Horror Writers Association Blog

“How to Overcome the Horror of Writing” By John Allen


When I received the HWA mailer asking members to contribute for Halloween I knew immediately what I wanted to write about. I wanted to share something that would help other new horror authors trying to get their stories polished and published.

Horror I feel scares some readers away and often gets confused with other genres. When I told a colleague I had written a horror novel, she wrinkled her nose up and said ‘I hate horror! I hate being scared.’ Obviously not my target audience. I’ve then read books that market themselves as ‘dark fantasy’ or ‘dystopian fantasy’ when they are actually horror stories. What chance do we have labelling our work as horror if publishers and readers are afraid to buy it? Answer; a great chance. There’s a reason authors like Stephen King, Paul Cornell and Anne Rice sell so well, and it’s not because they write fluffy fiction. They spin a great yarn and can scare the pants off a reader. I think we need to be proud about our work and not be afraid to market it as such.

I came up with two short lists of what writers dreaming dark tales are often afraid of and how to overcome that fear.

What are you afraid of?

Writing a horror story can double the usual doubts you have about your work. It may feel like one of those screaming children you see running through a park pursued by murderous parents.

  1. It’s horrible and you know no one will like it.
  2. It hates you, then loves you before hating you again.
  3. You’re terrified it might cause an accident.
  4. It won’t go-to-sleep!
  5. It’s nearly killed you on several occasions.
  6. It keeps threatening to leave if you don’t pay it enough attention.
  7. It tries to embarrass you at every opportunity.
  8. It won’t shut up.
  9. It rarely does what you want it to do.
  10. It laughs at you just because it thinks it’s funny.

Learning to write a good horror story is like learning to raise a screaming child. You have to be patient, learn from your mistakes and try again. You also have to remember;

  1. There is no formal instruction manual.
  2. No one is an expert…
  3. …but everyone is an expert at giving advice.
  4. There are thousands of different ways to learn…
  5. …but only one of those ways may work for you.
  6. Not everyone is going to like your child.
  7. That’s okay.
  8. Because other people will like your child.
  9. Sometimes you have to let others look after your baby.
  10. Patience is essential and you’re going to need a lot of it as your screaming toddler grows.

I’m a barely known scribe in the world of horror, a small demon still finding his way amongst giants. King, Koontz and Klein teach me as much as they thrill me. Lovecraft, Stoker and Matheson gently encourage me from beyond the grave. These are just some of the amazing authors who dare to dig deep and uncover stories other writers fear. They inspire me to dig deep, filling me with confidence that this year might be the year I find more readers, and make a larger sale.

Happy Halloween.

And don’t give up.

Bio: John Allen is a British writer of horror, science fiction and fantasy works. He has been published in Vector – The British Science Fiction Association Magazine and online by SFF World, Sci-Fi Bloggers and more. His dark short “Thanks for Applying” won an Honourable Mention Award in the Writers of the Future Competition in May 2017 and has previously been shortlisted in other competitions since 2010. He blogs regularly and is a passionate advocate of mental wellbeing in the workplace. John has binned 3 novels and written 2 more. His writing grows sharper by the day…he hopes.

You can find out more about John’s work at his website here.

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