Writing Horror While Horrified – 2020 Insights

I started 2020 focused on writing growth, but the year stymied me. I struggled to put my dread and horror into words. I plugged away, not seeing progress in the weird, liminal space of the year. But changes came anyway.

I’m sharing five things that got me through this year and made my writing, and my writing life, grow.

1. Reading Wider

I made a conscious decision to read outside of my normal choices this year. I sought out stories by Black authors, writers of color, writers in other countries, and trans and queer writers. Reading outside my personal experience made my perspective richer. And celebrating and discussing diverse writers expands opportunities for everyone.

I read outside my genre, choosing current fantasy and science fiction and literary stories. I still love horror best, but expanding my tastes to magical realism and dark literary fiction showed me new places my writing could go.

I read craft books that made me see my writing through a different lens and gave me tips to evolve it. A favorite was “Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different” by Chuck Palahniuk.

I read nonfiction in my genre this year, including the incredible “Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction,” edited by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson.

2. More Submissions, More Acceptances, Many More Rejections

I submitted more stories and poems this year than ever before, and I received more acceptances and many more rejections.

All those rejections were a good experience. With so many of them, I saw how different publications handled their communication and got helpful feedback from personal rejections. I also worried less about receiving them. Rejection showed me I was putting work out there, so I was meeting my goal.

Joe Hill’s comments about rejection on Brian Keene’s Horror Show podcast have stuck with me all year.

I’ll be taking this focus on meeting goals instead of perfection into the new year.

3. Gratitude for Writer Colleagues and Mentors

My biggest learning this year came from writing classes and my critique partners.

The key for me was finding writing classes that met my budget (money and time) and were inclusive of horror and dark fiction. My favorite this year was the Advanced Creative Writing Workshop with Storyville Studio. Richard Thomas is a supportive instructor, and I laughed for hours each week in his class. They have great payment-plans, too.

Other genre-inclusive options include writing classes with Cat Rambo and Gabino Iglesias. They both have lower-cost options to make them accessible to all. I’m also grateful for the Writers Atelier community and classes, which are inclusive of writers of every genre and level.

I met many of my critique partners through my writing classes. It’s a gift to find writers who encourage you and push you to be better. I’ve learned so much from talking with writers who do things differently than I do. Serious outliners. Craft book junkies. Self published. Agented. Querying. It didn’t change how I do things, but it informed my own process and developed meaningful relationships.

4. Writing Deeper

I credit Richard Thomas for pushing me to write about my deepest fears in my horror. The deeper I went, the more emotion came through in my writing. Tapping into universal fears affected my readers more, too.

Richard also introduced me to Hopepunk, the idea of hopeful endings in dark fiction. I love a bloody, gruesome ending to a horror story, but learning to incorporate deeper emotions into uncertain endings and the power of a glimmer of hope in the darkness added depth to my stories.

Magical realism and supernatural love stories blossomed from digging deeper in my horror writing, which has surprised and delighted me.

5. Celebrated the Goals of Writer and Publishing Friends

I was lucky to submit stories alongside friends a few times this year. We shared open calls, cheered each other through writing, and celebrated or comforted each other when responses came. Writing can be isolating. Having writer friends through the process shored me up. I’m closing the year feeling grateful for what I’ve learned and the amazing writing people I’ve grown closer to.

My wish for you, fellow writer, is you get to look ahead to 2021 with hope in your heart. Write for fun. Treasure the rejections because they show you’re putting in the work. And love your writing, the process and what you create. You are amazing.


  • Richard Thomas
    December 31, 2020

    Thanks for the kind words. You’re doing amazing work, and I’m honored to have played a small role in your development. You’re really tapping into some uncanny, unsettling, emotional work. Just LOVE reading your stories.

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