Mental Health, Hogwarts Houses, The Correct Pronunciation of Gif, and Other Strong Opinions

Obviously I’m a big fan of podcasting, so when the lovely people at Candlewick Press reached out to me about their podcast, Candlewick Press Presents, I was beyond excited. I had a fantastic conversation with the Candlewick team about writing, my time as a Candlewick intern, why I love social media, why I’m jealous of how good Walt is at titles, and more. (This didn’t even include the pre-recording conversation about which Candlewick team members would be in which Hogwarts houses, a topic we all take very seriously.)

You can hear my interview on iTunes and Stitcher, and make sure to check out the previous episodes, as well. They include interviews of amazing writers and illustrators like Aaron Becker, creator of gorgeous wordless picture books like Journey, and Lesléa Newman, author of the classic Heather Has Two Mommies. Can you hear my fangirling?

Thanks to the Candlewick team for including me in such a great project. Can’t wait to hear the rest of Candlewick Press Presents, season 1!

Links Galore

Lots of links I’ve been saving:

Writing While Anxious

In my session on writing about mental health at NESCBWI 17, I talked about some tropes/stereotypes I particularly disliked. One of them: that medication makes you an emotional zombie. This, and the idea that creative people with mental illness will lose their creativity through therapy/medication, get me super rage-y. If you have a mental health issue, medication can be a huge help, and the right medication/dosage won’t rob you of your creativity.

Which is why I was so happy to see this article about creativity, mental health, and medication in the New York Times.

Julia Fierro describes her experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression, and eventually finding medication and resources that work for her. But all of this care came after years of stress, and of going on and off medication, and how this has been a long journey to caring for herself as a person and as an artist.

One part in particular that stands out for me:

“Many of my favorite authors had suffered from anxiety or depression — Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Plath, Woolf and Emily Dickinson…Surely, I told myself, their anguish was linked to their greatness. Instead of fleeing anxiety and depression (although many did douse their emotional instability with alcohol), they dived in and used their misery as inspiration for their creative work. I was convinced that killing the mad part of me with medication would also kill that which made me unique. I memorized a line by Proust: “Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.””

I feel like this is a pretty common assessment people make when it comes to creativity and mental health. For some reason we assume that if you want your brain to be firing on all creative cylinders, you need to embrace the parts of your brain that are bringing you down with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. That creative people have to be mentally ill in order to be creative.

Which is total crap.

Like Fierro, I can’t write if I’m not taking care of my mental health. If I’m experiencing a bad bout of anxiety, I can’t focus on anything, much less muster the kind of focus that a draft requires. I can’t let myself spend time with my characters and their worlds, because I’m too busy worrying about what the publishing market is like, or if I should give up writing entirely because I’m the worst. When I’m anxious, I’m both way too hyped up and way too exhausted to be a creative person.

Thanks to therapy and medication, I can mostly write when I need and want to. (Getting myself off Twitter is another issue.) For me, creativity happens when my brain doesn’t have to deal with its own bad stuff. Maybe some artists don’t work well with medication, but that’s super not me, and that’s not what I know from most artistic friends who have mental health issues.

Fierro begins and ends her article by talking about how she shared the truth about her mental health struggles and successes with an audience at a reading. Fierro connected with her audience members by being honest, because some of them have been dealing with the same kinds of issues. At NESCBWI, I was so grateful that people in my session also opened up and talked about their own struggles and concerns. Because the more we talk about mental health and art, the more real we can be–and the more we know we’re not alone.

Competition and Camaraderie

running-573762_640I’m always finding connections between running and writing. Recently, I was listening to an episode of the Runner’s World podcast, in which they talked about the recent attempt to break two hours in the marathon.

Around 30-minutes into the episode, they talk about how the pacers in this attempt were special in that they were all elite athletes–ie, runners who are used to focusing on their own goals and winning races. For this race, elite athletes were running to support someone else’s goal, in the hopes that one of the three competing runners would break the world record. Runner’s World columnist Alex Hutchinson, who was there for the attempt, talks about how the pacing runners were so supportive of the competing runners, and how this isn’t unusual for the running community. One particular thing Alex says about this:

“Everyone wants to be the best, but everyone wants everyone else to be their best, too.”

This really stood out for me as a great way to frame the idea of professional competition and camaraderie, particularly in the writing world. As much as I love to support my fellow writers, I’m also totally guilty of feeling jealous of other people’s successes (mostly because all you see on social media is SUCCESS SUCCESS SUCCESS over and over and over).

runners-752493_640But I also want other writers to be writing the best books possible–the world would totally suck if only one person got to be the best writer, and everyone else wrote meh books. I’d way rather live in a world where I’m always striving to write the best books I can, and in which everyone else is doing the same. We all end up pushing each other and challenging each other and inspiring each other.

And unlike professional running, there doesn’t have to be one winner per race. Okay, so only one book can win some award every year, but every book can be someone’s favorite. The more awesome books out there, the more everyone wins.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, everybody! I’m spending some time in an old project today, and trying not to melt in the heat because Boston suddenly realized that spring is almost over so it better hurry up with this warm weather. Let’s get the weekend started with some book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Beautiful take on friendship and first crushes and loss and hope, with Stead’s gorgeous writing.

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer
Fun and historically interesting, but for girl-on-a-ship, Charlotte Doyle still gets my vote.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
More an exploration into people who love octopuses. Not as scientific as I’d hoped for.

Links Galore

Lots of  links I’ve been saving:

Motivation Monday

I’m getting myself back on the blogging train after a couple weeks of off-line activity (marathon, NESCBWI, life with a dog), so today feels like a great time to share this fantastic comic by Debbie Ridpath Ohi:

It’s really easy to focus on all the scary “what ifs” and “you can’ts” and so on, but for today, let’s focus on what we can do. And then do the same tomorrow.

(PS–Debbie regularly posts writing inspiration illustration, so make sure to check out the rest of her work.)