Authors Are Masochists and We All Need Aftercare

I said what I said. Authors love to suffer. We must, otherwise we wouldn’t put ourselves through so much torture, right?

Writers know all about the tightrope between pleasure and pain. We walk it constantly. Our chosen calling asks us to lay ourselves on the line, flay our hearts on the page, and publicly expose our private worlds and words.

Maggie Gyllenhall in Secretary leans on her desk and waits for...something
Mood: waiting for copy edits to come back.

Many writers are introverted and retiring, but if the mere act of writing satisfied us, we wouldn’t be out here seeking readers and publication. Instead, most writers live balanced between the agony and the ecstasy of being seen. It’s a strange compulsion, not just to write but to be read.

It terrifies us. It thrills us. It drives us.

There’s always a Tweet.

Ok, hear me out. Yes, this may get a little spicy. But it also might be educational, so read on if you dare.

What is “drop”?

In the BDSM world, “drop” refers to a psychological and physiological phenomenon sometimes experienced after the end of an intense or emotional kinky encounter. The reason for this isn’t completely understood, but it may have to do with the ebb of neurochemicals like endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and oxytocin. It’s a return to baseline after existing in an altered state.

Even if that altered state brought happiness and excitement, physical symptoms of drop may include fatigue, aches and pains, or chills. Sometimes, drop also triggers feelings of depression, regret, shame, loss or grief, or exhaustion. It feels like crashing down to earth.

The treatment for drop—either before or after it hits—is aftercare. An essential aspect of responsible and healthy power exchange, aftercare involves the provision of TLC for mind, body, and heart following a “scene” or episode of kinky play. It doesn’t always prevent drop, but it softens the landing.

I don’t name it as such, but in my first novel, Lily’s love interest recognizes the symptoms of drop and treats it accordingly. He administers aftercare before the pair does anything else, even kiss. (Minor spoiler alert: he’s not the person who triggered these symptoms, either.)

Sebastian reemerged moments later with an armful of what looked like a cloud and turned out to be the softest, fluffiest white robe ever made when he tucked it around my shoulders.

I unwound myself from my nest long enough to encase myself in the cloud, and then burrowed back under the covers. “I’m s-sorry,” I said through chattering teeth. “I d-d-don’t know why it hit me like this.”

“At a guess, it’s a delayed shock reaction to physical and mental trauma. I’ve seen it before in people who have just come out of an…intense experience.”

Erin Fulmer, Cambion’s Law

Aftercare also acts as an emotional reset, a reaffirmation of love and respect. It grounds the person cared for with tangible comfort and engages the senses. Often, a dominant partner provides aftercare, but sometimes dominants need it too, and in a pinch, anyone can self-administer their own aftercare.

Well, guess what? Drop isn’t just for kinksters, and neither is aftercare. Emotional crashes can happen after non-kinky “peak experiences” as well.

Author drop is a real thing.

As we’ve established, authors are gluttons for punishment. So it makes sense that we experience what I’ve decided to call “author drop.” It feels much like the description of sub drop above, except hopefully with fewer bruises.

Author drop can happen any time we experience a career high. It can happen regardless of how good the “high” might feel at the time, because stress and excitement affect the body in nearly identical ways. It can happen after finishing a draft, sending a manuscript to a beta reader or editor, or following big public milestones like announcements, cover reveals, and (haha) releases.

Archer says "Hey. Phrasing!"
That pun wasn’t intended but IT WORKS DOESN’T IT?

I’m going through author drop right now after my cover reveal, which managed to coincide with a number of other personal stressors. I wondered why I feel so beat, but it wasn’t until I was talking to a writing friend about her kinky book that I made the connection. As soon as I did, though, it made so much sense.

Publishing is a masochistic endeavor.

What goes up must come down. And if publishing and author life can offer anything consistently, it’s violent highs and lows, long periods of anticipation and buildup followed by intense emotion, and of course, pain and vulnerability. It comes with the territory.

We send our work out to be criticized, rejected or, worst of all, ignored. We beg our critique partners to tell us what we did wrong. We know it will hurt, and yet we keep doing it.

We expose our naked hearts in public, hating it and loving it at the same time. We offer our weaknesses and greatest fears for all to witness. We groan and scream about it or we grin and bear it, but either way we keep coming back for more.

It’s like we are our own Doms and the sub as well. We put ourselves through this thing, and we push and push and push our limits but maybe forget to coddle ourselves afterward….It’s vital that we are gentle with us.

Briana Una McGuckin, author of On Good Authority (Thomas & Mercer, 2022)

I’m going to repeat Briana’s wise words: it’s VITAL that we are gentle with ourselves.

Publishing as an industry is never going to coddle us. Critics and reviewers may lash us with cruel, unfeeling words. And when the excitement of that big announcement or new release fades away the next day or the next week, leaving us in a state of withdrawal, we deserve the tenderness that a caring dominant would provide.

It’s up to us to provide our own aftercare.

For most of us, we don’t have a writing Master or Mistress on hand to wrap us in positive regard while we come down from a heightened experience. We can’t control many aspects of our publishing journey, but ultimately we’re the ones at the wheel of this wild ride. That means we’re in charge of our own well-being at the end of the day, when the happy chemicals fade from our veins.

Self-administered aftercare therefore becomes a necessity. I’ve written here before about self-care for writers, but this is a specific kind of care. It asks us to recognize the emotional impact of our peak experiences and make space for recovery.

What does aftercare for writers look like? Not so different from aftercare for, um, other activities, as it happens. It will vary widely depending on individual needs and preferences, but a good aftercare kit might contain any or all of the following:

  • Warm and/or weighted blanket
  • Pillow and/or neck support
  • Warm fuzzy socks, soft hoodie, sweats, or other comfortable clothing
  • Water or sports drink for hydration
  • Hot comfort drinks like tea or hot chocolate
  • Simple, low effort, easy to digest snacks and treats (stress and emotion burn energy fast & endorphin rushes can cause blood sugar to drop)
  • Recovery vitamins such as B12 and C
  • Comfort items/cuddle buddy (partners, pets, or stuffed animals)
  • Rescue medications/anxiolytic substances of choice (can include booze and other intoxicants but use with care)
  • Heating pad/ice pack for aches and pains
  • Sensory grounding tools like incense or candles, noise canceling headphones, eye pillow or sleep mask, bubble bath, lotion, skin care
  • Journal or notepad
  • Book or e-reader
  • Other possible relaxation aids: coloring book & crayons, digital art pad, handheld gaming device, craft supplies

Set aside time to rest and reset.

This is a difficult one for me personally. It seems obvious to plan an announcement or launch day, or look forward to writing “the end” on a draft. It may not seem as urgent or necessary to schedule post-milestone recovery after the draft is “put to bed” or the hullabaloo of a big day dies down.

I love this and yet it’s so hard to internalize!

Carving out that time and space matters tremendously. Don’t expect to move, write, or think at the same speed immediately after one of these big days. Pushing yourself to instantly return to the status quo of your regular routine in this context sets you up for a sense of failure, a more severe crash later, or the worst case scenario, burnout.

Honor your hard work and accomplishments by marking it with rest. Give yourself permission to take a day off: from writing, from the day job if feasible, from the theater of social media. If you use word count metrics, set your daily goal to zero.

Treat yourself.

This is not a time for self-discipline. It’s not a time for going back to the grind, turning the page, starting the next project, and moving the goalposts (and yes, I’m calling myself out here). This is a time for self-indulgence.

If you promised yourself a reward, follow through. If you didn’t have a reward in mind, figure out what your heart desires right now. Whether it’s chocolate ice cream, Thai iced tea, napping all day, binge-watching The Great British Bakeoff…let yourself enjoy whatever makes you feel like you’re stretching out lazily in your skin with nothing better to do than whatever you want, even if that means nothing at all.

Moira of Schitt's Creek says "There's nothing wrong with treating yourself, dear"
Embrace your inner diva.

This is especially true if your big day was public. You probably spent most of the day managing your own and other people’s expectations. Even celebrations can feel performative, particularly in the era of social media.

Aftercare is a time to shake off all the parts you played and masks you wore and just be yourself. It’s about creating a place of safety for yourself where the rules and roles get set aside. In this space, you don’t have to smile or scream or say thank you to anyone unless you want to.

Make room for big emotions.

When announcing big news, celebrating a goal reached, or launching a new book, it’s easy to get swept away by euphoria. What’s more, others will expect you to express a certain range of emotions: gratitude, happiness, excitement, pride. Any sense of doubt, sadness, fear or discomfort gets buried or swept away in the joy of the moment.

After the initial rush ebbs, the party dies down, and the spotlight switches off, it’s a different story. Some of those so-called negative emotions may come roaring back, or new ones might bubble up in a subtle groundswell. Either way, they can throw you off-kilter if you’re not prepared for them.

A dark-haired white woman (Rachel Bilson) stands in front of a Christmas tree and says "Feelings, so many feelings right now."

Writing advice often addresses the pain of rejection, the fear of failure, and the demons of self-doubt that haunt the query trenches. But we talk less about the terrors, doubts, and stress of getting what we want. We don’t always mention that hitting that vaunted goal might trigger something besides a feeling of triumph.

Finishing a draft feels wonderful, but it may also bring on a sense of loss. After we accept that long-awaited offer of rep, we might second-guess our choice, fear missing out on other opportunities, or wonder if we deserve it at all. Announcing a book deal invites a whirlwind of accolades and gratitude, but when attention inevitably moves on, it may leave us feeling lonely or forgotten.

Irrational as these big feelings seem, they’re valid and normal. It’s your party, after all, and you can cry if you need to. And if you do cry, if you ache with fatigue the next day, if you take to your bed like a gothic heroine, it doesn’t invalidate the joy or the pleasure you felt. It doesn’t mean you didn’t want it in the first place, or that you shouldn’t seek it out again.

Reflect, record, remember.

With that said, don’t discount the power of peak experience to teach us what we don’t want. Sometimes we don’t know what we like or don’t like until we try it. If something didn’t go as desired, or if you planned something that in retrospect you never want to do again, be prepared to set and respect new boundaries for yourself.

For instance, I recently discovered that scheduling a root canal the day before my cover reveal, during a PMS week, just prior to my first ever author panel, was Far Too Much. Note to self: I do not have enough cope for all (or indeed most) of that at once. It took me over a week to recover from these stacked stressors, even though most of them were positive or at least necessary.

Bad Janet of The Good Place gestures cynically and says "Who could've predicted that?"
I’m as shocked as you are!

Similarly, on the day of my first book launch, I didn’t take the day off work and I’d scheduled an appearance at a virtual event. By evening, I had no energy left to celebrate and enjoy myself. When the initial adrenaline of my debut release faded, it left me fatigued and wrung out like an emotional dishcloth, i.e. suffering from author drop.

On the flip side, it’s equally important to take note of what you did like, so you can do that more and again. Aftercare calls for processing the good with the bad. Journaling and reflection helps a lot with this, as does talking things out with a trusted person.

Consider memorializing some of the high points of the peak experience in tangible form. If people said nice things to you about your work, store those in a file for later. If you hit a sales goal, take screenshots of your orange banner.

Keep those memories on hand for the future. There will soon come times when the mundane weight of daily life becomes unbearable and the blank page reasserts its reign of ennui. In those moments, it helps to remember how it felt to soar the heights.

Healthy discipline holds space for kindness.

Whatever the context, in a culture that often enables abuse of power, it’s easy to confuse mastery and cruelty. But the two are not the same. Healthy relationships of all varieties, whether kinky, vanilla, platonic, or with our own sweet selves, require trust, tenderness, and care.

Kindness builds trust. Trust empowers us to rise to higher heights when opportunity calls. And good discipline means honoring our needs, including when we need to treat ourselves gently.

This week, I’m looking for ways to find that gentleness. On top of the cover reveal last week, I just finished April’s Camp NaNo last night with 30k words added to my draft of Cambion 3. I want to finish my first draft by June 1, which will require me to push myself a little harder.

Calling myself out here 😅

It’s not an easy balance to strike. But it’s worth striking with care. (Pun intended.)

Also! If you’re interested in reading a gothic romance that contrasts toxic and healthy dominance perfectly, with stunning, intoxicating prose, check out Briana Una McGuckin’s On Good Authority. You will not regret it (but you might fall in love with Valentine Hobbs).

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