Pagans love books and often, the more we read, the more we want to write. I think it’s great. If I were Queen of the World, everyone would write both a book and a blog. But writing can be daunting. A number of people have asked me for advice on writing their Pagan or Magickal books: how to find time to write, how to define the audience, how to avoid appropriation, writer’s block, haters, etc.? I don’t have all the answers, but these eleven tips have worked for me. If you’re trying to write, maybe they’ll work for you, too!
11 Tips for Writing Your Magickal or Pagan Book
Good luck and Goddess-speed!
1.) There will never be enough time to write.
Unless you’re independently wealthy, there are bills to pay and pets to feed. There are also friends to see and FB arguments to win. Carve out your writing time and hold onto it. I used to get up at 5am to write. It was awful, but I got used to it and eventually craved it. Now, with my 6am-2pm work schedule, I hold 2:30-4:30 p.m. as my sacrosanct writing time. You have to work. You have to eat and exercise. Your closest friends, partners, pets, kids, and elders need your time…and so does your writing. Make writing as important as your day job and relationships.
2.) Imagine one person you’re writing for and write just for them.
I learned this from Theresa Reed (imagining your ideal client) and Auburn Seminary Media Training (imagining speaking to just one person). If only one person in the world were to read your book, who would they be? What’s their age, gender, sexual orientation? What matters to them? Would they prefer orthodoxy in their Paganism, a spontaneous approach, or a combination? Having this single person in your mind will help you decide what to include in your book and what can wait for the next one. It also has the benefit of personalizing things. If you write for one person only, everyone who reads it is likely to feel like you wrote that book just for them. It’s odd how it works.
3.) Include the Gods in the process. Don’t just write from a distance.
Whether you’re writing about a Deity, a Tradition, a Spiritual practice, or an herb–utilize that throughout your writing process. Go deep in the journey you want your readers to take. That will deepen the experience for them, too.
4.) Writer’s block WILL happen and it’s not a reflection on your talent.
Sometimes we’re tired. Sometimes the words just won’t come. Here are three suggestions.
a.) Scrub the bathroom, go to the grocery store, or fold laundry. I once painted my whole kitchen during a particularly nasty block.
b.) Write anyway, even if all you write is “writing sucks writing sucks” I actually took 20 such pages out of my first manuscript.
c.) Blog. When you’re really blocked, blog about writing. (Guilty.)
If, earlier on, I had accepted that being blocked is just part of the process, I would probably have a few more books out right now.
5.) Embrace what about you is different.
Let’s say there is a renowned author with a bestselling Pagan book about the same subject as yours. Don’t get caught up in worrying if people won’t like you because you’ve got a different take. Those who are picking up your book what to hear what you have to say-even if it’s different than the other author’s work (maybe because it’s different). If they wanted to hear what that author had to say, they’d read their book. Some people will prefer the other author’s work, but some will prefer yours.
6.) Be aware of cultural appropriation–but not paralyzed by it.
Cultural appropriation is an issue that warrants careful concern. It’s a sensitive issue that societies as a whole are just beginning to explore and understand. Because it’s an uncomfortable topic, writers are often wont to either ignore the whole concept and hurtfully appropriate, or tread so carefully out of fear of appropriating that work is restrained and weakened.
As a white American who comes from colonizing Ancestors and was raised with great privilege, it’s something I take very seriously. At the same time, because I am several generations removed from my Ancestral cultures of origin, there are very few Magickal or Spiritual things I can write about that don’t belong to someone else’s culture. Even writing about what’s closest to me, such as Southern American Folk Magick, is a challenge. My mother’s family has lived in Appalachia for over 200 years, but because I grew up in Oregon, I’m considered an outsider and risk being considered appropriative. It’s certainly something I am at risk for when writing about Irish mythology and spirituality. I can’t change this, but I can own and accept my foreign or outsider status, and work to be as respectful as possible in my work. I always say in the beginning of my books that I am foreign to the work that I’m doing, and ask the reader to keep in mind that they are reading an outsider’s point of view.
If you are writing about a culture other than the one in which you were raised, make a concerted effort to build relationships within the cultures you are writing about. Get input and feedback from people within those cultures. Use research materials written by native experts. Promote native authors doing similar work through your social media portals, or include their work within your own (e.g., artwork, poems, forewords, spells, prayers, etc.) with proper permissions and credit, and if possible, compensation. Own the fact that you’re foreign to the work, but avoid being overly apologetic. Many well-meaning authors go down this road and inadvertently alienate their readers e.g.,: “If they’re doing something ‘wrong’ by writing about this Goddess, am I doing something wrong by worshipping them?”
Even if you take great care with avoiding appropriation, chances are good that at some point someone will say you are appropriating. When this happens, avoid getting defensive. Engage in open conversation. It’s possible someone misunderstood your work or took it out of context. Then again, it’s possible you’ve made a mistake and did appropriate. If so, receive the feedback as constructive criticism, not condemnation. Let it help you do even better work in the future.
7.) If you have an idea for a book, start writing it. Know that someone else out there has the same idea.
This has happened to me with several books…one of which even that the same title as mine! Our minds are not all that separated. If you are thinking of writing something, someone else is thinking of writing it, too. Don’t put it off until next year because you’re sure to see it at Powell’s or the Strand and you’ll hate yourself and the author and everyone around you–and they don’t deserve that.
8.) Love your material enough that failure won’t scare you.
One of my biggest fears with “Brigid” was that I was wasting my time. What would become of me if the years of research and writing were wasted if no one would publish it? Should I consider writing something else, something that would definitely sell? I couldn’t guarantee any of it, so I just kept going with it because I loved spending the time with the material.
9.) Stop “being a writer” and start writing.
I spent a lot of time in the underground arts scene, trying to be a writer. One day, I realized I was spending far more time talking about writing (and drinking beer with people talking about writing) than I was actually writing. Two hours at my computer a day versus six hours out with the other writers is what made me a writer. It’s a practice like playing an instrument or developing muscle through fitness. If you want to be good and successful at it, you must practice every day. I think if I figured that out sooner, my first book would have come out years before.
10.) Find your voice, but don’t cling to it.
When I was submitting Brigid, one editor said my writing was uneven. Part of it sounded wise, the other sounded immature. I realized I was clinging to the way I used to write and my voice had shifted. By trying to cling to what I thought was authentic me, I was stifling the real me. If you write enough, your voice will be present and you won’t have to dig to make it “sound like you.” I really, really wish someone had told me that earlier in my writing career.
11.) Stop worrying that someone will hate your book.
Guess what? Someone will. They will hate everything about it and curse the publisher who contracted you. It’s inevitable. It can’t be helped. You can’t write in a way that will avoid this, so don’t because….
Someone else will LOVE it. Your book will change their life and when they meet you at a conference, they’ll cry when they tell you what it did for them. Don’t write with the hater in mind. Accept that the hating is going to happen, and trust that the loving is going to happen, too.
Keep in mind that single person you’re writing for. They’re the only one who matters–write with as much conviction as you can.
Write the shit out of that book. I can’t wait to read it.
My new book, The Morrigan: Celtic Goddess of Magick and Might is available for pre-order. Whenever possible, please order from your local metaphysical shop or independent bookstore.