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!


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