27 April 2021

The Pause that Refreshes

Since the beginning of the year, I have read submissions to Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties, Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 3, and the special cozy issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine.

I then read, in quick succession, Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back, John Sandford’s Gathering Prey, and John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. 

When I finished them, I started reading the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which contains work from a significant number of SleuthSayers.

What I didn’t do is write.

That’s almost four months without finishing a new short story, a significant productivity gap considering I’ve had year-long stretches when I produced at least a story a week.

This weekend—only a few days before this post appears—I began writing again. Though I’ve not yet finished anything in my two days back at the keyboard, I’ve made progress on a trio of stories.


Write every day.

I’ve seen this advice repeated ad nauseam, and it’s good advice. Some writers need this structure in order to be productive, and other writers use it as a way to build a wall between them and their other responsibilities. (“I can’t do that now, this is my scheduled writing time!”)

But writing every day isn’t the only approach to productivity. Over the years I’ve had many writing gaps lasting from a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes real life demands our attention elsewhere, whether it’s a health issue, a family emergency, mandatory overtime at the day job, or a weather-related incident. And stepping away from the keyboard can be—when done by choice—a way to recharge one’s batteries and return to writing refreshed

In my case, time away was the result of a combination of things: a Snowpocalypse, editing responsibilities, and a week or so of binge reading to cleanse my literary palate.

I have returned refreshed, but I see another writing gap in the near future: All those stories I accepted for Groovy Gumshoes, Mickey Finn, and Black Cat need to be edited and prepared for publication.

With any luck, I can squeeze in a good bit of writing before the next pause.

April has been filled with good news:

“Last Waltz Across Texas” appears in the May/June Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

“Soiled Dove” appears in Crimeucopia: We’re All Animals Under the Skin.

“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” appears in Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the songs of Billy Joel (Untreed Reads), edited by Josh Pachter.

“If You’ve Got the Money, Honey” appears in Jukes & Tonks (Down & Out Books), edited by Gary Phillips and me. The anthology, which released Monday, April 19, appeared on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list that day (the Kindle edition at #65 and the paperback edition at #67), dropped off, and reappeared the next day (Kindle edition at #29 and the paperback edition at #36).

And the ITW Thriller Award nominees were announced. Two stories from Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 1 (Down & Out Books), which I edited, were nominated for Best Short Story: Alan Orloff’s “Rent Due” and Andrew Welsh-Huggins’s “The Mailman.”


  1. You are right: sometimes the creative well is dry and needs a bit of time to refill.

  2. I've been going through a dry spell, too, but it's good to know it happens to the best of us. I've only managed to write two stories this year, after writing a story about every ten days for the last half of 2020. Now maybe I'll stop beating myself up. I just wish I could be half as productive when I'm NOT writing...

  3. I'm glad to hear you speak up about this, Michael, and to hear Janice talk about the creative well rather than that pejorative and useless concept, writer's block. A dear friend who's a world-class artist in two disciplines, neither of them writing, recently said to me, "It is no one's business but yours how you use and define your own creative journey." At the moment, with three stories published in 2021, seven in press, and five on submission, I'm feeling as if I've said what I had to say in the medium of fiction. But that could change tomorrow. Who knows what might strike a spark? In the meantime, I'm stockpiling SleuthSayers blog posts. ;)

  4. Lotta good, hard work there Michael. Hope you are taking care of your health. When it starts to go, everything gets harder.

  5. So glad to see this. There are times when I feel as if I will never write another word. But there's always a return email, a grocery list, or an irate letter to some news editor, so writing of some sort does happen daily. I agree with Elizabeth Zelvin above - it ain't nobody's business if I take the day, week, month, or year off - the ember can flame up at any time.

  6. Ah, yes - the blank spaces. The pause. The time off.
    But it always comes back, because it's in our DNA.

  7. Thanks for this, Michael! I should be writing more full-length stories but I seem to take unintended breaks too! Congrats on the publications!


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