There's a popular bit of writing advice out there that goes like this:
As soon as you've finished writing one story, start the next one.
Emphasis on: As soon as.
I think it was Trollope who modeled this, at least in what gets quoted to me. He had a quota of words to write each day, and if two of them were The End, then the next ones went right into a beginning.
I think that's admirable, in some ways. Impressive.
But much as I admire that kind of productivity, I've stopped wanting to emulate it.
Momentum is important. Discipline is important. I'm a big fan of both.
But I just don't believe that we have to start a new project immediately.
In other words: Take a break, for goodness' sake!
We can be professional-minded and still take a break, right? Of course we can! Because we want a sustainable writing practice, right?
Sustainability. It's my best friend when it comes to writing.
So this is what I've learned I need, after a storm of drafting:
I need to look myself in the eye--yes, literally, I do involve a mirror--and congratulate myself.
Creating a story out of your brain? Writing the whole thing down? Thousands and thousands of words? That's amazing. That's still amazing.
So whether I'm finishing a third draft or a first one, I think it's still important to take a huge breath and say: We did it! The characters and me! We wrote that thing!
Literally. I try to catch up on sleep, if I've been staying up late to get it done.
But also, there are muscles involved with all that writing! It's easy to forget, when you're trying to keep Mr. Evil from destroying the planet, and at the same time, you're feeding clever lines to your Protagonist, and oh yes, also keeping all your details accurate for the secret lab underground.
But all that sitting and typing, or writing by hand--it takes its toll. You've got back muscles and neck muscles, bones and ligaments and things!
The body needs to recover too, and probably could take a bit of extra love. Maybe even a chiropractor.
And maybe some exercise. Some long walks in the park. (I do, after all, rely on some chocolate to get the writing done. A bit of movement is a good idea to balance all that!)
3. Human beings.
In the last stretches of a draft, I am at my least least least social. I become, necessarily, less available to the people around me, as the people in my head demand more time and space.
Between projects, then, is when I love to catch up with friends, spend time with family, and be super-intentional about relationships.
So I take some time to shed the writer-recluse habit. I schedule coffee dates, I Skype with my nieces and nephew more, I reconnect with the people I love.
Right after finishing a draft, I'm my least creative self. I have trouble completing the most simple sentences, or making any decisions at all.
Why? Because I worked every single brain cell. Every last shred of mental energy has gone right into the draft.
Which means: The imagination needs some mega input.
I try to take a few days to intentionally browse new books, to visit museums, to wander around in new places.
I need to get back into the real world for a little bit. To be surrounded by real colors, real sounds, real textures.
It's dangerous for us to live in a world of text for too long. We need to remember that there are actually three dimensions.
We need to observe real life, and oh yeah, to live real life too.
5. And then yes, a bit of a party.
Completing a piece of writing warrants a celebration. No matter how short it is, how long it took you, how wretched this draft might be: if you've gotten to the end, you celebrate. Period.
Whether that means telling your dog you're brilliant (which it already knew) and treating yourself to a cupcake, or whether you get some champagne and caviar, or whether you have writing buddies over for coffee and cake--it's up to you.
But you deserve a celebration. Finishing a piece of work--sending a poem out, shipping a novel to beta readers, completing an essay--it's a BIG DEAL.
It should be.
I used to argue with myself about this. (Sad, but true.) I used to insist that finishing a piece was just part of the job. And if I wanted to be a professional, then it was all in a day's work. (See: Anthony Trollope.)
I used to tell myself that to get all excited about it meant that I was an amateur, and just playing at it. That celebrations weren't the mark of a pro.
But I've totally changed my mind.
This is what I've learned: You fight a lot of battles, getting a story onto a page.
Internal battles, external battles, time management battles, word-craft battles, no-one-understands-what-I-do battles, this-is-taking-FOREVER battles.
It's work. A lot of work.
And getting to the end means that you've won this particular war, this war of finishing a piece of art.
And that means: You do a bit of dancing, a bit of crowing, a bit of cupcake-eating.
Sure, you'll start your next project soon. Of course, you're a professional. And nope, you won't let your writer abilities get dusty. You won't forget how to do this.
But first you'll have this little party, this celebration.
Replenish what's been depleted, stretch what's been strained, stock up on what you need, take a deep breath.
And then--buoyed by the success, and cheered by declaring it good--then you can dive in to the next one.