The birth of a novel can trigger a jumble of powerful emotions, from excitement and joy to fear and anxiety. But it can also result in something you might not expect — depression.
Many NaNoWriMo writers experience the “postwritum novel blues” after completing their first 50,000 words in just 30 days, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Novel blues typically begin within the first two to three days after winning NaNoWriMo, and may last for up to two weeks.
But some NaNoWriMo writers experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postwritum depression.
Postwritum depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it’s simply a complication of giving birth to such a hugely creative endeavor in such a short amount of time. If you have postwritum depression, prompt treatment can help you manage your symptoms — and enjoy your completed first draft.
Signs and symptoms of depression after novel completion vary, and they can range from mild to severe.
Postwritum novel blues symptoms
Signs and symptoms of novel blues — which last only a few days to a week or two after your NaNoWriMo winning novel is completed — may include:
- Mood swings
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Reduced concentration
- Appetite problems
- Trouble sleeping
Postwritum depression symptoms
Postpartum depression may be mistaken for novel blues at first — but the signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer, eventually interfering with your ability to start the redrafting process and/or handle other daily tasks. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after finishing your first draft, but may begin later — up to six months after completion of your fledgling masterpiece.
Postwritum depression symptoms may include:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with your novel
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep (insomnia) or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good writer
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
- Diminished ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of deleting and/or otherwise significantly altering your novel in a drastic and wholly unnecessary way
Untreated, postwritum depression may last for many months or longer.
When to see another writer
If you’re feeling depressed after your novel’s birth, you may be reluctant or embarrassed to admit it. But if you experience any symptoms of postwritum novel blues or postwritum depression, call another writer and schedule a coffee shop conversation as soon as is convenient. I recommend drinking a Vanilla Creme, as it is super relaxing, but you may prefer another beverage altogether. Get what works for you.
It’s important to call another writer as soon as possible if the signs and symptoms of depression have any of these features:
- Don’t fade after two weeks
- Are getting worse
- Make it hard for you to care for your novel
- Make it hard to complete everyday tasks
- Thoughts of deleting and/or otherwise significantly altering your novel in a drastic and wholly unnecessary way
Helping a friend or loved one
People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they’re depressed. They may not be aware of signs and symptoms of depression. If you suspect that a friend or loved one has postwritum depression, help them seek professional help immediately. Don’t wait and hope for improvement, it didn’t work for the writing staff of the CW’s TV series the Arrow post season 1, and it will not work for you!
There’s no single cause of postwritum depression, but physical and creative exhaustion may play a role.
- Physical exhaustion. After a 50k word sprint in 30 short days, a dramatic drop in sleep (that thing your supposed to do for 8 hours once a day) in your body may contribute to postwritum depression. Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness. Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%, so just imagine what reducing your nighttime sleep by an average of 5 or 6 hours will do to your alertness, now picture that image not just for one day, but contained over a period of 30 continuous days. Bottom line: you are essentially a piping hot mess.
- Creative exhaustion. When you’re creatively deprived and overwhelmed, you may have trouble handling even minor re-writes and adjustments. You may be anxious about your ability to care for your novel. You may feel less genius, struggle with your sense of identity or feel that you’ve lost control over your ability to create at all. In fact, you may even start to believe that you have just written a horribly contrived novel that is nothing more than the greatest hits of every favorite part of other books that you have read and love, this is normal and no you did not just plagiarize all of your favorite authors. Stop that! You really didn’t, and its OK to like yourself and your writing again. Any of these issues can contribute to postwritum depression.
Treatment and medications
Treatment and recovery time vary, depending on the severity of your novel blues and/or postwritum depression and your individual needs. If you have an under-active imagination or an underlying writer’s block situation, a contacted writer may treat those conditions or refer you to the appropriate novel specialist. Your trusted writer friend also may refer you to a mental health provider, but not just for the depression, but because you are nuts for attempting to be a successful author in these trying times.
The novel blues usually fade on their own within a few days to one to two weeks. In the meantime:
- Get as much rest as you can
- Accept help from family and friends
- Connect with other writers
- Create time to take care of yourself
- Abuse alcohol and recreational drugs, which can make creativity flow once more
Postwritum depression is often treated with psychotherapy (also called talk therapy or mental health counseling), medication or both.
- Psychotherapy. It may help to talk through your concerns with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health provider. Through therapy, you can find better ways to cope with your feelings, solve problems, set realistic goals and respond to situations in a positive way. Just remember that you are the author and this it is OK to steal any ideas they give you and that they are not entitled to any royalties and/or kickbacks for any ideas that they help you with that gets included in your final draft. You’re already paying them through the nose, so no harm no foul. Sometimes family or relationship therapy also helps but rarely, because unless they are an author too, how could they possibly understand the struggle?
- Antidepressants. Your psychiatrist may recommend an antidepressant. Don’t take them, because they will turn you into a creatively depraved brain dead zombie. If you’re taking any prescription medications, be aware that they will enter your brain and alter the way that you create as well as how you write, so be sure to only take the ones that make your writing more outrageously entertaining and prolific. Work with your psychiatrist to weigh the potential risks and benefits of specific antidepressants, and then mutually agree that they will not help you at all.
With appropriate treatment, postwritum depression usually goes away within six months. In some cases, postwritum depression lasts much longer, becoming chronic depression. It’s important to continue treatment after you begin to feel better. Stopping treatment too early may lead to a relapse, and you don’t have time for that… the next round of NaNoWriMo will be starting up before you know it.
Lifestyle changes and home remedies
Postwritum depression isn’t generally a condition that you can treat on your own — but you can do some things for yourself that build on your treatment plan and may help speed recovery.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Include physical activity, such as a walk with your novel being read back to you by Siri (or Cortana, if that floats your boat), in your daily routine. Try to get adequate rest (seriously, go to bed punk!). Eat healthy foods and drink a lot of water, like a hella ton of water.
- Set realistic expectations. Don’t pressure yourself to do everything all at once. Scale back your expectations for the perfect novel, and for the love of Pete do not think that you can redraft your entire novel in just 30 days as well! Do what you can in a timely but doable manner, and leave the rest for when you can get around to it. For reals, take it easy!
- Make time for yourself. If you feel like the world is coming down around you, take some time for yourself. Get dressed, leave the house, and visit a friend or run an errand. Or schedule some time alone with your partner, away from that pesky novel that is slowly dragging you back down into the murky dark abyss of your psychosis…
- Avoid isolation. Talk with your partner, family and friends about how you’re feeling. Ask other writers about their experiences. They will tell you that being an author is mostly thankless, but on occasion you will get paid for it, and it’s those rare moments that make it all worth while. Also, breaking the isolation may help you feel human again, and that is important and stuff.
- Ask for help. Try to open up to the people close to you and let them know you need help. If someone offers to edit your novel so you that you can take a break, take them up on it (because that is super rare). If you can sleep, take a nap (because we have already covered how heinous sleep deprivation is, and let’s face it… you have it), or maybe you can catch a movie or meet for coffee with friends. The world is your oyster! Go have some fun!
Remember, the best way to take care of your novel is to take care of yourself.
If you have a history of depression — especially postwritum depression — tell your friends if you’re planning on writing again soon, especially if you are planning on engaging in NaNoWriMo again (because you totally are).
- During writing, your friends can monitor you closely for signs and symptoms of depression. He or she may have you complete a depression-screening questionnaire during your writing and after completion. Sometimes mild depression can be managed with support groups, counseling or other therapies. In other cases, antidepressants are never recommended — especially during creative writing as you will never finish in 30 days in that aforementioned zombie state.
- After your novel is finished, your friends may recommend an early postwritum checkup to screen for signs and symptoms of postwritum depression. The earlier it’s detected, the earlier treatment can begin. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Yo Joe!
Disclaimer from the blogger
The real take away that I want you to gather from this article, is that it is pure marzipan and based in absolutely no truth whatsoever. There is no such thing as postwritum depression, and I have been experiencing a severely obnoxious case of writer’s block and was using this humorous modification of a Mayo Clinic and WebMD article on postpartum depression as an excuse to write something (honestly anything!) for the day. Because writer’s block is very real (I’m telling the truth now), and don’t let anyone tell you differently, cuz it sucks like a Hoover vacuum. Hopefully I will break the block soon, until then you may want to prepare yourself for more shenanigans!
Happy writing fellow creatives! May the block not be with you!