The cost of magic

A circle of crystals with a quartz in the center
Photo by Dan Farrell on Unsplash

I read an article a while back aimed primarily at fantasy writers starting to learn the craft, about how magic must have a price OR ELSE! With “or else” basically meaning “your story sucks and you have made bad choices,” I guess.

Almost every time I read an article like this, the examples of “prices” are things like “magic drains your life force” or “it makes you lose your mind” or “it requires blood sacrifice” and I find it interesting that this is where notions of “price” tend to go. I think “price” is typically used to mean downside or drawback, which are certainly definitions of the word. While penalties or negative consequences are kinds of prices, they’re not the only kinds.

They’re not even strictly necessary! I’ve chatted with people from cultures that see magic in everyday life, and they almost uniformly found the concept of magical price jarring, as it’s described above. Magic just is! You do an egg cleanse ritual, and it gets rid of negative energy. Boom. Done. Why would it have a downside? What penalty? Did you try to curse someone? Is a ghost angry at you? Let me get you a prayer candle…

Price can be a good source of drama and angst. It can be one of the story’s conflict engines. I think, though, the way I keep seeing it discussed, price primarily functions as a limitation, a reason why magic isn’t the solution to all of life’s problems and may in fact cause its own. Price is typically an attempt to control magic use in stories so there’s no deus ex machina running rampant all over the place like a kaiju, breaking the suspension bridge of disbelief and stomping plot holes in the roads and otherwise destroying internal consistency.

But you can establish limitations that don’t default to some grim or grisly sacrifice, or enormous risk to those involved and possibly innocent bystanders. The “rules” for magic in a given fictional world can be rigid or flexible, clearly explicated or deliberately obfuscated, and you can still keep readers from asking the dreaded question: why didn’t they just…?

One alternate way to think of price is cost. Literally. Sometimes the price of magic is straight up money or access to materials. You can’t do magic if you can’t get the components. Simple comparison: plenty of people live in food deserts. Why can’t magic’s price be, “Oh no, the bodega downstairs is out of snake blood, and I can’t pay $10 for their dried frog skin anyway, guess this spell isn’t happening until my next paycheck or my cousin can drive me to Aldi”? Not a downside, but certainly a limitation.

Depending on the nature of magic in your story, you could also explore the ways in which people with limited money or access have to deal with substitutions as a matter of course. Maybe freshly harvested licorice root is ideal for a spell, but store-bought will work–with less potent results. Maybe a high-quality emerald will hold an enchantment best, but a cheaper peridot will get the job done–with occasional glitches. Maybe someone attempts a swap of thyme with something else in the mint family for a potion, hoping it’s close enough–and the effects are wildly different.

What if the expense of magic is similar to taking out a college loan, with equivalent social pressures? Maybe a debt collector isn’t going to literally eat your soul like a conjured demon might, but it’s close enough. (Or maybe there’s a cool soul-eating debt collector story waiting to be written…) If you think about it, magic loans might incentivize risky behavior if difficult-to-harvest reagents are more expensive. And imagine the secondary market for that stuff, like the used textbook market but backwards? “If I can get a claw scraping off that sleeping dragon, that takes care of two months of payments!”

There are, of course, many other ways to build limits into your magic systems. But don’t feel like you need to engage in literary contortion in an attempt to comply with a rule that isn’t actually set in stone. Ultimately, you should go with what works best for your story’s world and characters and plot and theme. Be thoughtful, be intentional, and keep a bottle of peroxide on hand if you do end up engaging in blood sacrifices. Don’t want to end up with stains on your good ritual robes.


Hand holding white queen knocks over black king on a chessboard
Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

I think a lot about antagonists.

Depending on the protagonist’s goals, it can be difficult to find believable or relatable reasons why someone would be working against them, without resorting to mustache-twirling levels of villainy. It’s also true that not every story needs an explicit antagonist, but it’s often helpful to create a character or two or ten who represent the antagonistic forces in a story.

And so, in the interests of making writing easier and making antagonists better, I offer some thoughts on possible avenues of interrogation that might lead to useful options.

  • Who would be harmed by the protagonist’s success and how?
  • Who would be helped by the protagonist’s failure and how?
  • Whose enemy would be helped by the protagonist’s success?
  • Whose ally would be helped by the protagonist’s failure?
  • Who would benefit from the protagonist failing in a specific way?
  • How would failing in a specific way prevent a larger potential harm caused by the protagonist’s success, or by a different form of failure?
  • Who would believe the protagonist’s failure would serve the greater good, or be the lesser of two evils?
  • Who would believe the protagonist’s immediate failure would be beneficial in the long run, even if it caused a short-term harm?
  • Who would believe failure is in the protagonist’s best interests?
  • Who has a compelling reason to defeat the protagonist at any cost?
  • Who has the same underlying motivation as the protagonist and how are their goals mutually exclusive?
  • Who might be opposing the protagonist based on incomplete information or outright lies?

All of these questions can work in reverse if you have a better idea of who your villain is and need to hone your protagonist instead. You can also expand them to cover potential allies and enemies more broadly, and to build factions as well as individuals. And, as with any list like this, feel free to only ponder the ones that help you, and ignore the rest!

Are there any variations on these kinds of questions that you use to figure out who your story’s antagonists are?

Clock outline, Blades in the Dark style

A wall clock displaying a time of about 5:46, the face has a pint of beer and reads, "Pint Works Irish Pub"
Time, what is time?

Blades in the Dark is a really cool tabletop RPG with a mechanic I love: progress clocks. I’ve been thinking for a while about how something like this can be used to outline a novel, and so I present to you: the Clock Outline.

Think of your novel as a series of clocks with different numbers of segments: four, six, twelve, you decide. Big clocks, little clocks. Fast and slow clocks. Obvious and secret clocks. Literal countdowns and figurative ones.

Actions your characters take either succeed, or succeed but cause some extra undesirable consequence to happen, or fail and cause harm and new problems (that may create a new clock). Each success or failure will cause a clock segment to be filled in on one or more of the clocks, and the hand of that clock will move closer to midnight.

You have one big clock for each large chunk of plot in the whole book, between 2 and 5 clocks, about 6-12 segments each. These could correspond with acts or sections. You also have many smaller clocks, 4-6 segments each. These could correspond with scenes or chapters, though some clocks will resolve across multiple chapters.

Every clock has a specific label delineating what will happen when it’s completely filled, for example: The Doomsday Weapon Will Be Complete, or Character A Falls In Love With Character B, or Character C Is Murdered. Clocks can involve external or internal consequences, main plots or subplots or side quests, individuals or factions, even character relationships over the course of the story.

Based on what will happen when each clock is filled, consider what kinds of actions might cause this outcome to become more likely. Also consider the ramifications of filling each individual clock segment.

Plotting then becomes a series of questions:

  • What is the situation/setup/problem?
  • What will your characters do?
  • How do antagonistic forces react?
  • What happens as a result?
  • Which/how many clock segments are filled by this?

You don’t have to decide everything in advance; this method also works if you’re improvising! Create the clocks as you go based on how your story progresses. Fill them in when it feels right. Use them to track rather than plan.

You can physically draw clocks on a paper or whiteboard or similar to track this, and note what happens to fill each clock segment. Big clocks at the top, smaller clocks underneath, or work horizontally if your brain likes it better.

If drawing clocks is too visual, you could think of it as nested lists, or even lay the “clocks” out in spreadsheet columns, or treat it like filling out a planner—year, month, week and day segments breaking down the bigger and smaller plot points.

For those who like to think in tentpoles, these clocks can basically serve as countdowns to when those tentpoles happen. They’re a series of actions, choices, scenes and sequences, that lead inexorably to the next tentpole.

Caveat: as with all writing stuff, this method may not work for you, or for your current project, and that’s okay! Everyone is different and has different needs and preferences. Also: adapt it however you see fit! Use it for some parts and not others, make your own clocks, etc.

To learn more about Blades in the Dark and get your own copy of the rules, visit

And if you want to watch or listen to me and the rest of the Strange Friends crew play Blades in the Dark, head over to

How to pitch: 3PO edition

By Lucasfilm - C-3PO - Encyclopedia
Not the droid you’re looking for…
By Lucasfilm – C-3PO – Encyclopedia

If this looks familiar, it’s because I’m continuing to pull useful artifacts from certain deteriorating social media sites to preserve them in my own internet museum. Hope this one helps!

I often write the pitch or blurb for my novels before anything else. I may scribble some notes here and there, spitball a few ideas, but that pitch helps me crystallize essential stuff that I can then expand into a synopsis, then an outline. It’s not quite the Snowflake Method, but it’s close.

So after writing so many pitches, I thought: how do I write them? What stuff do I include? How much coffee do I drink first and what does chartreuse smell like once the caffeine hits?

  1. Magic.
  2. Magic.
  3. Magic.

But seriously, here’s what I do; maybe it will help you.

To write a pitch, I need three things. Three P’s, in fact. And sometimes an O. Hah, Threepio. Anyway. The three P’s: Protagonist(s), Place, Problem. Who is the main character? Where does the story take place? And what problem are they facing?

For the protagonist, I try to focus on what’s most relevant to the story. Whatever the reader needs to know for problem to make sense, to matter, and to suggest why THIS person is the one doing the stuff and why they’re worth following around.

For the place, I want to show how the world of the story is different from ours. Again, ideally I focus on things that are relevant to the character and problem. Think of every “in a world” setup you’ve heard in a movie trailer, and how it establishes the status quo.

For the problem, I try to tie it into character. Here is the thing that has gone wrong and needs fixing, the secret that forces the character to make a choice, the event or situation that sets them on the path to Hijinks. I establish the win condition and price of failure, aka the stakes.

What about the O in Threepio? That’s for Opposition. If you’ve got it, you can include something about people or forces trying to prevent your character from solving the problem. Sometimes (often) the opposition includes the character themself, getting in their own way.

Every story is different, so stuff won’t always fit neatly into the three P’s I’ve outlined. But it’s somewhere to start, and it can help focus you whether you’re planning a book or you’ve already written it and are trying to distill its essence for querying purposes. Good luck!

Writing is like making cupcakes

Chocolate frosting being made in a mixing bowl
It tastes better than it looks!

Continuing our chocolate fixation this month… This is from way back in May 2020. Still applicable, though my cake baking skills have improved! Which maybe proves my point?

Here’s an allegory for writing. This morning, I wanted to bake something for my husband for his birthday. I’m not an experienced baker, by any means. Also, he’s vegan, so that means no eggs, no milk, no butter.

I started looking for recipes online. Breakfast stuff first: muffins, scones, etc. Do you know how to make a flax egg? Haha, me neither. Also we’re out of flax.

So I shifted to chocolate stuff. Brownies! Except I’ve made vegan brownies before. They didn’t go well. Basically, they were a bunch of loosely clumped crumbs that had to be eaten with a spoon. One brownie recipe advised you to stick the brownies in the fridge so they would firm up, and I know I’m being pissy, but that defeats the purpose of brownies for me. Also, I don’t have a square cake pan, which most of the recipes required. So I gave up on brownies.

By this point, the baby was wild and cranky, getting into fights with my son, who was complaining about wanting lunch. Already so late! I was sad, and tired. I’m not even a baker. Why was I wasting my time trying to do this? It would suck anyway. I should give up.

My mama didn’t raise quitters. I whined to friends and gave myself a few minutes to mope, then I kept looking for recipes. Okay, so I wouldn’t try to make a two-layer chocolate cake, but maybe cupcakes? And I finally found a recipe I had all the ingredients for.

I started making the cupcake recipe and realized, right after I mixed the wet ingredients, that I had already messed up. Put in WAY too much vinegar. That sure would have been something to taste test. I dumped it out and started over after another self-indulgent groanfest.

It finally came together. I put the cupcakes in the oven and got bold. Chocolate buttercream frosting. I’ve never made frosting in my life, but I was gonna do it. I used the wrong mixer attachment and then kept having to scrape the sides of the bowl but eventually… FROSTING.

And then, omg… CUPCAKES. They didn’t fall down in the middle! They didn’t explode over the edge! They were just cake in cups! Success was mine.

A dozen chocolate cupcakes still in the cupcake pan
Sweet, sweet victory!

So I went from giving up on ever baking anything because I suck and I can’t do it, to this. POOPCAKES! I think the frosting looks like little emoji poops. I have a simple mind.

Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting sprinkled with powdered sugar
Powdered sugar completes the rustic look

What does this have to do with writing? I mean, you probably connected those dots already, but… So many days, I feel like giving up. Like I can’t do it. Like writing is too hard and I’m a loser and how dare I even bother trying?

And then I do it anyway. Because yeah, maybe I’ll mess up. Maybe it’ll be the vegan brownie fiasco all over again. But. BUT. What if it isn’t?! What if it works this time? And you won’t know until you do it. And the more you do it, the better you get at it, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

Thanks for enjoying my poopcakes and my allegory. If you get discouraged, it’s okay and normal. You can take a break and feel your feels and then maybe, maybe, do the thing anyway?

The cupcakes were great by the way. And the frosting was effing sinful. FIN.

Cupcake recipe: Frosting recipe:

How to pitch: chocolate edition

Given the impending holiday, it seemed appropriate to rescue this particular topic from the flames of social media hell before it melts. Enjoy!

Having read through a few novel pitches for other people, and because I am always turning things into similes and metaphors, I have come up with yet another theory for How to Pitch. I call this one: What flavor is your chocolate?

Say your novel is chocolate, and you’re trying to sell it to other people. On the one hand, yum, chocolate! What more do you need to know? And yet, there are many kinds of chocolate. You want your potential chocolate enthusiast to know which kind they’re getting from your book.

As you’re writing the pitch, consider what makes this chocolate unique. What flavor is your character? What filling does your world contain? What fruits and nuts of plot give your chocolate texture? What shapes and sprinkles and decorative swirls of theme adorn the exterior?

What other chocolates might this one remind people of? What parts of those chocolates do you have in yours? You can potentially pique interest more easily if you know audience tastes and can convince them you’re giving them more of what they already like.

You don’t have to be verbose, but you do have to be clear and descriptive in a way that teases, tantalizes, creates expectations, makes your chocolate-craving audience reach for the delightful bonbon you’re offering them. Seduce them with your words.

You don’t have to tell them everything–sometimes there’s pleasure in the surprise. But they’ll never know if you don’t convince them to try it in the first place. If you’re too vague, too imprecise, they might reach for a different chocolate instead.

And maybe that’s good! You don’t want someone who’s allergic to dairy to grab your cream-filled milk chocolate truffle. Giving a clear indication of what to expect can help people make choices that are better for them, their tastes, their mood, whatever.

But you want the reader/eater to make the choice because of what they know about your book, and not because they don’t know enough. You don’t want them to pass yours by because it didn’t stand out from the many other apparently identical candy options.

Also, be honest! You don’t want someone to pick up your chocolate because you misled them into expecting one thing, only to hand them something else entirely. Sure, they might still like it, but they might also spit it back in your face and never trust you again.

So there you have it, friends. When you pitch, make sure you tell the agent, editor, prospective reader, whoever, exactly what flavor your chocolate is. Make their mouth water, and they’ll be happy to take a bite.

Novel subplots

In preparation for NaNoWriMo a while back, a friend of mine asked about how to come up with subplots in novels. Here are some ideas, with a little discussion of TV writing as one way to think about structure.

The way I learned it back in college, in a typical TV show, there are at least three plots in every episode, called the A, B and C plots because simple is good. The A plot is the main story, the overarching drama or mystery or conflict that takes up most of the screen time and involves your main characters.

The B plot may somehow relate to the A plot, or it may be a separate thing. It may involve your main characters, or focus on secondary characters. It can relate to an ongoing season plot instead of just the episode plot. It gets second-most screen time.

The C plot fills the cracks in time between the other two plots. It’s usually lower-stakes interpersonal drama or comic relief, good for exploring relationships between secondary characters who need more fleshing out. It can also be a series plot, something that is teased here and there and eventually becomes a B plot, then the A plot.

So a novel subplot can be a B or C plot, either related to the main plot or tangential to it. The stakes are often not as high, but they can lead to good character development or world building opportunities. And if your C plot is a series plot, it can lurk in the background and surprise the characters at inconvenient times, creeping forward slowly or leaping in sudden bursts.

In terms of how much time is devoted to each plot, that’s up to you. Usually most time is spent on the A plot, maybe half that on the B plot, then half again on the C plot, but ratios can vary depending on stuff like having multiple character POVs or intertwined plots or themes. You might have multiple A, B or C plots, or start working your way down the alphabet until it’s not so much a plot as a running gag.

Subplots are especially useful in the Great Swampy Middle of a novel, as some call it. They can function as side quests, or nested goals to complete along the path of the main quest, or as big set pieces that are like mini-novels within a novel.

But Valerie, how do I come up with these magical forays into feels and factions and so on? Here are some questions you could ask yourself to generate ideas for these B or C plots.

What’s happening with the secondary characters? What goals are they pursuing? What are their character arcs and how are you going to show them? They’re people, too! They have wants and needs that may work with or against your protagonist. Potentially a good source of conflict.

Related to the previous questions: what interpersonal stuff is happening between your primary and secondary characters? Relationships can be romantic or platonic, friendly or fraught, and can grow and change along multiple axes in different ways.

What character baggage can you force them to deal with? Problems from their past, people they left behind, situations that went unresolved… Pull a few skeletons out of their closet and rattle them. Reopen old wounds; re-break bones that didn’t set properly so they can heal better. This goes for main or secondary characters.

What factions are operating in your larger world? What are their goals and how are they planning to accomplish them? How do those plans run parallel to, intersect with or even disrupt your main plot? Who might owe whom favors and why? Cash them in! Think of allies and adversaries for your protagonist here.

What world elements feed into the plot but are themselves separate and need to be dealt with? This could be a lot of things: bureaucratic red tape, legal hoops to jump through, physical or cultural challenges, disputes to settle before the main quest can continue… You can play with analogues to real-life problems here, but beware of the ripple effects and ramifications.

What secondary themes do you want to explore? This can be tricky to nail down in the planning stages, but having general ideas can be useful. Usually theme will suggest other stuff already mentioned, like character trajectory or faction interests or possible world complications.

Are there any other subplot generation methods that work for you? Drop a comment!

How to sustain novel writing interest

Catan Junior board game
Maybe not this kind of game, exactly…

People sometimes ask about how to sustain interest in a novel-length project as a writer, a question that can be especially relevant to folks with ADHD. Dealing with shiny new ideas is one thing, but how do you keep drafting or revising when the donwannas descend?

When things start getting too Real and Serious, when the grind feels like an endless series of tedious fetch quests with low drop rates, I don’t give up. Instead, I come up with a game.

I’m not the only one who does this and I didn’t invent the concept. I use the term “game” because my husband explained it in improv terms that way. When you make a joke, it’s a joke. Do it twice and it’s a callback. Three times, it’s a game.

Find a thing that’s fun for you, and figure out how to repeat it over the course of the novel. Write towards it the way you eat a meal while thinking about dessert. Edit with an eye to figuring out where to insert it.

You can add the game at whatever stage you need it in your writing process: the start, the murky middle, the end, while revising… whenever! You can do this on a small scale, within a particular scene or in a chapter, or you can spread it out throughout the whole book.

It can be as obvious or subtle as you want. You can be the only one who knows it’s there, or it can be a blatant running gag that gets progressively funnier. It can be an object turning up inconveniently, a symbol you eventually subvert, a character who changes over time… anything that you’re excited to repeat and revisit. It’s all up to you. Instead of Chekhov’s gun, it’s Chekhov’s fun*!

And the cool thing is, chances are the game adds continuity and cohesion, an anchor point a reader can latch onto. It gives them something to look forward to, something to notice on a second or third read, something you can deploy for surprise and delight or to add emotional depth and resonance. Used at just the right moment, it can lighten up a serious scene or cause more tears than a cut onion.

Writing can be a hard slog, so it’s worth treating yourself along the way. You’re digging the tunnel, but you also have the power to hold up a light for yourself at the end of it–or even better, add lights along the way so it isn’t all crushing darkness. Not just lights, either. Snacks. Party music. Cheesy motivational posters of cats. Go all out! It’s your tunnel, and you deserve to enjoy it.

Game on!

*Millions of dad voices suddenly groaned in agony…

Shiny New Idea Trouble, aka SNIT

Meme of man walking with a woman, turning around to ogle another woman walking past them. Man is labeled "Writer," woman is labeled "Current project," other woman is labeled "Shiny new idea"
If your current project had hands, it might slap you

For the first post of the new year, let’s talk about a normal writer issue: Shiny New Idea Trouble. How this usually manifests: you’ve been working on a project for a while. Your initial momentum is gone, because like any moving object, writing responds to the forces of thrust and drag.

Suddenly: SNIT!

You have a shiny new idea! It’s so good! It’s the best idea you’ve ever had, maybe?!?! It’s definitely better than the idea you’ve been working on. It has to be, because that idea isn’t zipping along like it used to. But should you abandon the old idea to work on the new one?

Probably not. SNITs are normal. The thing you’ve been working on loses steam and slows down and feels like it’s not as awesome as it was when you started. Every new idea is perfect because it exists in a state of potential rather than reality. As soon as you start writing it, that precious ideal thing gradually congeals like cooling grease or blood, messy and flawed.

If you abandon your original idea and start working on the new one, you have lots of momentum again. Plenty of thrust to overcome drag and friction. Energy levels are high, enthusiasm gauge is full. You have enough lift to defy gravity and fly!

But another SNIT is inevitable.

So, what to do instead? You can write down a summary of the new idea, as short or detailed as you want. Let your imagination play, but not for so long that a pit stop becomes a layover. Take notes, write a synopsis. Start a Pinterest board. Then, the most important step: go back to working on your other project.

If possible, steal some of the SNIT energy and leverage it to make progress on your original project. If you set a goal for that–say, a certain word count or amount of time spent on it per day–then you can make a deal with yourself that when you reach the goal, you get to work on the shiny new idea for a while. It becomes a reward rather than a distraction or detour, like giving yourself a snack-sized candy every so many miles on a long drive.

Chances are, your disenchantment with your current project is temporary. It’s a normal slump. Different authors tend to hit it in different places, and it can vary by project. It might be after the first few chapters, or around the halfway point, sometimes known as the swampy middle. You can get through the swamp. Avoid the fire and the lightning sand and the rodents of unusual size (which may not exist). But don’t give up!

…unless you’re actually, absolutely sure the current project isn’t worth finishing. This does happen. Maybe you’ve grown as a writer. Maybe you realize you’ve been toiling at something that genuinely doesn’t work for one reason or another. You could take a seam ripper to it and figure out how to sew it back together, but maybe the amount of time and effort needed isn’t enough to justify the final reward. Sometimes it’s best to acknowledge and appreciate what you’ve learned from the process and move on.

It takes careful self-reflection and honesty to figure out the difference between a SNIT and a valid reason to trunk a project. You may be inclined to make excuses in your desire to pursue the new idea. You want that fresh energy, that novelty. It makes your brain tingle and effervesce. Don’t waste all your time chasing that feeling, because it’s fleeting–though there are ways to try to generate it for existing projects, as I previously covered in this blog post.

All that said, it’s your life! Do what works for you. If you can flit between projects and still complete all of them, super awesome. If you’re okay with writing a bunch of half-finished things, go for it. I mean that sincerely; I used to play World of WarCraft, and my favorite thing to do was make a new character and get to level 20 or so, then stop and make another new character instead of pushing myself to get the first character all the way to level 60. Sometimes fun beats hard work because the fun is the point. Every process is different, and every person has different needs and goals.

And someday, you may find that old, tired idea at the bottom of your trunk and shake it out and realize it’s pretty shiny after all.

If you have other tips for how to avoid or overcome a SNIT, drop a comment!

Year-ending rituals

For good luck

At the end of 2020, I participated in a Worldbuilders panel about rituals. One of the things we talked about was ways to ritually, thoughtfully, intentionally yeet that particular year into the sun. Or celebrate! Because maybe good things happened to you, and that’s worth feeling happy about.

I compiled a list, which I now present to you in the hopes that maybe some of these ideas will help you find a measure of peace at the end of another solar year. Some of these are rooted in specific beliefs or superstitions, but even if you don’t think you or your house can accumulate negative energy, many of these activities are simply something nice you can do for yourself.

Caveat: please only do the things that work for you, and if they don’t, worry not! These are options and not edicts. Everyone is different, psychologically and emotionally and physically and locationally. What works for one person may be unpleasant or impossible for another.

1. Clean your house. Get a broom–a new one works best–and sweep any cobwebs out of your ceiling corners. Sweep or vacuum your floors and mop them. Take the dirt and/or dirty water and physically remove it from your house via the front door. Wash all your sheets and towels. Take out the trash. Out with all the old mess to start the year fresh!

2. Open all the doors and windows to let the old air out and the new air in. This can be used in combination with other rituals for maximum affect.

3. Light candles and/or incense in as many rooms as you can. Fill your house with light and nice smells! For some cultures or religions, there may be specific cleansing ceremonies involved in doing this as well. Picking certain shapes, colors or scents can be part of the ritual.

4. Take a relaxing bath or shower. Similar to cleaning your house, clean your body and wash away the old year. Use a specially chosen scented soap, light more candles, listen to music… add as many components to this as you’d like to make it special.

5. Go through your stuff and choose things to donate or discard. Thank your things for their service, then let them go. This can be emotionally taxing, so be kind to yourself before, during and after.

6. Change into new clothes. Different cultures have different associations with colors for luck or love or money, but you can just wear something you find joyful or relaxing or comfortable. New clothes, new year!

7. Decorate! Put up streamers or signs or whatever feels festive to you. Use your favorite colors if you want. Signal to your brain that this is a party and happy emotions and nice things are invited. It doesn’t have to be fancy or ambitious, it just has to feel good to you.

8. Eat grapes for good luck. My family does this every year. Each person gets 12 grapes, one for every month, and you make a wish or set an intention for each grape you eat. It helps you think about what’s important to you and what you want in your life in the year to come.

9. Write two sets of intentions: things you’re taking into the new year, and things you’re leaving behind. These can be as vague or specific as you want. You can then tear up or burn the ones you’re getting rid of, and put the ones you’re keeping in a place where you can see and remember them.

10. Speaking of burning things: write down your sorrows or grievances and BURN THEM. If your fire is indoors, dump the ashes outside when you’re finished. Scatter them to the wind or bury them or drop them in a body of water. Be free!

11. Write “2022” on a stone, tell it your troubles or worries, then throw it into a body of water. Or yeet it off a cliff if you have one handy and no one is at the bottom. You can skip the year-writing part if you don’t have the tools for it, or you just don’t feel like being quite so literal.

12. Have a celebratory meal, alone or with friends and/or family. Eat your favorite foods, or something with cultural or religious significance, and enjoy!

13. Make some noise! Ring bells, bang pots and pans, play music, holler… Drive out the bad energy and have fun while doing it. Be respectful of your neighbors–certain loud sounds can be triggering to some people–or maybe convince them to join you?

14. Break something. Take an old dish outside and smash it on the floor. Maybe write “2022” on it first if you want, or something bad that you want to shatter, to give it an extra layer of symbolism. Be cautious while doing this so you don’t hurt yourself or others! Don’t want to start the new year with stitches.

15. Make art to channel and release your bad feels. Write something, draw something, paint something, compose a song, dance… Whatever calls to you. Turn your feelings into art, then keep it or give it away or do whatever feels right with it.

For all of these rituals, be mindful, be intentional and be present. If this has been a rough year for you, some of these things may involve sad reminders of specific hardships. Do only what resonates with you and is helpful. Life is hard, and you deserve happiness and peace!

In the words of the greatest band of all time: be excellent to each other. Take care, and may your every new year be better than the last.