Monday, March 3, 2008

Non-Fiction Monday: Walking on Alligators

Walking On Alligators
by Susan Shaughnessy

Normally, I'm not a fan of writing prompt books. As fun as they seem when I first pick them up, and as full of writing promise---read me! I'll inspire you!---the reality is, they don't usually...well, prompt me. To write, that is. I rebel against the given assignment. I roll my eyes at suggestions like: Write about your character's favorite color. Yes, it might be interesting, and even practical, to think on why my character loves firebrick red, but that doesn't set my pen to flying on the page.

Walking on Alligators
is different. For one thing, its subtitle is: A book of mediations for writers. Right there, I'm happier. Just like I prefer enter to begin, I prefer meditations to assignments.

Each entry begins with a quote---another point in its favor, since I love quotes---and ends with a mediation.

Here's one example:

Quote: I am gifted with a bad memory. Because of that I can look at my stuff with a singular freedom. ---Paul Weiss

Meditation: Today, I'll remember how forgetfulness will help me. I'll budget time before my deadline for cooling and revision.

Now, that mediation is practical. It's saying something that I've heard many times before---let your drafts settle. Become less attached to them before you revise. But I never thought of my bad memory as a gift before. (Although my husband does say that the reason we've been married so long is that I can't remember anything long enough to hold a grudge.)

And that simple mediation is going to make me think all day long about forgetfulness---not just my own, but my characters. What do they forget? Why? Do other characters notice what they forget? Is forgetfulness always bad? Must it be reserved for the neglectful parent or the deliberately amusing, preoccupied mad scientist or artist? We all forget things---why is that not portrayed as normal?

P.S. Here's another review. It's also marked Highly Recommended, here, at Cynthia Leitich Smith's website.

The Nonfiction Monday roundup is here.


  1. Ooh! I do like the idea of that prompt. I'm in the process of "forgetting" my first draft of a book my editor now has in his hands. It's been over a month since I've peeked at it, and I had to write a synopsis of it this morning for something, and it made me start to get excited about the book again. Only time can help me forget how WEARY of this book I had become after endless days of writing it!

    I do love writing prompts, but mainly pretty general ones that have the potential to spin off into any wild direction your imaginatio wants to go. Not stuff like characters' favorite colors. I'll have to check out that book!

  2. I really like the idea of letting drafts settle and becoming less attached to them before revising. I used to feel that the words I wrote were precious and had to be retained whatever the cost. Now I see how much that was holding me back, and I cut out whole chunks of text quite happily. It is wonderfully liberating.

  3. Laini, I know you've worked your fingers to the bone over Silksinger, and part of me is sorry, and the other part is so excited to read the result of all that craftsmanship!

    Mary, you are so right. It can be liberating to let go of precious words and realize there are other ones even better out there.

    I'm thinking of posting about a different writing craft book each nonfiction Monday. I hope that's still in the spirit of the day, since these books would be directed at adults, not kids. (Although lots of them would be fine for YA)

  4. How funny, I just bought this book a few weeks ago. And I'd love to read posts about different craft books.

  5. I am going to look for this one. Thanks for the review.


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