PTSD – Yes, Even Writers Get It

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Fellow Mid-Michigan RWA member and good friend Lucy Kubash recently e-mailed me a copy of an article by author Jeanne Kisacky, who writes non-fiction and teaches college. The article was called “Writer Unboxed: Post-Project Depression and Recovery.” She posted it on her blog February 21, 2017.

Never have I read something that so perfectly fits how I feel after finishing a big book that required a lot of research and months of sleeping perhaps 3-4 hours a night. Her blog is something with which only another writer could understand and identify. It was about crashing and suffering depression after finishing a big writing project, including the rush of squeezing in the writing amid a regular job, taking care of family, trying to give your spouse some attention, the euphoria and energizing feeling of working on a project that you want to be beautiful and perfect, the inspiration that keeps you going … and overload.

Overload is the key word. I won’t post any of her exact words. It’s her blog, and I hope all who read this will look it up and read it, especially other writers. The purpose of mentioning Ms. Kisacky’s blog is because it brought up something so many writers go through after finishing a big project. Often, we crash. I know I do.

Most who will read this know I write really big books, and I get so immersed in the story and characters that often I’m living between two worlds – the real world and that of my characters. Someone asked me once how I get so deeply involved in my stories and how it is I can feel as though my characters really lived. I used to say that sometimes I felt the hero from my “Outlaw” books was sitting right beside me. Crazy? Maybe. But that’s how alive my characters become for me, and when I’m writing their story, nothing else is more important. My poor husband lives like a widower, my house needs cleaning, I get a little grouchy (though I try not to), and sometimes I feel like I’m out of fuel and running on fumes.

I will work for hours, sometimes almost all night for weeks and months at a time on a big book. During the day I help out with bookkeeping for a family business, and I cram, cram, cram, both my regular life, writing conferences, church, grandkids, husband and … well, I don’t need to explain all this to most writers. We all know what it’s like to try to write amid life’s daily demands. But even when I am going on about daily life, my story is “with” me. I can be carrying on a conversation and thinking about my next scene or my next chapter.

The point of this blog is to verify that yes, indeed, writers can crash into deep depression after finishing a book that took months to write. We all strive for perfection – write – proof – edit – re-write – proof – edit – then go through a series of more edits after we turn in the book. All the hard work and extra hours catch up to us physically. Often, after months of hardly any sleep, I suddenly find myself sleeping overtime for days, or most of the first couple of weekends once a project is finished.

But for me the biggest crash is emotional. I get so involved with my characters that leaving them is actually depressing. At my age I can’t help thinking, “Is this my last book about these people I love?” Worse … “Is this the last book I’ll ever write?” I stand in the room where copies of every book I’ve written (65 of them) are stacked, and I look at all those books and think about all those characters. They all were important to me, some more than others, especially the ones from series stories. By the time I finish a series I am totally immersed in hero and heroine and their children and grandchildren. I am the heroine saying good-bye to my husband … forever. I totally identify with all my heroines, especially Abbie in Savage Destiny and Miranda in my Outlaw books.

There is no describing to a non-writer what it’s like crashing after finishing a big writing project. We writers have to find ways to lift ourselves out of the “funk” that suddenly hits us. I start watching TV for the first time in months, but I usually have a hard time getting truly interested in anything TV has to offer. I spend a little more time with my grandsons, and I read. At first I read stupid things like entertainment magazines. I work on crossword puzzles – anything to give my brain a rest. I sleep more, work on advertising, Facebook, blogs and other writing projects not related to actually working on a book. I also read one or two regular novels – usually something unrelated to what I write. I need to get away from my own genre.

But all the while … no matter what I am doing or reading … I am always, always planning my “next” book, because in spite of all the grueling hours and loss of sleep and loss of a personal life and knowing I’m going to crash again afterward, I am only happy when I’m writing. I feed on the adrenaline of America’s Old West and the adventure and drama and romance that comes with my genre. I have so many books I still want to write, and I have only so many years left to write them … so yes, even though I recently finished proofing the edits to three books that are all coming out thisyear, it won’t be long before I start another story. I wrote all three books in 2016 – my Native American romance CAPTURE MY HEART (Amazon this month), my fourth Outlaw book THE LAST OUTLAW (Sourcebooks), and a short story titled A CHICK-A-DEE CHRISTMAS (in an anthology called CHRISTMAS IN A COWBOY’S ARMS (Sourcebooks). I was literally constantly writing in 2016. I am now taking a short break, letting myself re-enter the “real” world, coming down from my writing “high” and battling the depression that comes with it. The best antidote? Start another book!

Oh, Mighty Mountains!

High! Rise high, you mighty mountains!
Reach for the heavens, you bastions of the West!
Undefeatable are you! Magnificent! Stalwart!
Your granite rocks and shale walls live on!
Through war and pestilence, through famine and flood, 
Through crime and hate, through bloodshed and death, 
You live on!

Whispers of Summer

I have many more poems to share over the next several weeks, but since it is winter here in Michigan, I decided on this one for now. I wrote this while working for the manager of the D.C. Cook Nuclear Plant in Bridgman, Michigan. There was a time when big companies had their own small newspapers or newsletters. At that time they were called House Organs. Wherever I worked I always contributed to the company house organ because deep inside, years and years before I wrote books, I had that need and desire to write, so I started with poems, which is why I have so many of them. This one fits the season.

Whispers of Summer

I walk knee-deep in the snow and gaze at black, naked trees.
And, as the sharp winds they blow, I think of daisies and bees.

I close my eyes and I think of green leaves, grass, and sand,
Of fragrant roses of pink, and peaches freshly canned.

I brush the snow from a bike and see my child riding free,
Sweating and laughing and playing, with glee!

I dig to find dirt ‘neath the snow, But it’s frozen and hard and dead.
Then I think back and I glow with the thought of warm earth instead.

As the gray clouds break apart, I raise my face to the sun;
And with a slightly sad heart, I see days of swimming, cookouts and fun.

How sweet the bird when he sings! How lovely the scent of a flower.
How nice to smell the sweet spring, and to lie in the grass by the hour.

That first snow is exciting and fun, and for Christmas we want it around,
But then we remember the sun, and soft, green grass on the ground.

It’s now, when we’re tired of the snow, that whispers of summer will call.
They nudge us, and taunt us, to show us that summer’s the best time of all.

© Rosanne Bittner 2016

Days Gone By

For some reason I have always been fascinated with the past, or rather, what might have been or could have been … what has been lost through progress … the mystery and memories of those who once lived. The following poem reminded me of how nostalgic I am about the subject, which is probably why I prefer to write historical rather than contemporary stories. This is another poem I wrote a good 45 years ago, and it shows me that even then I was imagining what life was like in days gone by. I think it’s sad that too many people have been forever forgotten.


I saw an old, old house today.
The wood was worn and weathered gray.
In the gaping windows there was no glass.
It seemed a monument to the past.

I wandered to the barn out back
With its sunken roof, tar-paper black.
The weeds grew to my waist, and bees
Buzzed by to rest on sweet-flowered weeds.

I dared not go into that barn,
But I saw signs of a one-time farm.
An old, rusted plow sat just inside,
With harnesses for horses that long-since died.

All was peaceful and quiet there.
No worry, no hurry, not a care.
Not a thing was heard for miles around.
The birds and the breeze made the only sound.

I wondered who had once lived here,
Perhaps with family they held dear.
I tried to vision things way back then,
Who toiled on this old farm, and when?

Progress never will replace
That special look on an old farmer’s face.
It cannot bring back, with its fast, new pace
A people and heritage so silently erased.

© Rosanne Bittner 2016

War's Children

I wrote the following poem in 1981, 35 years ago, and in reading it I realized nothing has changed in all those years or even in the last 500 or 1,000 years. Man always seems to find a way to make war, and the primary victims of war are children … children! Those in power seem not to care about them. When our own government made war on our Native Americans, too many children were simply shot down as though they were nothing more important than rabbits. Recently we’ve seen the horrific suffering of children in Syria … unforgivable abuse and annihilation. It blows my mind what some men can do to children without concern. As you can see from this thirty-five year old poem, nothing has changed. The sad part is, it probably never will.

War’s Children

I saw a little boy one day …
His clothes were torn and dirty gray.
His feet were bare and looked so cold.
An old, broken toy his hands did hold.
His many tears had made long streaks
Of salty pathways down his cheeks.
A look of fear shown on his face,
Where laughter should be … there was no trace.
His little body looked hungry and sore.
On neglected wounds, ragged gauze he wore.
He was lost and alone, nowhere to go,
His little face had lost its glow.

He had no family, no next of kin.
They’d all been killed, except for him.
He sat alone, so very confused.
No one had claimed him, hospitals refused.
I wonder if he’s still alone,
That little boy just barely grown.
Somewhere tonight a child will roam,
No food, no clothes, no love, no home.
How many others are there like him?
Small ones who suffer from our sin!
War has its price for everyone …
But not so costly as for the young!

Our Magnificent West!

Following is my next submission of poetry I wrote in my twenties. I don’t remember exactly when I became so fascinated or fell so in love with America’s magnificent mountain ranges and its Western landscape. I truly believe I lived another life, either as an Indian or a pioneer woman. That’s just part of my weird side, and I think you need to be a little weird to be an avid writer who is as much in love with his or her subject as I am.

Poems Can Be An Emotional Release

As stated in my last blog, I wrote a lot of poems between the age of nine and to around my mid-twenties. I find it interesting that nearly every new writer I have spoken with has told me they started out writing poems. I think that’s pretty common. You get the writing bug, but you don’t think you can write a whole book, so you go to the next best thing – writing poems. 

The Beginning

Long before I ever dreamed of writing a real book, I wrote poems. In fact, I wrote my first poem in the second grade. Over the years I wrote many poems, and our local newspaper published many of them until they stopped that feature. I never did anything else with these poems, and they've sat in a folder for years, some of them close to 50 years. When I read through them, I am surprised by how some of them reflect feelings that are still pertinent for today’s times.

What is most interesting is that my first poem was romantic. And I was just a little girl of about 8. I wrote my first little story (a school assignment) in fourth grade, when I was 10 years old, and it, too was romantic! It was called (don’t laugh) “Mr. and Mrs. Quack.” It was about a pair of ducks (male and female) who were flying south together. The male duck was shot down by a hunter. Mrs. Quack was so sad. I don’t even remember if Mr. Quack lived. I think he did and they got back together. I have that story somewhere. If I find it, I will post it just for fun!

The Importance of the “Unexpected” Character

In many, if not most of my books, I end up writing in a character who was totally unplanned, totally a stranger, totally unexpected. I don’t doubt other writers have had this problem because I have talked to many who most certainly have – and we all end up thinking the same thing. “What do I do with this character?”

It’s Not the Sales - It’s the Readers That Count

In our local Mid-Michigan Chapter of Romance Writers of America, we have a little monthly contest called WRITE FOR THE MONEY. We each put $1.00 in an envelope with a little note saying what our writing goal is for the next month. Then at the next meeting those who achieve their goal are put into a drawing for however much money is in the envelope. Thus – “write for the money.”

That term makes me wonder how many people might think authors write “for the money.” Yes, big sales and big money are nice, but a great majority of us will never get rich on what we make from our books. Some authors make barely enough to eat each week, if that. And you know what? For a true writer, that doesn’t matter. I can’t count the number of authors I know who simply write because telling the story is so important to them. Few of them care whether or not they’re making great money. Most of them are simply “born to write,” and they would be writing even if they didn’t make a dime from their books. I fall into that category.