POST SUBMISSION BLUES
by James Lincoln Warren
Before Criminal Brief got off the ground, “The Scribbler” had two previous incarnations as an independent blog. As far as attracting readers goes, they were both dismal performers, but I did occasionally stumble upon a topic that resonated with my friends and stimulated a lot of conversation amongst the select few.
One such topic was how writers’ hearts are affected when we finally put the final polish on a manuscript and launch it into the wide world for consideration, to succeed or fail according to its merits. For most writers, this is a time of high anxiety. Will my hard labors be rewarded? Will it sell or languish?
I suppose you could call this phenomenon submission anxiety. Psychologically, it makes sense: during the period when a writer works on a new story, for the most part, it is under his direct control. Yes, there may be external pressures, some expected and others not—my last opus was written under a deadline, for example, and on another occasion, I had to abandon a title because a new novel unexpectedly usurped it. (That was very strange, since it was not a very likely title.) But even if these pressures can have a big impact, the actual work is under the writer’s thumb the entire time. In fact, the author has essentially godlike powers over every thing that happens in his opus—but once it’s in the mail, he is once again a mere mortal.
I understand this, and I feel compassion for those who feel it. But I’ve never felt that way.
Once a manuscript is in the mail, I don’t worry about it at all—it has flown away like a kid going off to college. I can’t go to college for the kid. To be honest, I wouldn’t even want to go to college for the kid. The story will succeed or fail, and since there’s nothing I can do about it after I’ve done my best to prepare it for success, I don’t worry about it. If it succeeds, I am very happy. If it fails, then I enroll it in another campus for a second chance (i.e., I resubmit the story somewhere else). I haven’t failed to place a story in more than a decade, although they don’t always make the cut where I initially submit them. Maybe the reason I don’t get anxious about tales once they’re making their own way is because I’ve been so lucky.
But don’t get the idea that I am an emotional man of steel.
Instead of getting anxious, I get the literary equivalent of postpartum blues.
This usually manifests itself as a feeling of being directionless. What do I do now?
Now, this is not exactly a rational response. I almost always have more than one project in the works at any given time, and my last story was no exception. But the things I have on the assembly line seem to have lost their luster, at least for the time being.
This feeling lasted for about three days. I read and reread my other works in progress, looking for an impetus to get cracking again, and it just wouldn’t come. The stuff I had in development wasn’t bad. Actually, they were all pretty good, given that they are all still in their infancy. But none of them spoke to me.
So it was time to take a look at the old idea file. To be honest, I don’t really keep such a file, although I know a lot of writers who do. I just squirrel away concepts in my head. There was the idea of the sleazy lawyer with the smart-aleck assistant I had last year. And then there was the idea I had in response to a query, I think from either Steve or Leigh, asking if I had ever thought about writing a mystery set in classical times, to which I replied that a mystery set during the translation of the Septuagint, i.e., the Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) made for the Library of Alexandria beginning in the 3rd century BCE, might be fun. For years, Margaret has wanted me to write a story featuring Alan Treviscoe’s sidekick, Africanus Hero, as the detective instead of merely the detective’s assistant.
One of them clicked. I don’t want to say which one just yet, because it’s early days and before I even start to write the story, I need to do a lot of research. But the blues are gone.
I have no idea why my brain works this way. But it’s what keeps me scribbling.