Walking on Alligators

Susan Shaughnessy’s book, Walking on Alligators, is one of my favorite writing inspiration books. It follows the format of a daily devotional,  featuring a daily quote followed by a short essay by the author. I found this book through a recommendation by Vikk Simmons, a local-to-me writing instructor and personal friend. I was in the process of trying to meet a deadline for the first book I’d sold — which had the dubious status of not being complete when I sold it. I had three months until D-day — deadline. I was terrified. I was pretty sure that the publisher had made a huge mistake in offering me a contract, that the book would too short, or it would be too long — that is if it ever got finished. Of course, I was equally certain that if it did get to “The End” it would be horrible. You can imagine what effect this had on my writing.

Still, I have a good work ethic, so each morning I’d hit the alarm, grab some form of caffeine and glue myself to my desk chair. I would open WoA randomly and find that the quote I’d opened to was perfect in every way for the day. The day I was feeling especially panicked — I mean, for goodness sake, what was I thinking saying I’d take these nice folk’s money to write a book? I needed to take a class or two to learn how to do this properly. That one book I wrote wasn’t that good — I mean, how can I expect to teach myself how to write a novel?!?! I opened WoA to “The arc was built by amateurs, the Titanic by experts. Don’t wait for the experts.” — Murray Cohen. I promised myself another class after I finished the manuscript.

On the day  after I wrote a predictable chapter that was duller than dirt, I found “The desire for safety gets in the way of every and noble enterprise.” — Tacitus. I have no idea who this guy is, but he knew whereof he spoke. I revised the chapter and moved on.

“A poet or novelist will invent interruptions to avoid long consecutive days at the ordained page; and of these the most pernicious are other kinds of writing — articles, lectures, reviews, a wide correspondence.” — Shirley Hazzard. I have no idea how Shirley knew this, but her quote showed up the day after I’d signed up to edit a newsletter. Sorry Shirley, a day late on that one — but I took Shaughnessey’s hint at the bottom to heart — “Today, I’ll see what nibbles into my writing time. And I’ll decide what my choices are going to be.” (I limited the time per month I’d spend editing other people’s writing for that newsletter.)

As I got further into the draft of my book, I became tired, rushed, and frazzled so got more obsessive about reading the book in order. And the quote was still spot on for the day on which I read it.

Thanks to Shaughnessy and her inspirational book and a huge group of supportive friends and family, I got to the end of that first draft, revised the heck out of it, and turned in what came to be a fairly sucessful book, Three Dirty Women and the Garden of Death — nominated for an Agatha and Macavity Award for Best First Mystery.

I’m trying to finish up a book I haven’t yet sold. I’ve struggled with making progress on this, putting it off to do other things, and getting more and more frustrated with myself — and more and more grumpy. I pulled Walking on Alligators down from my writing books shelf this evening. The first quote I read was “People are always good company when they are doing what they really enjoy.” — Samuel Butler.

Guess I’d better get writing.


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