Terrifying Advice: Part Three of Our 2022 Women in Horror Month Roundtable

March is nearly over, which means once again, Women in Horror Month is getting ready to wind to a close. As I always say, it’s over way too quick!

But before the month slips away completely, let’s return for part three in our Women in Horror roundtable!

The last few years in the world have been challenging to say the least. How do you motivate yourself to keep writing despite the terrors and challenges of everyday life?

GABY TRIANA: Writing is actually how I think, so if I want to sort out thoughts or feelings, I write. This happens every day, whether it’s writing fiction or journaling or making lists that help me organize my brain. Either way, I write daily.

HYSOP MULERO: Overcoming the mental chatter between my ears combined with daily errands and responsibilities can make writing challenging on the best of days. I am a personal, albeit reluctant consumer of procrastination, and with that type of maladaptive behavior I utilize the “least is better than none” method. Sure, I have great writing days where the sun shines enthusiastically through my window and my coffee is prepared just right, and words are pulsating through my fingers, but more days than not I have to treat writing as yet another errand or task that must be done. So, I put away my grand notions of how this process should look or feel or how hot my coffee has to be and make myself put words on the page. Many many words. And the days that I do get to have the sun grace me with its light, and everything in the universe aligns for me to have a perfect writing day, well, those are the beautiful bonuses.

EVE HARMS: My priority is to keep writing enjoyable. I actually love every part of the process—researching, drafting, and editing—so if I’m not feeling motivated to write, I don’t. I’ve found if I let myself feel guilt around not writing, I rob myself of the joy of remembering how good it feels to write. This does mean that there will be months where I don’t put any words on the page, but that’s okay. And besides, the creative process requires rest to operate at its fullest. Even if I’m not writing, I’m usually still spending time in the worlds I’m creating and occasionally taking down notes about ideas I have for various projects.

NICOLE GIVENS KURTZ: I haven’t been as successful at this as I would like. I struggle every. single. day. One of the things I have found is listening to BTS and Tomorrow by Together (K-pop bands). Both groups offer songs of loving myself and how to handle the pandemic and its effects. They’re encouraging and uplifting, which helps repeal some of the darkness enough for me to find enough light to work.

MELANIE R. ANDERSON: When the pandemic started, my job became unpredictable, as happened for everyone. I had previous experience teaching a couple online courses, but shifting formats for all my classes midsemester was chaotic. Keeping a routine has remained difficult. And I had to limit my news consumption. I needed deadline extensions on a couple of academic projects. But, I think one thing that helped keep me researching and writing was that it was something I could keep doing, barring pandemic-related issues with getting resources. Another was that I had some control over that work, as opposed to everything else.

LISA KRÖGER: I’m not going to lie: it’s been hard. Writing is cathartic to me, so even when I don’t feel motivated, I often find that the act of writing helped me to manage my stress and anxiety. Plus, writing is a practice; it’s a muscle to exercise. I try to keep doing it, every day, even if I don’t feel particularly excited about it or inspired. I don’t try to hit certain word counts or write for any specific length of time, though. There’s too much stress in that, and we don’t need more stress on our lives right now. Sometimes, the act of rest can be the best remedy to writer’s block, so I’ve learned that at times, it’s okay to give ourselves some time and space to breathe and let our imaginations run wild. In times of high stress, one of the best things to do for your writing is not to set unrealistic goals. Take small steps towards your goals—those add up over time.

KATHRYN E. MCGEE: Writing has always been a way I deal with difficult emotions. Examining why I’m anxious, angry, or scared by putting a character in a fictional situation dealing with the same feelings helps me cope. When I’m caught up in crafting the plot, character, and technical aspects of storytelling, my worries become something else entirely and are not so overwhelming to me anymore. The pandemic has been a challenge, though. In some ways, I’ve used the daily horrors to fuel writing. I did publish one story, “Mondays Are for Meat,” that deals directly with the anxieties of the pandemic. However, now two years into this, the weight of it all is heavy. There have been periods of time when creating has felt impossible. Recently more than ever. While I usually write intensely, I’ve had to give myself permission to not write and just watch movies or go for walks. Some balance between a butt-in-chair mentality and being kind to myself and resting seems essential, right now, for creativity.

LEE MURRAY: See question 1.

For the past six months, I’ve spent a lot of time online in a zoom chat with my New Zealand colleague Grace Bridges, author of the Earthcore series. As well as being invalided to her room since June, Grace lives in Auckland, a city which has spent more than 121 days in lockdown in 2021 and most of that time from August. To help cope with the isolation, Grace and I have been working online together most working days. There really is something in that adage misery loves company. It’s like having a virtual office mate, although her afternoon teas, carried upstairs by her mum and her flatmate, look a lot yummier than mine! I also like to take walks with my darling, soak in our spa pool, read, cuddle my happy-zoomy dog, and watch movies with my grown-up kids (currently at home). Plus, I’m a baby painter of watercolours and, more recently, of acrylics. With the painting, unlike my writing, I try not to put too much pressure on myself to produce something; it’s more about the process than the product. Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for the arts, and creativity in general, and horror especially, in providing solace in these stressful times.

What advice do you have for female horror writers who are just starting out in the industry?

GABY TRIANA: Make a name for yourself. Fight to be seen. The horror industry is very kind and inclusive, but it still takes a while for readers to get to know you and your work. Submit to anthologies; it’s a good way of introducing yourself in small bites to the community. Don’t be afraid of advocating for yourself if nobody else will. If people ask “what’s a good horror book by a woman author you’ve read lately,” and nobody mentions you, make suggestions but also mention yourself. At the same time, show a love and respect for the other women in horror, because they’re in the same boat as you.

HYSOP MULERO: Two things: Write about that monster that lives in your core. Whatever it is, regardless of the changes it may go through on the page, nothing will serve you better as a writer than to write about that ‘thing’ that has been placed inside of your belly. No one else has the ability to birth it. Further, keep submitting and falling and failing and reaching and grasping. The universe, the industry, and life are going to look at you and say: “Dammit, we have no choice but to help her now.”

EVE HARMS: Don’t listen to anyone’s advice. If someone says something that resonates with you, try it out and see how it feels. All of the rules about the writing process and industry simple don’t apply to every writer and piece. Engage with the community authentically and only work on projects that you are excited about.

NICOLE GIVENS KURTZ: Write what you want! Persevere. Publishing is difficult and challenging regardless of the genre.

MELANIE R. ANDERSON: I’m coming at this from an academic/nonfiction writing perspective–and I’m not a veteran in this space–but I’ll take a stab at it. I’m a big believer in how much reading all sorts of stuff can help with writing. And I think working on projects you want to work on is important. It’s really difficult to write about something you’re not curious about and invested in, especially if it’s a long project that you’ll be with for a while. I’m also grateful that I’ve found a few people who are willing to read and comment on drafts for me. Academics sometimes shy away from collaboration, but I’ve enjoyed co-editing and co-authoring. I think having that conversation going opens up creative possibilities.

LISA KRÖGER: Hone your skills. Don’t worry about publishing right away. Just write and write more. Have trusted people read what you write and get feedback. I recommend practicing with short stories (even micro shorts, under 1000 words) to sharpen your skills. Get comfortable with failure, and use each one as a moment to learn. Then, start trying to publish those better stories in the paying markets. It’s competitive, but I always find it helpful to keep me motivated to write more. If I get a rejection, I just try to write a better story the next time. It took me ten years to get a book contract, and it never gets easier…but I can’t imagine doing anything else. Don’t stop, keep going, and don’t give up before success comes.

KATHRYN E. MCGEE: I think it’s the same advice I’d give anyone starting out. Finish what you’re working on. Share it with people you trust. Get feedback. Take classes if you can. Read books on craft. Be open to learning and growing. Be open to changing your work to make it better. Read horror books all the time. Watch horror movies and TV shows. Immerse yourself in the genre so you know what it’s capable of. Perhaps most importantly, get involved in the writing community and support other authors as much as you can!

LEE MURRAY: Here’s the advice I gave in Tim Waggoner’s Bram Stoker Award®-winning book, Writing in the Dark (RDSP):

“Think of it like a Mad Hatter’s tea party. No room at the literature table? Sit down anyway. Take the rabbit hole to the underworld. Conjure shrink-grow monsters, evil queens, the perfidy of time, and lonely, spiralling madness. Choose chaos as a ruling principle. Ask the hard questions. Say what you mean. Talk when you want to. Debate the intricacies of language. Hide the bodies of your friends in teapots. Cut off their heads. Reference Poe. And drink more of the beverage of your choice.”

And that’s part three in our Women in Horror Roundtable! Join us again next week for the final installment of this year’s celebration of Women in Horror Month!

Happy reading, and happy Women in Horror Month!