It’s Time To Stop

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” –Fred Rogers

By PJ Parrish

A sequence of events this past month has been making me chew on a pretty important question: When is it time to stop writing?

I don’t mean stop writing whatever you’re working on. That’s a relatively easy decision that might mean abandoning a book that’s going nowhere and finding a new story to tell. I’m talking about the R-word.

Yup, this makes it official, crime dogs. I am retiring.

It is time to stop writing books. I know this now with all my heart. I have been thinking about this for about three years. Back then, like all of you, was feeling really at sea and done-in by the Covid scare. I figured it would pass and I would go back to my work in progress.

But now I know, this is it. Time to stop, hang up the cleats, and ride off into the Michigan sunset. Don’t fret for me. I am really happy with this decision. I just wonder why it took me three years to finally come to terms with it.

Here’s the thing. I am getting old. I am healthy and reasonably well off, thank God. But I want to use my time more wisely, while I still have the marbles and mobility to do so. As I said, some events of late have helped me to this place. I have two dear friends who are fighting cancer battles. Both are doing okay right now (one friend, who was really sick, now is back to skating in his over-65 hockey league!). But my time with them now is especially precious. As it is with my husband and small family. Also of late, I have had several writing friends confess privately that they are worn out and want to pull back from the publishing rat race. All are successful, have nice backlists and contracts. Several came home from the Bouchercon writer’s con with Covid and feelings that there are other ways they want to spend their time and money. I sense a retrenchment among the old guard.

Here’s the second thing. Writing is work. It’s not a physical thing. Writing takes no toll on the body. But it devours your time and energy. Alice Munro said, as she retired, “I don’t have the energy anymore.” Yes, writing is joyful and sure as hell beats filling potholes or waiting tables. But if you’re doing it right, it is a job. More so now that it has ever been, as the traditional publishing support system has deteriorated. You have to punch that time-card, at least five days a week.

John Updike used to rent a one-room office above a restaurant, where he would report to write six days a week. John Cheever famously put on his only suit and rode the elevator with the 9-to-5 crowd, only he would proceed down to the basement to write in a storage room.

I’ve been working fulltime since I was 18. I don’t want a job anymore. I have other things I want to do with those 40-plus hours. For health reasons (chronic back pain), I need a consistent exercise regimen. I want to travel more. I want to devote time to friends, family and my dogs. I want to keep my garden going. I want to learn more languages. I want to go back to the piano lessons I had to give up ten years ago. I want to read for pleasure. If things work out, I’d like to go live aboard for a while.

As Mr. Rogers says, when you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.

I think we make it hard on writers to retire. Maybe it’s because we imagine them as magical machines that produce pleasure just for us. As Don Winslow said, as he announced his retirement a while back, “I think a lot of people don’t expect writers to retire. They expect us to just keel over at the keyboard.”

Stephen King tried to retire but it didn’t take. In 2002, after almost dying in a bad accident, King said he was walking away from his horror show. But he barely slowed down, and just released his 64th book this month. More power to him.

When Lee Child retired, he handed care of Reacher over to his younger brother, and retreated to a ranch in Wyoming, where his only neighbors are moose and mountain lions. He claims he will never write another book.

Child said one reason he’s retiring from his series is because he struggles to identify with a younger audience. “I’m rapidly getting out of date,” Child told the Australian Financial Review, “and Reacher has always been behind the curve with technology.”

The timing was right, he says. “I had made myself a promise based on reading other people’s series … that I would never phone it in, and I never have. I cannot keep this up forever.”

I really get this one. I had a really great run that lasted almost 30 years. I made some money, won some awards, made the bestseller list. I have lovely memories of meeting fans and reading their emails and letters. I never phoned it in. No one wants to be the Brett Favre of crime fiction.

With our last series book, The Damage Done, we left our character Louis Kincaid in a very good place. We didn’t realize at the time it would be the last Louis book, but now as I re-read its ending, I know his character arc has come to a full, almost spiritual, conclusion.

And as Lee says, no one wants to be an anachronism. Through my work with the Edgars, I get a front row seat on the next generation of crime writers. Our genre is changing and as Brian Wilson wrote, I just wasn’t made for these times.

So what does retirement look like for me? Sort of like it does for Lee Child. “I’m going to buy a real comfortable sofa, and I’m just going to read for the rest of my life,” he says. “I was born in Europe. I have no work ethic.”

Like me, he feels the pull of other interests: “I’m an extremely poor guitarist,” he says, “and I may try to get better.”

But what about The Kill Zone? I’d like to stick around, if that’s okay with you all. I won’t have any new books to tout and I can’t contribute a whit about what’s going on with AI, YA, Amazon’s ACX, Binkist, or any other trend with initials. But I can help new folks with critiques and maybe start conversations here about what makes for good storytelling because that never changes.

So, be happy for me. Think of me as Mr. Chips, dawdling in the TZK doorway, going on and on about the value of friendship, the beauty of craftsmanship, and the need for reverence of our grenre’s forebearers. Haec olim meminisse iuvabit. 

Peace out.

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About PJ Parrish

PJ Parrish is the New York Times and USAToday bestseller author of the Louis Kincaid thrillers. Her books have won the Shamus, Anthony, International Thriller Award and been nominated for the Edgar. Visit her at

49 thoughts on “It’s Time To Stop

  1. Thinking takes energy that I don’t always have, these days. If I worked every day and didn’t waste time on “social” media, I could crank out four novels this year. But my non-fiction project takes priority. I could use a vacation. I feel a need to rest.
    “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep . . . “

    • This might seem a stupid question, but does non fiction exert the same pull as fiction on you? Does it take the same amount of energy or does it feel different? To my imagination, conjuring up worlds from nothing seems more draining. I love doing research, for instance, and sometimes always thought I would have been more at home in non fiction. 🙂 Maybe that’s my newspaper background speaking.

      • Ⓠ[D]oes non fiction exert the same pull as fiction on you?
        ⒶIt’s different. Non-fiction is more analytical, less creative. The paper of Hans Stuyck et al✻ leads me to believe that creative work is mostly handled by the Guardienne, i.e., the intuitive part of the brain, but analytical work (cognition) is the province of the intellect. Evocation of the Guardienne is a pleasurable experience, separate from cognition. OTOH, at a conscious level, analysis is just work. It may also be fun, but hasn’t the gut level reward of intuition in action when the Guardienne is active.

        ⓆDoes it take the same amount of energy?
        ⒶI don’t really know the answer to that question. Energy expenditure by the Guardienne is an unconscious process, so I have no direct measure of the energy involved.

        Ⓠ Or does it feel different?
        Part of the problem is that the Guardienne has no conscience and the Intellect does. Thus the latter has to work harder to overcome self-criticism. My guess is that the net energy requirement of non-fiction exceeds that of fiction by a large factor, perhaps as much as five to one, so yes, it feels different.

  2. Congratulations! A successful career, goals achieved, honors earned. Now the weight off, the stress of deadlines gone, time to indulge in whatever catches your fancy. And the willingness to share your skills and knowledge with other writers will keep you close to something you love without wearing you out. I wish for you a long and relaxing retirement, spending time with those you love, following other pursuits.

  3. I totally understand your decision. There just comes a time when we know a big change is needed. Loved your phrase “marbles and mobility.” And I’m so glad you mentioned mobility. I’ve watched so many people lose their mobility, becoming confined to a bed or barely moving with a walker—mobility is something none of us take seriously enough (and quite frankly the medical community sucks at preventive health on mobility issues), so I’m elated that’s one of the things top-most on your mind. Have a lovely relaxing retirement from writing and enjoy doing other things in life!

    One other thing: “Child said one reason he’s retiring from his series is because he struggles to identify with a younger audience.”

    This hits an emotional trigger for me. As a writer, I constantly wrestle with the fact that what I love most—the western (although my definition may not be exactly the same as others) is not very popular. Americans seem to have lost the joy of our wide open spaces and a nation before virtual living and wall-to-wall cities became the norm. Yet while I feel fewer readers can identify, I can’t spend all my time precious time writing stuff outside my interest. I’ve gotta write what I want to write and let it find it’s own niche, whatever size that may be. I can’t imagine writing anything set in contemporary times. I leave that to others.

    • Yeah, the physical thing is a real issue. So far, I am okay with my back but 8 intensive weeks of PT last year convinced me (Well, my therapists convinced me) that I needed to pay serious homage to consistent care of my poor old bones. That means every day.

      As for your issue with westerns, that’s a tough one. When I was first starting out I have a deep love of historical fiction and my romances went in that direction, depsite my agent’s attempts to steer me to contemporaries, which were hot at the time. Going back to what I said to JG above, I have always loved doing research. 🙂 Why write if it’s not want you truly want to write?

      • ⓆWhy write if it’s not want you truly want to write?
        ⒶAnother excellent question! For me, the immediate feely rewards of fiction are much greater than non-fiction. So why do I write the latter? Because I think it has a tiny chance to be more useful.

  4. Those are all good reasons, Kris. But you will still be writing, here at TKZ at least, and we’re glad for that. You have a wealth of knowledge even the “next gen” kids need to assimilate. Coach “Prime” (Deion Sanders) is turning the U. of Colorado football program around by going “old school.” Sometimes, that’s the best school.

    Keep the faith, Chips.

    • Ha! Love your reference to Prime Time. (He’s wacky but gotta give him his due). He might be old school but his kids seem to love him.

  5. I can totally understand. I’ve been considering the “R” word more and more. I’ve slowed down so I’m producing one new book this year and feeling no guilt. That’s a normal pace for traditionally published authors. More than once, I’ve though about calling this book “Deadly Endings” and letting Gordon find another job.
    I’m not getting younger, and I have places I want to go, and I want to get there while I still have the health to enjoy traveling. I’m enjoying learning more about photography, and that “hobby” goes very well with travel.
    I’m not ready to abandon the writing, but my pace is changing.
    Good luck to you, and of course we want to keep seeing you at TKZ.

  6. You echoed my thoughts. I’ve reached an age where I’m not sure I want to devote my time to writing and more than writing, to marketing. Like you, I’ve seen friends pass, others are ill, and I realize I need to spend time with those I love. I don’t know if it’s the right time for me to quit, but I feel that time is coming, and coming fast.

  7. I’m glad you’ll stay with KZB, Kris. I’ve benefited from your columns and enjoyed your books. Your contribution to the world will persist. (Is Kelly hanging up the laptop also?)

    I’m in a different place, having “just” started writing about ten years ago. So writing is at the top of my bucket list. But it’s a commitment rather than a job. Your comments about keeping up-to-date do raise questions. I think I’ll have to make my stories more and more “historical.”

    One question: I seem to recall comments about revising some of your earlier Kincaid novels. Are all the versions on Amazon now the revised versions?

    Thanks for your contributions.

    • That’s another thing that factors into this — we are still trying to get all our backlist up on Amazon. We’ve slowly gotten the rights back to almost all the books but getting them into new ebook form and trade paperback takes patience, time and energy. (ie you have to first get a Word doc since we don’t have acess to the publisher’s final version). You have to send it out to be scanned. Then you have to carefully edit that document for typos, get new cover designed (can’t use publishers). Then format it to Amazon’s standards, write back copy, etc etc. Luckily, Kelly has taught herself to do most of this work. And I do all the typo-editing. But it’s a grind. What we have currently on Amazon are the versions as they were originally published (maybe with some minor tweaking as we see fit). But we still haven’t finished rewriting our very first book to the standards we want in order to get it up there. We’ve got about a full year of backlist work to keep us busy.

      Maybe I should blog about this process….

  8. Here’s to the next phase of your life, Kris! To echo Vera above, may it be happy and very fulfilling. I’m so glad you will still be with us here, sharing your insights and experience. I always learn so much from each of your posts.

    • Thanks to you, Laura and Dale. I still enjoy hanging out here with you guys and love the conversations.

  9. I get it, Kris. Priorities need to be with loved ones and health. Grateful you’re sticking around TKZ to continue to share your knowledge with us.

    My father used to say, “salud, pesetas y amor y tiempo para gozarlos.” Health, money, and love, and time to enjoy them.

    • I have to assume that is Spanish? I am currently learning Italian and that didn’t ring a bell. 🙂

      • Yes, Spanish. My father lived in Bolivia in his youth.

        Kudos to you for learning a new language. That keeps the marbles rolling in the right direction.

  10. Congratulations, Kris, on a long and successful career. And, good for you, having the courage to do what you want to do. We’ll miss more Louis Kincaid stories, but we will be happy that you are still writing here at TKZ, dispensing your knowledge and wisdom.

    Enjoy exploring that new world out there, with time to invest in the things that are important to you.

    Safe travels and exploration.

    • Thanks Steve! I feel sort of relieved finally going public. If I wore watches, I’d go get myself a gold one. But never wore one so I will go buy a bag of Goldfish crackers today to have with my gimlet tonight.

  11. Congratulations, Kris! It takes a wise person to know when to get off the train. I’m glad you’re staying on at TKZ, though, to continue giving guidance to the rest of us.

    Best wishes for much happiness as you begin new adventures with those you love.

  12. Congratulations on your retirement. I’m late to the writing game, starting at 52 a decade ago. From the start I went Indie. I can’t imagine writing to someone else’s deadlines. This past summer I’ve slowed down drastically because of life getting in the way. I like that I’ve been able to write short stories (10k) to somewhat feed my readers. I’m hoping to return to more production in the late fall. I have 23 books published and hope to have 200 by age 100. Time, interests, health, and imagination will impact that goal. I just finished enjoying JD Robb’s 57th In Death series and it’s inspirational to see that she can keep a series alive for so long. I’m glad you’re choosing to hang around this blog as I’ve enjoyed your stories.

    • Thanks Alec. And hey, 52 is hardly too late to start. And you know, sometimes, there’s a time to begin again. To everything, turn, turn, turn…

  13. Congrats, Kris!

    Know that you’ve taught this newbie a lot about the pubbing process, and the craft itself.

    I wish for you fair weather, good friends, and new adventures galore. And, along with everyone else lining the TKZ halls this morning waiting to shake your hand, I’m glad you’re still going to be showing up here.


    • Just back from a day of kayaking with good friends. We had the Crystal River all to ourselves today on a sunny 70-degree day. Our only companions were trout, blue herons and a young buck deer. It was a splendid day.

  14. Welcome to the other side. I’ve been retired from writing and teaching for several years, and I’ve not regretted either. My characters sometimes come to play, but I’ve convinced them it’s okay not to be on paper.

    Take care of yourself and enjoy your life, family, and friends.

    • Yeah, then you know that pre-retirement, you fret about it but once the decision is made, you know it is right.

  15. Thank you for sticking around at TKZ! I’m like others who came to writing late and I’ve been published since 2014 so next year will be 10 years. I was writing two books a year, but starting with the one I’m working on now, it will only be one book a year.

    Wishing you the best on the next leg of your journey!

  16. It takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing, Kris. Your decision actually tugs at my heart. DARK OF THE MOON was one of the first books I was ever asked to blurb. I don’t know if mine made it to the cover copy, but that was the day I fell in love with Louis. I feel like we shared our freshman year together.

    I confess that I’ve been flirting with the same decision, but that is a hard trigger to pull. Here’s wishing you nothing best in the years to come.

    • Oh yes indeed, your blurb was there, prominently on the back of the hard cover. We were so grateful, believe me. Was John S your editor in those days? He was so good to us. I missed him when we moved on. I never felt more support than when we were at Kensington. It was probably, I will admit, not the right decision to leave. But so be it.

      And yeah, it’s a hard trigger to pull.

      • Back then, I was still with HarperCollins (maybe Warner). In either case, Rick Horgan was my editor. I’ve met John S a few times, but have never worked with him. Seems like a nice guy.

  17. Congratulations on your retirement, Kris! I know you’re going to love it! And you’ve left a great legacy of books for readers to enjoy.

    The worsening of my ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) forced me to retire from editing a year and a half ago. I wrote my latest and last book, LIVE YOUR BEST LIFE WITH LIMITED ENERGY, to help others with chronic fatigue, brain fog, and limited mobility. Enjoy the upcoming years while you still have your “marbles and mobility.”

    So happy you’ll continue to enlighten and entertain us here at TKZ! Maybe your last, easy book could be a compilation of your excellent posts here?

    • Wow, did not know of your health issues. But a great idea to turn a negative into a positive with your book. Best to you!

  18. Congratulations, Kristy, on reaching this milestone. There’s a time to hang up your boots and don slippers. After 2005, I worked part time in engineering until an injury sent me back to Palos Verdes to write and relax. Killzone is my favorite social medium, and I hope to see you here often.

    • I hope to stay on here, every other Tuesday. Until I run out of things to say. I love our little round table here.

    • Thanks girl. You know…you never know. The urge might return. I still have 20 chapters of a WIP. I still think about it, so maybe that means I might go back if the energy returns. I’d like to think so.

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