You’ve just finished your first manuscript, or your third, or your tenth. You’re elated but also slightly disoriented. You may have been working on this labor of love for months, perhaps an entire year or more. Now what? There’s quite a lot that happens after the draft is complete – editing, marketing plans, etc. But I’m thinking more about the mental shift we have to make when we’ve invested so much time and creative energy into a project, and now it’s finished. How do we clear our heads and make room for something new?
I’ve recently finished the third and final book in my science fiction series and will be thinking soon about what’s next. Here are some things I do to clear my head between projects:
Celebrate the achievement.
It takes me almost nine months to complete a manuscript draft, a significant investment of time and energy. Wrapping up the draft is exciting. Take time to appreciate that you did something many people only wish they could do. Whether it’s your first or tenth manuscript, it really is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
Catch up on reading.
Reading for pleasure is something I’ve always loved, but once I began writing, it seemed to be more and more difficult to squeeze in. I find that when I finish a project, it’s the perfect time to take a break from creating my own words and appreciate someone else’s. I read in every genre, and now, because I’m a writer, I find myself looking for the ways other writers have done their job well. How did this scene build suspense? Why did I fall in love with that character so quickly? Why was the ending so satisfying, poignant, thrilling? I believe reading widely helps us become better writers. And reading for pleasure is still just that – a pleasure. So, use the down time between projects, even if it’s only a week or two, to do some reading.
Make space for something new.
When I’ve finished writing a novel, I have to clear that story out of my head before I can turn my attention to something new. After all, I’ve spent a long time in the world I’ve created with characters I’ve grown attached to, and now I have to let them go. Inevitably, when I’m in the middle of writing one story, ideas for ten more begin to surface. So, I have a file of new ideas that I’ve titled – it’s not your turn yet. Some will be discarded, but some have potential. During the down time between projects, I let the ideas swirl, start taking detailed notes, and maybe begin an outline. It’s fun and creative, and pretty quickly, I know which story wants to be developed next.
Write a short story.
In between every novel, I’ve written one or more short stories. While so far I’ve stuck to speculative fiction, I’ve let my imagination go and written high fantasy, hard science fiction, an apocalypse story, and even some horror. Writing short stories allows me to play with voice and genre, experiment a little without committing to something that will take me months to finish. Here are some more thoughts on writing short fiction, and why it’s a worthy undertaking, especially in between bigger projects: Sharpen Your Writing Skills With Short Fiction.
Congratulations on finishing your manuscript! Now, take some time to celebrate, clear your head, and figure out what’s next!