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] “Ready, Set, Novel!” by Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit

Full Title: Ready, Set, Novel! Plan and Plot Your Upcoming Masterpiece
Author: Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit from National Novel Writing Month
Published: October 2011 by Chronicle Books
Genres: Nonfiction, Books & Writing, Writing Fiction, Authorship, Writing Skills
Edition Details: 160 pages, trade paperback
Source: {Purchased – New}
Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

Woohoo! It’s a NaNoWriMo workbook! I love workbooks!

In all seriousness, this was the last NaNoWriMo-specific book on my list. I mostly bought it to complete the NaNoWriMo mini collection.

Positive Bits

The NaNoWriMo team really did create a workbook for writers that fits the formatting of the event itself. These are the hands-on activities I said were missing in the previous books; in fact, I’m surprised they didn’t make a combination set somewhere along the way.

I love the playful attitude of this workbook. There’s a page that’s literally a high five, and you’re supposed to celebrate your successes by slapping the hand on the page. There’s also a boot for your “kick in the pants” as needed. Silly, but cute!

For a newbie writer with little or no experience with creating characters from scratch, I think the activities focused on that process are particularly helpful. When I was younger, I basically kidnapped the personality of people close to me (while changing their names). The workbook gives you more thorough activities for character building.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I’m not sure this book is useful if you’ve written multiple stories in the past. Many of the activities are super simplified processes that you internalize as you grow, and that makes this workbook feel less helpful than I’d hoped it to be.

Workbooks, by their very nature, have little actual writing in them. There’s tons of blank space for the person actually doing the work. That said, I sprinted through this book and found myself disappointed at how short it was outside of the times you were supposed to pause your reading and do an exercise.

It’s a silly complaint, but I prefer workbooks that are bound in a way that allows easier use. The spine on this book (while new) is very stiff, so actually writing in the workbook itself would be irritating until you broke it in. There’s not much to do about that, though, unless the publisher wanted to use the thinner paper and binding of a traditional school workbook instead of trade paperback binding methods.

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

*Note: I didn’t have a lot of quote to share, because this workbook is mostly a collection of exercises that don’t lend themselves to epic quotability.

The hardest part is behind you. Your story is here. Your characters are waiting. It’s time for the next phase of this bookish adventure to begin. You ready? You’re set. Let’s novel. {page 117}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – particularly for new writers. If you benefit from surfing Tumblr or Pinterest for character creation tips and the like, then this book has a decent collection of worksheets to help you out. This workbook would also be a great help with pre-planning your novel, doing the outlining and world building required to get started.

Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “Breathing In, Breathing Out” by Ralph Fletcher

Full Title: Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook
Author: Ralph Fletcher
Published: November 18, 1996 by Heinemann
Genres: Nonfiction, Reference, Studying, Language & Grammar
Edition Details: 112 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased – Used
Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

Approaching this book, I made special concessions to its age. Written in 1996, this book was guaranteed to use a different style and voice than modern writing guides; after all, it’s over two decades old!

That said, it surprised me that the book is labeled for ages 5-17 on Amazon. Skimming through the pages, I wouldn’t think of it being aimed any earlier than middle or high school. Maybe a teacher could translate it for easier use?

Positive Bits

As someone who uses a digital journal (outside of this blog) to ramble on and on, Fletcher’s ideas about how to develop a writer’s notebook validate my own practices. It’s one thing to know a process works for you; it’s another to have someone else give you multiple examples of famous authors who do the same process for the same reasons.

I’ve always had a hard time at conceptualizing a writer’s notebook as a whole. I have Pinterest boards with writing quotes and story prompts, but they’re separate from my Google Drive folder of story ideas and scene snippets. While I prefer a digitized “notebook”, Fletcher’s explanations and examples left me intrigued enough to consider switching (at least in part) to a physical notebook.

The sections break the idea of a writer’s notebook into manageable pieces. I appreciate how often he reminds us to play with words until they come naturally, especially in the beginning.

Fletcher’s personal samples of older writings are painful… and yet painfully familiar! We all stumble through writing while we find our voice. One of the challenges (and joys) of looking at our older writings is finding the recyclable ideas among the rubbish.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I didn’t connect to Fletcher’s voice. From the start, I struggled to make myself read more than a handful of pages at a time. For such a short book, it took me two (2!) whole months to finally get to the end.

Fletcher is clearly a poet. We often get caught up in metaphors and imagery when it’s less than helpful. I feel like many of his chapters were weighed down by odd amounts of poetic prose and awkward word choice.

He turned me off when he started complaining about writing prompts and those who swear by them. It felt too much like writer’s elitism, like he’s just too good for such trivial writing exercises. (To be fair, Fletcher moved past that later in the same section, but the impression lingered.)

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Writing puts you in a state of ‘constant composition,’ and this is particularly true of writing in a notebook. Regular notebook writing acts as a wakeup call, a daily reminder to keep all your senses alert. This starts a cycle that reinforces itself. Writing down small details gets you in the habit of seeking out the important small things in your world. These details in turn often lead you to new material you never knew you had. {page 19}

It’s not that I try to write badly in my notebook. But I know I will be doing exactly that, just like countless other writers before me. If you read the notebooks of famous writers you’ll find some wonderful writing, sure enough, but you’ll also find pages and pages of stuff that is surprisingly boring and tedious. In a strange sort of way I find this comforting and even inspiring. {page 56}

The notebook is the place to take care of the writer inside you. To keep the writing flame lit amid the winds of indifference. This is important because nobody else will care about your writing as much as you. {page 84}

Is it worth the coin?

No – at least not at the prices I’ve seen online. The list price is $25, but even the cheaper (used) options are about $6 after shipping. I bought this book used on a dollar book day at our local Half Price Books, so it was probably worth the buck.

Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit: A Treasure Chest of Tools, Tips, and Righteous Gear to Help You Bash Out a Novel in a Month
Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month
Published: September 2006 by Chronicle Books
Genres: Nonfiction, Writing & Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction
Edition Details: 48 pages, trade paperback – kit also includes a calendar, daily inspiration cards, coupons and peptalk letters, and the Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith
Source: {Purchased – New}
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know I reviewed the original NaNoWriMo book, but I happened to get this kit on clearance at Barnes & Noble somewhere along the way as well. I’ll be brief, as there are few thoughts about this kit that don’t align with my review of the 2004 book.

Positive Bits

Humor is still Baty’s key approach, and it fit well with the pacing of this smaller kit’s book. The activities mentioned as similar to those in the core book, but this kit focuses on the basic details and leaves the actual accomplishment of each activity up to the writer.

I enjoyed the titles and descriptions of people who you might invite to join you. Instead of just suggesting family and friends, Baty takes the time to explain archetypes for each kind of person. A fellow writer. A challenge taker. A book group(ie).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Honestly, there’s a clear echo. The mini book in this kit would easily take the place of purchasing the full No Plot? No Problem! if you were choosing between A or B. You’re losing the history of NaNoWriMo and some depth to the exercises offered, but the basic explanation and guidance for writing a novel in a month are still present.

However, this kit really is the bare bones of NaNoWriMo guidance. It’s good… but not very different from just reading bits and pieces of the peptalk emails you get from NaNoWriMo’s website during November.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith {throughout}

I just really love the over-the-top name! Maybe I should add that to my resume…

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I think the kit has been on the clearance shelves of Barnes & Noble for the past year or so. But even at full price, this kit is just playful enough to get you going on your NaNoWriMo adventure. Also, there’s just something extra enjoyable about using a kit rather than just referencing a book.