Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 1

Good morning, and welcome to the first installation of Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers.  I am your host, Practical Meerkat.

To explain: I started my publishing career in 1989 as an editorial assistant, and in 2003, I left my position as Executive Editor at Penguin, where I headed the Roc SF/F imprint, to become a full-time writer.

Over the years, I have learned a lot about writing, and publishing, and Living in the Arts – and some of them have even stuck in my brain,  keeping me from losing my shit, killing anyone who doesn’t deserve it, or otherwise making the same mistake twice.  As my cohorts at BookView cafe pointed out, I learned these things the hard way – so you don’t have to.

Make no mistake – this is not going to be Deep Truth about Art.   It’s simple, practical, Duh Of Course stuff that you may not have thought of yet but will need, either tomorrow or down the road.  Nor will it progress in any particular “How to Write” order, but rather as inspiration – or experience – strikes me, both in terms of craft and business survival.

We will start out, in this New Year, with that dread experience: the Full Stop.

Sometimes, while writing, you come to a point where you don’t know what the next line is supposed to be.  You have an outline, you have A Plan, you may even have a deadline… but it’s not happening.  You’re stuck.

Panic!  Cold sweats!  Frantic twitching and raids on the chocolate!

I don’t believe in writers block as A Thing.  All a full-stop means is that you’re not sure where the story is going, right then. Your brain is telling you “stop and look at the map before we go in the wrong direction.”  That’s a good writer-brain, doing its job.  (yes, I believe in the presence/importance of the muse.  I also believe that the muse has nothing to do with getting the work done.)

It has been my experience, both in walking my authors through this sort of thing and dealing with it myself, that the only solution is to go back to where it last flowed, and start again.  If that means before “Once upon a time,” then so be it.

You know what?  That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you suck, it doesn’t mean the story sucks and should be tossed in the heap.  You thought you knew where the story was going and you were wrong.  So what?  There’s nobody looking over your shoulder, scoring you on style points.  Take another start.  Slip, fall, get back up, change your mind, scribble something, draw a swooping arrow from one paragraph to another until the words flow again.  In many cases, you need only back up a page or two –the more alert you are to the signs of a recalcitrant story, the swifter the recovery.

As soon as you’ve backed away from what wasn’t working, you’re allowing what was right to come back, and lead the way.  And the story will get written.  I promise.

Next week: on knowing when to sit down and shut up.

Laura Anne Gilman is the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy.  Her first collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in Spring 2011 .  For more info check her website , her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)  And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.

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About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.

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Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 1 — 13 Comments

  1. Lawrence – I would not dare risk removing chocolate from writer’s reach. Not if I wanted to keep my hand intact, anyway!

    Deirdre – Sometimes jumping ahead helps, yes (I am a huge fan of brackets of wisdom (“[do something cool here]”). However, if you’re at a full stop, mmaning you rally have no idea what happens next, jumping ahead can get you even further off-track or frustrated, because you’re writing for words’ sake,not to actually continue the story. Knowing the difference is important!

  2. I have had good luck backing up a page or two, and -actually physically rewriting-. This means either keying in the last page, or handwriting it again. Start out on a fresh blank piece of paper, or a fresh empty screen; you can always splice it back up to the old ms later. The -act- of physically rewriting seems to bypass the block, and you’re off to the races again.

  3. Great post, Laura Anne.

    Reading through the draft , either on paper or on the screen always helps me. I think that is because I get a chance to read what I actually wrote.

  4. Great post, I look forward to reading the rest of the series…*big smile*

    Stop, back up a little, and take a run at it… works when I get the truck stuck, works when I’m facing a big hill, why not when I’m writing?

    Besides, that guy that lives in my head in those hazy moments between waking and sleeping, (the fuge state) seems to be wanting to get a word or two out…

  5. Even after 22 books I’m always surprised at how closing the computer, taking a shower, or a walk, or cleaning the oven will trigger the brain and the story to work again. I’ll chew on the new idea while I’m showering, walking, or cleaning, letting it grow and gel until it is a solid foundation for continuing. Then I’m off and racing to get all the words out before the evaporate again or my hands cramp.

  6. @Brenda – it’s amazing how the application of hot water to the exterior of the head can do so much good to the actions inside!

    I know some folk who swear by getting up and dancing around to loud music when they’re stuck, too. But I think that’s a different column….

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