The Most Needed Break After a Novel – Emotional Exhaustion

English: Emotions Q-sort

English: Emotions Q-sort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emotionally exhausted – that is how I feel after writing the first draft of a novel. I find that the first draft takes a large chunk of energy out of me. Possibly because I find myself experiencing the moods and emotions of characters as I write them, and because most of the time I do not follow a rich or detailed outline, and many times the characters drive the novel. Sometimes, I do not know the ending. This is true for the novel I am writing now – The Book of Sharon. Unlike the other two, it has brought me to a new level of emotional exhaustion, and I have found myself needing to take a longer break from it during periods of writing. Part of it is because it takes a different format from the earlier novels, but also, because it is written in different voices, besides my voice as an author. It responds to the character’s individuality, but also to at least three different tones throughout, as part of the new format. It has proven to be a challenge.

After the first draft (hopefully the end of December for this one), I need to take a few weeks off from a novel before proceeding to a second draft and rewrites. I do that for every draft after. It helps me unplug not only from emotions, but also disconnect my brain from the novel, so I can approach it fresh for the next draft.  In order to go through rewrites, I need to disconnect from it as much as I can.  I have to leave the writer behind close doors, and become a reader, before it goes through other sets of eyes, and a last edit.

In general, I think writers and artists have a heightened sense of emotions, and awareness of environment. When we immerse ourselves in a fictional world, we end up experiencing a lot of it, at the same time we are creating, and it could be refreshing and exhausting. This is why sometimes, writers tend to see the editing process from outsiders with cautious eyes. The question seems to be, how can this person totally understand this world I have created, if he/she has not lived in and through it? The question is the answer. Precisely because of it; because a reader is not the writer, he/she comes to the story detached, and this enables him/her to view it with unbiased sight.

I have read that the first novel (published or not), the first story a writer creates, has a lot of the writer’s experiences/issues in it, camouflaged, and many times, it responds to an internal healing process, whether the writer becomes aware of it or not during the creative process. It is because of this closeness that a writer might not see what is missing in the pages, what is not clear to the reader; to the writer it is there, in his mind and heart, present at all times, but not necessarily clear enough for the reader.

Emotional exhaustion during writing may present itself as a total mind and heart fatigue, but also as a need to retreat for a while, as well as a resistance to go back to the story and keep on writing (not to be confused with writer’s block). One must be cautious to not overdo or over extend a much-needed break.