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Finishing the First Draft

Updated: Sep 25, 2018

The emotional uplift and loss of finishing a book lingers for weeks.

As I wrote the second half of No Fences in Alaska, my daily word count increased to 3500 - 5000 words. I could not do anything without seeing and hearing my characters—eating, walking my dogs, cleaning dishes: all happened without any conscious attention to the task. My brain seethed with possibilities, turning points I needed to reach, churning in overdrive until I couldn't think straight anymore and had to sleep. When I finished the book on a Friday night, after many choking tears, I felt both elated and lost.

Leaving the world of the book behind

I knew I would rewrite and revisit the story many times in the coming weeks before it was officially finished, but at that moment I felt such a tremendous sense of loss.

I had lived with characters I had created. Laughed with them. Cried. Then I had to leave as if the movie were over, though its effects would linger for days. I knew from writing my previous book—The War Blog— that it would be a long time before I could revisit the story without being overcome by a wave of emotion. How many times can one cry or laugh about the same events, after all? At some point, the callus develops and we no longer flinch when we get too close to the knife edge or the finger pointing toward our ribs. But now the wound is still raw, ready to bleed again.

The photo above depicts a significant place in the book, a ridge line overlooking the Teklanika River and glacier which feeds it. I have walked that ridge. I felt incredibly small and awestruck looking at the incomprehensible isolation and size of the place. Also, joy at having carried my pack to the top. Now my characters live there in both joy and sadness. And my readers will visit. When I hike there again, if I do, I can only imagine how different I will feel, sharing this place with so many others.

For a while I was able to live vicariously through a family's life of pain, regret, joy, and reconciliation. They still live and carry on without me. I hope to visit them again and help them extend their story. But now, I am still panting for air, hands grasping my knees, trying to keep from falling, wanting so badly to stand up again but worried that when I do that emotional high I have been on will drain into an ordinary, dull day.

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