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The Tricks and Treats of Writing

Custom spider web candy bars
Photo by Shauna Younge Dessert Tables [1].

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. The laughter, the screams, the decorations, the ghost stories — it’s all such fun. But even from a young age, I knew that “trick-OR-treating” was a misleading term, because you can’t have one without the other. No costume? No candy.

Unfortunately this is true of writing too. The good and bad go hand-in-hand.

But what if we look at it another way? The good and bad go hand-in-hand. That means whenever one of those pesky writerly “tricks” comes up, we can flip it around and find a wonderful writerly “treat” too. For example…

TRICK – Doubt

So much of writing involves just 3 people: Me, Myself, and I. Writers toil for hours in solitude, every sentence like a private conversation with ourselves. In that kind of a closed loop, it’s easy for confidence to flag and questions to seep in through the cracks. Why am I doing this? What are the odds that I will succeed? Hasn’t someone already written this? Am I even any good?

TREAT Affirmation

When we do let other people into our writing — whether through blogging, publishing a story, or just talking to a friend — that support and encouragement is one of the warmest feelings in the world. In times when doubt threatens to pull me into a dark place, I call upon my reserves of reassurance to get me through: friendly blog comments, fan emails, complimentary rejections from literary magazines, the unconditional love and faith of my family.

TRICK – Jealousy

In a cruel twist of irony, writers tend to work alone, yet at the same time, doesn’t it seem like everyone and their mom is a writer now? We see people tapping away on their laptops at the coffee shop. We read about their signings with hotshot agents on Twitter. We hear about their mega-dollar book deals on entertainment TV. I think we would have to be dead not to feel at least a little pang of envy over all the good news that isn’t happening to us.

TREAT – Community

The great thing about writing is that there’s room for everybody. The more, the merrier! And having all these other writers “around” (on the internet) is an amazing gift, because here is a whole group of people with the same kind of hopes and dreams and methods and madness as us. Some are farther along in the journey and can show us the way. Others are walking the path at the same time and can keep us company. Still others are just starting out, and we can offer them guidance and support.

TRICK – Negativity

Rejections. Unfulfilled word counts. Another year gone by without a book deal, or an agent, or even a finished manuscript. The tough stuff adds up quick, and it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I have a couple bad writing days in a row, it’s hard to reverse the momentum.

TREAT – Joy

Fortunately, a little goes a long way. There is nothing in the world — nothing — like the feeling I get from putting my thoughts, feelings, or imagination into words. Watching that page fill up, line by line. Even if I only manage to focus for 15 minutes each day, even if I only get through 1 or 2 paragraphs, it’s enough to change my whole outlook. It’s like fireflies sparking on a summer night, or a quick soft kiss from someone you love. Fleeting but beautiful, it fills you up.

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Well, is writing a trick-AND-treat kind of thing for you too? Or have you somehow managed to grab all the candy and run home before the goblins could catch you?

Also, just for fun, who dressed up for Halloween? Bonus points if you show us your costume.

About Kristan Hoffman [2]

Originally from Houston, TX, Kristan Hoffman [3] studied creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and later attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Now she lives with her family in Cincinnati, OH, where she writes both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on feminist, multicultural stories. Her words have appeared in the New York Times, Switchback, and the Citron Review, among others. She is currently at work on a Young Adult novel, and is represented by Tina Dubois of ICM. For more, please visit her website [4].

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