[Review] Turtles All the Way Down

Mental illness is part of my everyday life. On a good day, it’s quiet background noise, a voice whispering cruel things that my rational self is able to ignore and brush aside. On a bad day, my nerves are jangling, waiting for my anxiety to pounce again and force me into a series of repetitive thoughts that get harder to control as every new thought appears. On a bad day, my brain will settle on something to obsess over and pick, pick, pick at it until I am struggling to get through my day.

So when I heard that John Green, master of writing relatable teenagers with varying degrees of social and/or plain old anxiety, was writing a book with a main character with OCD… I was pretty excited. But I’ve strayed from reading YA in recent years, as I am getting to the point where they no longer feel like they’re for me. Reading about kids in high school feels like reading about an alien planet I once lived on but have no desire to go back to. So I filed the knowledge away to be taken advantage of at another time, figuring I’d maybe read it someday when I had time.


Luckily, my partner knows me better than I often know myself and put Turtles All the Way Down on hold at our local library branch before the book was even released. (Frugal and romantic! He knows the way to my heart, y’all.) It took a few weeks before a copy was available, but as soon as it was, I started reading.

And… had to stop not too far in.

It wasn’t because the book was bad. Oh, no. It was because it was too good. Reading it spiked my anxiety like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t have OCD, but the main character Aza’s fears of germs and disgust of things like the process of eating and digestion, and her constant questioning of whether or not she was real felt extremely familiar.

I powered through it, though. There were so many portions of the story that pinged some core feeling inside me. Aza’s struggle with physical intimacy because of invasive thoughts about germs, her descriptions of “thought spirals” and questions about what controls our thoughts and whether our thoughts are us or not, and the way stressors in her life eventually get her to this point where she feels as if her control over her thoughts is even more limited than normal – so much of it felt like things I had experienced, and the writing is visceral enough that sometimes I had to stop and catch my breath for a minute and remind myself that I was okay.

However, while it felt amazing and made me felt seen to have these kinds of trials put to paper, the thing that really made Turtles feel important was its focus on healing. Note that I don’t say “recovery.” If you’re looking for a book where everything ends very neatly and the main character conquers their mental illness entirely and everything is hunky-dory, don’t expect Turtles to be that book. Aza is not perfect at the end of the novel by any stretch of the imagination. But she has taken the time to use the tools at her disposal to be the best she can be, and that was a deeply important message for me to read. This is a book about healing hurts and knowing that sometimes, even though you have healed, your pain can sometimes try to come back to haunt you, and that’s not the end of the world if you have the right tools to handle the pain when it arrives. It’s also about life going on, and how, despite mental illness often being an unwelcome guest that will likely never leave you, you can still go on to live your life and do all the things you dream of doing.

I felt like John Green summed up that sentiment really well at the end of his acknowledgments.

Lastly, Dr. Joellen Hosler and Dr. Sunil Patel have made my life immeasurably better by providing the kind of high-quality mental health care that unfortunately remains out of reach for too many. My family and I are grateful. If you need mental health services in the United States, please call the SAMHSA treatment referral helpline… It can be a long and difficult road, but mental illness is treatable. There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

Despite some meandering plot lines and a kind of slowness that drags portions of the book down, I still think this is, if not one of the best, then one of the most important books I’ve read in a while.

#Preptober Continues!

There are twenty-two days left until NaNoWriMo. I’m getting a little more scared, but also way more psyched up. My boyfriend and my dad have both decided to participate, which is exciting. I’ve never really done NaNo with anybody besides me, myself, and I. I’m also going to be living in the city while really-for-real-not-quitting-after-three-days participating, which is also awesome. I’m a Real Adult now and the idea of going to write-ins or other local NaNo events isn’t completely scary now. I’m also doing some NaNo-related stuff for work, which means I’m thinking about NaNo all the time instead of just when I’m in productive leisure mode (the rarest mode of them all).

The most exciting piece of prep I’ve done so far this month has been writing a synopsis for my novel. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, considering that I haven’t been 100% sure what my story was even really going to be about. But I tried to treat it like I used to treat thesis statements in my college essays. It’s a possible roadmap for where I’m going that will get me asking the right questions, but I may go down a back road and find something totally unexpected but way better than what I started with. I may end up writing something entirely unrelated to the synopsis/thesis and end up having to rethink it altogether. And that’s fine. The point is that I have a starting point and have told myself what direction to start going in.

Here’s the synopsis so far:


Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 10.11.10 PM

Add me as a Writing Buddy on NaNoWriMo.org! My author name/username is missbluestocking.


In writing just those first few hundred words, I learned some new things. The city people are definitely going to be some of the main antagonists in this story, but I didn’t have a fully realized idea of how that would happen. I still think I need to rework some of my ideas about them. Like, for example, I don’t necessarily want to write a story where violence is the answer/the main conflict. But the premise I’ve given myself leans that way. So my current options are: 1) continue with this premise and then subvert the violence paradigm by having Masha always choose nonviolence and use more creative problem-solving, or, 2) change up my premise and have the issue be more internal. The girl that Masha picks up – she’s damaged. She’s been stewing in a deeply toxic ideology for a long time. Maybe that girl causes problems because her social training just doesn’t work in a society so radically different from hers. Maybe she tries to apply city rules to the community she moves into and it causes conflict.

It’s an interesting choice to make. I’m not entirely sure how I want to go about it. I have this idea of what I want this book to be, what I want it to say and mean, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get there. I’m really happy I’m already thinking about these questions, though. This story has been rattling around in my brain for months, but this is the first time I’ve actually really put pen to paper and done anything real with it. I definitely think that that’s worth doing before November 1st, especially if you’re a Planner rather than a Pantser. (That is, if you prefer to plan ahead for your novel rather than flying by the seat of your pants.)

I still have a lot of questions that I need to ask myself in the next few weeks, but I feel really happy about where I’m at right now. Definitely feeling more confident in my ability to finish this year than I have ever felt before.

How are you preparing for NaNo? Are you a Planner or a Pantser? Share your thoughts in the comments!



How to Edit Your Own Writing Like a Pro: Part 1 – The Basics


Photo by Barn Images on Unsplash

When it comes to writing, fresh eyes and a second opinion are invaluable tools. Having someone who can look over your writing and make it flow better and catch all the typos and misspellings you weren’t able to catch on your own can take your blog post, short story, or novel from “meh” to “amazing.” (Trust me, I know – the majority of my job is taking the work of okay writers and making their writing sound like it was written by a great writer.)

Fortunately, you usually don’t really need a professional copy editor like myself to fix the biggest issues with your work. A lot of the problems I see are simple fixes, and with a little practice on spotting those issues, you’ll be able to fix half the issues in your work so that when you actually do have someone go over it, they can focus more on the quality of the content rather than fixing a bunch of easily-avoided errors.

The absolute most important part of this is taking the time to do a first edit yourself. I know that probably sounds like common sense to a lot of you, but for those of you – or, if I’m being honest, us – who want the instant gratification of our stuff being Out There For People To Read Right Now Immediately, this can be challenging. But most blog posts only take a few minutes to read, and investing five extra minutes in your blog post or the latest chapter of your story on Wattpad is not going to kill you, and it will improve your audience’s experience. Whether you take some time to read it out loud or just read over it and check for mistakes, it’s worth it.

“But what do I look for when I’m editing?” you ask. “How am I supposed to tell when something doesn’t sound right or isn’t working? I suck at grammar!” My simplest answer to this is reading out loud. It’s a lot easier to catch when something’s funky in your writing when you have to say it and hear it, especially if you’re a native English speaker. You just know when something isn’t quite right. This works great for issues like:

  • Tense switches, where authors can’t seem to decide when their sentence is taking place. Like this:

I was walking down the street and then we see each other.

The word “was” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the past. But then the word “see” tells me that this sentence is taking place in the present. It makes for a very confusing experience as a reader and an editor, because I often have to use context clues from other sentences around the problem sentence to decide whether I need to change this sentence to “I was walking down the street and then we saw each other” or “I am walking down the street and then we see each other.”

  • Grammar issues, like punctuation being outside of quotation marks, or apostrophes in the wrong place. If you have trouble with things like grammar and punctuation, your best bet is honestly to google it. I do it all the time. Every time a teacher or professor has tried to teach me grammar, I have really struggled to understand it. It goes in one ear and out the other. (What’s a past participle? Hell if I know.) I understand how the English language works and what sounds right, but I can’t always explain why. Knowing why can be really important in editing, because English is a mutant language with a ton of exceptions to all of its rules, not to mention a ton of rules you have to memorize in the first place. If you’re unsure about a rule, the easiest thing to do is go to Google. It will often lead you to places like Grammar Girl’s articles where different grammatical concepts will be explained to you in a simple way that is usually pretty easy to remember. But if you don’t remember, it’s totally okay to look it up again. (And again… and maybe a few more times after that because grammar is hard.)
  • Problems with sentence structure. I will see a sentence that’s just weird. Usually these sentences aren’t wrong, exactly, but they just don’t quite come out right when you read them. I’ve been guilty of this. There’s a lot of different ways that this can happen, but here’s an example:

How foolish that was I have no words to express.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. (At least, as far as I can tell – someone correct me if I’m wrong!) It just sounds weird. And there’s a better way to write it so that it flows better: “I have no words to express how foolish that was.” See how nicely the second version flows? Just changing the words around a bit made the meaning of the sentence much clearer and easier to read.

And that’s really the whole point of editing: you want to make your writing easier to read. We could get really nitty-gritty and talk about every possible issue your writing could ever have, but the details aren’t as important as it is for you to keep the goal of making your writing as accessible for your intended audience at the forefront of your mind.

Have specific questions about editing? Feel like I missed something important? Leave a comment and I’ll answer your question in a future post!

Book Hoarding


For the past several months, I have been trying to get rid of some of my books. It is… not going well. In the three-ish months (god, I really hope it’s only been three and not longer) since I resolved to separate my books into “keep,” “donate,” and “sell” piles, I have only been able to select about ten books that I’m absolutely certain I don’t want to keep. Some of them are gifts that I am just not all that interested in and never have been, while others were assigned reading that I always meant to finish but haven’t gotten around to. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (yet), but from what I have heard secondhand, one of the most important things to do when tidying is ensure that the stuff you are keeping around you is stuff that brings you joy.

I love my books. I love having books on my shelf. But I’ve had to admit to myself recently that I have not made much time for sitting down and reading physical books. I read all day at work and I’ve prioritized other hobbies since leaving high school. I can’t say that it’s a good thing, but I tend to prioritize gaming and watching TV over reading. Which means that now, instead of having a shelf full of possible sources of entertainment, I have a shelf full of heavy decorations that are not being used.

I’m a big believer in secondhand books. I rarely buy any books with a hard cover or brand new, because I’m a very heavy user. I make notes in the margins and dog-ear pages. A lot of my favorites no longer have covers and are falling apart. Buying secondhand is simply part of frugal decision-making for me – why buy a book at full price that isn’t going to stay pristine? But a big part of my belief in secondhand books has always been being willing to let books go so that others can love them just as much as I did. But for some reason, I haven’t actually put that concept into practice for several years. I’ve gotten rid of a few textbooks I had no attachment to, sure, but not any of the novels I picked up from the free library in the laundry room and never started, or the books that I am entirely certain I have grown out of that I no longer have an emotional attachment to.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. I think to some degree I just haven’t had much time to de-clutter much of anything in my apartment over the last four years, and I’ve been lazy about taking on big projects. But a huge part of it is that I am deeply attached to my book hoard. The thought of decreasing my collection even by one book makes me uncomfortable. They’ve been a heavy presence at the corner of my eye for so long. Many of these books have been with me since I was very young and it feels wrong to release them into the wild for someone else to have. I can’t say they feel like part of me, but they certainly feel like part of what makes my space mine. I worry that I would be lonely without them.

But even with all those emotional ties, I can’t help but consider things like what will happen when I move out. How many boxes will all these books take up? (Too many.) Will I really want them in whatever new home I end up in? Even if I don’t move out any time soon, do I really want to keep all that space for books that are going unread when I could use it for vital storage of other, more useful items that have had to be tucked away elsewhere? And the more I think about things like this, the more I realize that my hoard is less of a comforting presence and a collection of knowledge and more of a reminder of my issue with letting keepsakes go. So I think back on Marie Kondo’s rule to only keep things around that bring you joy and ask myself: are my books bringing me joy? Some of them. But most of them feel like an anchor.

That tells me that I have to do something about this. I treasure my books, but I need to move forward and let them go. I need to let other people find them and treasure them and hopefully crack them open once in a while. And I need to do it soon.

Fingers crossed.


Yes, It’s September, and Yes, I’m Already Prepping for NaNoWriMo


Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

It honestly feels weird to have already started prepping this early. The 4 other times I’ve started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the challenge) I have waited until the absolute last minute to get started. November 1st rolls around, I remember I made a commitment to myself to do NaNo again, and I just wing it and see what happens. I’ve finished twice this way, and failed another two times. While it’s fun to just let myself type out whatever comes to mind, I feel like I’m not really the kind of person who wants to deal with the stress of pulling two thousandish words a day out of thin air as I hope for the best anymore. My time is a lot more limited and I need to be thoughtful about how I work to make sure I can actually accomplish my goals and not feel overwhelmed.

So, for the first time, I’ve been planning. I have a setting sketched out (a post-apocalyptic America where everything isn’t a gigantic mess and people are actually doing pretty okay–I’ve gotten lots of inspo from the solarpunk movement and have done a lot of thinking about non-capitalist economies), I have a main character (her name is Masha, she’s butch as hell and flies a solar-powered airship), and a general conflict (City People are weird and holding too tight to the old ways, while everyone else just does their best to avoid the City People, but, of course, trade happens between those groups, and things get ugly at one point).

Every time I get an idea, whether it’s for plot stuff or character stuff or setting or whatever else, I make sure to write it down in my journal so I can go back to it later and not forget it when it’s crunch time in mid-November and I’m losing my mind trying to figure out where this story goes and how it works. And it feels really good to be taking care of that ahead of time and feel like I’m setting myself up for success rather than just chugging along and hoping I don’t fail.

I’m also really excited about this story. I feel like I haven’t had a “good” idea in a long time, but my brain popped this one out and it felt like I absolutely needed to do something with it. It’s a culmination of a lot of my interests and sensibilities, with a main character who has been rattling around in my head for a while but just didn’t seem to fit anywhere, in a setting I really care about. So maybe it’s way too freakin’ early to be trying to plan out my book for NaNo, but it’s exactly the right time for me to be getting pumped about spending a month churning this novel out.

It’s been a week since I graduated now. I’m only just now starting to feel like I’m coming up for air. I’m still trying to catch up on sleep, still trying to work out a routine for myself. It doesn’t quite feel like freedom yet, but I know it will soon.

I’m trying to figure out my work situation and finances right now and try to put myself in a position where Future Me is comfortable. I’m also trying to give Present Me a break, because Present Me seems permanently exhausted and always just on the verge of a cold. (Dear God, please don’t let it really be a cold.)

On the positive side, I’ve had a lot more time to do things I feel like doing. I’m already halfway through the latest season of House of Cards (it’s killing me, y’all) and I finally got to do some of the main quests in Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I have been playing for 2+ years now! It feels really good to get home and actually relax. No worries about assignment deadlines or applications or papers or projects. My Me Time feels like real Me Time and not time stolen away from me doing productive things. It’s incredible. I spent my Saturday playing Don’t Starve Together and getting my teeth cleaned, which is an ideal Saturday.

Oh, I also started reading Farm City by Novella Carpenter. It’s my latest public transit read and I’m really enjoying it. Definitely an light, easy read that’s right up my alley. Urban gardening? Squat gardening on land that wouldn’t be used otherwise? Creating community with gardening?? Wonderful. I have some issues with some of the implications in the novel re: gentrification, but there’s a lot of stuff that makes it a worthwhile read for me. Definitely check it out.

Also, speaking of reading: I haven’t finished it yet, but I read most of The Abyss Surrounds Us for work and absolutely loved it. It’s a combination of a future and futuristic world that isn’t necessarily any more dystopic than the present world, but still extremely different, kaiju, futuristic pirates, and lesbians. I wish it had come out when I was younger, but I was really glad I got the pleasure of reading it now.

All of this to say: things are not perfect, but they are good, and they feel like they are going to get better.

Just gonna put this here…

Mostly just so that when I get out of Finals Hell in a few weeks I have a little road map for myself and how I wanna spend my summer. Freedom from academia is so close, y’all, and I’m dying to taste it.

I’ve really been wrestling with whether or not I want to go to grad school right away. There’s a part of me that feels like I should–particularly the part that has already applied and been accepted to two different programs, the part of me that listens to my mom, the part of me that has been excitedly telling family and friends about the possibility of going to school in Ireland in the fall–but there’s a much bigger part of me that is just… tired. I really don’t feel like I could give grad school my all right now. I am academically exhausted. Grad school is definitely something I want to do. I really want to get my Masters and maybe someday even my PhD. I absolutely love school and I don’t think I’ll be able to just have my BA and be done with it. There’s a lot of people telling me “if you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it” but they’re all people who don’t really get pleasure out of school and got a degree to have one. I went to college mostly just because where else was I going to be able to spend four years talking about literature and honing my writing, my research skills, and my ability to read and think critically?

It’s a lot to think about.

But regardless of whether I go back this fall or not, I do want to have some stuff for myself to do and look forward to. I want to spend more time at the library this summer. I have a lot of books on hand that I would like to read/finish, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s come out over the last four years that I’ve missed because I’ve been too busy reading books for class. It’ll be really good to just walk through the stacks and find some cool stuff this summer. I wanna catch up on Walking Dead comics and read more Thomas Harris books.

I also want to spend more time outside. I haven’t been to the beach in years, and the last time I went it was because I was an emotional wreck and seeking solace from sunshine and ocean sounds. I’m ready to go when I’m having a good day. I definitely want to take advantage of Falling Fruit and see what I can find in the parks and slightly more nature-(re)claimed areas of the city. I wanna learn a lot more about plants (yay, more library time!), particularly wild plants. If I end up staying, I might even see if they’ll give me my old garden plot back at Brooks. That spot was amazing and gave me so much space to work with and I’d love to get to use it again, especially since I’d have more time on my hands.

I also want to try and get the apartment in better order. I reorganized the kitchen a while back, but it’s time to do it again, and also scrub the insides of the cabinets, which have this gross film of honey all over them. I wanna get organizers for the spices (we have SO MANY SPICES and we use them all on a pretty regular basis, but it’s so hard to find stuff because it’s all jumbled together) and some can racks.

Also want to prepare an emergency kit/bug-out bag. This is San Francisco and earthquakes happen. I’ve only experienced one while I’ve been here–which I slept through completely–but we are long overdue for a big one and I want to be ready for it when it comes.

And, of course, I want to start looking for work. What that work ends up being depends a lot on whether or not I’ll be staying here or not, but I am looking forward to finding something that suits me. I’ve worked through college so it’ll be a weird experience to be able to walk into places and ask for a little more because I have a degree. I’m so used to having to accept whatever they give me, but now I feel like I have a teeny bit more leverage for negotiation.

I’m excited and tired and really ready to get my life started.