Why I can’t finish my novel

I can’t finish my second novel, Waiting For My Daughter’s Ghost.

I have it written and edited, up to the last chapter. I even have the last chapter outlined and more than enough segments in rough-draft to basically finish the book, but I can’t do it.

For the longest time I wondered why: Why was I balking? Why didn’t I just sit down and finish the damned thing? Was I afraid that it wasn’t good enough? Or was I simply unable to let go, to loosen my grasp and move on?


Then I was invited to a rehearsal of Alaska playwright Arlitia Jones’ new work Come to Me, Leopard.

The play centers on a missing woman runner, and Jones loosely modeled the idea after a woman who was kidnapped and murdered here in Anchorage last year.

After the rehearsal (and the play is good, people. Anyone in Anchorage reading this needs to scurry down to Cyrano’s within the next few weeks and watch this), I sat down with Jones for a short interview. She said something so true to my own situation that it was like looking in the mirror. She said that she couldn’t write the scene where the woman is found missing. She knew she had to but she just couldn’t do it. She put it off, she avoided it.

“I had a really hard time writing this,” she said. “I knew what it was about. I couldn’t decide when I was going to write, ‘She’s missing.’ It killed me, to write this. I avoided and avoided it. I couldn’t write it.”

I thought about this all night and I thought about it the next afternoon, too, when my partner and I went for an 11-mile run through the mountains. The air was cold and crisp and all around was silence, and I thought about my book and my life and realized that I couldn’t write about loss because I hadn’t coped with my own losses. I hadn’t faced them. I had tucked them away in my mind and left them stranded there.

So this week has been about letting go. It’s been about finishing my book and letting go of my own losses at the same time. It hasn’t been easy. I was sick for two days and at first I thought it was food poisoning and perhaps it was, but I also think it was the weight of that loss releasing from my body.

I don’t know how to transfer such strong emotion to my book. I’m writing about a mother who loses her daughter in a stillborn birth and later loses two marriages and two husbands due to the inability to forgive herself for this loss. I have to resolve my own three miscarriages and what they meant to me at the time and what they mean to me now. Not easy stuff, people. Not easy at all.

But everyone finds solace somewhere. For my character, Sasha, it’s with her dog. For me, it’s in the mountains.

Middle Fork Loop, Anchorage
Middle Fork Loop trail travels through this valley, which is hushed and lovely and so still, except for the wind.

Poetry crush: I can’t get Debra Marquart’s poem Door-to-Door out of my head. It’s lovely and amusing and smart and clever, and the cadence sticks in your head and refuses to let go. Give it a read, if you have a moment. It’s featured in the current issue of Narrative Magazine.

Next up: Kevin Brennan stops by for a visit Friday. Brennan, author of Out Children Are Not Our Children and Parts Unknown, release Yesterday Road this week.

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