American journalist, author and blogger Jenny Lawson sums herself up in two words: “weird” and “unbalanced”. Having tackled the former in her New York Times bestseller list topper Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, she’s gone in for round two with Furiously Happy.
“It felt like the next logical thing for me to write about would be my own struggle with mental illness,” she tells us. “Write what you know, I suppose.”
It can’t be easy to share your personal struggles with the world… or can it? How did you find the process of writing Furiously Happy?
I found it really difficult at the time. Some of the things I write about are triggers for me so there were times when I’d have to just put away the writing and watch Doctor Who for a few days until it passed. I did, however, find it really freeing. There’s something wonderful about writing of your deepest fears and problems that can give you a feeling of power over them. Being able to explain how mental illness affects me was really therapeutic in a way. It helped me understand myself better and I think it helped people in my life who might not have understood it so well before.
Did you encounter any writers’ block along the way?
I deal with writer’s block all the time and every time it happens I’m convinced I’ll never write again. I always do but it’s so scary at the time. What I’ve found that helps is to “refill my creative cup”. Basically reading and watching shows or doing art or doing anything that might possibly inspire me. I’ve found that if I panic and push myself too hard it just gets worse. Giving yourself permission to not write can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes you have to stop and experience life in order to write about it.
Was it a delicate feat, balancing humour and the very serious issues of anxiety and depression?
It’s a humour book but it’s not a subject that easily lends itself to humour so I was really worried about how people would react to it. In the end I decided that all I could do was write my own personal story and I’ve found that if you find a way to laugh at something really horrific it can become so much smaller and easier to deal with. When you’re dealing with mental illness you need every tool at your disposal to fight it and humour is one of the best weapons that exists. Or at least the only one I don’t have to have a permit to carry.
We’ve got to ask about that cover – why did furry critter Rory come to be your star?
The first time I saw Rory I knew he was the true personification of Furiously Happy. He was a road kill raccoon that my friend Jeremy Johnson taxidermy into an ecstatic, tiny cheerleader and he made me smile in spite of the fact that he’d recently lost his arms in a debaucherous Las Vegas weekend… He was smiling cheerfully in spite of the fact that he was broken and that’s exactly what this book is about. Later my dad sculpted Rory small prosthetic hands and feet and now you can hardly tell he’s been broken unless you look close enough. I suppose we’re all like that in some way. (Broken if you look close enough, that is. Not that we’re all taxidermied raccoons.)
Would you say blogging is a good place to start for budding authors?
Blogging is fantastic because it gives you a chance to discover your voice and to find out what people relate to and enjoy versus what they don’t. My advice for new writers is to find your voice, don’t be afraid to make a mistake and try to delete half of everything you publish. I always find that there’s too much extra stuff in my own writing and the process of making it tighter makes the writing stronger and makes your audience less likely to get bored.