Please welcome Laura Anne Gilman



I managed to talk Laura Anne Gilman into coming and posting today. If you’ve never heard of her, why not??? She writes fabulous books both under her own name, and mysteries as L.A. Kornetsky. She’s also been an editor for some major writers. Now, without further ado, the meerkat herself:

So, Di Francis came to me and said “hey, you want to write a guest blog for Magical Words?”  And I froze, somewhere between “yeah, that’ll be fun!” and “oh shit.”   Because hey, Magical Words, a writing blog.  And yeah, I’m a writer, but I always find myself in a bit of a pickle when people ask me to talk about the deep down fiddly bits of actually writing, because I’m a centipede. 

— the joke going that the centipede can walk perfectly well with a hundred feet, until you ask it HOW it manages all those feet.  And then it can’t. –

When I say that, often those people look at me oddly (more oddly than usual) because for god’s sake, Gilman, you’re a writer and an editor, too!  You teach this stuff!  Shouldn’t you be able to break it down at the drop of a pencil?  And I shake my head and shrug and say “not about my own writing, no. “

Everything I know about the craft of writing?  The moment I start a novel, I internalize it, shove it into my backbrain, and don’t let it get in the way of telling the story. Open the spigots and direct the flow, don’t dissect it.

And occasionally the person who’s asking me exhales, like I just yanked a fifty-pound weight off their shoulders, and says “oh thank god, me neither.”  And I laugh in sympathy, because yeah. There are a lot of writers who can tell you exactly what they’re doing, and why, and break it down in terms that would make an MFA candidate cry tears of pure joy.  And then there’s the rest of us.

Some writers like to talk about what they’re writing, analyze and dissect every step they take, and some of us just want to get the damn thing done.

And I’m here to tell you that that’s okay.silly

The inability to talk about how we chose a particular structure or frame, the deep-tissue dissection of our theme, or even how we chose the narrative view doesn’t mean you don’t understand what you’re doing, or that you’re not making your choices carefully, with full knowledge of what you’re doing. 

And it doesn’t make you any less serious or talented a writer.

So when someone says to you “so tell me about your writing process,” look at them and smile, and say “I don’t know.  It’s a mystery.”




13 comments to Please welcome Laura Anne Gilman

  • sagablessed

    *SHRIEKS IN JOY* ‘Bout time you got here, missy!!! (yes, a fan here) 🙂

    I completely agree. Each chapter is different. Sometimes it follows my plotline exactly, sometimes it takes off on its own.
    It is a mystery to me, and I am the writer. There was a meme on FB that summed it up nicely: to write you must be true to the story that chose you as its agent. The story chose you, not the other way around. Honor that you were given such a gift. Not everyone was.

    So be it.

  • sagablessed

    OK, I admit I expanded the meme. Sue me. LOL

  • I’m with Saga, Great to have you here Laura Anne. And yeah — writing process for me is all … messy. But it works.

  • Welcome, Laura! Great name, btw. 😉

    I admit, there are times when I can’t explain what I’m doing. After the years I’ve been hanging around here, I’ve learned a lot of the terms, and the why, but this is also useful to hear. Not letting the novel get in the way of telling the story? I am so guilty of that sometimes. Thanks!

  • Marlie Harris

    I raised my hand, exhaled, and felt like you “just yanked a fifty-pound weight off their shoulders, and says ‘oh thank god, me neither.'”

    I admire the writers here who can break apart their process and share it, because it gives me a wonderful look into another point of view. The first thing I do, after morning coffee, is read this blog. I have used some of the advice and knowledge currently. The rest I’ve promised myself to come back and visit when I am at the point to understand it better.

    Being a new writer, I fear, sometimes, that because I don’t know how to break down what I write, I am broken. It’s good to hear that we don’t always have to know, we just have to tell the story. Then grow.

    Thanks and welcome, Laura Anne!

  • Welcome Laura Anne–I’ll shriek along with sagablessed–I’m also a big fan! Yesterday Misty posted about the enemies of our progress, and one of those enemies for me is when I try too hard to dissect my own writing. Hearing that you can’t break down your own writing is a boost as I try to find the balance between art and craft.

  • I’ve used that line from Shakespeare in Love, many times … ‘cos it is a wonderful, frustrating, all-consuming, mystery.

  • Welcome to the party!

    There are some things I can explain and others I just do. I have learned a few of the processes by listening to others on here and I’ll go, “Oh, so that’s what it’s called. I just always did it that way because it made sense.” I’ve been writing for so long I’ve just subconsciously picked up on things as I went or simply figured out processes that were easiest for me on my own. I gave up on the “This is how you are supposed to write.” mentality I saw in a lot of how-to books and articles in the early ’90s because they became discouraging and I came to the realization that if I wanted to succeed I had to find my own methods that worked for me.

  • Ken

    Welcome Laura Anne!!!

    I’m totally like that. If I had to stop and describe what I was doing while I was doing it, I’d never get anywhere…or I’d be saying “Um…Cuz?” A LOT.

  • I’m late to the party, as usual. Great to see you here, Laura Anne. It seems to me that you did a pretty fine job of breaking down your process during our DragonCon panels this summer. I learned a lot listening to you. But I do understand the “I-really-don’t-know-how-to-talk-about-this” feeling. When we started this site, I had a lot of trouble breaking down my process for posts. I’ve gotten better at it, and I think that dissecting my approach has helped me hone my writing on a day-to-day basis. Kind of like breaking down a baseball or golf swing — seeing the component parts has helped me better understand the whole.

  • Megan B.

    >”I gave up on the ‘This is how you are supposed to write.’ mentality I saw in a lot of how-to books and articles in the early ’90s because they became discouraging and I came to the realization that if I wanted to succeed I had to find my own methods that worked for me.”<

    I'm with you, Daniel. I mostly don't read how-to books because they kind of stress me out. Either I find myself thinking "Hm, I already knew that" or "Holy crap, should I be doing that? Oh my gosh, everything I've written might suck and I don't even know it." LOL

    Thanks for the post, Laura. It's nice to be reminded that it's okay to say, "I don't know why I did it that way, it just felt right." Learning the craft is important, but what we've learned can be internalized and subconscious. Not only is that okay, it's probably much better (especially when writing a first draft!).

  • Oh yay, I finally got the site to admit that i exist, so I can respond!

    Megan and Daniel – I have a pile of “how to write” books on the shelf, and occasionally I dip into them for a specific aid or answer, but reading them all the way through like a text book? Yeah, that would stress me out, too. Writing is an apprenticeship: you learn by watching the masters, and then making your own mistakes, correcting course as you go. It’s never going to come out of a textbook, no matter how well-done.

    David – oh, talking about OTHER peoples’ work, that i can do just fine. 🙂

    Widdershins: of all the wonderful lines from that movie, that’s the one that seared into my brain and stayed. There’s a brutal core of truth to all the best funny lines…

  • oh, and THANK YOU, Saga and Sisi! *blushes*