February 15, 2016 § Leave a comment


Anonymous fanfic-scrapping addict writes,

Long story short, I’m addicted to going ‘screw it’ and throwing all the fanfic I write in the fire. Why???

I want to write something! My writing’s not bad, is it? Everyone else likes it. My ideas aren’t too shabby. But every time I get past a few pages, I just feel the need to delete the whole thing and start over. It’s infuriating. Why can’t I finish any project?

Help please. I need to know why this is happening and why I keep rejecting my own headcanon.

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Inching towards non-conformity

May 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

So I’m pressing through this enormous task of writing a book. Being a writer is like playing a video game. Every time you succeed at something, you basically unlock a whole new level of mental illness. My book is my bipolar odyssey. I am manic when I am writing. Giant snowdrifts of index cards fill the room. Sentences come together, paragraphs disappear altogether. Accumulating words feel like my new life savings. 20,000. 30,000. 40,000. And then my knees knock as I lope down the mountain. When I’m not writing, I’m worrying that I should be. I think about writers who’ve built bigger platforms than I have, people who have an army of followers. Am I doing enough? “Enough” is the worst word there ever was.

AONCcoverLast week I finished reading Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity. It’s one of those books that most people will dismiss as being unrealistic. Yes, most of us cannot make many dollars traveling to every country in the world and running a self-help blog. But I decided to take it seriously. I take fictional people seriously when they veer off the map, so why not a real person?

About a year ago I decided to take my dreams seriously. I began to examine whether a life of private practice, or non-profit paper shuffling, or academic politics was really right for me. Sure I was making money writing articles and ghost writing for therapists, but that income was like the icing on the cake. Icing that I’d scoop off and dump in my student loan balance. And until my debts were paid, I was going to have to get a real job, in a real office, and watch my vacation days accumulate at a glacial pace.

Guillebeau writes, “Change happens when the pain of transition becomes less than the pain of the status quo.” That was certainly the case for me. Three years of indentured servitude in a doctoral program was enough status quo for a lifetime. So I never walked into that office. I took a job that mostly let me work from home. And I found a second one. I started teaching in the evenings. And I wrote. I wrote like there was no rejection in the world that was going to keep me from writing. And no rejection did. Now I wake up whenever I want. I make coffee and sit on the porch in my pajamas, writing about hairporn and anxiety. Nothing else can happen until those 1,000 words are typed. My morning sentences are tadpoles, but they have strong legs by the time I’m done with them every night.

I work when I want, and where I want. The fact that this is even a possibility tells me how many myths we are fed about extreme adulting. But I also work hard. Because I don’t get paid if I don’t work, there is a constant fire under my butt. And because of that, my income is twice what it would be if I were in that office or writing that research paper.

I share this not to brag, but to challenge others and myself to consider the narratives that hold us in place. Why do we seldom challenge those myths that there are certain ways life has to be lived? Ways that students, helpers, mothers, and even fangirls must follow, no matter what. These were the lies I told myself:

  • I can’t pursue my dreams until I pay off student loans.
  • I need to finish my dissertation before I can write what I want to write.
  • Turning 30 means it’s time to stop fangirling.
  • No one wants to pay me to write about what interests me.
  • 40+ hours a week in an office provides stability.

That last one is the funniest. I feel more financially secure than I ever did with a single job. You don’t have to worry about having the rug pulled from under you when there are 27 rugs.

Inching towards non-conformity looks different for different folks. But I think most people can agree on this one simple radical act: make sure your direction for the day doesn’t get buried under a mountain of “shoulds.” Under busywork and Internet usage that distract us from where we want to be. My favorite exercise from The Art of Non-Conformity includes questions to ask yourself when you wake up and when you go to bed. This is something I’m going to try and keep doing until it starts to invade my thinking about my work and my life.

Morning Questions:

  • “How am I feeling?”
  • “What do I want right now?”
  • “What is the single, most important thing I can do today?”

Evening questions:

  • “Who did I help today?”
  • “How much time did I spent creating today?”
  • “Did I move closer to one of my big goals today?
  • “What do I want for tomorrow?”

Even if my morning answers are always, “Tired, Coffee, and Write,” I will keep asking myself what’s important instead of just what’s urgent. And then I’ll do exactly that. I won’t pay bills, I won’t sign paperwork, and I’ll try my best not to check Twitter until the most important task is complete. I climb back up the mountain, and try to descend with a little more self-compassion than I did the day before.

Starting From Scratch

March 12, 2015 § 2 Comments

It’s All In My Head writes,

I have a huge problem. I thought of the idea for a book about a year ago, and I’ve been writing for a long time now. It helped me through some really terrible times in my life throughout this year. I feel like the characters are family and they are my little secret. I love writing but recently my computer drive crashed and I lost just about everything. After learning that I will not be able to get my progress back I broke down. I’ve been crying and listening to sad music. No one gets why it would be so important, but it think you might be able to help. Is it all in my head? Should I really care this much? 

I’m reminded of sitting on the campus green as a freshman, listening to an upperclassman tell the horror story of the doc student who saved his entire dissertation on a single neon floppy disk. But you probably don’t even know what a floppy disk is But let’s take this in a different direction shall we?

There’s a lot of lost work out there, either due to the passing of time, negligence of the author, or crazy spouses. Or because some idiot maid thought that randomly tossing a large stack of papers into the fire was a GREAT idea. Robert Louis Stevenson torched draft one of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when his wife criticized it. Dramatic, much?

You can’t do anything about the work you lost, but you can change your perspective. Have you ever read Little Women (or watched the movie)? When Amy is caught trading limes at school (what the hell does that even mean), she has to be homeschooled by Jo. Oh so bummed out, Jo doesn’t bring her little sister to the theater with her, and Amy tosses her manuscript into the fire. There’s a lot of screaming and crying, and then Jo almost lets her sister drown when they’re ice skating.

What I’m trying to say here is that having sisters is fucking horrible  one fangirl’s loss is also an opportunity. In the end, Jo ends up writing a new book that’s way better than that angsty shit she was so bent on. You can always come back to your fictional family, whether they’re saved on your hard drive or not. Because like you said, it is all in your head. But not in the negative sense. Nothing can take those stories from you. There is nothing wrong with caring too much about what you created. Nobody wants to read a novel written by someone emotionally detached from their characters. It’s about whether your passion pushes you forward or keeps you stuck in the same place.


So before you return to what was lost, I’d like to challenge you to try something new. Open yourself to the possibility that there are new characters who’d like to introduce themselves to you. Or that maybe your own story or the stories of those around you are worth writing about. Maybe your previous writing was the dress rehearsal for the brilliant story that’s just waiting to leap out of your mind. Scream. Shout. Cry. Don’t drown your sister. Do whatever you need to grieve this loss. But don’t forget to perch your fingers over the keyboard and listen. If your mind can give you such a priceless gift, then who says it can’t do it again? Lightning never strikes twice in the same place, so start walking in a new direction.

I want to do something splendid…something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it and mean to astonish you all someday.  – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

5 Therapy Tips to Help Manage Life’s Problems

October 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

My latest from!

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Not everyone has access to professional therapists or psychologists, but we all face life’s difficulties and need to find ways to deal with them. With some simple therapeutic tactics and methods, you might be able to help yourself overcome your more manageable problems.

In fiction, change is sudden, romantic, and powerful. A villain is confronted with the error of his ways, and he starts leading a better life. An addict hits rock bottom and has nowhere to go but up. But close your book or turn off the television, and you’ll find that change is horribly sluggish, full of stops and starts. It’s hard to create change in the real world.

Change is also expensive if you’re shelling out $100-$200 every week to sit across from a therapist. If you’re suffering from anxiety or self-doubt, or you’ve just been feeling down lately for no particular reason, here are few simple tips to spark some real change and help yourself.

Read the rest here.

Professor Fangirl: What TV Can Teach Psychology

August 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

My latest in Thought Catalog.

When I teach graduate courses to therapists in training, I start every class by going around the room and asking each student the most fundamental relationship-building question I can fathom.

“What’s your favorite TV show?”

I get a flurry of arching eyebrows. They were expecting the “What did you do on your summer vacation?” question. Or the agonizing “two truths and a lie” charade we’re all forced to play at one point of another. But no professor has ever planted a seedling of a relationship with this query.

Yep, that’s me. Professor Fangirl. I may be a PhD student and a mental health writer, but my students will never know that when I get home at night, I surf Tumblr and fawn over my favorite fictional characters. They don’t know that I’ve written fan fiction, or that I run an advice website that helps fans work through their own obsessions. I can even make gifs. So cool, right?

This chunk of me stays tucked away in the nearest phone booth most of the time. But time and time again I discover that fiction, particularly television, is a beautiful starting point for big-picture thinking. For thinking about our therapy clients’ lives as well as our own stories.

Read the rest here.

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