Dealing with PPD (Post Publication Depression)

Yet-to-be-published authors on the long and winding road to finding an agent and/or a publisher might like to stop reading now. This whingeing blog by a whiner of a published writer is likely to annoy, irritate, and piss you off. If you do reach the end with some hair left after tugging at the roots with rage, please leave me an abusive comment. A good tongue-lashing about my privileged position is probably exactly the therapy I need.

Meanwhile, it’s time to ‘share,’ with the reassuring knowledge that I’m not the only writer suffering. You only need to Google ‘post publication depression’ to find pages and pages of entries, from deadly serious confessionals to hysterically humorous posts. Like most things farcical, the condition has the potential for unbelievable demoralization and unthinkable descent into dire disaster (think Donald Trump and Theresa May). Unlike our politicians however, we are in some control of our mental state (but please keep voting, every voice matters). In theory the published first-novelist ought to be able to get back on the horse, plonk a bum on a chair, and start writing again, which is, by all accounts, the best antidote to PPD (I’m using the initialism in the hope it’ll be widely adopted, like PTSD). So why is it so difficult?

Most writers say things like, “But I love writing!” And we do. But is it because we are conscious only of the joy of germination? Is it that hidden deep in our limbic system (the part of the brain where memory is stored) we have data that tells us that the process of writing the first novel was more demanding than an ascent on Everest, but we can’t quite remember the rigour of the climb? That, despite protestations to the contrary, it took excruciating effort for however-many months — years — to craft all those eloquent sentences and to execute pages of transforming revisions? We’re in denial about the pain, yet we ‘know’ on some subconscious level that the process was brutal and exhausting. Thus we’ll go to extraordinary lengths to avoid sitting at that damn chair in front of the torture device of keyboard and screen. Add to this for the first-novel author the phenomenon of publication — which, let’s face it, for the vast majority is a huge anticlimax — and we have a force of human nature that’s virtually unbeatable.

Woah!! It’s at this point the unpublished author might want to poke me in the eye. Anticlimax, for fuck’s sake?! You have an actual book, printed, and with a properly designed cover. It’s appeared in book shops, been favourably reviewed by book bloggers, praised on Amazon by friends and strangers alike. You’ve done public readings to which people actually came, you appeared at a literary festival. What the hell is wrong with you? Good question, and one which can only be competently answered after long sessions with a trained therapist. But in the absence of that, here goes …

You germinate a story, you breathe life into it, you nurture it over much time — a process that takes up absolutely all your energy and every thinking moment — until it’s a fully formed being ready to be released into the world. Which it is. And yes, there are some wonderful reactions (see above). But between these shining moments are long periods of time when absolutely nothing happens, zilch, nada. Compared to the all-involving effort of writing, which consumed every waking moment, you feel in a kind of limbo, worrying neurotically how your baby is faring out there in the big bad world. So you do everything that is expected of you to fill the void, and that you hope will nurture your creation. You Tweet, you Facebook, you write blogs (like this one), you open an Instagram account, you tweak your web site, make a book trailer. Anything to fill the dreadful (as in full-of-dread) feeling that your baby is being ignored. And, sure, you garner some good press by one of the largest circulation newspapers in U.K. — but it’s not the mainstream media, who studiously ignore it. Your publisher, who clearly considers your book to be brilliant, enters it in two prestigious literary prizes — but it fails to make either of the long lists.

And this is when, if you’re lucky, you have an important revelation, which is that anticlimax and disillusion (with depression snapping at their heels) come only after unrealistically high, and illusionary, expectation. The Speech was one of thousands of novels published in UK in 2016. It was a tad of a tall order to think that every daily in Britain would give the book a glowing review, to believe that literary prizes would stack up like so many ribbons at a country fair. You realize it’s downright self-destructive to sit around worrying about your baby. No point in blaming anyone and everyone that your book isn’t at the top of every bestseller list. You realize you can only do what you can to help it along, but fretting is certainly not going to help. You tell yourself — honestly — that you wrote a good novel of which you’re proud. And you consider that its life continues. Who knows what heights it may still reach? Meanwhile, the next novel is calling. Deep breath. Here goes … oh, and thanks for listening.

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