On May 3rd, 1996 a film called The Craft was released. I was 14 at the time and when I saw the film advertised in one of my teen magazines I knew instantly that I would absolutely love it. I’ve always had this sixth sense about movies, but this cult film has remained one of my favourites long past my teens. This week The Craft celebrated its 2oth anniversary.
It began a trend of aligning young women with witchcraft with TV shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, and in films such as Practical Magic. The Craft also arguably reignited the teen horror genre which exploded the next year with Scream.
I remember going to HMV to buy the soundtrack and buying black nail polish and lipstick from Boots the Chemist. I found a metaphysical shop in the nearest town and spent many an afternoon there breathing in the scent of patchouli incense and reading the books there. Teen magazines featured interviews with teen witches and I desperately wished I could be a part of a coven and bewitch cute guys. One magazine even had a free gift of a tarot deck and I used to practice different spreads trying to see what my future held.
I related to The Craft as a teen uncomfortable in her own body. I think that’s where it’s popularity lies, in that it has universal appeal. Everyone can relate to feeling like an outsider at some point in their lives. I wasn’t the most popular girl in my class, nor was I a loner, I just kind of was, that invisible purgatory where sometimes more popular girls said catty remarks and I was often ignored by boys (although that was ok, I’d set my sights on Hollywood stars instead).
The film follows troubled teen Sarah Bailey as she starts at a new school and is swiftly humiliated by her crush, Chris. She attracts the attention of three outcasts; (whom Chris dubs “the bitches of Eastwick”) Bonnie, Rochelle and Nancy, and they quickly recruit her as the fourth member of their circle on account of her natural magical abilities. With Sarah’s powers the circle quickly find their spells coming true; Chris becomes infatuated with Sarah, Bonnie’s burn scars disappear, Nancy’s abusive step-father dies leaving her mother and her enough money to move from their trailer to an apartment, and Rochelle stops being bullied by “racist piece of bleach-blonde shit” Laura Lizzie. With this wish-fulfilment comes greed and abuse of power, and Sarah is the only member of the group who sees that the power is backfiring on them in increasingly more dangerous ways.
I was already familiar with the actresses in the film. I knew scene-stealer Fairuza Balk (Nancy) from The Worst Witch and Return to Oz, Neve Campbell (Bonnie) was in the tv drama Party of Five, Rachel True (Rochelle) had been in the saucy Embrace of the Vampire and Robin Tunney had played another suicidal young woman in another great film, Empire Records. I loved their Catholic schoolgirl/goth style and most of all I was enchanted by the magic.
The film is not without its flaws; the scene in the magic shop, when Sarah seeks help from Lirio promises something which doesn’t deliver, and I always wondered why Rochelle’s home life was overlooked. Nancy may be the villain of the story but she is absolutely the most fun to watch. The Craft is being remade this year. Apparently it is not a sequel but a reimagining. I don’t know who they will cast that could have even half of the intensity of Fairuza Balk, and of course, any new film will lack the nostalgic 90s charm of the original. The 90s did teen angst so well with tv series such as My So-Called Life, Buffy and Dawson’s Creek. Maybe I’m showing my age here, but the teens in the latest tv shows all seem so glossy and cookie-cutter perfect.
Most importantly, The Craft showed me that it was ok to deviate from the norm, to seek your own answers in life, and of course, to be a weirdo. It started my interest with all things witchy and I’m certainly not the only girl influenced by the characters’ interest in spells and incantations. Wiccan writer Silver Ravenwolf published her book Teen Witch and subsequent Teen Witch Kit no doubt in response to all the interest in witchcraft from teens after the release of the film.
The Craft was not the first, nor the last film to use the female teenage experience in all its messiness and emotions as a horror allegory. Horror allows for agency and transcendence, whether it is through magic, being the ‘final girl’ or through literal transformation (watch Ginger Snaps – the town is called Bailey Downs – a nod to The Craft perhaps?). And teenage girls will always straddle that mysterious, scary place between childhood and womanhood, and will no doubt always be drawn to witchcraft as an exploration of themselves (and here I am in no way saying that an attraction to magic is merely a phase – I am living proof of that!). We only need to look at the teen witches in recent television, such as American Horror Story: Coven and The Vampire Diaries, Little Mix’s music video Black Magic, and all the witchy articles in the online magazine Rookie to show just how popular witches are. But also, a search on Instagram for witches shows that women of all ages are embracing the craft, consulting the tarot and exploring their spiritual sides.
Every since I was young I’ve been fascinated by the thought of time travel. Not travelling to the future, however, but to the past. I always wanted to solve certain mysteries, like how the pyramids were built, or who Jack the Ripper was. I also wanted to see people from history that I admired, and see what they were really like.
There are some eras which, in particular, interest me. The ancient civilisations always engross me, as well as the Tudor and the Stuarts. I love the dark Gothic of Victorian London, as well as Belle Epoque Paris, the 50s, 60s, 80s and 90s. It doesn’t matter that I grew up in the 80s and the 90s, I’d like to explore them as an adult, there is something so attractive about the music, film and cultures of those decades.
With the excellent television adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, 11.22.63 currently airing on the Fox channel here in the UK, and the much-anticipated second season of Outlander on Amazon Prime, it got me thinking about how time travel is an excellent writing prompt.
Where would your character travel to? Why? How? Would they travel back in a machine? Through a wardrobe? With a car? What would happen to them in this ‘new’ old place? Would they fit in? Would they be in danger? Would they be rich or poor? Invisible even?
And even if you’re not interested in writing a time travelling adventure, just imagining what it would be like to live in a different time can help with historic novels, or even just researching the background of a character or a flashback.
Where would you travel back (or forwards) to?
I’m pretty sure that I’ve been a procrastinator since my high school days, but maybe it started earlier. Homework was always a drag, especially at the end of a particularly tiresome school day, when I’d get home and just want to relax and read a book. I’m an introvert, and I often feel drained when I’m around a lot of people, and back then in school, even more so, because I was shy and awkward; I lacked confidence and faith in myself, so I was always ‘acting out’ a version of myself that I deemed cooler by other people’s standards.
But schoolwork had deadlines, and I had to meet them, even if that meant leaving said homework to the last minute and doing a rushed job on it. This was particularly true of the subjects I didn’t enjoy, and there were many of them. Science was boring, Maths was excruciating and even History, which I’d always enjoyed, suddenly became a conveyor belt of essays about dull World War politics. Give me ancient civilisations and raunchy Tudors and Stewarts any day. I thought I’d love French, but vocabulary lists and grammar didn’t engage me. That only left English, my one true love (back then anyway). Ahh English. Reading literature and poetry, and creative writing were all wonderful to me. They didn’t feel like a chore.
I dreamed of growing up to be a writer, and spending my time either typing away in a chic cafe or a dreamy library/office or doing research for my novels. It would all be so easy. Except it isn’t. Because there is a niggling, nay, irritating part of me that loves to self-sabotage. I’ve read many articles on the subject of procrastination and that part of ourselves that self-sabotages has been likened to a chimp, a naughty disobedient child, and even a demon. It is frequently called the ego too, though not in the Freudian sense of the term. Some people name their ego, so they can acknowledge him or her when they try to take over. “Oh yeah, it’s Geoff trying to put me off writing that really important essay” or “I can’t sign up for that awesome photography course because Joan says it’s pointless.”
Indeed, the more I read about procrastination and this pesky part of my brain, the more I’m beginning to recognise her when she rears her ugly head. I can’t believe I never noticed before. Case in point, last Tuesday I decided that I really should go to a class at my local yoga studio. Why? Because I love yoga, I need to get more active and I’d been putting it off for a long time. But as soon as I thought about going to class, my ego popped up with excuse after excuse:
Ego: “Err…wait, you can’t go to yoga. What if everyone is really advanced and super flexible? You’ll look like a total dick and be humiliated!”
Me: “That’s ok, stupid ego. I checked and the class is open to all levels.”
Ego: “But the class is bound to be fully booked. Then you’ll have gone all that way for nothing.”
Me: “If that’s the worst that can happen, then fine. Besides, I doubt a 9:30am class will be packed.”
Ego: “But you’re bound to get stuck in traffic and…”
Me: “Damn it ego! I’m going and you can’t do a damn thing to stop me. This time I win!” Cue Nelson from The Simpson’s signature laugh. Ha ha.
A victory this time for me, but the ego tries to sabotage every aspect of my life, especially my creative side. I chose to be a writer because I love creating worlds and characters and stories, so how could the ego possibly win at getting me to put off my passion in life? Easy. The ego punches you hard, where it hurts.
Me: “La, la, la. Going to write that next chapter today.”
Ego: “Wait? What? No, no you can’t do that. It’s going to be so hard to actually write today. That idea for the scene you have might sound awesome, but on paper, it’ll totally suck. You’ll feel such a failure and I don’t want that for you. Why don’t you put it off? We could nap, or read or even better, we could carry on watching Charmed on Netflix. We’re only on season 3 and we have so many episodes left to watch.”
Me: “Oh ok then. Just this once.”
Ego: “Yay! Woo hoo! And screw the diet! You know we totally need to add chocolate to the equation, because, chocolate.”
And so the vicious cycle continues.
I’m not writing this article to explain procrastination or the ego. There is a great article about it here, which explains much better than I could, and there are amusing stick men illustrations to boot! It’s actually the best description I’ve ever read of how procrastination actually works.
I’m not even writing this to say, hey presto! Abracadabra! There’s an immediate cure and here it is! Rejoice! (I wish). I’m writing this because I know that I’m not alone in suffering from this. In fact, it seems to be a common problem with creative types (although not exclusively). Creating can be hard work and can plague the artist/writer/etc with self-doubt. Creating can be daunting and scary, and once you’ve gone over that hurdle, it can be just as scary and daunting to present your work to the world and try and sell it. But it doesn’t have to be. Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear fully debunks the struggling artist myth, and why we, as creators, creatrixes or whatever we want to call ourselves, shouldn’t fall into that trap.
So, the burning question, how do you beat procrastination? I’m still struggling with it, and I don’t think there is a 100% full proof way. But you can trick your ego like I did with my yoga class. You have to learn to differentiate the ego from the rational part of your mind. You have to know when it’s trying to sabotage your plans and thwart it. You have to acknowledge and ignore. Just do one tiny little step to your goal, because a tiny step can lead to bigger ones. Force yourself to put on your work out clothes, force yourself to open up the Word document or Pages document on your computer, get out your paints, don’t reach for that bar of chocolate, even though it seems to be calling to you.
Remember each time your ego tries to put you off something, why you wanted to do it in the first place. Procrastinating doesn’t make a task go away, it makes it feel like a weight on your shoulders that gets heavier and heavier the longer you put it off. Another trick is to cut your neverending to-do list down to three priorities every day. Three isn’t too overwhelming, as long as you make them baby steps, and if you get them over and done with, the feeling of fulfillment you’ll experience will far surpass the guilty feeling of knowing you should be working on tasks but are instead watching YouTube videos of people falling over.
How do you beat your procrastination?