When I was in my early teens, probably fifteen or sixteen, I recorded a movie from TV called Gothic (1986), directed by Ken Russell. The film presents a fictionalized account of what may have happened on that fateful weekend during the summer of 1816.
Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) invited his fellow Romantic poet Percy Shelley (Julian Sands) to the Villa Diodati in Switzerland along with Mary Godwin* (Natasha Richardson) and her half-sister, Claire Clairmont (Myriam Cyr) as well as Byron’s personal physician, Dr. John Polidori (Timothy Spall), who later wrote and published The Vampyre (1819). During this time, Mary Shelley wrote her most famous novel, Frankenstein (1818), one of the earliest horror novels.
Even though I already had an obsession with horror fiction by this age and devoured countless books and films, this movie, Gothic, fueled a dark fire inside of me to want to write from a place of fear and stoked my love of the supernatural. The film prompted me to read the novel Frankenstein to experience it for myself, and it has stuck in my mind ever since.
Fast forward to many years later, and my path as a writer has been a bumpy ride to say the least. But, to quote the immortal Freddie Mercury–one of my all-time heroes:
“I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face. But I’ve come through.”
The past decade has had both ups and downs for me, but this is a huge “up” for which I will be eternally grateful. When I found out I was selected to be this year’s recipient of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship–one of four given by the Horror Writers Association–it blew me away. I could not believe that they chose me.
Writing is a lonely profession. There are many pitfalls, and it’s not an easy thing to undertake. From time to time, writers need something–a sign from the universe, from somewhere out there–that what we do matters–that even though believing in ourselves seems impossible at times, we can do this.
I feel so honoured to have received this prestigious scholarship, and I am proud of all my fellow scholarship recipients this year! Congratulations also to John C. Mannone (HWA Scholarship), Ashley Dioses (Dark Poetry Scholarship), Kelly Robinson (Rocky Wood Nonfiction Scholarship, one of two recipients), and Stephanie M. Wytovich (Rocky Wood Nonfiction Scholarship, one of two recipients).
Along with Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley was one of the first women to kick open the door and pave the way for other women writing genre fiction. Although the unbalanced ratio between female and male writers in horror continues to be an issue, the past fifteen years has seen an explosion in more women being published in the genre, and this trend is here to stay.
There are a plethora of women whose works spring to mind when I think of who is doing amazing work in this genre, and will continue to do so for years to come. Stephanie M. Wytovich is one. Eden Royce is another. Among my favourites include: Maria Alexander, Kristi DeMeester, Paula D. Ashe, Rebecca Jones-Howe, Chesya Burke, S.P. Miskowski, Jessica McHugh, Lucy A. Snyder, and countless others.
It is my hope to one day join the ranks of these amazingly gifted and talented women. In the meantime, excuse me while I go off and do one of these:
* In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was still known by her maiden name, Mary Godwin, because she was Percy Shelley’s mistress at the time and not yet his wife.
Every since Volume 1 of this wonderfully useful series, I have devoured each of the “Writers on Writing” books from Crystal Lake Publishing, each of which focus on different aspects of the writing life. This time around, although I was sad to learn that Volume 4 would be the last of the series, I was thrilled to see that this tome deals with a broad mixture of topics ranging from poetry to networking to description.
Blunt Force Trauma: How to Write Killer Poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Although I don’t write poetry, I am fascinated by the poet’s process and I find that there are always some useful nuggets to be gleaned that may also be applicable to prose. I have been a long-time admirer of Stephanie Wytovich’s poetry, especially her wonderfully devastating and impactful poem in “Gutted,” which you should also read, so I was interested to see her breaking down the notion that poetry is like blunt-force trauma. It is an “assault on the body.” She describes poetry as the “exploration of the wound,” which I thought was a very evocative analogy.
While she describes her early efforts as a tad melodramatic, it taught her to be honest and it gave her permission not to hold back. These are two things I still struggle with as a writer, so it was very liberating for me to read that poetry could be so cathartic. I loved her phrase “the demons that had been following me for years.”
One of the things I admire most of about Stephanie and her work is that she is not apologetic or demure about it. She is bold and brash. I have known many established writers who have tried to put down the work of younger writers or to dismiss the credibility of anything they have to say or any advice they may have to give, which I think is rubbish, but I am glad we have folks like Stephanie out there who give a brave face to younger writers who are maybe not as comfortable in our own skin yet.
Her systematic breakdown of steps to writing killer horror poetry is magnificent in its detail. As she suggests at the very end, “expose the wound, examine the fear, and close the case.”
Happy Little Trees by Michael Knost
In his piece, Michael Knost focuses on imbuing characters with depth, details, and layers to make them jump off the page and be memorable to readers. He makes analogies to forests and trees to illustrate his points, as well as painting and Photoshop, and he very much emphasizes the notion of relational influence. If you’re antsing for more tips on how to do characterization better, be sure to check out his piece.
In Lieu of Patience Bring Diversity by Kenneth W. Cain
Kenneth W. Cain talks about the virtues of patience in a writer and how it encompasses all the areas of a writer’s career from waiting to hear back on a submission to award nominations to gaining a readership. He also discusses considerations of how detailed to get when it comes to descriptions, which I thought was useful especially as he related it to the importance of creating characters that the reader will sympathize with.
Networking is Scary, but Essential by Doug Murano
The style and direct approach of Doug Murano’s entry in the volume, which is all about that scary word–networking–helped to make it seem a little less daunting. He also discussed some of the marketing innovations he came up with while doing PR for the Horror Writers Association, which is very useful for authors to note.
His section on strategies should is excellent and many authors will find it useful.
Are You In The Mood? by Sheldon Higdon
Focusing back on the writer’s craft side of things, Sheldon Higdon’s entry talks about how to establish mood in a story as well as the subtle differences between mood and how it builds into atmosphere. If you struggle with description or you’ve been told you write purple prose, check out Sheldon’s piece.
What if Every Novel is a Horror Novel? by Steve Diamond
Angling more toward a philosophical bent is Steve Diamond’s piece, which seeks to define what horror is, which is no easy task. He encourages readers to stretch their defintions of what constitutes horror and rightly so.
Description: You Can’t Win so Why Play by Patrick Freivald
Patrick Freivald tackles why writers over-write so often, particularly when it comes to description and throwing too much detail at the reader, and how even though writers want the reader to have a very specific vision in mind of what they want people to see, the results sometimes get muddled in translation onto the page. Freivald also addresses incorporating sensory descriptions into prose, so it’s a worthwile piece to check out.
Long Night’s Journey Into…This? A First-Time Novelist’s Odyssey by William Gorman
Being a novelist for the first time is usually not an experience that goes particularly easily for the writers who manage to get there. I cannot believe he had a correspondence with Clive Barker (how fortunate!), who told him to write a novel at one point, which made for a magnificent story. He discusses why the novel-writing process turned out to be so difficult for him. I think the piece is one that established pros as well as hopeful newbies can benefit from.
I Am Setting by J.S. Breukelaar
Getting back more toward the craft side of things, we have a piece devoted to setting and description. This part of the volume was a very useful breakdown of setting as well as what to do with fictional world-making and building.
Finding Your Voice by Lynda E. Rucker
To cap off the volume, we get a piece about that ever-elusive concept of authorial “voice” from Lynda E. Rucker. So often writers are told to develop their voice, that their voice isn’t strong enough, that the voice of the piece is highly derivative or a pastiche, but many writers are left scratching their heads and wondering just what the heck “voice” even means. It’s something that this piece helps to simplify into something more understandable. She also has some wonderful suggestions as to how to find one’s voice, so it’s well worth reading through.
I had a nagging doubt that though I’ve been on a productivity kick for a while, at some point, the words would stop flowing because of my re-entry into school. And that’s exactly what happened. I finished a huge chunk of my current project, but writing has taken a backseat to school.
This isn’t surprising. Any time someone goes through a major upheaval like moving houses, getting married, starting school, etc, writing takes a while to adjust.
Unfortunately, that’s a surface interpretation for why my writing brain has shut down. The deeper reason is that I relied too much on a morning routine that was not sustainable.
The problem with productivity suggestions like the ones outlined in the course I’ve talked about in my past 2 posts is that they reinforce the idea that writers have to meet specific conditions or they won’t be able to write, period.
I’m not going to deny that I got great word count mileage out of following advice such as writing first thing in the morning, listening to binaural beats, wearing the same outfit, and similar guidelines.
The problem is that these productivity suggestions train writers to be able to write only under a specific set of circumstances. Writers can apply these routines later in the day, but when my day has already gotten going, I don’t stop to write. It doesn’t happen that way for me, plain and simple.
One of the best bits of writing advice I read many years ago was something to the effect of: “If you have to wait until you have your favourite scented candle, this brand of coffee, this specific pen, this specific computer, this specific music, etc., before you write, your won’t get your writing done and you’ll use these things as excuses.”
One of the most crucial abilities for writers is to be able to write during less-than-ideal circumstances. Some people write when they’re at the doctor’s office, over their lunch break, while at a sport or activity for their child, waiting for laundry to finish up, and so on. Going forward, my goal is going to be to write in these stolen snippets of time.
Although I thought I had found a new way to write that was working for me, I have to start from scratch again. Some writers work best with rigid rules and schedules, but I have learned that although I’m like that in other areas, I’m not like that when it comes to writing.
The advice about getting up at 5 or 6am to write isn’t new. John Grisham is one example of someone who used to do it when he was still a practicing lawyer. That doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay. There are other ways. I’m skeptical of all the writing websites that repeat the idea that it’s been “scientifically proven” that writing first thing in the morning is the best time. I tried it, I did it, and for me, it just wasn’t sustainable. That’s okay.
I want to focus on the school of thought in the writing community that tells writers to challenge the assumption that we need hours and hours to write anything worthwhile. I’ve had periods of my life when time was not an issue and writing still didn’t get done.
When we know our time to write is limited, we get more done. The course I took uses a great example of this involving an old laptop the instructor used–she knew it only had an hour or so of battery life before the battery would die, so she would write on this device. The result? She still got plenty of writing done.
Other writers use snippets of time here and there, and I know people for whom this works very well. I am not one them, and that’s okay. A few years ago, I read a blog post talking about how one writer admitted she doesn’t write fiction every day—and that’s perfectly valid. Another author, Daniel Jose Older, wrote an impassioned plea to writers to stop beating themselves up about not writing fiction every single day. He makes a valid point.
Many writers chastise others, saying that if we don’t all write fiction every single day of our lives, that we “don’t count” or that we won’t have careers. I get where this advice comes from. And I agree that a regular writing habit is essential for any writer–but it looks different for everyone.
Lucy A. Snyder, one of my favourite horror authors, and a writer with a day job like most of us, tends to write in binges over her weekends, something she talks about in her indispensable writing how-to guide, Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit. I’m more of a binge writer myself, so I’m going to give her method a whirl even though I also have a lot going on during the weekends.
What about you? Does anyone out there have any thoughts when it comes to productivity, whether it’s a system that works for them, or other helpful tips and hints? Sound off below!