I’m not a rabid John Green fan. I like his books, but I wasn’t waiting with bated breath for his next novel.
Until I heard it was about mental illness.
After reading a short interview with the author, I opened up Amazon and pre-ordered myself a copy of Turtles All the Way Down.
The package came right on the day of release. The dust jacket was colorful and coated in something soft that made it impossible not to pet. I eagerly anticipated cracking it open.
The next day I did. I was immediately sucked into the story, into the journey of Aza and Daisy and Davis. But after reading about a third of the book, I had to put it down.
You see, reading this book was hard. Not because it was boring or pretentious, but because it was real.
I not only read but FELT Aza’s pain. My stomach twisted in knots as she worried away at the callous on her finger until it bled, feeling the pain of myself picking at hangnails and my lips in such a similar way. My eyes filled with tears as she isolated herself, both literally and figuratively, from her family and friends.
My fears are not Aza’s fears. But intrusive thoughts? I’m no stranger to them. I know what it’s like to have your brain take one passing thought and send it down a twisted path so fast you get mental whiplash. I know what it’s like to yell at yourself but be unable to listen to your own good advice. I know what it’s like to be so involved in what’s going on in your own brain that you can barely see what’s going on around you.
John Green has stated that he also suffers from Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He clearly poured himself into this book. He took his own fears and thoughts and applied them to Aza in a way that explains them better than any other book I’ve come across.
Turtles All the Way Down was an amazing book, beautiful and touching and honest.
But it was really hard for me to read.
Have you read Turtles All the Way Down? Do you intend to? Did you like it? Have you read other books about characters with mental illness that were difficult to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether or not you suffer from mental illness also.
(*Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Click here to read more!)
The first year I participated in Nanowrimo I failed spectacularly.
Actually, what I did was quit before the first week was over, with less than two thousand words written. I never touched that novel again (it was a cool idea, I should dust it off one of these days!).
The next year was 2005. I managed to finish on the very last day, just barely squeaking over the 50k mark. It changed my life. Since then I have participated every year but one. Twelve times in total, winning 10 of those 12 years. Last year I stopped at 40k when my mom had surgery the last week of November, choosing sanity over the last ten thousand words.
Every year I try to recruit more writers in participating in the month-long writing marathon. (Come on, you know you want to. All the cool kids are doing it!) So I thought I’d share my top 10 tips for success.
1. Read No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty
(Not an affiliate link, I just love this book!)
After my disastrous first year, I knew something had to change for me to actually make it to 50k. So I bought Chris Baty’s book (he’s the founder of Nanowrimo!). It’s basically a week by week guide to a 4 week first draft, teaching you how to let go and ride the roller coaster that is National Novel Writing Month. If the thought of writing 50k in a month is paralyzing, this is the book for you. (If you regularly write 2-3k every day, you can skip this step. Actually, why are you even here? You’ve obviously found something that works for you!)
2. Turn off your internal editor.
When I read Chris Baty’s book, this was a revolutionary idea for me. You know that annoying little voice in the back of your head telling you to delete adverbs and to stop writing this scene because it won’t make it into the final draft? That’s your internal editor. In November and all of my first drafts, I lock that annoying little whiner in the basement of my brain and do what I want.
Don’t worry, you’re not being mean. You can leave her food and water. But she can’t come out until December. There’s no place for her during Nanowrimo.
Your job is to write, not write well. Get the words down on the page and worry about how they sound later. It’s all fixable, as long as you have a draft to fix.
If you’re feeling wishy-washy about this whole idea, it’s likely you won’t finish. Let’s face it, most of us need to see the word DEADLINE approaching fast to actually get anything done. (I hate all of you who can’t relate.)
If you want to do this, commit. Commit to yourself. Tell your family and friends. Don’t leave an easy way out. Bribe yourself if necessary. (There’s an entire awesome shop full of Nanowrimo swag. My first year I bought a t-shirt. I wore it until it was nearly translucent.)
4. Write what you’re most excited about.
If you’re like me, you don’t just have one story you want to tell. It’s likely there are several hanging around, just waiting to be pulled off the back burner and worked on. Forget what you should be working on. Pick the idea you’re the most excited about and use that as your project. If you’re excited about your novel you’re more likely to finish it than give up at the first sign of difficulty.
5. Put off anything unnecessary (but nothing necessary).
I know November is a busy month for many, because of the approaching holiday season and those pesky families expecting attention. Try to put off anything you don’t HAVE TO do. Stock up on prepared meals and coffee. Buy some extra underwear to avoid doing laundry. Plan to be less social. (Nanowrimo is a great excuse to avoid people. Use it!)
Save your energy for writing and for the most important things in your life. Don’t quit your job and release your children into the wild to fend for themselves. Those are necessities. (And don’t come crying to me when you’re broke and the kids are scratching at the back door.)
6. Stockpile words when you can.
Those first few days of any project are always the most magical. This novel is amazing! There’s so much you want to do with it! I could write forever!
Week two that feeling is starting to wane and by week three you’re wondering why you ever started writing something so stupid.
Take advantage of those early days when the writing seems effortless. Build up a buffer of words for when you can’t find them later on. You’ll thank me later.
7. Take a day off if you need, but never take off two.
Going along with the previous tip, at some point during the month you are going to need a break. Don’t take one until you absolutely need it, but also don’t feel guilty. We all need a break from time to time.
The key is to try* and not take more than one day off. One of the reasons Nanowrimo works is because you never have time to leave the story. Any more than one day and I start forgetting my characters. I lose the momentum of what I’d previously written. It’s easier to keep going than to start up again.
*Confession: I don’t always listen to this rule. That’s why I say try. Just like I say I’m trying to eat more vegetables. 😂
8. Connect with the community.
One of the many reasons I love Nanowrimo is the sense of community. All during the month there are thousands of writers filling the forums, sharing everything from writing dares, stories of success(or failure), and even offers of help with research from experts in certain subjects.
Join in. Make new friends. Participate in word wars. Ride the wave of other’s excitement and use it to keep excited.
9. Skip scenes and use placeholders.
Speed is the name of the game during Nanowrimo. If you’re stuck on a difficult scene, or just don’t feel like writing one, throw in a place marker (”insert scene where we figure out that big plot point I still haven’t figured out yet”) and move on.
This also works for names you’ve forgotten and facts you aren’t sure about. Example: my early drafts are often littered with things like “WHATEVERHERLASTNAMEIS” and “PICKANANIMALTHATWORKS”. Stuff like that. Don’t get caught up in the details.
10. Just keep going, no matter what.
There will be days when you want to quit. (And just feel normal for a bit. No wait, that’s a song…) You will want to heave your laptop out the window and forget all about this crazy novel writing thing. You’ll be tired and stressed and completely out of ideas.
JUST KEEP GOING. Write absolute nonsense. Do crazy things just to get your word count up. Use the replace-all feature to give all your characters names like Billy Joe and Becky Sue for a few extra words. My first year I got desperate and got rid of contractions.
Do whatever it takes to get those words down on the page. Remember, they don’t have to be great. They don’t even have to be good. But they do have to EXIST and I promise you there will be gems mixed into the mess that you couldn’t have gotten otherwise.
11. Ignore everything I’ve said.
Just like writing the rest of the year, take all my advice with a grain of salt. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. HAVE FUN! Consider it an adventure. I personally think every writer should try Nanowrimo at least once, but it’s okay if it isn’t for you. It’s okay if you can’t write 50k. Every word you wrote got you one word closer to your goal and that should be applauded.
Are you planning on participating in Nanowrimo this year? Did you find any of my tips helpful? Do you disagree with any of them? Please do share in the comments.
I saved a baby robin’s life today.
Actually, it was a fledgling. Big enough to get kicked out of the nest but still can’t quite fly. It’s mostly a lot of flapping and hopping.
We have an old cast iron tub on our porch that we put plants in. It has a wooden pallet cut to fit inside so the plants are raised about six inches off the ground. One of the plants is a small catnip I got to plant when we finally bury Mr. Muggles ashes. It keeps getting knocked over by wind and rain.
And boy have we had a lot of rain. This morning we had another rainstorm, the kind that pounds on the windows and makes it near impossible to hear anything else. Then it stopped as suddenly as it started and the sun came out.
I stepped out onto the porch to right the catnip pot. I heard splashing coming from under the plants. I thought maybe there was a frog or something inside so I peered between the leaves.
It wasn’t a frog. It was a very scared, very stuck, baby robin. I moved two of the plants to get a better look. There was about 3 inches or so of water in the bottom (the drain had gotten clogged during the storm) and this little guy was flapping and hopping as hard as he could.
He couldn’t gain purchase on the smooth sides of the tub. I was a little afraid he might scratch me, but I couldn’t leave him there so I reached inside and closed his little body in my hand.
I lifted him out and he immediately stopped struggling. I looked him over a bit to make sure he hadn’t gotten hurt while he was flailing about. He appeared fine so I set him down on the porch.
The poor little guy curled up on himself and stood still, except for the shivering. He made no effort to move, even let me stroke his little head without budging.
I saw the shadow of a few adult robins flying around so I went inside to see if his parents were going to come around. But right before that, I took a couple pictures of him. (I named him Tom)
After a little while, one of his parents came by and fed him a worm. Then another. And then another. He moved around a little and stopped shivering. Then he pooped, so clearly his digestive system was working properly.
As time passed, his feathers dried out and he appeared to fall asleep. His parents kept returning with food and he continued defecating all over our porch.
It’s been a couple hours and the last time I looked outside he’d finally moved. He was standing at the edge of the porch, next to the wisteria, likely working up the strength and courage to hop onto the vine and make his way in the world.
And he pooped again.