that six week mark. But I know from previous experience that if I go back to it too soon it won’t do any good.
What are you experiences with putting a project down?