Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “The Grimoire Journal” by Paige Vanderbeck

Full Title: The Grimoire Journal: A Place to Record Spells, Rituals, Recipes, and More
Author: Paige Vanderbeck
Published: July 2020 by Rockridge Press
Genres: Nonfiction, Wicca, Magic Studies, Witchcraft, Spirituality, Journal
Edition Details: 158 pages, trade paperback
Source: Won via Instagram Giveaway
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I won this book from an Instagram giveaway hosted by @fatfeministwitch (Paige Vanderbeck) and @the.glam.witch (Michael Herkes) in July. They asked for affirmations based on one of the prompts in this book, and mine was “I am a child of the universe, my bones and blood are stardust!”

Positive Bits

I need other publishers to step up their game! The aesthetics of this journal and the other books I’ve received from them are literally magical. We get colors and artwork scattered throughout the book, lending inspiration to the reader on every page. Journals and prompt books can come across as plain or even dull, especially when the majority of a page is full of straight lines for us to write. In this journal, we get the expected lines to fill in with our thoughts, but every single page has borders with color and symbols to tickle your fancy. The overall effect of this layout is a feeling of focused creativity.

Of course, the content itself is more important that the appearance. For my first read-through, I chose not to actually perform any of the writing activities or rituals while reviewing the full picture. Yet I found myself brainstorming page after page, staring off into space while I considered the prompt or spell worksheet at hand. As someone who’s been struggling with a witchy listlessness for some time now, it amazed me to feel so focused on each idea the journal presented. Not every spell suggestion fit my needs, but enough of them did to make the collection useful to any witch who might be looking for some inspiration.

There’s also a beauty in using a journal with prompts like this completely out of order. The topics are divided into basic sections: Summon Your Spells, Record Your Rituals, Relish Your Recipes, and Make Your Magic. What this really means is that there are prompts for spells, a review of large rituals celebrating the year, some recipes to craft around the kitchen, and a combination of various magical tools. You can work to create your own magical oil recipe, then turn around and use that for a prompted spell for protection. I’d actually recommend jotting down the page numbers of incorporated items like the oil recipe on any other pages it appears in, just to make finding your recipe easily when the time comes. All in all, the ties between items are loose enough that there’s no need to move chronologically through the exercises in order to gain their benefits.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This journal may not do much for a brand new witch. Without some basic background knowledge of various topics (elements, herbs, colors, crystals, and so forth), the prompts may come across as a bit overwhelming. However, some patience and the use of a couple outside resources could overcome this issue.

In a completely personal preference, I wish this journal was bound in a spiral. As a lefty in particular, I don’t enjoy the feeling of resistance that the left side of the book applies to your hand as you write in a bound book. That’s why my own active grimoire is a spiral journal instead, because it can truly lay flat. To be fair, though, I’m not sure that many publishers have the equipment (or desire) to bind books in anything other than traditional methods.

More prompts related to personal associations would’ve been wonderful. We get into some basics throughout the journal, but we didn’t dive into the elements or moon phases as they relate to us as individuals. Considering how different my relationship with the elements has been based on location (living in Texas versus living in the Pacific Northwest), that would’ve been an interesting direction to explore together.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Magic isn’t something purely outside of ourselves; it’s equally pulled from within. We find it in our memories, feelings, and relationships, and our inner voice weaves this magic into the fabric of who we are and how we see ourselves. – page xi

The act of preparing food, for others or yourself, is inherently imbued with the energies of love, care, and healing. – page 70

The flame of your candle can release your wishes out into the universe, attract blessings and spirits with its warm light, and bring psychic revelations through smoke and wax. – page 102

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – particularly if you need some inspiration to get your magical creativity flowing. The variety of topics touched by this journal is like the rainbow of light a prism casts onto the walls as the sun hits – there’s a bit of every color mixed in!

Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon

Full Title: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Author: Austin Kleon
Published: February 2012 by Workman Publishing
Genres: Nonfiction, Arts & Photography, Art Therapy, Study & Teaching
Edition Details: 160 pages, trade paperback
Source: {Purchased – Used}
Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I ran across this book in the thrift store, tucked between old textbooks and random nonfiction. I didn’t have to read more than a couple of points from the back cover before I decided to purchase it. Why? Because the back cover is a numbered list, and #3 says “Write the book you want to read.” (That’s my favorite piece of writing advice.)

Positive Bits

This book is a ridiculously quick read. I finished it all in one lunch break (less than an hour), and I didn’t skip or skim anything. The artsy visuals throughout really make the ideas presented in the text quick and easy to conceptualize.

There were so many good nuggets of information! One of the best things about Kleon’s tips is that they were applicable to any kind of creative effort. While I enjoy a good writer’s guide, I like to think that creativity isn’t so narrowly focused that we have to read ONLY writer’s books or ONLY photography blogs. Creativity’s core focus is to create. Anyone who embraces that idea is alright with me.

Kleon had many functional ideas that fit with habits I already have. For example, he tells you to collect books even if you don’t intend to read them immediately. I’m a proud bookdragon, and my hoard is wonderous! He also reminds us to collect praise as much as we collect critiques, because there will always come a time when you need a reminder about why you write in the first place. My own “praise file” includes messages from a boy and his mom, asking to use one of my poems for a presentation in school. It still makes me smile!

Less Enjoyable Bits

There’s an entire section that speaks against the use of computers (or digital creativity methods in general). As a digital native, my creativity is enhanced by using electronics. I can type faster than I can handwrite! One valid point was that the temptation to delete the things you create and hate is too great (oh god, like that rhyme!) when all it takes is a click. But it only took a week or so of actively practicing the habit of NOT deleting anything I wrote to remove that temptation from my writing habits. [link to blog post about this here]

Kleon also talks about the disconnect an artist feels from things created on a glass screen… but I don’t experience that problem. Sure, I love a good printout of my newest story or poetry collection, but I can still sit in awe of a digitized piece with a wordcount beyond my starting goals. I guess I just take issue with anyone who disses the digital and insists that “old school” or “hands on” is the ONLY way to art. If you browse the photomanipulation section of a site like deviantART [link?], you’ll see why that attitude needs to head out the door. Digital is just a new medium, that’s all.

In a weird way, this book was almost too short. There’s a second book called “Show Your Work” [get full title details] that sounds interesting, but I think they could’ve easily been one book instead of two. Then again, I could be wrong and the information could be incompatible. I haven’t read the other book, so I can only go by the description.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

(1) Steal like an artist.
(2) Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
(3) Write the book you want to read.
(4) Use your hands.
(5) Side projects and hobbies are important.
(6) The Secret: Do good work and share it with people.
(7) Geography is no longer our master.
(8) Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
(9) Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
(10) Creativity is subtraction.
{back cover}

We make art because we like art. We’re drawn to certain kinds of work because we’re inspired by people doing that work. All fiction, in fact, is fan fiction. The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best – write the story you want to read. {page 47}

Remember “garbage in, garbage out”? You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online – the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work. Pay attention to what they’re talking about, what they’re doing, what they’re linking to. {pages 102-104}

Is it worth the coin?

Maybe – but I think it’s too shallow on the topic of creativity to be worth the published price.

Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “Create Your Writer Platform” by Chuck Sambuchino

Full Title: Create Your Writer Platform: The Key to Building an Audience, Selling More Books, and Finding Success as an Author
Author: Chuck Sambuchino
Published: November 2012 by Writer’s Digest Books
Genres: Nonfiction, Web Development & Design, Social Media, Business Technology
Edition Details: 248 pages, trade paperback
Source: {Purchased – Used}
Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

It’s going to sound silly as I write out a blog post that will be shared across various social media channels, but… this book had me both intrigued and a bit leery. I’m not into the Influencer culture, the idea of success being measured by social media reach. However, I recognize that I follow people I like online; they’ve built the kind of communities and online interactions that leave you feeling good when they’re done. So clearly, a writer can benefit from using social media to interact with their readers, other writers, and the bookdragons of the world at large.

Positive Bits

Sambuchino made a lot of sense in his instructions. He gave concrete measures for recognizing successful social media platform creation, rather than generalizing. I like numbers and goals; it’s part of why I like NaNoWriMo’s 50K in 30 days, because it’s a concrete goal and timeline. This book has many examples of ways to track your platform growth.

My favorite suggestion (with tangible focus) was to Google yourself. If you’re the majority of the first page results, then you’re doing it right when it comes to social media and building a platform. I’ve done it, and my years of blogging and sharing poems have led to a large number of my posts coming up in Google Images in particular. It’s kind of neat!

I also appreciated the recognition of how important community can be. You don’t have to be a writer all alone; in fact, online writing groups can be ridiculously helpful in giving you inspiration, constructive criticism, and opportunities to give back.

Less Enjoyable Bits

A large portion of the advice in this book focused on the kinds of writers who want to run in certain circles. The authors who give paid speeches in various conventions and college events. The writers who become a household name in their field.

The focus made on networking made sense, but sometimes it pushed the boundaries of realistic choices for a person to make. For example, Sambuchino mentions working in your desired field (in relation to nonfiction writers) even if it means accepting a pay cut. That’s not terrible advice… except people who are already scraping by paycheck to paycheck can’t just switch jobs for fun. No one needs to actually choose to become a starving artist to succeed.

I felt like the section on Facebook usage was oddly out-of-date for such a recently published book. I’ve had pages for various groups and topics over the past decade, and you don’t have to friend people to interact with them on a page you manage. So the entire description of how to use Facebook effectively was out of sync with the reality of Facebook.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

You don’t have to go it alone.

Creating a large and effective platform from scratch is, to say the least, a daunting task. But you don’t have to swim out in the ocean alone. You can – and are encouraged to – work with others. {page 40}

You can only best understand and help members of your niche/community if you’re heavily involved with them. Your goal is to join and participate in any kind of community that links you with those who share your interests – and by participate I’m talking meaningful interaction, not status updates on Facebook that tell people to buy your book. {page 66}

Create content with passion and gusto, and build a community around yourself. The goal is simply to create a huge readership and to help that some of that visibility translates to book sales. No double it will, though exact numbers will be difficult to come by. {page 84}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you don’t know where to start with social media and all the online mumbo jumbo associated with marketing yourself and your writing. Be warned, though, that this book is largely focused on how a nonfiction writer gets attention. The tips and tricks can crossover, but they don’t always translate into fiction work.