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How to Deal with the Emptiness and Elation of Completing a Creative Project

Photo Credit: Michael Quinn

“I recently finished writing a book. For the first time in years, my weekends, nights, and early mornings weren’t being spent obsessing over finishing a book. So I cleaned the kitchen, did the laundry, tended to the stack of ignored paperwork, and got seriously depressed.”

“I thought the completion of a major project would result in a feeling of elation, but by placing that one last period on the page, I created a vast empty space in my life. I didn’t know what to do with myself, especially the unexpected sensation of feeling lost and depressed. It turns out I’m not the only one who has experienced the post-project-completion blues.”

While writing the book, I had so much to say. I said everything I wanted to say and everything that wanted to be said through me as a creative vessel. But after completing the book, and much to my surprise, it seemed as if I would never have anything else to say about anything. I had no thoughts, no concerns, and no new ideas, just emptiness.

Unlike the aforementioned author, instead of cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, dealing with paperwork and feeling depressed, after finishing my first book, I drifted into an abyss of mental blankness.

With no writer’s deadline to be mindful of, no lingering ideas swirling around in my head and no immediate desire to say anything else — ever — I, too, felt a vast empty space in my life and sank into a void of lethargy.

I responded to this void by lying on the couch for hours in silence and simply staring out of the window.

During the staring out of the window phase, I wondered if my writing career was over.

Never in a million years did I expect to feel so “cleaned out” and so “empty”.

I didn’t want to walk the dog, talk on the phone, scroll through Instagram or polish my finger nails. I had no idea what to do with myself, so I did the one thing I had the energy to do:

I went with the emptiness. I decided to just be.

In the weeks following the last period on the page, I inadvertently created a new routine. Instead of getting dressed as usual, even if the only thing on my schedule for the day was to sit at the computer with no errands to run, my newfound routine included lounging in pajamas well into the afternoon. During this time, I slowly moved in a cyclical rotation between my desk, the kitchen and the couch. With prolonged side-eye stares, I’m sure my husband considered the possibility I was having a slight mental break down.

I wasn’t.

In my own completely unanticipated way, I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually taking in …completion.

For more than a year and half there was not a day that went by when the majority of my thoughts, focus, attention and energy were not consumed with, “I have to work on the book.”

Writing a book, as in starting chapters, finishing chapters, spending hours mulling over words and sentence structure and how to relay an idea or concept in written form in the exact same way it resonated within me, was all consuming.

Whether I sat in the backyard during an evening dinner with friends, watched The Money Pit for the hundredth time on Netflix, stood over the stove to prepare pasta for dinner, sat in my car in L.A. traffic, or drifted off during a conversation with my son about his virtual Minecraft creations, ALWAYS lingering in the back of mind was, “I have to work on the book.”

While I generally carry a notebook with me, I specifically had one to write down ideas that would drift in while I stood in line at the grocery store, picked up a take-out order of food or sat in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Yes, on a few occasions I used a voice recorder, but I felt silly randomly speaking into a recorder while out in public. With the book constantly on my mind, ideas consistently came through and the inspiration had to be captured. I learned from experience, ideas never come through in the exact same way they do the first time. I also had to be mindful of my most creative time of the day to covet this time for undisturbed writing to the point of turning off my phone. As many time as I said, “I have to finish the book,” family and friends continuously called and sent texts throughout the day.

Now don’t get me wrong, I wanted to work on the book. I loved the fact that I was engaged in something I’ve always wanted to do. It was surreal, exhilarating, interesting and even surprising. I loved the ambivalence of the anxiety that was present when I looked at the blank word document just before I began to type, and wondered how the chapter would present itself, only to be pleasantly surprised at how the ideas expressed themselves through me. I’ve always loved to write and for years when I wasn’t writing, I felt like something was missing.

For the majority of my life I’ve wanted to write a book. And I did it. But when I finished it, I did not experience an explosive desire to break out the champagne, jump for joy and run through the streets shouting, “It’s done.”

I wanted even more quiet, and more solitude to sit with the accomplishment of such a huge undertaking.

Throughout the entire process of writing the book, there was no one looking over my shoulder asking if I finished chapter 7, if I was on schedule and how my ideas turned out. There was me, action and self-reliability.

Over the years, creative project files piled up. Incomplete articles, unfinished short stories, book ideas that never came to fruition and other writing left in various stages of incompletion continue to take up space on my hard drive. However, in writing the book, I had to set my creative direction and make a daily commitment to finish what I started.

With so many people now involved in my creative endeavor and lifelong aspiration, there was no turning back. I didn’t want to turn back, to be where I have been. I was ready for something new, a new experience of being a writer, and there was nothing about this project that could be half-ass or incomplete.

I had to follow through on my commitment through consistent — rising to the occasion — actions with writing that was coherent, unified and well-developed.

I had to do what I said I would do in the time frame I was given to do it.

Making a commitment to be committed and being self-reliable aren’t things you one day wake up with. Each day I had to make the choice to create from a space of belief that I could do something I had not done before. Even on the days when writing was hard, uncertain and unclear, with the belief that I could do something I had not done before, coupled with resilience, patience and persistence, I moved to completion.

When you engage in consistent acts of reliability and follow through, you create the foundation for building confidence in your ability to do what you say you’ll do and what you want to do.

“Kept promises to yourself is immeasurably important when it comes to doing more of what you love. Most often, your loves are your own. The doing of them is for yourself, for your own joy and delight. If you don’t paint your canvas, finish the novel, take the acting class, run the 10K, lose the baby weight, or complete the degree, no one will be as disappointed as you. It may be that no one even knows or recognizes the absence of the completion — but you will know.”

Remember, “You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true.”

It took a little over two months before that same feeling I had as a child, as a young adult and as a woman who loves to write stories began to arise once again. There is more to say, and another book does indeed want to be written through me.

I did something I had not done before, and because of this, I can fully enjoy completion. This aspiration was not just imagined, it came to fruition.


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