This blog was featured on 07/28/2017
How to Finish a Book, Part I
Contributor

I have a quote above my desk by Neil Gaiman that reads, “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you’ll ever learn from something you never finished.”

About three years ago, the driving force that motivated the writing of my memoir suddenly resolved itself.

At first I wrote about my micro preemie twins because I thought I’d discovered the secret to blocking out emotional pain. The methodology was quite intricate, based in strategies gleaned from cognitive science research, but it boiled down to this: just don’t think about it.

Of course, as I started to flesh out scenes and show my work to other writers, it became clear that in order to write about the NICU I would have to think about it. In my examination of why I didn’t feel any emotional trauma from the three months my sons spent in the hospital, I began to feel emotional trauma. Lots.

So I wrote about that, too. I wrote about what it felt like to push away feelings and what it felt like to have them rush back. It’s cumbersome to use words to talk about something so formless and yet so forceful. I found myself describing feelings in terms of colors (synesthesia is the technical term for it).

When I figured out that I could talk about feelings and emotions in terms of ballet steps, everything clicked into place. I dug deep. I revisited old demons and bitter resentments. I gave them breath and life and let them fly away.

For two years I was driven to examine memories and play with images, craft dialogue and record body language in order to convey discomfort, sadness, grief, everything that those characters could not express in words. It was exhilarating.

And then a terrible thing happened.

I lost my need to write about my micro preemie twins and our time in the NICU.

It came on suddenly and with such satisfaction, like the slamming of a door. I was done. I didn’t need to write about this ever again. I could write something else, something lighter, like the memoir of a family of five who dances in the Nutcracker. Or a novel about three editors who quit the publishing industry to write erotic fiction.

A part of me was relieved to move on; it wasn’t a pleasant thing to have gone through, even if I did have closure.

But another part of me realized that if I didn’t figure out how to make this into a book, I’d never finish anything. I’d get stuck at this exact same point in the next project.

The reason to write was gone. But the need to finish was still there.

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