The High… and Inevitable Crash… of Creating Something
Hi, Chris Russell here reporting to you from my writing spot… my bed. Yup, I write from my bed. I put a pillow on my thighs, set my laptop on there, and go to town. For some reason, I have a hard time concentrating at a desk when I write. I can teach classes, do busy work, send emails, whatever minutia that fills out my day, at a desk. But when it comes to creative writing, I've come to realize that I need to be fully comfortable in my body and I do my best work when I'm in my sleep sanctuary.
Oh here I go, pontificating about a thing that isn't want I came here to talk about.
Today's blog post is about the post-creative crash.
I'm not going to even remotely attempt to step into the ballpark of relating to what it is to give birth to a child. I swear to Christ. I just want to point out one common term I hear from the moms in my life:
Okay, that's it. That's all I'm going to say about that. I'm not comparing writing a 30 page script about mental health with sprinkled-in masturbation jokes to the evolution of life. I'd be a fucking jerk-off if I made that comparison.
(We get it, Chris, you're a fucking mensch. Land the plane.)
Okay, I just wanted to throw that term out there, because I relate to the timeline of it all. There's a term in theatre called "post-show blues". You spend a couple of months with a group of people, a piece of text, maybe some music. You get frustrated and inspired in the rehearsal process, discover stuff, get inspired, have breakthroughs, learn your blocking, hit your triggers, scramble to get off-book by the deadline rehearsal, hate everything and everyone in the fucking world during tech week, suffer through an anxiety-riddled day of opening, get your first audience reaction and remember why you did this in the first place, get applause, go out after shows, hook up with cast members even though you promised yourself you wouldn't till the cast party, close, strike, have a cast party and maybe hook up with someone else and cause a fuckload of trouble, then… move on with your life.
While you're creating cherished lifelong memories, that's A LOT of emotional labor.
I remember in college, when we'd close a show, I would sit in that first day back in class, knowing I no longer had rehearsals to go to. I didn't get to hang out on the loading dock and smoke cigarettes with the cast, dick around and get yelled at by the director during rehearsal, or just sit Indian style on the floor with whoever when it wasn't my scene (and get yelled at by the stage manager for being too loud in the hallway).
It was always my bottom-out point every semester. My acting, writing, directing, coaching - all the creative things I get to do - have evolved over the years. I'm better, wiser, and tougher than I was when I started. One thing that has never changed for me, something I cannot seem to shake or get better at, are the post-creative blues.
I just finished another script - my second in a month. They're two half-hour TV scripts - a format that I don't have a lot of experience with. The first one was done in literally one day. It was a fucking miracle breakthrough that was a soul-awakening experience I'll never forget. The one I finished today was more complex, emotional, and took almost four weeks. I dug up some deep shit and had to take several breaks from it.
While both were different in terms of speed of completion, I landed at the same emotional finish line - overwhelmed, proud, scared, elated, protective, shocked… I could name 30 more contrasting things but you get the point.
Seeing a creative project to the end is special. I can only speak for myself, but I'm sure if you're an artist reading this, you have a graveyard of things that you started and never finished in a hard drive or notebook somewhere. It happens. Some seeds were not meant to bloom right way. I've picked up things that I hadn't touched in years and brought new life experiences to see it to the end.
If you're a non-creative reading this, the best way I can describe the creative process is- giving every bit of your emotional experience, living in the world you're creating day in, day out, going through all of these things with these people, these lyrics, this music, this canvas, what-have-you, pouring it out onto the page, and by the end you have lent your creative soul to this being you've manifested. You cry, you laugh, you brag, you marvel… you maybe numb out.
But you DID IT.
I just wrote "Fade to Black", my favorite and least favorite words to type on a page. Why the duality? Because on one hand, I finished a god damn mother fucking screenplay and I am a boss motherfucker and no one can fuck with me. On the other - I just spent a whole month creating this thing, eating it for breakfast and finally birthing it… now what?
Business. Rewrites. Getting people to get excited about it. Rejection. Days where you don't think about it. While it's still very much a part of you, there's an element of setting the bird free.
Don't get me wrong, the prospect of getting it made will all be exciting, but I already MISS the process. I miss getting to introduce new characters and find new motivations and think things like, "ah, shit, Claire needs at least one more obstacle before act 4 or the payoff isn't as strong" while I'm on the subway. Those afternoons, slugging coffee and pounding the keys, bragging to my girlfriend that I got ten pages done that day, having trouble sleeping not because of anxiety (for a change), but because I can't stop thinking about my little world and all the people in it, feeling so full of life and vigor... are now put on hold.
Till the next thing. But really, is the "next thing" ever a guarantee? Not to be grim, but inspiration comes in spurts for me. It could be tomorrow. It could be five years from now. Starting this blog has helped me open the floodgates in terms of writing screenplays about mental health, but before this, I hadn't opened my damn screenwriting program since the start of the pandemic.
I know I'm in store from some sadness the next few days. Depression, even. As someone who has written a lot of stuff, this never changes for me. And really, as I type this, I wonder if it's even worth it to get better? Could it possibly be okay that this is a step in the process - mourning the amazing thing I just experienced?
Maybe I just need to be a little sad. But I am sure as fuck proud.
Hey, reader, side note: Check out my instagram @chrisrussellnyc for a post with the screenshot of my Manic Impressive script "Only in Dreams". I'm trying to get Rivers Cuomo from Weezer to read it. If you could tag him in the comments, it would mean the world to me!
Thank you for reading!
If you are struggling with your mental health, there is no shame in getting help:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.