When I crossed the 100,000-word mark in a draft of my first book, I paused to briefly mosh in the kitchen while brewing more coffee.
I had 13 days left to go, and I was riding the kind of stress-high I hadn’t experienced since my days as a student. The wave of feeling cresting in that moment was just as I remembered it: a frenzied sense of smug purpose so familiar it was almost soothing.
As the deadline neared, I felt crazy, but in a good way. Anticipatory excitement, restlessness, and the powerful fear of fucking up combined to form a kind of natural Adderall. Working in those final days gave me the electric good-girl charge I used to get in high school, college, and graduate school, when the minutes bled into hours, when day became night became day again, as I sat surrounded by a dozen books lying open, spine-down and underlined.
As the texture of my days changed, morphing from ultra-productivity back into normalcy, I felt useless, unmoored, and lazy.
I spent entire days sitting upright in my bed, surrounded by a wide arc of dirtied dishes. Tupperware containers of varying sizes were sprinkled with salt and pretzel sediment. A spoon rested in a milky eighth-inch of melted ice cream. The bitten-off ends of snow peas clustered in a bowl like tiny beaks. Sometimes I wrote in a shabby vintage housedress and cotton leggings. The dress, faded and floral, looked like something a peasant might wear in an old Italian movie, and it somehow matched the aspect of mild, righteous suffering to which I was by then deeply committed. Working hard in that maniacal way felt noble and pure — dizzyingly so, especially when it came at the expense of other habits, like regular meals, fresh air, or sleep.
When I finally pressed send on the book manuscript, I burst into tears — the same loud, anarchic crying I’d done after giving birth. I enjoyed a couple days of relief and elation, and then began a free-fall into depression. I had expected to feel an emptiness after the emotional…