The Book I’ll Never Finish

blank typewriterTHE BEST THING ABOUT WRITING A BOOK IS ALSO THE WORST THING.

You’re glad it’s done, it’s even hard to believe. An idea on a scrap of paper becomes a few sentences on your Notes app becomes a title page becomes a first chapter becomes more pages and more chapters and on and on until, without warning, you reach The End.

You should feel great — and for a while, you do. You focus on the agents and the synopsis, all the mundane details of launching your innocuous little story into the collective. Accomplishment courses through you like a glorious drug.

But the highly hardly lasts. And coming down is a bitch.

Soon your nemesis is back — that blank page teasing you, taunting you, daring you to christen it with a cogent thought. “So you just wrote 100,000 words and went through three drafts, big fucking deal! What’s next, loser? Or is that all you got?” 

And some people wonder why writers drink (I don’t know any of those people, but I assume they exist.)

But here’s the thing — the blank page isn’t wrong. “Mercy,” the book I just completed, may very well be all I’ve got. The idea well is dry, overflowing instead with work-related flotsam and other life-related “stuff.” Reality is the enemy of imagination.

I’ve felt this way before, right after I finished “Zaria’s Gate” in fact. Then one night I woke up at 2 AM and wrote “Death Row inmate comes back to life after execution,” and well, there went the next two-plus years.

I still wake up at 2 AM, and 3 AM, and sometimes 4 and 5 AM, waiting for the idea to come, but unlike before, inspiration eludes me like a receding tide. It feels just out of reach, as if I could only just stretch far enough I could grab it. It’s a cruel game that the universe is winning.

Everyone has a story, they say. Everyone has a book inside them waiting to come out. I’ve had more than my fair share, so maybe this really is it.

The beginning of the book I’ll never finish.

That is what’s really stopping me, what I’m really afraid of. The book I want to write is the one I don’t want to end. The one about what happens next, where my daughter grows up and raises a family of her own, where my wife and I end every night with a whiskey neat. The book with an infinite number of chapters, of twists and turns, of conflict and resolution and transformation.

You can put yourself inside a story; it’s where I love to hide. But when the only story left is you, then everything is exposed. The fiction of your life evaporates, until all that remains is that damn blank page.

I’m glad “Mercy” is done, and I’ll be happy when it’s out in the world. And if that’s all there is, then so be it.

I may not finish another book — but I have a lot more writing to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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