What happens when you’re done?

So what do you do when you finish writing a novel? What happens after you publish it?

I can’t speak for every writer out there, but for me, the answer is clear: I start the next one.

There was a teevee show about ten years ago, called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It was created by Aaron Sorkin, and was his first big project after The West Wing. In all honesty, it wasn’t very good, for a lot of reasons, and it only lasted a single season. But there were some wonderful moments in it, including one that’s my favorite.

If you didn’t see the show, it was about two men, a writer and a director who are creative partners, who are brought in to basically reboot a late-night teevee comedy sketch show (basically a fictional Saturday Night Live) that has gone off the rails and whose former showrunner had to be fired after a spectacular on-air meltdown. As they start work, the writer guy (played by Matthew Perry) sets up shop in the old showrunner’s office, and he discovers a digital clock on the wall that counts down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds to the next episode’s airing. It’s a constant reminder, in big red electronic digits, of the next deadline and the constant pace of time draining away toward that deadline. “Oh man,” Matthew Perry says. “No wonder he went crazy.”

The rest of the episode focuses on the production of that first new episode, with lots of struggles along the way, but in the end, the episode airs successfully despite the production difficulties. In the episode’s final shot, Matthew Perry is in his office, watching the show go on, and he’s smiling with his sense of accomplishment…until he glances at the big red digital clock, which is already ticking down to next week’s show.

That’s a little like how it feels to me when a project gets finished. I’m not really one to take long breaks from writing, so usually when I finish one phase of a novel’s life – first draft, first edits, second edits, proofing, design, publishing – I shift immediately into the next one. As soon as I finish something, I can feel the big red digital clock in my head, already ticking down on the next thing. Now, I don’t have a specific deadline in mind most times, but I do move on, sometimes within minutes.

Writing for me is almost compulsive. When I have a rare day on which I don’t write at all, I feel really weird about it – even during the bout of the flu I had this past February, during which I lost two days and felt well and truly awful about it. I suppose, in this regard, I’m wired like Anthony Trollope, whose writing regimen Stephen King describes thusly (in On Writing):

At the other end of the spectrum, there are writers like Anthony Trollope. He wrote humongous novels (Can You Forgive Her? is a fair enough example; for modern audiences it might be retitled Can You Possibly Finish It?), and he pumped them out with amazing regularity. His day job was as a clerk in the British Postal Department (the red public mailboxes all over Britan were Anthony Trollope’s invention); he wrote for two and a half hours each morning before leaving for work. The schedule was ironclad. If he was in mid-sentence when the two and a half hours expired, he left that sentence unfinished until the next morning. And if he happed to finish one of his six-hundred-page heavyweights with fifteen minutes of the session remaining, he wrote The End, set the manuscript aside, and began work on the next book.

Once in a while I think that maybe I should take a vacation from writing, but…well, how could I? I’ve got stories to tell! Some days I find the work harder than others, and some days I do procrastinate a little (I recently skipped an entire day on editing Forgotten Stars III just to finally catch up on some blog posts, so I could have something to post for once). But I do, pretty much, work each and every day, even if just to get 500 words written. Forward progress is forward progress, after all. And like I said, I’ve got stories to tell.

How about you all? How do you handle the “I’ve just finished” blues?

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One Response to What happens when you’re done?

  1. Wow. Studio 60 WAS a decade ago. I can barely believe it was so long ago.

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