Walking on Alligators:
A Book of Meditations for Writers

by Susan Shaughnessy

Harper San Francisco, 1993. ISBN 0062507583.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 11/04/2004

Nonfiction: Creative Life

Susan Shaughnessy began her writing career as a copywriter and editor. She has written two novels, magazine and newsletter articles, speeches, songs, and advertising copy. In Walking on Alligators, Shaughnessy gathers the thoughts of many authors and combines them with stimulating essays as "a daily motivator for people who write and people who long to write."

The author cautions that writing is about today—not procrastination, but writing every single day. She sees her book as a daily companion for the writer. Quick to point out that the book was not intended as a quick read, Shaughnessy offers "200 thought-and pen provoking essays exploring every aspect of the practice and process of writing."

Within these 200 pages, Toni Morrison, Camille Paglia, Diane Ackerman, Anne Rice, Scott Turow, Jane Smiley, Erica Jong, Eudora Welty, and many others are quoted on the subject of writing and creativity. Each quote is followed by a short essay by Shaughnessy and a challenge/affirmation to help the reader reach his or her writing goals.

The profound messages of these daily meditations spark me to aim higher and push farther in my daily attempts at the writing life. Each essay spoke to me in a deeply personal way. Every time I thought one surely was the best of the bunch, another one jumped off the page and danced through my inner core.

A couple of my many favorites appear on a page that I have dog-eared in this handy little paperback:

  • "When the stuff in life gets really rough, I would just die if I was not writing a novel. Once you think it up, it's like a whole other city with a little door and every time you sit down to write you just open the door and there you are—a wonderful vacation for two hours." —Lee Smith

  • "Today, I'll try a new attitude toward my writing. I'll view it as a vacation from life. I'll see how that feels." —Susan Shaughnessy

This particular page holds a profound truth that resonates deep within my writer-self. I have affirmed this same thought pattern time and time again. Even now, as I recouperate from surgery for recurrent malignant melanoma, I tell my friends and family that my daily writing is my lifeline as the challenges of life swirl frenetically around me.

Each takes only a few minutes to read. But when read with purpose, these daily meditations and essays linger in your mind and in your writer's soul all day, every day. Just like the drive to write daily that comes from spending time with Shaughnessy's encouraging book.

You can approach this book day by day in numerical sequence, or you may choose to open it at random to see what message awaits you on any given day. Either way, you are sure to find good company in what is otherwise a lonely path for many—the writing path. Tuck this little book someplace handy, and it is sure to become a cherished writing companion. One more favorite...

  • "Today I will have the courage to go wherever my writing wants to lead me. I will not judge as I write. I will write, and write as honestly as I can." —Susan Shaughnessy

Grab your copy of Walking on Alligators, your pen and paper (or your laptop), step into your special writing place and begin to exercise that courage to go wherever your writing leads!

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