I finished my novel... now what? Bipolar and editing garbage drafts
Updated: Dec 11, 2022
The first time I finished writing a novel was in 2013.
I was severely manic and had been manic for months with no end in sight. Think: not sleeping, barely remembering to eat, working out until my body gave out, racing thoughts, super-fast speech, compulsive and intrusive thoughts about specific things, and, my favorite, grandiose delusions.
Grandiose delusions are a hallmark of bipolar disorder. They are the belief that you have special powers (flight, hypnotizing people with your eyes, super speed) or are in some way more special (famous, important) than your actual life reflects.
They are something with which I suffer every time I have a manic episode. They do not get any easier to emotionally handle after the mania dissipates and all you can see is the damage you've done.
The first time anyone noticed I was having grandiose delusions happened when I was 16. It is the reason I was diagnosed with Bipolar I at such an early age, which is the only time I can pin a positive on the delusions.
I'd been acting bizarre for a few weeks, to the point that my very nice boyfriend dumped me. I don't blame him- he never knew which me would see him at school every morning. Was I the shy, sweet girl who blushed whenever she spoke? The girl who suddenly pulled him into the theater curtains to make-out on the way to choir practice with no warning? Or the fast-talking girl who glared daggers at him for daring to breathe?
My behavior became undeniably unhinged after the break-up. I stopped sleeping completely, couldn't stop talking long enough to eat, and started to think if I tried hard enough I could fly.
Luckily I told someone about that belief before I put it into action by jumping off the porch roof outside my bedroom. The fall wouldn't have killed me- the house wasn't that tall- but I'm sure I wouldn't have made it out of there without at least a broken bone.
I have years of experience dealing with grandiose delusions.
The problem with delusions is you don't know you're having them until they stop.
Back to 2013 and my first finished novel. I was convinced, beyond any rational belief that this novel was the best thing ever written. I sent it out on multiple queries, talked about it non-freaking-stop, and waited not-so-patiently for the rest of the world to understand how brilliant it was, and how talented I am.
The novel was utter trash. I can say that now with the benefit of the perspective I couldn't have at the time because my brain wouldn't let me.
When no one wanted to publish my book, I decided to self-publish it. I talked about nothing but my book publication journey for days (in between not sleeping, working out for hours, and acting so erratically at work that I was frequently sent home).
Did I do any edits? Ha, as if. No, I sent this poorly plotted, first-drafted work out into the world without any worries it might be badly received.
The book was awful. People hated it- and rightly so. There is nothing redeeming about the book- it belonged in a burning trash pile. Yet I seethed at anyone who dared say something negative about it. While a tiny part of my brain tried to regain rational thought, the delusional part of my brain doubled down.
By the time I finally got medicated enough to snap out of the delusions, the damage was done. I'd put a garbage draft out into the world and left it to rot.
I've felt ashamed of that time period for years (there were many other things I did during that period which were worse than self-publishing a book, I promise). I stopped writing entirely for a while after one commenter wrote in their review that the book was the worst thing they'd ever read and that the author should never write again. Their words stung, but given how bad the book was, I believed them.
Several years later, I got the courage to write again. To say its been a hard journey for me is an understatement. Every word I write, every idea I have, every time I call myself a writer makes me worried I'm in another delusional period and don't know it yet. Is the plot I've come up with brilliant or is it nonsensical? Am I writing concisely at a standard reading level, or am I dumbing everything down (or, even worse, writing pretentiously)? Without asking for feedback there is no way to know. Even with feedback you might not know as sometimes people will soft-pedal what they don't like about a book to avoid hurting the author's feelings.
Since starting NaNoWriMo in 2015 I've finished 7 books. The first 6 were such garbage that writing them felt like a chore each day. By the end of November I never wanted to see them again.
I managed to take the 2019 book and edit it, do a manuscript swap with it, edit it again, and send it out on queries to agents. No one wanted the book and I've since shelved it.
This November I started writing a book which kept my attention the entire month and beyond. I couldn't wait to sit down at my computer and write. Anything which kept me from writing felt like having fiberglass splinters embedded deep within my skin. I've finished the first draft and, other than a few scenes I need to change, I think its great for a first draft.
This year, though, I started having bipolar symptoms for the first time in the almost-a-decade since my car accident.
For those who don't know, I was in a car accident in 2013 which caused a severe concussion. Once the concussion healed, I was left with migraines and exhaustion when I listened to music... but I stopped having manic episodes completely. The relief at being not-bipolar was incalculable.
When the symptoms returned this past July, it felt like a part of me had died. I was inconsolable as I had to find a psychiatrist and go on medication. I'd finally started writing and worried I'd end up on a medication again which made me act like a zombie. I lost a decade of my life on drugs like those and it kills me to know I missed so much with no hope of getting that time back.
My new psychiatrist is great and has me on a combination of bipolar medications and an ADHD medication which has left me stable and not zonked out. I had no idea I could feel this normal on medication- it's never been that way before.
However, the questions will always remain- am I feeling normal, or am I experiencing delusions and I don't realize it at the time? Is this new book great and needs some editing before going out on query, or is it hot garbage best left in the burning bin?
Those questions remain at the forefront of my mind as I begin this rewrite and edit process. I am sure I will stumble through the process. I may even want to quit at times.
At the end of the day, though, the only way I can truly fail at being a writer is to give up entirely. Though I tried to give up for several years, it turns out you can't quit something which is an integral part of you.
But if you see me saying I'm going to self-publish this book, someone, anyone, come take my keyboard away from me and call my shrink. The stable version of me will thank you later.