This time of year, we all hear about ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. Quite often, our writing monsters like to rear their ugly heads around Halloween alongside all the other creatures roaming around. But these monsters can affect your writing throughout the year, not just during October. Fortunately, we can beat these creatures. Here are six writing monsters that may be plaguing you and how to stop them.
Monster 1: Research Vampire
The first monster is a research vampire. This creature seems to be friendly and fun at first (think Angel from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer). You’re going along, having a good time researching what happens when someone gets stabbed because that’s going to happen to your character next chapter—but then the research vampire strikes. Next thing you know, you’re researching 18th-century Romanian dishes until two in the morning.
The problem with the research vampire isn’t that it’s there (Spike was pretty useful in Buffy). Rather, the problem comes when it starts to suck away your time and, even more sinisterly, your energy from actually writing your masterpiece. That’s when your Angel research vampire turns into Angelus (Angel’s soulless, serial-killer alter ego). Luckily, the solution to this problem isn’t nearly as difficult as it was for Buffy to kill Angel (spoilers, sorry).
Here, the solution is time management—wield this tool like a stake you can drive right through the research vampire’s heart. Pay attention to how long you’re researching. The research vampire sneaks up to its victims, so being diligent can help you thwart it.
If you need extra help, arm yourself with “garlic,” timers to knock you out of whatever hole you’ve started to dig yourself into. You can also use your “cross” to hold research vampires at bay by making a list of what you need to research before you get started and not allowing yourself to deviate from it.
Monster 2: Wandering Will-o’-the-Wisps
Unlike most of the other monsters on this list, will-o’-the-wisps aren’t malevolent creatures. They’re little lights that people get lost following (like in Disney’s Brave). Will-o’-the-wisps take you away from the path, and the writing variety takes you away from your current project. Often, we writers call wandering will-o’-the-wisps “plot bunnies.”
If you’re anything like me, then you absolutely love the (metaphorical) light that wandering will-o’-the-wisps put off. You rush headlong into whatever idea they’ve made pop into your head. This results in you having a lot of great premises, characters, and story beginnings, but no finished product. Will-o’-the-wisps can manifest as either unnecessary plot points within your current projects that drag it out, or they can be completely new story ideas.
Personally, I have a tendency, like Merida, to happily follow will-o’-the-wisps. Luckily, I’ve found some solutions to get you and me back on the right track. The best solution I’ve found is writing down any plot bunnies that come to mind without expanding on them or starting a story. I’ll just jot down a sentence or two (or a paragraph) but no more. Then I set those aside to work on after my current project is done. Doing this has helped me actually finish what I’m writing.
Monster 3: Burnout Banshees
When you hear or see a banshee, that means that you or a family member is going to die soon. These monsters from Irish folklore make a terrible wailing noise that has prompted idioms like “scream/screech like a banshee.” Whether you see or hear them, they signify death is coming. Likewise, a burnout banshee signals the death of your writing.
She appears when you’re starting to get burnt out and tired of your current writing project. You probably won’t hear a literal scream when your burnout banshee comes, though you may feel like shrieking yourself. When the burnout banshee arrives, you only have a little while before you’re going to be happy to let your current project die, so take precautions.
Like banshees in Irish folklore, the best way to not hear a banshee is to avoid her. Pay attention to how you feel when you write. If it’s a bit of a drag, then it may signal that you’re starting to get burnt out. When this happens, take a break. Read a book, take a walk, work on worldbuilding, or do anything else that’ll help you get excited about your work again.
Monster 4: Wavering Werewolves
Werewolves, whether they be Lupin from Harry Potter or Oz from Buffy, have an unfortunate tendency to turn into monsters despite their good intentions. You may have become a wavering werewolf yourself when you go back over your writing to do a few quick edits and can’t seem to stop slashing and tearing it apart, ravenously editing your work down and never making real progress.
Like normal werewolves, wavering werewolves aren’t always bad. Editing and revising are important parts of the writing process, but when it prevents you from writing more and continuing with your work, that’s when this monster strikes. This one can be tricky because there will probably be some parts that you need to revise in order to move forward.
You don’t need something as specific as a silver bullet to defeat the wavering werewolf. You’ll just need to stop yourself from editing and start writing. Don’t go back to edit or read through your work until you’ve written a set amount of words that day. Or, try to only worry about any edits after you’ve finished your work.
Monster 5: Lonely Kelpies
Kelpies are monsters from Scottish folklore that take the shape of a beautiful horse or handsome man to lure victims away from their friends and family. They then lure them to a river or lake so they can drown their victim.
Lonely kelpies prey on those who are alone. If you’re the only one who knows about your work, then it’s possible that you’ll lose enthusiasm for it. Thus, it’s easy to get distracted and lose interest in your work, especially if you think you see a pretty horse (or will-o’-the-wisp). This can cause your writing to drown amid everyday life.
The best method I’ve found to combat lonely kelpies is to get a writing group. Kelpie attacks don’t work well when you’re in a group. The group will help you stay excited about your writing, often asking what’s going to happen next. They’ll also make you stick to your writing goals to ensure that your masterpiece doesn’t drown.
Monster 6: Fading Ghosts
Fading ghosts are a particular problem of mine. Ghosts can start out really strong, but sometimes they’ll fade with time, especially if there’s not much keeping them going. The Ghostbusters can’t help you here because this monster is your writing, so you actually want to keep ghosts around.
Your writing turns into a fading ghost when you have insubstantial planning. A lot of my writing has turned into a fading ghost because I just can’t think of what happens next. This can happen with any part of your writing, depending on which section troubles you the most, be it the beginning, middle, or end.
It’s difficult to combat a fading ghost because it can happen gradually over time. I would recommend writing an outline before you truly start working on the project. This will help you remember what you were going to do, and it’ll make you figure out what happens throughout the entire piece right from the start.
Hopefully, none of these writing monsters decide to plague you this Halloween. If they do, these steps should help you combat them. Have you encountered any of these monsters before? How did you beat them? Let us know of any more writing monsters you’ve come across that weren’t listed here in the comments below.