Practical Meerkat Returns: The Panic at the End of the Tunnel

by Laura Anne

Yesterday, my fourth PSI novel, DRAGON JUSTICE, started hitting the shelves, and wending its way into readers’ hands.  At the same time, I sent off the revised and polished file for HEART OF BRIAR (aka Portals #1).  Yeah, I spent Release Day in a ten hour marathon of last minute edits and corrections.

As I joked on Twitter, a working writer is a happy writer.  When we’re at loose ends, for whatever reason, the not-useful insecurities and paranoia come out to play, and that just never ends well for anyone except the pharmacist.

But while I have a lot of work to keep me busy for the rest of the year, there’s a portion of my brain that’s always aware that Portals #2 is the last book that I have under contract.  After that, it’s open sky.

That portion of my brain?  Is freaking the fuck out.

OMG I’m going to be out of contract!  I need to come up with a proposal – something my editor will love!  Something readers will love!  Ack! Gasp! Froth! Panic!

This translates to any point where you’re almost done with what you’re working on, and aren’t sure where you need to go next.  That light, down there at the end of the tunnel – is it a lamp?  The sun?  An oncoming dragon?  OMG we’re all gong to DIE!

The key to survival, in this case, is the ability to roll with the hysteria.

No, you don’t ever want to flail so badly you’re throwing any proposal at all at your agent/editor.  That’s not only bad business (you only bring your best stuff to the table); it’s bad management.  You’re making decisions based on all the wrong elements, and probably not thinking it through in a proper career-focused fashion.

At the same time, I strongly advise against denying the panic, or trying to talk yourself down from it.  That anticipation of disaster, the panic that you could be out of contract soon, that your next project might not set the world on fire?  They you won’t be able to set a match on fire?    That panic is useful.  It’s your lizard brain saying, “you now have to prove yourself all over again.”

Stop.  Breathe.  It’s a pain, yeah, but it’s also a good thing.

We’ve established that there’s a lot of market and statistical stuff in this business that you can’t directly affect or influence.  But the thing that you can control is the material that you submit.

Ooo, goodie.  Another thing to panic over.

Yep.  But now is not the time to panic like a half-assed amateur.  We’re pros, damn it.   Now is the time to step up and own your panic.  Up your game, level up, like a boss, whatever business, sports or military metaphor works for you.  Because panic, filtered through the bedrock of hard work, becomes inspiration.  Inspiration fuels the creative leap, and that leap is what bridges the chasm between one contract and the next, moves us from the end of one project to the start of something better, bolder.  It challenges us to get off our creative ass, to do ourselves one better, and to impress the hell out of whomever we need to impress.

So face the tunnel.  Embrace the oncoming dragon.  Use the panic.

The only way out of the tunnel is full speed ahead


Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of twenty novels, including DRAGON JUSTICE (PSI #4)  and the forthcoming COLLARED (a Gin & Tonic mystery)  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)

She also runs d.y.m.k. productions, an editorial services company (

And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.

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


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 Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.

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