Yesterday I finished the zero draft of a short story for Fireside Mag, tentatively titled Maternal Type. If it won’t work for them I’ll write them another–I should finish another short story just to have on hand, just in case. Usually I wait until I’m asked to produce one, which may explain part of why the process is so…fraught. It may also explain why I don’t do so many of them–because going oh my God you might not like this one let me produce fifteen and let you choose please like one pleasepleaseplease is sort of…creepy. And not so professional.
Anyway, Maternal Type slid out pretty easily once I was over the initial WARGH, which is how second attempts at short stories (thankfully) tend to go. Then for the rest of the day, my brain was full of echoes. I’ve written about snapback before, but I might as well have another go at it.
Snapback is what I call that peculiar exhaustion which follows finishing any intense piece of creative work. Working means your engines–the massive things that sit below the floor of your consciousness, making everything tremble with their humming–are going full speed, perhaps pulling a massive weight, perhaps Tuning an entire world into being. When the work of creation is done, all that energy, all that force doesn’t just stop. It has to wind down, sparking and shuddering.
Which is, to say the least, uncomfortable. For me, the sensation of having my brain turn into mush is unpleasant in the highest degree. The end of a big project or even just a very vivid and deeply-felt one feels a little like an emotional hangover, with a component of physical aches and pains. All that emotional energy spent may overdraw one’s “bank”, and I know writers who invariably catch a cold after finishing a work or series. In other words, it feels like crap.
A lot of new or aspiring writers make the mistake of thinking this discomfort (or outright pain) means they’re doing something wrong, and subtly (or not so subtly) use it as another reason not to finish other works, just to flog the one completed thing. Which shoots them in the foot, in more ways than one. Instead of viewing it as a normal part of a process, like the aches and pains the day after a hard workout, they think “OH GOD I’M DYYYYING” And a lot of wonderful stories they could have told afterward rot unborn inside them.
Learning about your own snapback after finishing is a valuable part of teaching yourself to produce consistently. You don’t need to lie caterwauling on a bed of nails–unless you like that sort of thing, I guess? At least, not for very long. Give yourself a time limit. I generally need a day’s worth of recovery time after a short story. Novels, especially end-of-series novels, might take a week. Right after you finish, do celebrate! Get down, get your groove on, get inebriated if you want, glory in the fact that the fucking thing is finished. And do give yourself a little bit of time to feel like the low end of the pool.
My recovery often involves mindless video games, long walks, and periods of time just spent staring out a window, my mind slowly congealing back into its usual sharp bustle. I give myself a deadline to be done with that part of the process. (Sometimes this doesn’t work, and I’m mortified at myself for not getting off the stick sooner.) By acknowledging the need and building the expectation of a little time to recover into your process as a matter of course, you’re giving yourself the best possible start on a new project.
So, what does your snapback look like? What’s your process? Mine is constantly in need of fine-tuning–the Valentine series knocked me sideways, where the Damnation Affair left me feeling tired but oddly energized as well. (My God, that book was a lot of fun.) Don’t expect the process to stay static–but do account for it.
Over and out.