Finishing up a first draft? Here’s how to prep yourself for your emotional responses.
You would think that completing a first draft of your book or play or screenplay would make you feel giddy. And it might. And it should. I mean, you have likely been working on this project for months or years. You have poured out your heart and soul, struggled with the characters, scenes, dialogue, setting (etc.), and fretted over this word or that word. And finally, finally, you have a concrete stack of papers that have a beginning, middle, and end. You should want to throw a party.
But don’t be surprised if finishing up that first draft comes with a host of other emotional responses.
Let’s look at a few of the possible responses I have both witnessed and experienced within myself:
- Unexplainable nervousness or anxiety
- A desire to quit
- A sense of emptiness or purposelessness
- A wave of anger
- An inexplicable depression
Why? Why? Why?
Many writers ask me if it is normal to have these types of reactions, then they wonder why they are experiencing them in the first place.
Normal—yes. Why? Here are my thoughts:
Fear of Exposure
You are shifting from a very internal space, where you have existed for quite some time, to a more exposed, public space. The thought of sharing your work might bring on unexpected fear or panic. You may be nervous about reactions you will receive. You may wonder, is it good enough? Did I just waste years of my life? The imposter syndrome may even start to take over your brain. Know that this is very normal. Try journaling all your fears to get them out of your body. And don’t believe everything you think.
Yes, you are most likely very, very tired. Take a nap.
Confusion About What Happens Next
It can be scary because in the first draft writing stage you had most, if not all, of the control. Now you may not know what happens next, and that can be terrifying. Don’t worry; there are many Book Sherpas out there that can guide you; you are not alone.
So, what can help?
- Allow Your Emotions
Be aware that you may tumble through a series of emotions and know that there is another, much shinier, side. If you need to cry, do it. If you need to yell into a pillow, do it. If you just need to dance, I say dance. Get it out.
- Pat Yourself on the Back
Force yourself to celebrate. Don’t just pass through this marker. You did a ton of work. You deserve to sip a little champagne, do a little retail celebrating, or take that long bath you have been wanting to take. Snap a picture of yourself holding your first draft and post it on Facebook—allow your community to celebrate with you! Whatever helps you to mark the occasion, do it. (In our writing group we even came up with a first draft song to sing when members complete their first drafts). Pat yourself on the back. It is a big deal.
- Do No Harm
Depressive or anxiety-riddled thinking can lie to you. It may tell you that you are not good enough or worthy enough—or that you should just toss it all and start over. Don’t believe everything you think during this period of mini-tumult. Don’t quit writing or stuff the manuscript in a drawer. The angst is temporary.
- Get it Out of Your Hands
Give the manuscript to a beta reader, content editor, writing coach, or writing group member that you trust, then let it go for four to six weeks. Allow the reader(s) to do the read, and take your mind off it.
- Look at Shiny Stuff or Bathe in Some Trees
Distract yourself. While your manuscript is in someone else’s hands, you may experience a loss of purpose or even more anxiety. It’s a great time to focus on your social media platform, create your website, open a twitter account, or start on a brand-new project—one that is very different from the one you have just completed. Or, better yet, get outta dodge. Go on a trip. Drive into the country. Nap, a lot. A sure-fire way to regain excitement and balance is to get out into nature for at least two days. You will see how much your myopic perspective changes by washing your brain with ocean breezes, swaying trees, and sunsets.
Congratulations! The Feisty Writer wants to celebrate along with you! Send us your pictures of you holding your first draft to firstname.lastname@example.org.