The post-project blues

Photo by Ahmed zayan on Unsplash

For those of you who know me, or who have been following this blog for a while, you know I tend toward Type A-ness. I’m generally upbeat, high-energy (obnoxiously so when over-sugared/caffeinated), and goal-oriented. I don’t suffer from low esteem, nor do I tend toward mood swings (hold on, had to check with my hubby on that…he confirms that I’m generally low volatility). So why, in the wake of finally finishing 18 months’ worth of work (that I thought would take 12), having achieved my goal of wrestling my latest manuscript into sufficient shape to begin the submissions process, do I feel so…adrift? 

Believe it or not, I’m 100% sure this malaise has nothing to do with fear of the impending rejections. In fact, the receipt of my first rejection this week actually sort of made me feel better. It was the crossing of a threshold that at least indicates progress, like passing a mile marker on the highway. Only I still feel like I cruised past it doing 30 mph on the highway I normally zoom down. After two weeks of what can best be described as achievement apathy (goals are still being set and met, but without any of the zing), I hit the internet to find out if this experience is a thing or if it’s just me. 

Good news! It’s not just me! Or even just my generation. A 1987 article from the New York Times on “post-writum depression” describes all my symptoms and let me know I’m in good company with the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, Judith Krantz, and Danielle Steele. Psychology Today calls it the post-adrenaline blues and posits my present low could be chemically-based – a drop in the adrenaline that fueled me through those final revisions and frantic synopsis drafts. My body could actually be in withdrawal, like an addict, but craving the stuff I was creating through my own internal pressure – which means that given enough time, I will naturally rebalance. 

I suspect a part of what is going on is good old-fashioned grief. Huffpost calls it the post-book blues – that horrible aching loneliness when you hit the end of the book where you fell in love with a character, or characters, or sometimes even a whole world (here’s looking at you, Hogwarts).  Popular Science published a great article validating the mourning of the loss of a fictional character just last month. Which I have to admit, made me feel better about my tendency to take a day or two off from reading anything more than a magazine article in the wake of a powerful book. It stands to reason that grief is stronger for characters you’ve created and gotten to know on a very personal level. If I needed a few days to get over “A Gentleman in Moscow,” I’m going to need to cut myself some slack on getting past thinking about what my main characters would be doing right now, if I hadn’t just closed the book on them.

For me, though, to move from the relationship I’ve developed with these characters over the last year and a half into the next relationship feels like serial dating, and I’m not yet ready for the rebound. 

So how much time do you give yourself when you’re grieving the end of the intense relationship you’ve had with the characters you created? Stephen Pressfield advocates jumping straight into the next project to keep your momentum going. I’m sure there’s good sense in that, and clearly it works for him. For me, though, to move from the relationship I’ve developed with these characters over the last year and a half into the next relationship feels like serial dating, and I’m not yet ready for the rebound. 

The research shows I’m not alone in this either. I was thrilled to find this article by writer / writing coach Lauren Sapala, and this one on Writer Unboxed by Jeane Kisacky. Still, I was left wondering what to do about it. Not writing feels wasteful. But I can’t seem to bend my will to starting another project yet. Even doing the small projects, the ones that I’ve been saying I’d get to for a while (as Kisacky mentions doing) doesn’t seem to help me feel much better. So I took to social media to see what others writers do. Some of you likely saw my questions there, and if you took the time to answer, then thank you! It means a lot to have community I can reach out to at times like this. 

According to my highly unofficial poll, very few other women writers jump straight into the next project (sorry guys, I polled an all female writers’ group). Most respondents said they take Kisacky’s route and work on some smaller projects for a while. A few indicated they take a week or so to catch up on the life they missed while they were writing, a la author Amy Wallace.  All of which is good news for me, since I’m combining a bit of both approaches: trying to reacquaint myself with regular exercise while also trying my hand at some shorter stories and article submissions I kept saying I’d get to once the pressure of the novel was off my shoulders.

Discovering that this experience is so common that it has names has helped me feel at peace with where I’m at. But the amazing part of this has been the re-discovery that I’m not alone. Even though I sit here by myself on this side of the screen, so many of you out there are with me. And knowing that we’re here for each other has helped more than anything else. Thank you, All!

Photo by Ángel López on Unsplash

-Thea

Thank you, Thea, for all of your awesome research – as usual. I now have a bunch more articles to go read! I think it makes sense that we need some time before jumping into an entirely new world, especially after the blood, sweat, and tears we poured into the previous world!  I remember being very impatient when I finished my first manuscript. I was tapping my toes waiting for the next story to show up. (Preferably outlined and with fully-developed characters.) I remember writing snippets of inner dialogue for different characters in a spiral notebook, waiting for one of them to hand me a story! In the meantime, I guess I did many of the things Thea mentioned above, like catching up on life stuff and working on smaller projects that had been set aside. I imagine a lot of writers are nodding their heads while reading this and saying “Yes!” Thanks, Thea, for reminding us we are all in this together and experiencing so many of the same reactions!

-Julie

Pregnancy, Miscarriage & Poetry: writing through the changes – an interview with Amanda Mahan Russell

Continuing our effort to spotlight parents who are also pursing creative endeavors, this week we’re talking to Amanda Russell, a poet whose debut chapbook, BARREN YEARS, is coming out in June. Amandais a native East Texan who has been writing poetry for over 15 years. Currently, she lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and two children.

Photo by AprilMay Photography

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your first chapbook BARREN YEARS from Finishing Line Press. How long did you work on this collection of poetry? 

The earliest poem in this collection is “Sonogram (16 weeks).” It was written in 2010. I started to envision this bundle of poems in 2012 when I wrote the poem “Barren Years.” I have been working on this collection since then, so for six years. 

How are you feeling about seeing it finally in print?

Ecstatic! To be a writer has been my dream as long as I can remember.

What inspired this collection? 

This collection started coming together when I worked in a writing lab as a tutor. I had just graduated, gotten married, worked at Barnes & Noble. I had been struggling to find my path and then my spiritual father challenged me to make it a practice, to write every day. That was the start of what I began calling my “writing experiment.” On the way home from work I would stop at the grocery store – it had a really cool back patio – and I liked the feel of it, so I would stop there and keep my pen moving for 20 minutes. Several things came from that practice, including many of the poems in the book. Sometimes I’d just be writing “I have nothing to say, nothing to say, nothing to say,” and I wasn’t writing with any specific goal other than to write. But sometimes I’d have a topic. I continued it for three years, and then I’ve been off and on with it since my first child was born. And whenever I start writing again after a dry spell, that’s the method I go back to. 

BARREN YEARS covers a span of about five years of my life. The writing started out as just my own personal processing of these events. The most obvious event covered in Barren Years is miscarriage. I was 22, newly married, and pregnant with twins when it happened.  I was completely devastated. I had never felt such a deep sense of grief, guilt, and loss. It caught me by surprise and I had no idea what do with it. I kept thinking I should be able to snap out of it. But I couldn’t.

According to the Mayo Clinic, miscarriage effects up to 20 percent of known pregnancies. That percentage goes up as women age. Common convention that I heard regularly after my miscarriage was that it impacts 1 in 4 women. Had you heard these statistics before your personal experience? What do you think of this information now?

I had no idea about the statistics. I felt so alone, and didn’t even have the words to talk to anyone about what had happened to me. I didn’t know if other people had experienced this same thing, this same guilt. In fact, I came across the same data in a middle of the night internet search after the miscarriage. The first time I read it, I remember being shocked. And since then, I have been friends with many women who have also experienced miscarriage. Now I just wonder, why it is that the topic is not discussed more openly? Why do we isolate ourselves and suffer alone?

How did you feel as you were going through the miscarriage and the time after? What sort of support were you able to draw on to help you through this tough time?

As I was going through the miscarriage, I was drawing immediate support from my husband, as well as other members of my family – especially my mom and mother-in-law. But it was hard because I found myself unable to talk about it. I started sleeping with a Care Bear every night. I often carried it around the house when my husband was at work. I cried a lot. It took me quite some time to realize I was grieving and therefore needed to be patient with myself. I wanted to snap out of it, but couldn’t. I realized I needed something to take care of, so my dear friend, Linda, taught me gardening. Taking care of my plants, together with writing and many long talks with some of my spiritual guides helped me through. It took me a good five years to begin feeling like myself again. 

Many women struggle with feelings of guilt on top of their grief, feeling they must have done something ‘wrong,’ when, in fact, most miscarriages are the result of a chromosomal abnormality that occurs early in the pregnancy and is in no way preventable. The fact that it’s often a taboo topic means, however, that women struggle with these difficult emotions in isolation. What was your experience like? Was guilt a part of it?

The hardest thing for me was the lack of explanation and the helplessness of not being able to reverse it. I also felt a sort of distrust in my own body – how could this have happened without my consent? This was not my intention. 

The guilt was … huge. And for me, at least, it lingered on until over the years I pieced together my innocence and worked through my grief.

Amanda Mahan Russell

During the pregnancy I had a very hard time adjusting to all the changes that occur in the body – low energy levels, suddenly not liking things I’d loved – like apples – the changing shape of my body. I felt judged by people who had advised me to get on birth control before getting married when I desired a more natural approach to life. So, yes – the guilt. Was I not happy enough about being pregnant? Maybe I should’ve taken birth control? Maybe I would not have been a good mother? If only I had done…. 

The guilt was definitely there, and it was huge. And for me, at least, it lingered on until over the years I pieced together my innocence and worked through my grief. 

That is such a powerful phrase “pieced together my innocence.” Can you elaborate on that and tell us how you did it?

I had so much guilt. I had so many questions. Did I do something wrong? And no one had any answers. But over the years, the pieces of information came together really slowly, and finally I was able to see the picture in retrospect and I was able to come to internalize that my intentions were always good and the miscarriage wasn’t my fault. There was not anything inherently bad inside of me. But I had to do a lot of self-work to get to know myself better. I had to do a lot of work to know that the miscarriage was not my fault. 

Continue reading “Pregnancy, Miscarriage & Poetry: writing through the changes – an interview with Amanda Mahan Russell”

Books, Wine, and an Interview with Christina Wise


ID 2206930 © Alexandr Shebanov| Dreamstime.com

We’re excited to share this interview with Christina Tucker Wise! Julie met Christina through Pitch Wars in 2017 when they were both mentees. Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors are matched with writers to help prepare the writers for an agent showcase. Christina’s novel, EYE OF GODS, is coming out later this year! Christina is also a documentary writer, producer, and a mom of two. You can read her full bio here.

In our effort to spotlight people who are parenting and pursuing creative endeavors, we thought you’d enjoy reading some background on Christina’s projects and how she manages her time. She also shares a bit about a new card game, Blinders, that she and her husband created for anyone who loves wine. Win! They will also start their own streaming service this summer which will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. They’ll be starting their own streaming service this summer and will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. Thanks for taking time for an interview, Christina!

Christina Wise

You have a broad range of experiences in creative fields. What’s your background and how did it lead to your creative projects?

I went to school for Broadcast Journalism with the intention to be a reporter but found a passion for crafting the stories behind the camera. I started out my career in live sports, then moved over to celebrity news and covering red carpets for TV Guide Network. There I got to try many formats of television from hour-long specials, to quick news hits, to live TV. I realized I liked longer forms and really getting into the background of a subject. That’s also where I gained the confidence to write. I had a wonderful mentor who now writes for Ryan Seacrest. While that was my day job, in the evenings my husband and I made “Somm”, a documentary that follows four guys trying to become Master Sommeliers of wine.

The same year our documentary came out, 2013, another company bought TV Guide and they let me go. At the time we had a 10-month-old baby. So I decided if I was going to work and be away from her, I wanted to do things I really loved, which was documentaries and writing.

You and your husband, Jason, have written and produced documentaries together including Wait for Your Laugh, SOMM, and SOMM 3 What does your creative collaboration look like?

First, Jason and I both work together to come up with our initial concept for any film. Then he goes out and films with our subjects and half of what we envisioned changes completely. We have two girls and really want to keep some stability at home so he’s on set 100% of the time and I only make it when it’s a really important shoot or it’s daytime hours in Los Angeles where we live. Then I take whatever happened on set and write a script, then we both hash through the material in the edit bay until we get a cut we like.

Wait for Your Laugh, a documentary of the life and entertainment career of Rose Marie, received numerous positive reviews and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Do you have a favorite memory of working with Rose Marie?

This project was one of my favorite stories to tell. I’m a sucker for a good love story and her and her husband Bobby had a really sweet one that ended too soon. So I gravitated toward that aspect while my husband liked all of her mob connections. During the three-year process, we became very close with her and often would go visit just to see her, not for any work reason. She gave great life advice and told us not to stress about the little things we often do stress about. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, we went over and told her and said the baby’s due in September. She shook her head and said, “Nope, that baby will come in August. She’ll be an August baby like me.” Sure enough, she came almost a month early in August. We named her Madeline Marie in honor or Rose Marie.  

Movie Poster for Wait for Your Laugh

Rose Marie was able to share a lot of memorabilia with you. How did that help with your writing? Did anything surprise you?

Continue reading “Books, Wine, and an Interview with Christina Wise”

Lights Up! An Interview with Greg Vovos

Photo credit: Steve Wagner Photography

We were very excited to interview Greg Vovos for this week’s post. He is a playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director in Cleveland. You can read his impressive full bio here. I worked with Greg at American Greetings where he is a Senior Writer by day. We asked him about his creative process, his most recent play on the heroin epidemic, and how being a dad impacts and informs his work. This is longer than our usual posts, but there’s so much great stuff in here! We couldn’t leave any of it out!

And now, the talented and unfailingly kind Greg Vovos.  -Julie

Tell us about what led you to writing.

Writing has always been a part of my life. Even as a kid, it’s something I would do for fun – write stories, poems, plays – but not necessarily something I was good at. (I can still remember my rejections from 3rd grade!) Growing up I was actually a better musician. But when I was at Ohio State things began to change. First, I dropped out of my clarinet major because I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. Then, feeling lost, I went into Business like so many others, and wrecked my GPA. Quickly. So I decided I’d take an acting class because I knew I’d like it. My teacher was a grad assistant – Megan Freeman – and I will always be grateful to her. Because on the first day of class she told us to bring something personally meaningful to our next class, something we would save from a burning house. So I brought a notebook that I’d write stories in and I talked about that. When she asked me what my major was and I told her Business, she looked at me confused and asked, “Why?” I had no answer.

After that, I switched my major to English, which might not seem like a big deal, certainly not professionally, but for me it was everything. A lot of people thought I was making a mistake, but it was the first time in my life that I legitimized what I truly wanted to do. Now, I had a loooooooooooong way to go and a lot to learn (and still do), but the hard part was over. I knew what I wanted and I was going to pursue it.

Not long after that, Ohio State brought in a visiting professor, Julie Jensen, to teach playwriting. I was actually considering on giving up creative writing altogether at that point, because I wasn’t having much success with fiction or poetry. I told myself this was it: either something happens for me in this class or I’m done. The class turned out to be a turning point for me. Julie invited me to UNLV to study playwriting with her and to earn my MFA. To this day, she is still my greatest mentor and will offer dramaturgy on my work.

After grad school, I spent a lot of time working as a director and playwright. But my day job was as a typist. Which wasn’t so bad, because I love to type (weird, right?), but the job didn’t burn my creative brain and I wasn’t proud. In fact, when my son was born they allowed me to work from home. But when he was a year old, they wanted me to come back to the office, and I was pissed. So I started looking for a different job, specifically one with writing – and I found the perfect posting late one night – writer for American Greetings. And my life changed .

You work full-time as a writer by day AND you’re also a playwright. How do you structure your time? 

This is a really important question. And the answer for me is pretty simple: I schedule my writing. I schedule it as if it were a business meeting, but the meeting is with myself. Every writer is different as far as when they do their best work, but for me, for my playwriting, I like to write EARLY in the morning. And I want to get at least two hours a day (5 days a week). Sometimes I get less, sometimes more. If I get less I don’t beat myself up. I learned this from a different writing mentor of mine. If I get off schedule, I just work myself back into it. I look at it like exercising or running, just get in the habit and it becomes really easy and it’s a great way to combat resistance.

I start with my playwriting in the morning because that’s when I’m closest to dream state – less tainted by the day – so it’s when I feel most open and creative. After that, my brain is actually primed to do my day-job writing, which is also creative in nature. But honestly, it’s as simple as scheduling it and holding myself accountable. And then once I’m in rhythm, it’s pretty easy.

One tip: I do a variation of Julia Cameron’s morning pages just to warm up. I write longhand about whatever comes to mind and I find it extremely helpful. When my writing’s not going well, and I’m looking back on my process to diagnose the issue (good process = good product, I believe), the problem usually lies in the fact that I haven’t kept up with my morning pages. If I write something I love and others enjoy, obviously this makes me happy, but I get my most satisfaction and worth as a writer by staying on schedule.

Do you have any time-management tips for other creatives out there balancing multiple projects?

I think it’s worth taking time to separate the projects and see where you’re at with each, and then determine what time of day your brain best meets those particular demands. I think of things in terms of Conceptual Brain and Intuitive Brain (I learned this from screenwriter Corey Mandell).

We know the intuitive is the part of our brain that just loves to write, doesn’t think, just writes and writes without any inhibition, like when my daughter is playing with her dolls. She’s just playing, having fun. I do that kind of writing in the mornings – if I’m exploring. But if things are more conceptual, i.e., think structuring your story, outlining, editing, things of that nature, I can handle those tasks later in the day.

Or another tactic is to work first on the thing that is causing me the most anxiety. That way I just get through it and it frees me for my other projects. And, of course, nothing sets a schedule better than a deadline, right? But again, schedule it. It sounds so uncreative – but I find it lightens my spirit and anxiety. And PS, if you’re a writer like me, and you doubt your writing or what you’re working on, keep an anxiety journal, a journal where you can just write down all the things that are freaking you out or the voices in your head that are trying to stop your momentum – the witches. Do this, get those thoughts on paper as fast as possible, and you will become more productive in the time you have. Even just five minutes of doing this can be really helpful. But the best advice I can give is schedule your creative time and protect it – guard it like you would a newborn 😉

Continue reading “Lights Up! An Interview with Greg Vovos”