Guest Post: Writing with Ghosts; or What to Do When You Start Hearing Voices by Gypsy Thornton

October 17, 2023

The following is a delightfully haunting guest post from the amazing Gypsy Thornton of Once Upon a Blog! We thought it was only proper to post this week, as we’re offering a talk on Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese ghost stories as part of our 5 Weeks of Halloween, and we would not be at all surprised if Hearn knew exactly what Gypsy’s writing about here!

It’s evening, and it’s been a long day.

There you are, sitting in your bathtub, laptop teetering precariously on the edge, your brow sweating, deadline looming.

As a writer, you know you need something uncommon, something heretofore unseen, to bring this piece to a conclusion. You were hoping the wrinkles forming on your fingers would inspire the wrinkles of your tired brain, but the water is getting cold. A shiver crawls across your shoulders, then you freeze.

You could swear you just heard… words. There — a whisper! It feels oddly familiar. Your ears strain and suddenly the words make sense, slipping into your mind, reminding you of a random anecdote about tarot cards stuffed into shoes. You realize this is what has been missing!

You barely remember to wipe your watery digits before hurriedly weaving this wondrous metaphor in amongst your sodden prose, the text rising before your eyes so it soars to another level, breaking through the mediocrity to finally siiiiing!

Seconds, minutes, or is it hours later — you have no idea — you are typing those magic words: The End. Such sweet, sweet words. This could be The Thing that launches your prose into Otherworldy Success!

But then you pause. Was that your idea? Or was it from somewhere else? Yes, it was out of your past, but it didn’t sound quite like your voice… or did it? How many voices are there in your head? Do you want to listen and find out? Should you? Is this a life you want to live? One in which you hear — gulp! — your ghosts?

If you’re a writer, your answer should be YES. (Besides, do you really have a choice?)

Don’t worry: despite what they say about hearing voices, it’s not all bad news.

Just imagine: uncanny insights grabbed out of thin — sometimes steamy — air, and made real on the page, by You.

All those realizations and regrets in hindsight, those midnight rabbit holes you guiltily fell down (when you should have been researching ways to clean your saucepans properly), all those hidden and haunting moments: finally you give them form on a page, making your writing magnetic, unforgettable.

Imagine the acclaim: What wisdom! What paranormal perception! What strong voices your characters speak in! How do you write from such unique perspectives? You must have many hidden layers to pull such prose from your (are those crumb-covered?) fingers.

Don’t worry. People will judge — they always do. Just smile. Keep your mysteries. Writers are odd.

No one needs to know you have voices inside your head to talk to as well. Those conversations are private. (Or would be if you stopped muttering to yourself by the water cooler…)But let’s get real for a moment because once you open that liminal door it’s very hard to close again:

There will be times when those uncanny insights will feel crippling; threatening you with perpetual page fright so it feels like you’ll never write another word, ever, ever again.

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

In those moments, even shopping lists will give you pause because — and you know this from experience — you are being judged from Beyond; both by what you’re adding (spaghetti stain remover) and what you aren’t (oranges). Not to mention the order in which you’re jotting things down (butter, chips, broccoli), and what that says about you (according to Them, anyway).

So you’re tempted to shut your pen in a drawer, detach the keyboard from your screen, and no longer write anything at all.Here’s the thing about being haunted, though. Those voices are insistent. Even if you stop paying attention to them, they Just. Won’t. Stop. (Truth.)

But don’t let that be the end of your story — forever haunted while you surround yourself with the words of other authors, never recording your own, weeping in admiration and envy for eternity, wishing that was your name on the spine instead of theirs.

This is the time to grow yourself a backbone! All that hissing and whispering? These ghosts are just insubstantial drafts. So use them.

Snatch that snide accusation out of the air! Skewer that guilt to the page with your pen — no matter how purple it seems. It might be raw. It might be messy. It might be just what your character needs, and what your reader (with a little of your word wrangling ) has been waiting for.

Feeling haunted? It’s not a curse — at least, it doesn’t have to be.

These ghosts that surround you — they may keep you up at night with their nattering and gnawing, their worries and waffling, but some days, and some nights — you are given a gift. All you are required to do is take it and write it down. (Please.)

If the results prove remotely snigger-worthy, inspire a paranoid look over your shoulder, or have your eyes drowning in their own tears, you’ll know you’re on to something, and there’s a chance — a good chance — it will excise that particular phantom so it won’t bother you, ever again. (Or, at least, you’ll find it easier to live with.)

You can still hold a pen. You’re still on this plane. Those voices are yours — only yours — and if you listen to them, chances are you will have something unique to say. So you can hear ghosts. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Just that you’re a writer. That deadline is looming. Go write.

(Remember: no one else can hear us.)

Author’s Note: This is a different sort of article compared to my regular writing haunts! I’d been thinking about how hard it can be, to be reminded of things in your past; how your mind can sometimes put thoughts on a loop and not leave you alone unless you find a way to process them. Writing, of course, is a tried and true method for processing trauma (along with getting regular exercise and good sleep!). I think most people have heard this but not many have really tried it seriously, as, on the surface, it does seem like an odd mechanism for wrestling with “past demons” or difficult scenarios. Yet forming, articulating, and writing words really is so powerful! Putting concepts, feelings, moments, and expressions on paper (or into a document) really can help get difficult things out of the places they’re renting in your head – or at least make them loosen their grip so it’s easier evict them – so it’s especially useful for writers. When you’re having an especially tough time dealing with something and the last thing you want to face is wrangling a story or article about the very things that are difficult, even something as small as a haiku can make a difference. Mental health is no joke, obviously, and I find it completely ridiculous that such an important service is completely out of the reach of so many people. You often have to be in a higher earning bracket, with better-than-average medical coverage, to afford a therapist these days, let alone a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist. So this is a sort of “prompt” for writers in particular, to use the things tools they already have available to them, to face things that are bugging them mentally, help get them out, or soften the edges that are poking them, and maybe even make those thoughts useful. My hope is that this article will employ the powers of our favorite ghostly season, to slide this hopeful message through, so people will be able to help themselves a little – perhaps even write some things they wouldn’t have otherwise and finally be able to say to their lingering specters “you have no power over me!”

Bio: Gypsy Thornton (she/her) is the Guardian of a chicken-legged coffee cup with a mind of its own. A night owl forced to get up with larks, she often describes herself as liminal and is forever trying to do impossible things before breakfast. She can only be seen in her true form after midnight. //


  1. Liz Coleman

    Wow!! I feel like I really needed these words right now! Thank you so much for your beautiful guest post, Gypsy!

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