How to be a NaNoWriMo Rebel

nano_poster_2014November marks the beginning of another National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). This is my fourth year taking up the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days along with thousands of other writers around the world. But this year, I’m doing something a little different.

I’m being a NaNo rebel.

A NaNo rebel is someone who doesn’t follow the NaNoWriMo guidelines in some way. Whether it’s continuing a work in progress instead of starting something new or writing a work that isn’t a novel, there are many ways to be a rebel. This year, I’m attempting to write 50,000 words worth of personal essays instead of a novel. It’s kind of a crazy undertaking, but I’m giving it a shot. So far, I’ve already written six new essays that I plan to edit and submit in December.

One of the things I love about NaNoWriMo is that you can be part of the fun without being locked into doing any particular thing. I’m using NaNo in the way that best suits my writerly needs right now. Some people use it to get a kickstart on an old project. Others only participate for part of the month. Many are writing memoirs, short story collections, or graphic novels. NaNoWriMo can be anything you want it to be.

For me, NaNo has always been about the motivation and, most importantly, the community. Going to write-ins, meeting like-minded creative types, and working toward a crazy shared goal is very encouraging and helps break up the solitary writer life I lead at least 30 days out of the year.

So, if you’ve heard rumblings about NaNoWriMo, or you’ve checked it out but got frightened away by the specifics or the word count, I still highly recommend being part of it. It’s not to late to join in. You can participate online and/or find local meetups in your area. No one will judge you for being a rebel—there’s even a whole forum on the website devoted to us.

To all of those participating in NaNoWriMo this year, best of luck hitting your 50K! I also want to extend a special thank you to the region of Los Angeles and our fantastic Municipal Liaisons who put together all of our events and many of the write-ins.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? If so, what are you writing?

Is There a Link Between Mental Illness and Creativity?

Last week, I was invited to do an interview with Kerry K for her blog. Kerry asked me some interesting questions about the connection between artistic talent and mental illness.

medium_8384110298Brainpickings recently posted an article about Nancy Andreasen’s The Creating Brain, in which Andreasen discusses her findings around the occurrence of mental illness in creative people. There have also been numerous studies conducted based on the theory that creativity correlates with psychiatric conditions.

The majority of these studies have concluded that creative people, on average, tend to experience higher levels of depression and mood disorders. These results don’t surprise me. Andreasen’s ultimate conclusion that creative people create despite of mental illness and not because of it doesn’t surprise me either.

As someone who has suffered from anxiety disorder and depression my entire life – and has wanted to be a writer for almost the same amount of time – I have some understanding of the complexities around this subject. For me, mental illness has done many things for my creativity:

1. It’s inspired me to write and has given me material to write about.

2. It’s caused me to be more sensitive, observant, and empathetic to the world around me, which I then feel compelled to express and convey through writing.

3. It’s prevented me, many times, from producing and succeeding the way I would like to. Depression tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m wasting my time, and that I might as well give up. Not giving up is a constant, perhaps even daily, battle.

I don’t think that mental illness correlates with creativity or relates directly to artistic talent. I think that people with mental illness are more drawn toward creative expression because they have something to say. Mental illness also has the potential to make someone more sensitive and internal, which in turn might bring new power and perception to his or her work.

People with depression in particular tend to be very self-aware, while anxiety disorder might make someone more observant and analytical. Personally, years of therapy have helped me gain a deeper understanding of myself and others, which is beneficial to my memoir and fiction writing.

That said, you can have all of these traits and characteristics without a mental illness. There are many insightful, self-aware creatives who don’t suffer from a diagnosable psychological disorder. Creative pursuits like art, writing, and music might attract people with mental illness, but it’s not a prerequisite for talent.

Mental illness can give you unique material and insights, but it comes at the cost of having to fight and overcome that same illness in order to express those insights to the world. Depression in particular has a tendency to get in someone’s way when it comes to the traits most important to successful creatives: persistence, confidence, and resilience.

Of course, people without depression can easily suffer from problems with confidence and persistence, especially in a world that is so competitive and challenging when it comes to succeeding in creative fields. Some people might even find themselves more exposed to depressed and anxious thoughts in pursuit of their creative dreams. Clinical depression might just add an extra nudge in the direction of hopelessness, negativity, and the desire to give up.

If I could get rid of my experiences with mental illness in the past and the present, I’m honestly not sure whether I would. I appreciate some of the insights I’ve gained, the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve connected with because of my lifelong struggles with anxiety disorder and depression. It’s also given me lots of material to write about and stories to tell. I would, however, appreciate not having constant feelings of anxiety and depression get in my way when I try to create and share what I’ve created.

What do you think the link is between creativity and mental illness? 

 

(photo credit: A Health Blog via photopin cc)

5 Awesome Sites to Help You Query Your Book

2015-GLA-biggerI’m in the midst of querying a memoir about my experiences with anxiety disorder and depression as a young adult. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind so far with tons of time spent on research and query letter writing. Since weeding through the the immense amount of information online can be overwhelming, I wanted to share a few resources that I’ve found to be immensely helpful during this process:

1. Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents: This site has a wealth of query writing and literary agent information. Not only does Chuck post interviews with new and featured agents who are seeking new clients, but he also has a whole series devoted to successful queries.

2. QueryTracker.net: A fairly comprehensive database of literary agents with stats, information, client lists, and more. It also has a tracking feature to help you keep track of who you’ve queried (although I personally use an Excel spreadsheet). The QueryTracker.net forums have also been a wonderful source of knowledge and support.

3. Nathan Bransford: This author and former literary agent shares his tips and tricks for hooking and landing representation. The blog has some sample query letters and lots of articles with advice on everything agent.

4. Rachelle Gardener: A current literary agent with Books and Such blogs about everything from marketing and platform to query writing and finding a literary agent.

5. Jane Friedman: The former publisher of Writer’s Digest shares her insider knowledge about the industry. This is a great general writing resource in addition to offering a good deal of information about querying and finding an agent.

You might also want to check out the new 2015 Guide to Literary Agents in addition to Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agents Eye by Katharine Sands.

Are there any other sites you’d want to add to this list? Please share them in the comments.

Happy querying!

Memoir 101: Finding Your Story (Starts October 1st)

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching a four-week memoir writing course for Antioch University, Los Angeles’ new online writing program, Inspiration to Publication!

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Have you considered writing a memoir but aren’t sure where to start? Or, have you already tried to put something together but find yourself struggling to organize your story? This course will help you get a jump start on your project. Through examining published works and exploring the craft of memoir writing, you will develop an idea and synopsis for your own memoir. You’ll also write a draft of the first chapter of your book and receive feedback to help you perfect it. By the end of the course, you will have a polished first chapter and a roadmap for the rest of your memoir.

Antioch University, Los Angeles is home to one of the top five low-residency MFA in Writing programs in the country. I’ll be receiving my MFA from AULA this December. The course is open to students of all ages and experience levels and begins on October 1st. In addition to the class, you’ll receive a 30-minute Skype call with me to discuss your project and any questions you might have.

The four-week course is only $199. Click here to enroll, and feel free to contact me with any questions!

10 Must-Read Memoirs About Mental Illness, Addiction, and Disorders

Memoirs give us the unique ability to enter the mind and experiences of someone suffering from a mental illness, addiction, or disorder. To truly be immersed in someone’s story is invaluable and necessary in understanding what they’re going through. Here are my top 10, must-read memoirs that deal with these struggles.

loud51wzZR8o3hL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_1. Loud in the House of Myself by Stacy Pershall

A captivating and unflinchingly honest memoir about one young woman’s struggle with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.

 

9780679746041_p0_v1_s260x4202. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie, but the book is well-worth a read. It focuses on Kaysen’s time spent in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s.

 

51L90SoGhIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_3. Manic by Terri Cheney

Cheney spares no detail when sharing the exploits of her most manic moments.

 

51nRtjlO7jL4. Purge: Rehab Diaries by Nicole Johns

The memoir is told in a series of vignettes based on the three months that Johns spent in eating disorder rehabilitation treatment.

 

51LMIy4MEvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. Monkey Mind by Daniel Smith

A compelling and detailed  memoir about one man’s struggle with anxiety disorder.

 

51YHs+JVgqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_6. Love Sick by Sue William Silverman

An intimate recounting of the month Silverman spent in a rehab center for sexual addition.

 

Look_Me_in_the_Eye_(book_cover)7. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison

Asperger’s is much talked-about, yet little-understood. Robison encounters his own unique set of challenges resulting from this neurological disorder.

 

Jamison_-_anquite_mind8. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison

Jamison details her experiences with manic depression, as well as the insights she’s gained through her academic study of mental health.

 

61cctYHga9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_9. I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Kilmer-Purcell tackles the difficult, and often stigmatized, themes of alcohol abuse and addiction. He manages to address addiction in a way that is relatable without being sentimental or stereotypical.

 

9780439339056_p0_v1_s260x42010. My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel

This young adult memoir tackles the issue of learning disabilities, in addition to the resulting social and clinical anxiety that can manifest as a result.