After the Conference: Dealing with the Sea of Gloom

The Post Conference Sea of Gloom should be on a map, located somewhere off the shores of the State of Despair. It should have  its own psychiatric diagnostic code. It should be included in the manual of All the Things Writers Need to Know. (By the way - why has nobody written this reference book yet?)

But nobody really talks about the post conference slump.

What you hear about writer conferences is all glowing and wonderful. Come hang out with other writers! Learn new skills! Get inspired!

And this happens. Boy howdy, does it happen. For a few days we are swimming in a writing sea where everybody speaks the language of books. By the last day, we are ready to take on the world. Nothing is going to stop us. Nothing can get in the way. We are WRITERS! What do we do? WE WRITE! We are going to go home and take the world by storm!!

And then we get home.

Our families are overjoyed to see us and we are overjoyed to see them. Home is good. It's wonderful to sleep in our own beds and even to eat familiar foods. But there's a downside. Everybody needs something from us. Groceries need to be bought, houses need cleaning, meals need preparing. Kids and pets and loved ones might seem extra demanding. Friends make noises of interest when we spill over with all of the exciting things that happened at the con, but quickly glaze over.

We go back to work and the familiar old boring routine sucks us in.

At this point, some of us get caught in the undertow that pulls us out into the Sea of Gloom. All of the goals that seemed so possible and exciting at the conference now seem distant and unrealistic. That agent you pitched to - the one you're sure is your soulmate and destined to guide your career forever - doesn't respond when you send in the manuscript pages she requested. You log into Facebook to discover that a bunch of your new BFF writer pals are off having fun at yet another conference while you're stuck at work. One of them announces that she just signed with your soulmate agent, who still hasn't commented on the pages you sent. Some other author has a brand new book deal and yet another has hit the bestseller list.

You try to get back to work on your manuscript only to find it impossibly full of flaws and now you're all kinds of embarrassed that you ever dared to show it to anybody. Life stretches out before you, bleak, empty, and dull. All of your dreams wither up and die.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you've only dipped your toes in a Puddle of Gloom. Or maybe the gloom thing doesn't hit you at all.  This is wonderful, and I am happy to know there are such emotionally healthy, well-adjusted writers out there in the world.

For the rest of us, I have some thoughts to offer.

1 This reaction is actually normal.

Any mountaintop experience is likely to be followed by a plunge into the valley of shadow, or at least a return to the level plain. We can't live on the heights forever.

2. Introverts are drained by exposure to people.

Most writers - not all - are introverts. This doesn't mean we don't like people, it means we get our energy from alone time. Hanging out with other people (even awesome, exciting writer people) drains our energy. During a conference we are adrenaline-charged and fired by passion, and often don't notice that we've expended our energy supply and are running on fumes. There is a cost for this, and sooner or later we have to pay the bill.

3. We need time to process

There is no possible way to intellectually process everything that happens at a con. Too much happens too fast. Information, relationships, ideas, and opportunities pepper us at warp speed and we're only able to grasp a small percentage with our conscious brain. The subconscious, though, is hard at work on what we've missed. It will spend weeks processing, cataloguing, filing, and storing, feeding us little bits and pieces at random (and usually inconvenient) moments. This, again, requires some of that energy we don't currently have because it was depleted by all of that peopling we did.

So what do we do? How do we swim out of the Sea of Gloom? 

  1. Be kind to yourself.  Simple acceptance of the fact that you are an introverted human being who has been immersed in an intense sea of emotion and human contact carries you a long way toward shore. Tell yourself this is a normal reaction and that it won't last forever.
  2. Rest. Take a little time to recharge your physical batteries. Take care of your exhausted body by feeding it good food, getting some extra rest, drinking lots of water and indulging in gentle exercise. If you can manage time in nature, do this. If you're a city person, find some trees, the more the better. (I dare you to hug a tree, while you're at it. You're a writer. Everybody already knows you're weird.)
  3. Refill. Nurture your emotional self. Take a couple of days off writing and read a fantastic book. Resist the urge to compare your writing; just read for pleasure. Consider a brief Social Media break. Breathe. Do Yoga. Pet the cats or the dogs or the llamas, whatever type of friendly animal happens to be available. Hug a child. Listen to music. Do a non-writing craft. Draw pictures. Color in an adult coloring book, or a child's coloring book for that matter.
  4. Catalogue. Get out a journal and start making sense of your experience. If you're a logical sort, make lists of what you learned, what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. If you're more freewheeling, do some daily free writing to help clear some of the backlog.
  5. Visualize. After you've taken a couple of days (or a week) to rest and recover, it's time to dive back in. Find five minutes of quiet and solitude where you won't be interrupted. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Now, think back to the moment at the conference when you felt most inspired and motivated and excited. Recall how that felt. Draw on the physical sensations you experienced. Remember the thoughts that skipped through your head. Tap that motivation, that sense of possibility and hope and let it fill you to the brim.
  6. Go forth and do all the things. Pick a goal, break it into concrete tasks over which you have control, and run for the gold.
Kerry Schafer
Kerry Schafer writes fantasy with its teeth sunk into reality, mystery that delves into the paranormal, and (as Kerry Anne King) women’s fiction that explores the nooks and crannies of family and forgiveness. More about Kerry on her website.

6 thoughts on “After the Conference: Dealing with the Sea of Gloom

  1. This is so spot on. After conference I sat there thinking I’m hopeless, there are so many things I don’t know or just learned that I have to incorporate, and there are so many changes I need to make to my WIP, I end up not doing anything because there are so many things to do. But I did just what you said. I went through my notes and put them into a format I could actually use, put some items on my calendar to follow up on, and sat down with the WIP in a quiet place and made notes at the beginning to help me remember what I want to do when I really sit down for edits. Gotta Love Gold, but gotta love yourself when it’s over.

  2. Great post—all so true. I’ve experienced this after conferences myself. Amazing how “boring old routines” can make everything that looked so possible now look so “impossible.” The “pick a goal” is a good suggestion, and usually baby steps each day toward that goal helps me feel better.

  3. I always joke that I get depressed the week following a conference, but it’s no joke. You get such a rush attending these things that it is sad to have to go return to the “real world.” But on the flip side, everything you learn and feel at these conferences stays with you in the long-term. So it does balance out.

  4. Yeah, “…all of that peopling we did”! Great line! :-]

    I always get exhausted after these things…I used to only do one big writer event a year, and would take the following Monday off, but this year did four (five if I get to go to MileHiCon again next month), and two of them weekend gigs, so it was kinda hard to take those Mondays this year! So, I gutted it out at work. Yeah, not pretty.

    Great post!

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