I wonder if all writers have this book in us: the one that burns a hole in our brains, wakes us in the middle of the night with its people, and its scenes, and its heart crushing realness. It’s the one your mind drifts to during the day, and the one that hijacks your dreams. It’s the book that demands to be written, even when you’d rather be writing something else: something funny, something fluffy, something that’s more like fun, like escapism, like the reason you wanted to write to begin with.

This is the book that sneaks into everything, the one that your mind drifts to when it’s tired. This is the book that leaks into your other writings, the one that bleeds onto the page while you’re trying to shove it away and write something easier, something you think other people will like, something in line with your other books that people seem to enjoy.

This is not a fun book. It sinks its teeth into you. It leaves scars. It opens old wounds and laughs while it does so. It feels like fiction, and you call it fiction.

But it isn’t.

Not entirely.

This is the book that insists on being written. You try to tamp it down as you type, because it seems too heavy, too dark. It’s not fun like the others. There’s humor, sure, just like in your real life—but underneath is a current of something darker, something that has become more obvious to you as the years went by and your hair began to gray. You keep trying to steer the story in the direction you want it to go, but this book is stubborn. It’s not interested in what you want.

Soon it seeps into everything. And you have to write it, or else it expands, crowding out all of your other thoughts until your head feels like a pressure cooker, and you have no choice but to write the words it demands, and release the valve, and free up those parts of your brain that you need to do daily tasks, like shop for groceries and balance your checkbook.

This is the book that is so hard to write. It’s the thing that claws at you in the wee hours. The thing you don’t like to talk about unless you’ve had a few glasses of wine. It steals your breath sometimes, and it makes your chest hurt. This is not a pretty book. It might not have a happy ending. (In fact, you’re pretty sure it doesn’t.) It’s not a book they’ll one day make into a rom-com. It’s one that people you know will almost certainly see themselves in, and sometimes those people are close to you, and you wonder if those people will ever read your book, and if they’ll imagine themselves in the pages.

Most of what you write feels like fiction: it’s imagined, it’s constructed. It goes the way you planned. But this book—it feels raw. And though you disguise it with fictional characters and towns, it feels like you are revealing too much: you are telling too much truth. But you have to. This is the book that wants to be written. This is the book that has its claws in you. Often, writing it feels like a slog. The writing of this book does not come easy—not like your other books. You stare at blank pages until your eyes water. You think you are wasting your time. The pieces don’t fall neatly into place. The words are difficult to type. They are jagged, and sharp, and tear at your soft edges. They make you think this is the worst thing you have ever written.

But maybe, it’s the realest thing you’ve ever written.

This is not therapeutic. This book takes drags you into dark corners, and sometimes leaves you there. You don’t feel better after the words are on the page. But you know they have to be written. This is the book that has sunk its teeth into you. But this book has something that maybe your other books don’t have. It has a beating heart, just like the others, but this book has wounds and scars, just like you do. It has ragged edges and sharp corners. It might not end well, but it will end the way it must. It is like an arrow, piercing and true.

When you get to the end, it’s hard to describe. You don’t feel better. You don’t feel broken, but you do feel bruised. You feel like you did the thing that the story wanted you to do. But you feel exhausted, and vulnerable, and raw.

This is the book that is so hard to write.