I am not talking about writing. I'm convinced those of us compelled to tell our stories in words to be read can't stop doing it and remain our true selves. Writing is coded into our DNA.  Besides, talent—in whatever quantity—is a gift not to be scorned.

The giving up I'm thinking of has to do with those horrible times when a story just won't come together.

I've learned that sometimes a change of activity will make an appreciable difference. Having begun by applying backside to chair, I've had to make the decision to separate the two. Just get up from my desk and go do something else, preferably pleasurable.

Personally I usually cook or bake. By choice, something challenging. Croissants, a Pavlova, an old-fashioned Beef Wellington. (My husband always said he loved “plot problems.”) My drug of choice need not be yours. Walk or jog or go to the gym. Garden or knit or binge watch a favorite show. Whatever gets those analgesic endorphins going, that's what to do.


On occasion none of the above will work. Cue the kind of “giving up” to which I'm referring.

Sometimes the only way to find the direction a story (or a character, or a particular plot point) needs is to stop thinking so much about it. Sit down and start a scene. Any scene. Maybe the one you think should come next even though you have no idea of how it should actually be developed, much less how it should move the story forward. Perhaps a scene you've been working toward without actually knowing how you're going to get there. That critical moment when A confronts B, or C decides to leave D, or E writes the letter or finds the key or buys a ticket… A place in this ms you have known must come eventually, though just now you don't know how to get there.

In City of Dreams that's how I wrote the scene where Christopher tries his first blood transfusion (using dog blood). In Bristol House I did the scene where Giacomo the Lombard drags his daughter to Smithfield to watch the witches being burned in slow fires—at least fifty ms pages before it occurred—because I could not figure out how to bridge one of the transitions from contemporary to Tudor London. In 27 Sin Eaters Street… well, I'll tell you about that after the novel is published.

My point is that sometimes a writer need to give up worrying about how to get there and just go.  Write the scene. At least begin it. Set it somewhere.  Anywhere. You'll figure out later how the characters got there. Write a conversation without thinking about what brought it about, or what it portends. If normally you're someone who works from a detailed outline, rip it up (or at least set it aside).

Don't think about anything. Let the act of writing be the thinking. Let it move you into the zone.

This is writing from inside, from the gut. Writing as a kind of meditation; mindfulness achieved, perversely, by lack of concentration. Once in a while this sort of giving up and giving in leads to an enormous and quite wonderful breakthrough in the life of a particular ms. A blessing from the writing gods.

May they smile on us.