How do you know that it’s time to stop thinking about a book—to stop taking notes and actually start writing it?

You’ve got me: I’m still waiting to figure that out.

Here’s how it works. The idea has introduced itself. It has promise; possibility. You like it. At the urging of the idea, the characters come to visit. It is an awkward first meeting. You forget their names, assuming you ever really knew them in the first place. The room is tense. They’re iffy about what you’ve served them for dinner. The conversation stalls. The characters don’t want to tell you about themselves. You can’t wait for the conversation to end…but you just can’t bring yourself to let these folks get away.

Somehow, impossibly, one of them tells you about the main character. You learn just enough about him to make him undeniably intriguing.

You’re introduced, you meet. It’s like a bad blind date. A job interview with cocktails. You and he don’t quite know what to say to one another. You think you’ve got something in common, but it isn’t clear what. Is there enough chemistry for another date? Maybe. Maybe. But the going is painfully slow. You can’t move the relationship forward; you can’t let it go back.

Where it is…it isn’t good enough. You want the thunderbolt. You want to know him instantly, deeply. You want to understand everything about him, and you want it now. You want the future, clear and certain. You want him to pick you up and throw you over his shoulder and carry you away. You want him smitten. You want him in love.

Somehow, love happens. But the fullness of it, the knowing of it: That’s going to take time.

Writing is a relationship. A slow-to-grow love affair with the ideas, the words, yourself. An emotion that takes its own sweet time to grow. It’s the building of trust on an ever-shifting emotional foundation. It’s the teeth-gnashing place of knowing that—-despite everything you can do—-you can do nothing more than wait to be chosen…because the choosing isn’t up to you.

You’ve got to stand back from it. To gain balance and perspective. It’s pointless to make demands of it; you’ll only push it away. Want too much too soon, and you end up with a notebook full of well-intentioned crap that has nowhere to go.

When it happens, it happens. You take the step between one stage of writerly existence to the next when there is nothing in the world you can do to stop it. This is the point where you can no longer deny everything the work insists that you give up, postpone, neglect. You will miss entire seasons. You will let the leaves pile up on the patio. You will watch the cobwebs accumulate in the corners and the lawn grow scruffy. You will forget that you promised yourself to clean the windows three weeks ago. You will neglect friends. You will forget to eat.

So, how do you know that it’s time to stop taking notes and start writing the damned thing?  It’s simple. It’s unmistakeable. It asks you.