This won’t be a long post today. It’s Black Friday and we all have things to do. You might be shopping today. You might be working today. You might be cleaning up after a massive family event from yesterday and gearing up for about seven more before the New Year.
Today I’m decorating the house for Yule and Christmas. I’m wrapping gifts, writing cards and baking cookies. My goal for the next month is to spread as much holiday joy for my friends and family members (especially the furry ones) as I can.
But I need to remember, and you need to remember, that we matter too.
We deserve to enjoy the holidays.
We deserve to have fun and play like children.
We deserve to find magic this time of year.
We deserve to say no to anything we don’t want to do.
We deserve joy.
And I’m telling you right now that no one is going to make space for your joy if you don’t make it. No one’s going to clear your calendar. No one is going to make time for you if you don’t make time for yourself.
I’m not saying that the people who love you are slacking. I’m saying that what counts as joy for us isn’t always obvious. It is up to us to spoil ourselves. To make our joy happen.
So please, tell me what you’re doing today to make space for joy. I’m drinking a peppermint mocha latte while I read A Christmas Carol on my couch. What about you?
Maya Angelou is one of my personal heroes. She was such an incredibly strong person and absolutely fearless. She was beautiful, body and soul. She is still one of the most influential poets in America, despite leaving us in May 2014.
Ms. Angelou’s life was astounding. Which might be why she wrote so many books about it. She worked with Dr. King, with Malcolm X. She was in LA for the LA riots. She has seen so much history, much of it unpleasant. But through all of it, she spread beauty with her work, her singing, and her life.
I love reading her books. In each of them, I find bits of my own story within hers. I was also a young mother. I was also a child pawned off on relatives during my early life.
I’ve learned so many lessons from Ms. Angelou. Today, I want to share just three of them that may help you be a better writer. They will almost certainly help you be a better person.
Fake it, then make it.
I’m astounded by how often in Ms. Angelou’s life she applied for opportunities or was offered projects that she had no qualifications for. As a teenager she applied for a job as a cajun cook, having never cooked cajun food in her life. As a grown woman she calmly said she’d produce a tv series, having never done so before.
In both cases, Ms. Angelou was calm and assured of herself. Then, she went home and taught herself how to do that thing.
I wonder how often we assume we can’t do something, so we don’t. I wonder how our lives might change if we started saying yes to things, then putting in the effort to learn. I know that this attitude got me a job at Haunted MTL. And it got me to self-publish my books. Hell, it was that kind of attitude that inspired me to start this blog.
There is so much power in simple language.
When you read Maya Angelou’s work, you’re not going to find yourself tripped up much. Her poetry is in simple terms, and so is her prose. I think a lot of writers are afraid of simple words because it feels like we should be writing with bigger words. We should be using strange words like pejorative, just so people know we know what it means.
Don’t do that. Use simple words. Trust simple words. Because simple words can break someone’s heart. They can speak to a specific moment. They can make someone see exactly what you were seeing in a moment, and feel exactly what you were feeling.
There is so much power in loving yourself.
One of my favorite Maya Angelou poems is Phenomenal Woman. It’s a glorious hymn of loving yourself. Not accepting yourself as you are. Not telling yourself that God loves us all as He made us. It’s saying that you are fucking beautiful. You are powerful. You are phenomenal.
So what do you think? Who inspires you to be a better writer or a better person? Let us know in the comments.
You know what time it is. It’s November 11th and I’m willing to bet that at least one person reading this has already had a mental breakdown over the holidays. Well, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not suffered through.
I have for you today a list of holiday dos and don’ts. These are the same ones that I go by, though I usually need a reminder around this time of year. Really, I do this for myself as much as for all of you. Because it’s so easy to get caught up in all the expectations of this time of year and forget that the point is to have fun. The point is that we just spent another eleven months dealing with inflation, family-breaking politics and scary world changes. We get one month out of the damned year to commit ourselves to joy, and so help me we’re going to take it!
Yes, this list is going to look a lot like some of my previous ones. But I become a better writer every year, so I’m going to go ahead and repeat myself anyway. It might sound prettier this year.
Spend time with the people you love. I mean the people you actually love, not the ones you feel obligated to.
Prioritize your joy. What do you love about the holidays? Do you love baking cookies, or reading holiday classics? Do those things to the fullest. Personally, I’m all about seasonal coffee and reading any holiday book that isn’t a romance novel. I also love a good holiday movie or special. So, I plan on doing those things as much as possible.
Find little things to make the holidays better. A mug that you love, a set of really pretty stickers. I’ve been all about these ambient videos recently.
Yes, the holidays are great for big meals, events, fancy clothes, parties and all that sort of thing. But there are so many little joyous moments to enjoy as well.
Be kind to people. Actually, this should be something you do all the time. But especially during the holidays, be nice to people. You can buy someone’s coffee in line and donate to charities if you’re financially able to. Be kind to people in the service industry. Be kind to everyone you come into contact with if you can. It’s the holidays, just be nice.
Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like shit. A lot of people have gotten better about this through the year, but seem to find it harder during the holidays. So if you feel like you need someone to give you permission, consider it granted. You don’t have to see anyone who is a dick to you, ever. It doesn’t matter if they’re family. If they can’t treat you well, you don’t need to be around them.
Don’t skip your self-care just because you’re busy. And I totally understand that this time of year is busy! But if you’ve been spending this year putting good self-care habits in place, don’t wreck them now! Keep up with your yoga, daily walks, journaling, face care, meditation, alone time. Whatever it is that you do to take care of yourself, keep doing it.
Don’t overspend. Again, this one I need to hear more than anyone else. I get the desire to overspend. Especially on my pets. I swear I am such a sucker for anything holiday-themed for these spoiled ass animals. Oh, and my husband I guess. But overspending just puts you in a bad spot come January. It’s a spot I don’t want to be in again.
Don’t let other people make you feel bad about how you celebrate. Not even me! Look, I have some strong opinions about people who put their Christmas decorations up before Black Friday. But it’s honestly none of my business. Put up your decorations whenever you want, however much or little you want. Don’t put anything up at all if you don’t want. Celebrate whatever you want to, or don’t celebrate however you want to. Whatever it is, don’t let someone else tell you what it should be.
Don’t get hung up on the details. And yes, this is one I struggle with! I spent weeks searching for chestnuts because it just could not be Fall until I had baked some damn chestnuts.
But there is every chance that, just like the last few years, you might not be able to get something you want or need due to serious supply chain issues. We’re going to have to make some exceptions. We’re going to have to be flexible. Because if we decide it just cannot be the holidays without this one thing, and that one thing is out of stock, we’re going to be sad for no good reason.
Don’t think that your holiday has to look like someone else’s holiday. Right now, Instagram is my best friend and also my enemy. I am in love with this specific holiday aesthetic of red gingham and burlap on white furniture with candles and red trucks with Christmas trees and labradors. Oh, but I also love this all-natural Yule look with clean pine trees decorated with cinnamon sticks, cranberry strings and dried orange slices.
I am not an Instagram model. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that. I will never have that perfect aesthetic, no matter how much I try.
You as well will probably not have that aesthetic that you want. Your holidays will also not look like your mother’s, your grandmother’s, or that one-in-law who is perfect and a bitch about it. Your holidays are going to look like yours. And that’s practically perfect in every way.
Halloween is over, Thanksgiving creeps ever closer and Nanowrimo has begun. Pages and word counts are climbing, and so far I’m feeling great about my new novel in progress.
Some of this excitement is because of the story itself. It’s a good one, I think. Some of it’s the positive peer pressure on social media. There’s something great to be said for a bunch of people working towards the same goal. Some of it as well is the energy of the season. I’m super pumped for the holidays and doing my best to put that creative energy to good use.
But I think we all know those incentives aren’t going to last. Seasonal excitement in particular is like a sugar high. It’s great while you have it, but eventually, you’re gonna crash.
Writing is my favorite thing to do, but it’s also exhausting. Especially when we get closer to the middle of a tale when I’m running low on ideas, and when the word counts are looming. Then, of course, we remember that it is the holiday season and I’m up to my eyeballs in crafts, cooking, and cleaning.
All good thing, but quite time-consuming.
When my energy starts to wain, when the work begins to feel like work, when I start thinking I’ll just take up stamp collecting after all, I need something more substantial to sustain me. And what I have are the words of authors who have gone before me. Writers who I admire and respect.
To that end, I made a reading list for myself for November. I might not get to all of them since I’ll be switching over to Christmas reads after Thanksgiving, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t run out of inspiration. Some of the books I’ve read before, some I haven’t. All are from authors who inspire me to do what we all love to do, write.
On Writing by Stephen King
It’s the first book on writing I ever read, and it’s still one of the best ones I’ve read. I don’t want to waste a lot of time here because I’ve already talked about this book so extensively. If you haven’t read it, and you want to be a writer, go read it now.
Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? So many writers credit this book with inspiring them that it’s impossible to count. I can’t help but feel inspired to write deeper work that goes right to the bone.
Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou
This book and the one after are autobiographies by the unparalleled Maya Angelou. They’re not writing advice books, but they inspire me nevertheless. Seeing how such an impactful author lived her life can’t help but make me want to be a better writer. And a better woman.
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou
Ditto for this one.
So that’s it. It’s a pretty short post today because I know we’re all busy. But if you have a moment, I’d love to know what book inspires you most as a writer or artist. Let us know in the comments.
Last week I talked about the best horror novels I read this year. It’s been a pretty good year for horror novels, all things told.
The horror genre is now and has always been my favorite. My heart lies there. It’s my emotional support genre. It started early, with an obsession with R. L. Stine. And it’s never gone away.
The books we’re going to be talking about today have played a large part in keeping my love of the horror genre alive. Some of them are classics. Some are more modern. Some I only just learned about this year, knocking some others off my list. All are creative, unique and a scary good time.
It being the Halloween/Samhain weekend, I hope that these books give you some inspiration for your own horrifying holiday reading.
The Stand by Stephen King
Alright, you knew this was coming. The Stand is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. It’s creepy, the characters are delightful. And after living through Covid 19 which is still very much going on and you should all get your updated booster shots the story is even more relevant.
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I am embarrassed to say that I only read this book this year. And I think I’ve said quite enough about how much I love Shirley Jackson. And how poetic this book is. And how I’ve been haunted by the phrases.
The House Next Door by Ann Rivers Siddons
I’m actually in the middle of rereading this book right now. And it’s still just as horrifying as the first time. The house, brand new and built with passion, creeps into the minds of its inhabitants and destroys them.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The show was good, the book was better. The author’s preferred text was even better than that.
Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Still a creepy read, every time. It’s one of the best-known haunted house stories in America for a reason.
From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
I just re-read this one earlier this month. It’s a very soothing read. I think I have a soft spot for this one because it’s based near where I live.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I’ve gone over and over how much I love this story and this author. Mexican Gothic continues to be the perfect blend of haunted house and dark romance.
World War Z by Max Brooks
The movie based on this book was horrible. It was just awful. Which is a shame because the book was great. Each chapter is the story of another survivor of the zombie apocalypse. Some are funny, some are scary, and some made me cry. All were great.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I think I’ve reviewed this one as well. Coraline is a dark fairy tale that feels like it’s just scratching the surface of a dark, never-ending world.
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
I didn’t see the show, but I devoured this book. The stories were all beautiful, fit together well, and were eerie. If you haven’t read this yet, read it now.
That’s it for our list today. But I do want to hear from you. What’s your favorite horror novel of all time? Let us know in the comments.
It’s October, and time for some ghoulishly good reading. It’s also clearly time for some bad puns. Sorry, I was raised on Tales From The Crypt and I just can’t help myself.
In what has become a bit of a tradition around here, I’m sharing the top five best horror books I’ve read this year. I’m only including books that I read for the first time this year. So while I might have reread a few like the classic House Next Door, it won’t be included on the list.
If you want to follow along with what I’m reading all the time, you can check me out on Goodreads and Bookbub.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
I think I’ve made it clear that I fell in love with Shirley Jackson this year. A huge part of this love affair was reading The Lottery or The tales of Mr. Harrington.
I was kind of expecting to slough through this, getting to the title story. But each story was honestly so entrancing that I was lost in all of them.
End Of Watch by Stephen King
This is the final in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. It’s the fantastic and gruesome story of a retired detective chasing a psychopath. Of course, this is a psychopath that’s physically a vegetable. For sure the whole trilogy is worth a read.
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
I just did a whole review of this book on Haunted MTL. So I don’t want to say much here. I’ll just say that the stories found here are incredibly disturbing.
Terrifying Tales to Tell At Night collected by Stephen Jones
I didn’t realize this was for kids when I started reading it. But that didn’t stop how much I enjoyed it. There were stories from Neil Gaiman and Stephen King in here, and they weren’t even the best ones.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Easily the best horror novel I read this year, The Haunting of Hill House was a pure treat. The haunting in the book was subtle until it reaches up and takes you. Even better, the language of the book is amazing. Some of the best, most haunting lines can be found in this book. And I’m still obsessed with them.
So that’s it. Those are the five best horror books I read this year. Now I want to hear what you think. What was the best horror book you read in 2022?
Recently my favorite Youtube planner person, Catlin, made a shocking announcement. She is not going to be using a bullet journal anymore. Instead, she’s switching over to virtual planning.
This prompted me to think about my planning habits. It’s 2022, everything is expensive and everything else is digital. Maybe the time has come to switch to a fully digital planning system.
Nope, not going to happen. I’m not saying it’s never going to happen, mind you. But right now I get much-needed serotonin from my bullet journal and I’m not giving it up.
That being said, I do use Notion for roughly half of my planning. So I thought it might be interesting to break down what I use my bullet journal for, and what I use Notion for.
Bullet journal, micro, art, and memories
My bullet journal sits open next to me most of the time. That’s because my daily task list and schedule are listed there. Anything that I have planned for this month will be in the pages of my bullet journal. Here’s a quick rundown.
-Three-month business plan
-Projects and social media plans for the current month
-My current ‘to read’ list
-Monthly habit trackers
These are things I check in with daily. Things I’d like to be able to check in with by flipping a page.
Another thing that will be found on my monthly pages is a memory tracker. Here I doodle and sketch pictures that memorialize the fun events that happened that month. If we went to see a good movie if a book came out if I got a new plant. If there was a holiday, of course.
This is part of my memory keeping. I want to be able to look back at my journals and remember how my month went. That’s harder when using an app.
It’s also harder to get creative on an app. I take great joy in drawing out borders and decorations in my bullet journal. It’s something I look forward to, every time I make a new page.
Honestly, I just finished setting up holiday pages in my bullet journal with stickers, and it was such a joyous activity. I know I can decorate with pictures on Notion, and I do. But it’s just not the same.
My bullet journal is for short-term planning, memory keeping, and art therapy.
Notion, macro, fluctuating, and repetitive tasks
All that being said, there are some things that a paper planner is just not useful for. Like long-term planning.
Anything that’s going to outlast my bullet journal probably isn’t going in there. So my annual plan goes into Notion. As does my OCN board. If you don’t know what that is, you’ve got to take this course by Lisa Jacobs. It’s helped me get so much more shit done, I can’t even tell you.
I also keep a project page for each of my books in Notion. Books take a long time to write, and much longer to edit. I don’t want to rewrite a ton of information each time I switch journals.
Then there are the things that change too often to be worth the time to write down. Things like my blog schedule, which I switch up all the time. Or my plant watering schedule which gets updated every three days. Chore charts are another big one for Notion, as they need to be updated all the damn time.
Anything in Notion is, essentially, there for too long of a time or too short of a time for it to comfortably fit in my bullet journal.
This system works well for me. Doing things this way I’m able to keep track of managing my family, day job, and writing career. I’m also able to catch memories of my life, so I can look back and cherish them. I can build for myself a wealth of learned wisdom. I can learn from my past while giving my future plenty of room to grow.
So what about you? Do you use just a bullet journal or just a virtual planner? Let us know in the comments.
You likely already know that it’s the first week of Preptober for those of us getting ready for Nanowrimo next month. How it got to be this far into October already without me noticing I have no idea. But that’s another conversation for another time.
Maybe you’re a pantser, though. Meaning, a writer who doesn’t work with outlines and instead writes by the seat of their pants.
While I’m not a fan of this kind of writing, I get that it’s what works for some people. I’m not going to get anywhere in this life convincing people they’re making art the wrong way.
But don’t think for a second that just because you’re not writing an outline that you should skip Preptober. Oh no, you still have some planning to do.
Especially if you’ve never written a novel before.
You still need to know when you’ll be writing.
This is the biggest mistake I see new Nanowrimo participants make. You go into the month with the desire to put 50,000 words on the page, but not a plan of when that’s going to actually happen.
When are you planning to write? How much time is it going to take you to write 50,000 words? If you’re used to writing short-form work, you might know how much writing you can get done in an hour already. If you haven’t written anything for a while, try doing some writing prompts this month. See how long it takes you to get a thousand words on the page. Then you’ll know how much time you need to carve out.
You’ll still need to know how you’ll be writing.
Are you writing your novel long hand or are you typing it? If you’re typing it, what format are you using? Do you have enough writing supplied?
Don’t leave these decisions until the last minute. Figure it out now so you’re ready to hit the ground running on November first.
You still need to know your team.
Who is your support team? Who will be helping you out at home so you can write? Who will be your writing buddies? Are you getting together in real life, or virtually? How are you going to support each other?
You still need to plan for your life.
Listen life’s going to keep coming at you while you’re writing in November. You know your life better than me, you know what can go wrong.
Are you going to be traveling for the holidays?
Are you a student? What is your class schedule going to look like that month?
Are you a parent? What are you going to need to do for your family? What’s going to happen in November that will take you away from writing?
For me, that’s a whole lotta cooking on Thanksgiving, and a whole lotta cleaning before and after.
Remember, that it’s okay for life to get in the way of your writing. It’s to be expected. Not even during Nanowrimo do we want to ignore our lives.
Remember, what doesn’t get planned doesn’t get done. So if you want to write a novel in November, even if you don’t want to outline the book itself, you still have to outline a plan.
Don’t forget, I have a Preptober Planner to help you get ready for Nanowrimo. You can grab it right now on my ko-fi shop.
If you’ve breathed air in this world for longer than five minutes, you’ve heard this phrase.
Write what you know.
This invariably leads every writer to have the same existential crisis when we realize that we don’t know a damned thing. And even if we do know something, it’s boring as hell and no one wants to read it.
This realization leads many writers to treat this advice as just so much bullshit. Which is a shame, because it’s some of the best writing advice you’ll ever hear.
As I see it, there are three reasons why people get this so wrong. So today let’s talk about those reasons. And let’s talk about how you can use ‘Write what you know to help you write better.
Everyone misinterprets this phrase
The phrase is write what you know. It is not now, nor has it ever been write only what you know. If that were the case, speculative fiction wouldn’t exist at all.
Maybe it would help to rephrase this. Write a piece of yourself into your work. This is more honest, but not as catchy.
As an example, I know a lot about coffee and having a complicated relationship with my hometown. I love animals and handcrafts and Fall. I am endlessly fascinated with the Mandella effect, and all things supernatural. All of that comes up in my writing.
Everyone underestimates what they know
If you ask anyone what they know about really well, they’re probably going to tell you that there’s one, maybe two things they know about. Most people would swear they don’t know about anything but their favorite tv show.
The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago! An icebreaker question during a writing event just floored me. “What could you talk about for an hour with no prior warning?”
My first thought was, hell I don’t know. Futurama?
Then someone mentioned Pittsburgh, and it hit me. I could talk about George Romero and his impact on Steel City for an hour. Hell, they’d probably have to shut me up after an hour.
As I waited my turn, I thought of more and more things I could talk for an hour on. The importance of homemaking in modern times. Why it should be illegal for landlords to refuse their tenets to allow pets. Why we should abolish lawns.
There are lots of other things that maybe couldn’t take up an hour, but I still know about them.
Here’s an exercise for you. Start making a list of things you know, big or small. Do you still think you don’t know anything? Let me help you get started.
You know your home town.
You know what it was like to go to your high school.
You know what it was like to grow up in your family home, with your family.
Everyone underestimates how interested other people would be in what they know
I don’t think anyone wants to hear about my childhood, but I gobble up autobiographies. I don’t think anyone cares about my hometown, but then I can’t get enough of small towns in horror novels. I don’t think anyone wants to hear about my family, but I love hearing about everyone else’s family.
Remember your life seems boring to you because you lived it. No one else has done that. No one has the same experiences you have. No one has walked the same path. And your path is fascinating.
That is really what we mean by writing what you know. Not that you have to have lived a fantasy life to write. But your life is fantastic, and you should share that in your work.
Preptober starts tomorrow. Don’t forget to grab your Preptober planner on my Ko-fi store
Including Quiet Apocalypse almost seems like cheating. It’s a horror story, it’s supposed to be offensive. It’s supposed to upset people. But after all, I included all the other books. No reason my youngest should feel left out.
Brace yourself, folks. This might be the most offensive book I’ve ever written. But then, I never claimed it was for kids.
Graphic animal death
I know, I wasn’t thrilled about writing it. But it did have the desired effect. Yes, there are a few horrible animal deaths in this book.
I swear, the story called for it.
Not as graphic but still child deaths
Some kids die in this book. I don’t go into detail. We didn’t need to read about broken bones and blood when discussing babies. But yeah, some kids die.
The main character of Quiet Apocalypse, Sadie, is a witch. I’m a witch myself, so I wrote about actual magic in this book. I even included actual spells I wrote in the book. So if you need to get rid of a ghost in your house, I got you.
Finally, Quiet Apocalypse is violent. People are ripped apart by snowstorms. People are shredded by a staircase. At one point our heroes are attacked by toys in the attic. This isn’t a kind, friendly book. It is, gasp, a horror book. Horrifying things do happen.
So that’s it, not only for why Quiet Apocalypse would be banned but for Banned Books Week as a whole. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week of extra posts and discussions about censorship. Of course, just because Banned Books Week is over doesn’t mean we should stop reading banned books. Keep reading them, keep recommending them, keep defending them.
One more time, I want to open the floor up to my fellow authors. Why would your book be banned?
Banned books week might be over, but Preptober is about a week away. If you haven’t gotten your copy of the Preptober Planner yet, you still have time.