Dealing with Writerly PMS (It’s not what you think)

Posted by Orly Konig-Lopez

You finished your Work in Progress. Now what?

If you’re anything like me, you promptly get moody and restless. After all, we’ve just spent months living with our characters, immersed in their lives and talking to them more than family members think normal.

Suddenly we’re done. The End.

You turn on your computer and stare. You file away manuscript drafts and brainstorming notebooks and feel empty. You think about what to do next and it feels hopeless.

That, my friends, is Post Manuscript Syndrome.

You’ll get mixed advice on dealing with it:

Some will tell you to jump into a project immediately.

Others will say to give yourself a break from writing and catch up on that mountain of laundry or clean out your writing space or, here’s a fun little concept, start exercising again.

Yet another group of helpful writer types will suggest to go back to basics and read a book or two on craft or attend a workshop.

All good advice. And none works well for me. Why? Because I also suffer from Pre Manuscript Syndrome.

I’m just not patient enough to hang out and read and think and plan. I need a WIP. (Okay folks, crack the jokes now … ready to continue?)

So I lasso one of the ideas bouncing around in my head and try to tame it.

For me that usually means:

  • A sentence or two for the preliminary elevator pitch
  • What my main character’s internal and external conflicts are
  • Twenty things that will have to happen to my main character during the book (it can be anything from getting a puppy to meeting a new neighbor to conquering a fear or discovering a life altering secret)

Some ideas are ready to be domesticated and the pieces come together easily. The moodiness quickly gives way to excitement and the restlessness settles into determination.

WritersBlockOthers dodge every attempt and continue to flit around. Moodiness turns to crankiness. And that’s usually when my husband rolls his eyes and tosses my Writer’s Block sweatshirt at me.

If one idea won’t cooperate though, I’ll try another. I’ve been lucky so far. My Pre manuscript Syndrome episodes have all been short. And relatively painless (for me at least).

How do you transition from one writing project to another? And how do you get that next project moving?

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42 Responses to Dealing with Writerly PMS (It’s not what you think)

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Brilliant, Orly. I’ve never seen this described elsewhere – or the phrase coined, but it’s SO true!

    Here’s to no writerly PMS in 2013!!!

  2. Stacy Green says:

    I suffer from TMI (too many ideas) and pre-ms syndrome. I’ve got one right now I need to continue to plot, but I’m also far enough along I could start writing. Need to get busy with butt in chair. Great post!

    • Oh, Stacy, TMI … Love it!!! I’m not a plotter so my advice is to jump in and let the TMI and PMS fight it out.
      Cheers to great writing in 2013!

    • Yeah, me too. TMI tends to be my problem. I wake up at night with yet another idea. I have to settle on one and go with it. But which one? I guess the one that pops up the most often (or the theme that pops up the most often).😐

  3. Great post, Orly!

    I never suffered from the pre version of PMS. Post? I had another manuscript in my noggin that I began to write while I queried the first.

    When the “thanks, but…” letters began to arrive, I took a long, long walk through rewrite hell without packing a clue on what was wrong with my manuscripts. Enter Craft Classes a la Margie Lawson and Donald Maass.

    It’s taken a shamefully long time to wrap my noggin around my third manuscript. I wrote faster, but not better, when I was in the blissful state of unconscious incompetence. When this one reaches “the end,” I’ll celebrate. Then, blow the dust bunnies off my first manuscript to rewrite it the right way. Having nearly a thousand pages of “thanks, but…” pages may keep me from setting the alarm for hourly email checks on query results.

    Bring on 2013! I want to experience PMS — pre or post.

    • Ahh, Gloria, we all have folders full of “thanks, but …” emails. I use them to motivate me forward. And when you get to “the end,” check back with us – we’ll celebrate with you!!!
      Cheers to great writing in 2013!

  4. Betty Bolte says:

    Awesome post, Orly! I never thought of labeling either of these “syndromes” but then I don’t think I experience the ramp up and ending as keenly as you describe. I’ve got a WIP and a WIP on deck. Both are mapped out ready for me to focus on them, which will be easier to do once the holidays and visitors are gone.😉 Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your writing process. Have a great 2013!

  5. Sharla Rae says:

    I usually have another book in mind and itch to get at it. I hold back because passing through the door of one book straight into another can be a not so good idea. ESP. If the tone should be completely different! So I give myself permission to take time off and think only of the new book–get excited about it. Then I write.

    • Sharla Rae says:

      Ps. I love the t-shirt and want one.😉

    • We seem to suffer from Stacy’s TMI as well. I have the same – always a few ideas bubbling around. This last manuscript was the hardest for me to let go of but it was also the most personal in a lot of ways. The new one is finally kicking into gear. Now I’m excited about it – the sweatshirt may have helped.
      And p.s. I know where to find more of those shirts.😉

  6. Vicky Green says:

    I was anxious to have my first manuscript out of the way so that I could start on something new. Once I got to that point though, I froze. I had an idea for a new story but couldn’t get past the first page. I wondered how I had done it the first time. It’s good to know I’m not alone in these syndromes.

    • Nope, Vicky, you are absolutely not alone. And everyone has a different way of shaking the new ideas loose. Try plotting out ideas for what your character will go through or thinking of characters you’d like to include (from main characters to secondary or even someone you think would be just fun to play with for a scene) … that’s actually what got me out of this latest PMS funk.🙂
      Cheers to great writing in 2013!

  7. Wow, Orly. I swear we are twins. I’ve gone through all those syndromes and more. Including the little known intestinal sickness that starts the moment I start submitting the finished manuscript to agents and or editors. It’s called the SHITs – Sent. Hysteria. Insanity. Terrors.

  8. Jae says:

    I’m still on the same project I’ve been on for a few years now. So transitioning, not a problem… yet. What’s been interesting is editing and polishing. I keep thinking the ‘kill screen’ for editing is coming up, but then it’s like I uncover a new secret hidden level to conquer. But I’m not discouraged by the new challenges, in fact, I like them. It’s made my story much stronger. The kill screen may be coming with this current draft, as it’s for this writer contest called Pitch Wars, which may end in representation, but I have a feeling that gaining an agent would only mean another secret level. But that’s okay, I want this story to be the best I can make it.

    But there is that certain sense of ‘now what?’ when you’ve got to let the WIP get cold for editing and need something to occupy the in between time. However, I really believe in the power of a quote by Ray Bradbury, which really does help me keep going strong: “If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.”

    Happy exploding!

    • That’s a great quote! And I agree, the you have to “feed” yourself if you’re going to be able to keep going. Knock on wood, I’ve never hit a dry spell either and I love diving into projects.
      Happy exploding and cheers to great writing in 2013!

  9. Tanya Cienfuegos says:

    Your sweatshirt made me smile.
    Oh I always get hard cases of the Post version of PMS. I’m suffering from it right now. Still haven’t figured out how to deal with it either, I tend to wallow in it despite trying all the suggested remedies until around October when I start NaNo prep. But I’m glad to finally put a name to my problem.

    • It makes me smile every time too.🙂
      At least you know that NaNo prep helps get you out of it. That’s something you can use. Are you in a writing group or critique group? You could set up a write-a-thon month and motivate each other to meet a certain goal. An online chapter I’m involved with did that in September actually and it kicked my butt to finish my first draft.
      Cheers to great writing in 2013!

  10. Orly, your post almost sounds like someone, somewhere, works on one book at a time. I’ve never done that before. For me, it’s like a party at Mozart’s. People come and go, but the party never ever stops.

    Bung, the drunken sot character in the comic strip The Wizard of Id, once announced that he had a guaranteed cure for the hangover: never sober up.

    Yeah, I get both types of PMS (said apparently the only male on the page) but staying drunk (metaphorically) reduces the pain, though my beta readers say I still have problems with bloating.

  11. Sandy Nathan says:

    Great post. I just got a manuscript I’ve been working on since 1995 rewritten and off to my editor. Yes, 1995. I had every type of writer’s block known on that one. The thing was huge, so I carved a hunk off the end to write into another book. I’ll have a 3 book set! My work is all laid out for me.

    Did I begin work on the Final Hunk immediately? No. I picked up another manuscript from 1997. I’m working well and making progress, just on the WRONG BOOK. It’s some form of PMS.

  12. C. K. Crouch says:

    I’m looking forward to finishing this story and plowing into the reworking. I finished one and eagerly jumped into revising it and then tossed it to the side. I found plot holes and even with help of Margie Lawson’s classes I couldn’t seem to fix it. It still calls to me though. Then I wrote on something for Camp NaNo in August that had no end and tossed it over for November’s NaNo and this story is trucking along but lord knows when I can find the end. Sigh.

  13. Judy says:

    Just turned in the manuscript. I’ve tried jumping into the next project before, and it doesn’t work for me. I allow myself to read for several days, exactly what I want to read. It only takes a few books and then I’m impatient to be back working on my own.

    • I’ll confess, Judy, that I can’t jump in immediately either. I tend to noodle ideas but focus more on busy work and reading for a week or two before trying to lasso the ideas into submission.🙂
      Cheers to a wonderful 2013!

  14. LOL. Yep, this is the stuff that usually scares me the most.😀

  15. ryanrebecca says:

    Stephen King says to put your writing in a drawer for a month; I send it to my editor and immediately start research for the next book. It keeps me out of the PMS ditch, and I like to have the overlaps: Book A is at the editor while I’m doing preliminary research/daydreaming about Book B. It keeps my mind busy and helps me overcome the terror of “If-I-don’t-keep-writing-I’ll-forget-how!”

    • I start noodling the next story the moment I finish one too. But I still have a moment of panic when it’s time to actually sit and start typing those first words.

  16. Great way to put it. I start getting the idea for my next book as I’m finishing the one I’m working on. It’s not helpful, because I want to rush the ending to get started again.

    • I do the same Ella. I get ideas while I’m still writing a story and then itch to start the new one. It’s hard sometimes to push those ideas into a safe-deposit box.🙂

  17. C. K. Crouch says:

    Thanks for reblogging Ella this is a fascinating topic that all writers share.🙂

  18. zannyro says:

    I’m trying to deal with transitioning away from spending so much time on photography, and spending more time getting started on another book….my last two books were for children, using photos that I had taken…..now….I want to really get into writing, and I CAN’T BREAK AWAY FROM MY IMAGINARY PHOTOGRAPHY FRIEND………THE CAMERA..(NOT SO IMAGINARY I GUESS),,,,,sigh…I’ve been doing primarily photography for 20 + years….it’s hard to break away…

  19. Jessica says:

    HA HA HA. This was a great article. Way to make an emotional subject a palatable one this is a must read for any writers thanks!

  20. really great article and so true… i think the most difficult part of writing script is to decide how to end this

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