But back home in Maine, after the rush of congratulatory e-mails dwindled and my modest book tour ended, the dark chill of fall descended and a depression set in. For years, I’d been laser-focused on writing during the hours my son was in school. Now I drifted around the house in my gray sweatpants, refreshing Twitter and Instagram, and reading Knausgaard and Cusk. I felt despondent. Rudderless. Tired. Inexplicably, I felt like a failure. Rather than feeling gratitude for what had happened, I obsessed over what hadn’t. My book hadn’t become a bestseller, received a rave (or any) review in the New York Times, or landed me my ever-since-girlhood fantasy interview with Terry Gross. I judged myself for the brass rings I hadn’t grabbed. As much as my memoir mattered to me, to the rest of the world it was just another book.
Jessica Berger Gross talks honestly about a common problem many writers share, the depression that often follows the release of a new book. Bestselling authors may be too busy to be depressed, or possibly the depression takes longer to arrive. Finishing a book is a personal triumph, all the work from A to Z, that one’s expectations are high, not so much expectations of fame and fortune, but of euphoria or at least quiet satisfaction.
As Gross writes, it’s not so much what happened, but what didn’t happen. After the initial hoopla, the author goes back to his or her desk, plays a few games–or maybe a lot of games–of Angry Birds or Words With Friends, and starts wondering whether or not they have it in them to go through the process again.
It’s like climbing Mt. Everest and realizing nobody noticed. It was a dangerous thing to do, especially Alpine style without oxygen or ladders or fixed ropes, but back on Facebook where it seems like somebody might want to hear about it, there’s mostly silence. Fortunately, the depression keeps one from caring about that even though that is one component of the depression.
Small-press and self-published writers have the added burden of realizing that their yearly website fees are costing them more than they’re earning.
I don’t think vanity leads to this depression, that is, thinking one should be famous, should be talking to movie studios, should be recognized on the street, or be receiving invitations to speak at book fairs and panels. It’s more that one finds himself/herself fretting about lack of satisfaction, lack of happiness, and the lack of all the feelings s/he thought would be center stage in his/her consciousness.
After a while, the muse screams, “Suck it up; you felt all those wonderful things while you were writing and now you’re not writing.” You protest this for a while until you give in and say, “Okay, I’ll climb K2 solo via the famous ‘Magic Line Route’ and if I don’t come home dead, I will have had a wondrous time.”
Or you say, “I’m thinking about 75,000 words of storytelling about a man and a woman who discover they’ve ended up married after a drunken Vegas weekend and God wants them to figure out whether they’ve been cursed or blessed.”
Authors are trying to figure out the answer to that question all the time. The answer is “both,” but don’t quote me on that.