When writing is about not writing

Yesterday I was cranky.  I was cranky because no matter what I tried, my brain did not want to do any work.  It wasn’t just that it didn’t want to write; most writers run into that fairly frequently.  My brain didn’t want to do any work.  I had woken up with the beginnings of a migraine and lost a couple of hours to wrangling it, so I needed to make up for lost time.

I duct-taped my wrists to the keyboard and ignored the voice in my head that told me it wanted to nap and watch movies.  I had work to do, and I am a Disciplined Writer.  I just barely managed to remove duplicate email addresses from my mailing list and return some emails.  Then my brain rebelled.  It flatly refused to scan social media marketing opportunities, research my op-ed, or map out the plot points of the first two books on big pieces of paper so that I could use them to see the arc of the third book.  Every time I tried, overwhelming sleepiness, a reborn migraine, or the need to eat large quantities of sugar overcame me.

But I am a Disciplined Writer and so I told my brain it was time to get to work.  Secrets of the Wolves comes out in two weeks and I have a third book to write.  I’ve learned that a writer must be disciplined, that a writer must stick to her schedule and work even when she doesn’t feel like it if she’s to complete her books.  And this is true.  Most of the time.

Fortunately, my brain was smarter than I was.  It pulled a fast one on me.  A friend had just returned my copy of Mockingjay, and I decided to take a short break to flip through the book to see what the brilliant Suzanne Collins did to structure her third book.  The next thing I knew it was two hours later and I’d re-read the entire book.  Then I was hit by a sneak nap attack. Then I found myself pacing my apartment, thinking random thoughts that had nothing to do with the work I was supposed to be doing.  Then it was 4:15 pm and time to leave for an appointment.

I was furious with myself.  I had wasted an entire day when I have no time to waste. I tried again to work at night.  More random thoughts,  an episode of 30 Rock, and no work.  I went to bed discouraged and disappointed in myself.

And woke up with a key plot point–possibly the key plot point–of Journey of the Wolves, fully formed in my head. More or less.  I opened my email to a New York Times wolf alert (you can have NYT send you articles about chosen topics).  The article was about how the removal of top predators can change an ecosystem.  I haven’t read the article yet, only the headline, and I already know about the relationship of top predators to ecosystem well-being.  But the headline triggered something and the scene presented itself to me.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure that that’s what my brain was trying to work on yesterday.  The scene solves a problem I’ve been trying to solve since I was halfway through writing Secrets, and it is going to be pivotal not just to the plot of the book, but to Kaala’s character development.  My brain just wanted me to let it alone so that it could do its creative work, but had to basically knock me out to make me do so.

So this is what I’ve learned (for about the fortieth time, because this has happened many, many times before):  sometimes you need to not work. Sometimes you need to let your subconscious–or the creative force of the universe, or wherever it is the ideas actually come from–take over.  I work so hard at my writing, work so hard at being disciplined and improving my craft, that sometimes I forget that you have to play to write.  That you have to wander and let your brain gambol and leap.  I hope that next time I remember in time to enjoy the process.

Now back to work…


  1. You’re right. When you don’t find the right way to work, to write, you just have to not work.
    Read, walk, see a movie, make your brain free and then you’ll find the will to write again.

  2. I just wrote something last week about how we can’t poop if we don’t eat. Meaning our creative output will come to screeching halt if we aren’t getting any creative input.
    I was happy when I walked into B&N the other day and found Secrets of the Wolves on a display table! I didn’t know it was time yet, and there it was! So excited to find out what happens next. I love stories told from animal POV, but they’re almost impossible to find once you’re an “adult reader”. Thanks for not following the rules and writing the story you wanted to tell exactly how it needed to be told!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Dorothy, I LOVE THE WOLF CHRONICLES!!!! I think you are a great writer. I have probably read your books a hundred times I am your number 1 fan! I want to know so so so badly when the 3rd book to the wolf chronicles is coming out because i just finished the 2nd one not to long ago and you left it on such a cliffhanger! i have been trying to find ways to get a hold of you and this is the only way i found so please email me back. I would love to talk to you about your book series and other books. I would also love to give you ideas for any other books you will be writing, i would also love your help on trying to talk my book club into reading the wolf chronicles. I really want to get to know you and have conversations with you. I read your blog everyday!
    Please contact me at [email protected]

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