I'm in that weird floaty space now; I no longer have to go to class or write papers. I'm essentially done, save for any future changes my program will require of me for my thesis before graduation in December.
I should clarify: the novel-as-thesis is done, but the novel itself is far from finished. Over the next several months, I will be adding another 100-150 pages to the text in order to fully flesh out not only the story, but the characters. If you are not forever falling down the rabbit hole of your novel, you're not working hard enough. There's always something that can be changed or altered, something in need of tweaking or a character in need of complicating.
There is a mantra I heard over and over again during my graduate program: "Find your readers." The gist of this statement is that, as a writer (or any other artistic endeavor), you should find the people that will not only read your work, but critique the hell out of it so that you can make it better. These are the people that might be your closest friends, but who aren't afraid of saying "Oh hell no. This doesn't work. Here's why." These people are invaluable because if you've found the right ones, you'll all understand it's not a competition between you. You're all trying to simply be better at what you do. There's no way to tell if the market will like your product or your friend's product or your friend's friend's product better than anything else. Instead, you focus on your own and amplify it to the point that it can't be ignored by the vast population of readers.
I have a few people that I would call "my readers" and I wouldn't trade them for anything. There's no sugarcoating in their responses when I've knowingly given them something that's crap. The sections of my work that I've got the most doubt about are picked off easily by my readers, which means they understand where my flaws are as well as I do (or think I do). I trust them because there is no facade, no veneer hiding sinister intentions, no ulterior motives other than to see my work get better. I'd like to think that I reflect this ideology back, not only to them, but to others who ask if I would read or edit something for them.
I no longer have deadlines now, other than the ones that I set for myself. If I want to accomplish "x" number of pages by Friday, then I do it. If it takes me longer, so be it, but the lack of a true goal of that sort can be misleading. Without the pressure, it can be easy to fall into a slump where you don't write at all for months. Since I know this book needs work and since I know I want to send it out to be considered for publishing by the end of the year, I have to pick up the reins of my own horse-cart and point it in the direction of my choosing. It's this post-education fallout time where you find out how badly you want something and if you've got the right people around you supporting your decisions without a filter, then you're golden.
Every couple of months I like to remove as many distractions from my life as possible so I can focus on the work. Today is that time again. I will be disabling my Facebook account for the next three months (September, October, November) in the hopes that I can get 10 pages a week done before December 1st. I am back on a sleep schedule that has me going to bed at 7pm and waking up at 2am so that I can write for several hours before going to work at 7am. It sounds more brutal than it actually is and with my disconnect from most social media and social gatherings, the work gets the attention it not only needs, but deserves. Most of my friends (both here in San Francisco and back home in Kansas City) understand and support this decision every time because they get it, even if they aren't writers themselves.