Saturday 18 July 2020

What if this is the Last Book You’ll Ever Write?

By Nick Cross

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Not to get too morbid here, but it’s definitely going to happen that you’ll stop writing at some point in the future. Either through disease, or death, or taking up some exciting new hobby like competitive topiary. Would the knowledge that you’re writing your last book help or hinder your current work-in-progress?

Eight years ago, I became convinced that the book I was writing would be my last. My magnum opus. Of course, it didn’t help that I was suffering from a serious mental illness and feared that I might die at any second. Or that I felt my agent at the time was pressuring me to finish the book so we could get it out on submission. Anyhow, I pushed and struggled my way through that novel, with a weird mix of fear, self-hatred and messianic overconfidence.

Photo by Christine Keller on Unsplash

Looking back, I’m not sure how I got through that period. What I really should have done is stop writing and trying to get published, because that was part of the reason why I got sick in the first place. If I’d had more of a flair for the dramatic, perhaps I might have taken my own life after typing THE END. I certainly had plenty of suicidal thoughts to work with. But somehow I clung on, through the disappointment of my agent rejecting the book, through me leaving her and the book failing to find a publisher (thought to be fair, it hardly had a fair shot as I only sent it to three editors).

I was wrong about a lot of things from that period, not least that it would be the last book I’d ever write (I’ve written another four since then). But something has kept pulling my thoughts back to the novel I’d written during that dark time, a feeling of unfinished business. Was it still the masterpiece I’d imagined it to be?

Well, no.

It isn’t bad, actually, but it definitely isn’t world-changing in its current form. They say that you should leave your manuscript in a drawer for as long as you can to get a fresh perspective on it, but I’m not sure they were thinking about eight years! Still, I’d recommend it if you feel you can spare the time. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that it’s just a book, something that can be revisited and moulded into a different form. With the guidance of my new (and much nicer) agent, I’m doing just that, rewriting it as a graphic novel. The rewrite is still not an easy process, but at least there’s a lot less drama this time around.

It’s fascinating looking back at my life and work from such a distance, seeing how much my mental state bled into the characters I’d created. The protagonist is burdened by massive guilt and self-loathing, putting himself in dangerous situations in the hope he might be set free by death. Medication to control behaviour is everywhere. Even the overriding concept of the novel is an elaborate metaphor for depression.

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

If the novel I wrote reflected the man I was then, the new version will surely reflect me now – older, somewhat wiser and definitely more cynical. It’s ironic that we’ve just gone through another period of maximum fear and loathing during lockdown, a period that was not helpful in the least to my creative process, and during which I wrote very little. It’s only since the emergence of a tentative new normal that I’ve been able to start moving forward on the book again, to recognise the kind of persistent, low-level depression many of us have been suffering from in the last few months. And with that realisation comes the uncomfortable truth that I will never be truly free of mental illness, just better able to recognise and control it.

There’s an argument that knowing you were working on your final book wouldn’t change anything, because to write successfully you must pour the whole of yourself into the work, holding nothing back. And while I understand that theory, it also puts a hell of a lot of pressure on you as a writer, denying you the space to experiment and make mistakes. By all means, write your heart out and leave an amazing legacy of work for future generations. But don’t forget to be kind to yourself and others while you’re still here.


Nick Cross is a children's writer/illustrator and Undiscovered Voices winner. He received a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.
Nick is also the Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures magazine. His Blog Break column appears fortnightly on W&P.


  1. So true. I suffer from Last Book syndrome, the fear that there will be no next book. Time really is the great healer (and the great changer of perspective) ... very good advice. Yes, let's be kind to ourselves! Hurry slowly, no need to panic. There will be another book.

  2. The drive to write and 'succeed' by being published can be so self destructive. As if it's a race that must be won. I'm really pleased you survived, Nick, and that you're in a better place now with a better perspective on writing and its place in your life xxx

  3. I've had this exact feeling with my new book, I've never had it before, I put it down to covid stress but it's actually been quite useful - especially in the first weeks when i felt so low all i wanted to do was walk and walk. Mental health has such profound affects on everything we do. Great piece Nick, thanks for sharing x

  4. I'm glad you've been able to go back to it with a fresh perspective Nick and sorry that things were so hard the first time round.

  5. Yes, my furloughed husband has been busily building a home office for me to write in and I keep thinking - why? Good advice, Nick.


Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom