A Writer’s Perspective On Why ’13 Reasons Why’ Gets Mental Illness Right

Everyone’s experiences with mental health are different. One story can’t portray that. It’s not possible.

I’ve read the book. I’ve watched the show. I’ve read the articles and the comments and my friends’ reactions to the story.

As a writer, I am disappointed that so many people aren’t seeing this show the way it was meant to be seen.

I’m not here to say my opinion is right and everyone else is wrong. But as a professional storyteller, and someone who has personally experienced issues with mental health, please allow me to present things from a bit of a different perspective.

For some context, 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original series based on a book about a girl sharing the reasons why she killed herself. That’s as basic as the premise gets. Hannah records 13 tapes explaining how the actions of others affected her, and ultimately drove her to take her own life. The dramatic element is that the tapes get shared among everyone in Hannah’s life, and they’re used as a means of telling the “before.”

But pay attention to my summary of the show. One girl explains the reasons she believes she no longer wants to live.

That’s important. Because the criticisms of this show I’m seeing most often are that 13 Reasons Why assumes people kill themselves because of trauma and not because mental illness is a real thing that sometimes happens for no reason at all.

For starters, yes. Health crises like depression can drive a person to complete suicide without warning or cause. That is a fact and I’m not here to dispute it.

But here’s what people seem to be forgetting: this is a TV show. One story. About one person.

People don’t seem to have as much of an issue with how triggering the show can be for some people, or how graphic it is. Generally, people seem to understand that was purposeful.

But — as I see way too often — people seem to not understand that this show IS A SHOW, and not a complete academic summary of how mental health problems work in real life.

It’s almost like people expected this to be a TV show about a girl with depression who ends her life for no reason other than she’s depressed. No trauma, no triggers — it was just supposed to happen because of how devastating depression and similar conditions can be to a person experiencing them.

But who wants to watch a TV drama without any drama? No one.

This show was dramatic BECAUSE IT IS NOT REAL.

It is realistic, but not real. There is a difference.

Suicide is extremely dramatic, and people who deal with depression and other mental health issues suffer immensely as a result of their pain. Their pain is real, often physical, too. But in many ways, 13 Reasons Why is not a show about suicide. And it is definitely not a show about depression. It is a story about one girl’s experiences, and the events that led to her making the decision to complete suicide.

It was never supposed to be a story about how mental illness drives people to cause harm to themselves. It is not a documentary about suicide. Neither was the book a journalistic piece documenting the realities and statistics surrounding depression in teenagers. It is literally one fictional story about a girl who is bullied, who is affected so deeply by the way she is treated that she comes to the conclusion that the only way to end her pain is to end her life.

If you want to hear real stories about real people who are suicidal because of mental health issues and their many side effects and co-occurring conditions, there are plenty of resources, studies, and essays on the internet. But a Netflix show based on a fictional story from one person’s fictional perspective is not going to fill that need for you. It never tried to.

And speaking to those who have criticized this show for “glorifying” suicide, please explain to me how that’s the case. Because I have never myself been suicidal, yet that scene in the last episode (you know the one) was extremely difficult for me to watch. IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. Hannah received zero reward for what she did. She wasn’t looking for one. She was trying to wrestle with her depression, and understand its hold on her.

If you paid any attention to the show, you’ll recall that after recording the first 12 tapes, having worked through and acknowledged all of her pain, Hannah went to an adult to ask for help. In a way, the tapes were like a journal, sort of helping her understand what led to her feeling the way she felt — which made her realize that she could not overcome it on her own.

That’s why the 13th tape is so devastating. Because Hannah wanted to live. But she felt she couldn’t anymore. At that point, her depression became the sole influence of her thoughts and her behavior. And the results were fatal.

Does that sound like a story trying to imply that suicide somehow makes you a hero?

To me, it sounds like a story about how others’ behaviors can influence a person’s view of themselves, enough to trigger any mental health thought patterns or behaviors they may have been predisposed to even if they never showed signs of them before.

If you can’t differentiate between fiction and reality, you shouldn’t be watching shows like this. I’m not saying you can’t — you can do whatever you want. But how can you sit there and complain about a story not being “real enough” when IT’S FICTIONAL?

Depression, suicide — all issues relating to mental health are real and serious. I will always advocate for stories that portray realistic stories about mental health. But what their audiences need to understand is that one story cannot portray every person’s experiences. You can’t expect one show to reflect your or someone else’s story exactly “right.” One story can only show and tell so much about one subject.

But you can expect that shows like 13 Reasons Why will not hesitate to remind you that whether someone is depressed or not, treating people like they’re less than you has consequences. Ultimately, I think that’s something the show’s writers and directors wanted to get across.

I’m sorry if you didn’t get out of this show what you were expecting, but it’s not the only story out there about these topics. Keep looking. There are more stories out there than you apparently realize. Find the one(s) that speak to you and share them. Or, if you have your own story to tell — there are supportive communities both online and off that will allow you to do that freely.

But don’t call one show a “failure” for doing what it’s supposed to do: tell a story. It may not have sent out the messages you yourself wanted to hear, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t send out the ones it was originally created to do.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

“Not Knowing What It’s Like” Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Write About It

A writer needs a chance to grow.


I have a very bad habit of reading Facebook comments on articles. I can’t help it. I am a storyteller, therefore, I want to know what other people are thinking about the news and issues brought up through things other people have written. It makes me less judgmental. Occasionally, it gives me reassurance, when someone defends an argument I haven’t had the chance to yet.

Yet often the downside is that I read far too many comments from strangers who react to certain pieces of writing as if they have been personally attacked. “You don’t know me,” they type. “You don’t know what it’s like to live the way I live.”

In some cases, I suppose, that may be true. But that’s making the assumption that a writer hasn’t done there homework. And there are many that do.

The problem I have with journalism and editorial writing (not the same thing, for those who aren’t sure), is that sometimes a writer puts their thoughts and opinions before the experiences and feelings of others. Even I’ve made this mistake. But what bothers me is when writers really do try to understand, and do their research, and paint a picture of what life is like for someone different than themselves, and they’re still criticized for writing about something “they’ve never been through.”

Not all readers have reactions like this, but many do. True, you can’t speak to all perspectives on one issue with one piece of writing. No one ever experiences a situation the same as someone else. But why should that stop you from trying to see the world through another person’s eyes?

I personally have been through some things I’m still too sensitive, even as a writer, to write about and publish. Yet there are those who are far enough removed from their own struggles who are also writers and who can speak to how it feels, or might feel for some people. And there are also those who are skilled writers who haven’t been through it, but have the capability to talk to people like me, and to tell our stories for us – not because we don’t want to, but because maybe we’re not ready to, in the same way.

There are plenty of things in my life I haven’t experienced firsthand, haven’t yet, or never will. Something I have come to love about fiction is that, as an author, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been through it or not. If you can do your research, talk to people who have survived it, understand something and then create characters and circumstances that show what it’s like to live through these things – even if you haven’t – readers, if you do it right, don’t know the difference.

I think we limit ourselves far too much, when we assume we can only “write what we know.” What if you want to write about something you don’t know? Then you research and interview and learn until you DO know, as best you can. If I only let myself write about things I’ve felt, seen and heard, every single one of my stories would be the same. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be. And I’m sure you don’t, either.

If someone gets something wrong about a subject, if they don’t go deep enough, if they miss the mark, then maybe they need to hear about how it really is. But I wish people understood “teachable moments.” Attacking someone for being “wrong” or “not understanding” doesn’t make them any more knowledgeable about your circumstances. If a writer doesn’t know, they need to be told – but in a constructive way. Don’t discourage them from gaining a new perspective. I’m really tired of seeing that.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

This is What Everyone Gets Wrong About Storytelling

At their core, all stories are the same. It’s the unique elements we choose to highlight that make them different from one another.


Sometimes it starts to feel like all we see is the same old story told over and over again. Or the stories we read are all about the same people, or at least an archetype of that person.

You’re not wrong if you’ve felt this way: after all, every story that’s written has in some form or another been written before. Yet what many don’t realize is that this is actually a good thing. It’s a springboard. We can look at an old story and dissect it. What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? What can we do different? What element can we focus on that hasn’t been focused on recently, or ever before?

At their core, all stories are the same. It’s the unique elements we choose to highlight that make them different from one another.

There’s this belief that only certain stories are worth telling. Bottom-to-top success stories, or unlikely hero stories, or stories about things already well-established people have done to make them even more awesome than they already are. Those stories are fine and they make us feel good. But aren’t we forgetting something?

Aren’t we forgetting that every single person has a unique story to tell? Maybe on the surface everyone’s story seems to fit into a general category of stories already told, but that’s because not everyone bothers to dig deeper. A story isn’t about telling an audience a beginning and an end. It’s about giving a completely new perspective on the journey a person takes from point A to point B, or the journey they are continuously on, and will be for the rest of their lives.

As a writer, it’s your job to find the uniqueness in every single story. Even fiction writers are responsible for putting a new spin on every idea, giving it unique features so that it sets itself apart above the rest. It’s not about research, it’s not about exaggerating the truth, it’s about finding the angle least often found. It’s about finding that one thing that makes someone’s story different, and creating something completely new out of it.

Pay close attention to those stories you assume everyone has heard before. Pay attention to people and places and fictional characters you don’t initially think are all that interesting. There is something special lingering beneath the surface. A good writer, a great storyteller, will find it. They will use it as their focal point. And they will create something truly amazing from what others never even knew was there.

Image courtesy of Abhi Sharma/flickr.com.

How to Make Your Stories More Relatable

Writing stories has a way of releasing parts of ourselves we’ve forgotten were buried.


Have you ever finished reading a story and sat there for a minute, amazed at how much the author seemed to understand you or what you had been through? How well they managed to voice your thoughts within their prose, as if they themselves reached into your head and fished them out for use in their story?

It’s not on accident that some stories make us feel as if we’re looking into a mirror. Relatable stories are the most effective kinds of stories. People hold them close. Learning how to write stories people will relate to is an important step in the journey toward becoming an accomplished writer. Here are a few tips to help you figure out how to write more relatable stories.

Understand your audience

Your audience reads because they, like you, seek to be understood. Don’t just know who they are. Know what they like and don’t like, how they spend their time, how they speak, how they think, how they behave. Understand what they want and what they need, what they are looking for in a story and what will influence and inspire them.

Understanding your audience means making a full commitment to writing stories that make them feel represented and heard, stories that give them a platform from which they can gather the courage to stand up and speak for themselves. Granted, not every individual in your audience will react to a story the same way. You will never be able to please every person that picks up your story, but you can, and should, attempt to reach out and touch as many as you can with your words.

Challenge every cliche and stereotype possible

Audiences know cliches and stereotypes so well that they are, whether they know it or not, on a constant search for stories that will address those cliches and stereotypes in a way that shatters and redefines them. People hunger for these types of stories because, deep down, we all wish they would go away. Yet not all of us are able to put that secret desire into words like many writers can.

Be bold. Learn about stock characters and transform them into something new. Familiarize yourself with the expected, the predictable outcomes of stories that already exist, and instead predict what people might want to see happen instead. These kinds of stories are relatable because they meet a hidden need most readers don’t even know required satisfaction before receiving it.

Make yourself part of the story

No matter how hard you try, you can’t keep yourself – your experiences, your worldview, your opinions – out of the stories you write. There will always be a small part of you in there somewhere. Let it happen. Don’t try to keep yourself out of it. Writing stories has a way of releasing parts of ourselves we’ve forgotten were buried. Those parts are what make our stories relatable. The raw emotion, the honesty, the pain, the memories: it all counts. It all matters, and it all adds to the story’s personality. It’s what makes it more real, for everyone.

There is going to be some element of your work that you choose to add in because it resonates with you on a deep level. This is not a bad thing. There are plenty of people out there, even those in your audience, who will resonate with the same things you resonate with. If you inject feeling into your work, they will feel it, too. If you introduce them to an idea through a certain perspective, perhaps they will either agree with it or use it to spread their own ideas from a different perspective on the same general topic.

Stories need to be relatable because stories are not just for entertainment. They all have messages, even satires. Not every story is going to relate directly with every single person who reads it. But there is always that chance that it will change someone’s life, which is, from a writer’s perspective, a pretty amazing feat achieved by sitting down and putting words together semi-strategically.

Have you ever read a story that really resonated with you, maybe enough to inspire you to write your own story? What was it about that story that connected with you, and how can you use that to construct stories other people can relate to?

Image courtesy of Pho Vinternatt/flickr.com.

5 Storytelling Risks You Need to Take This Year

Sometimes the best writing is knowing what you want to happen and writing something completely different.


Have you ever stopped writing and realized how comfortable, how nice your story feels? Has that ever prompted you to do everything you possibly can to tear that peaceful feeling away from yourself, to challenge yourself to take a risk and go where you said you’d never go?


It’s time to change that, dear writer. Here are five storytelling risks you’re not ready to take, but should take anyway.

1. Letting them get away with it

Guilt is a very powerful, mind-twisting emotion. What if your whole story is about someone getting away with something unspeakable? It’s an emotion we all know and understand no matter the reason, and using it can be a very effective storytelling tool. Sometimes, people get away with things. They are never caught. When you think of the formula crime thriller, someone usually gets what they deserve for the terrible thing they’ve done. Let them get away with it. See what that does to your characters and how it shapes them.

Think of The Lovely Bones. He technically never gets caught for what he did to our poor MC, even though he does sort of get what’s coming to him in the end.

2. Giving the happy ending to the “wrong” character

Not everyone gets a happy ending when the main storyline comes to a close. Dare to give that happy ending to the character you don’t want to be happy for. That sends readers, and probably you, too, into a whirlwind of all kinds of mixed feelings. “It’s not supposed to happen that way!” Life very rarely works out the way we expect it to. Reflect that in your story.

3. Writing the exact opposite of what you want to write

One trap we often fall into when we’re writing is letting our personal feelings get in the way of telling the best possible story. Sometimes we need to look at where we want to take the story, turn around and go in the completely opposite direction. If you want Character A and Character B to be together forever, break them up. If you want your MC to win the contest, let someone else win. Go with the unexpected. You need to be able to surprise and shake up your readers. If you’re way too comfortable with your story, your readers will be too.

However, this doesn’t mean you should never write what you want to write. Your gut is trustworthy. Most of the time, it knows what’s best.

4. Ignoring that voice telling you not to go there

As a writer, your gut instinct is very rarely wrong – and if you do end up writing something and aren’t happy with it, your gut will (rightfully) convince you to get it right the second time. Don’t steer your story away from where it’s meant to go just because it’s too dark or too happy or too complicated. There is no such thing. Go there. Let your story unfold the way it was originally meant to. Dare to write that scene, build that character, end that relationship. Taking the safe road does not yield a good story.

5. Turning a personal experience into a message of hope

We write about things that have happened to us recently or in the past, both good and bad. It’s what helps us cope. For many writers, writing about personal experiences is sort of like therapy. More fictional stories have come out of this kind of writing than you probably realize. Don’t be afraid to use what you’ve been through, even just as a foundation, to send a positive message to your readers. Here’s some more advice on how you can do that.

Telling a story is complicated. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, not really. It’s all about getting comfortable … and then launching yourself right out of that comfort zone.

Take a risk. Dare to write what you’ve never written before.

Image courtesy of Cyril Vallée/flickr.com.

What Makes People Actually Want to Read Your Story?


Falling in love with a book happens so fast you don’t even realize it’s happened until you’re halfway through reading it.

Obviously, for a book to be considered a good book, it has to have a good story. And everyone has their own definition of what that entails. Not just a good story, but a story people will actually want to read, has a few vital components. They’re not too easy to master, and it takes time to do so. But it’s possible. Many before you have mastered the art of telling a story the reader can’t turn away from. There is hope for you and your stories.

New takes on old ideas

Have you ever stopped writing for a second, sat back and thought, “You know, I think this story has already been written”? You’re not wrong. Not at all. Pretty much every basic framework for every story has already been written hundreds upon thousands of times. But it doesn’t always feel that way, because writers are always coming up with new ways to tell those stories, to use that framework only as a foundation to build from.

Just because “it’s already been done” doesn’t mean you can’t still write it. Readers love familiar elements of stories they’ve read before. But it’s up to you to make it unique, to add a new twist, to keep it interesting even if it is just a little bit predictable.

Real conversations between realistic characters

Every once in awhile, you will come across a book that’s just “okay.” The story is overdone, not that unique and you can already predict how it’s going to end (or so you think). Even though that might seem like enough to convince you to set it down and pick up another book, it’s not. Because despite the so-so storyline, you’ve immediately fallen in love with the characters.

Real characters engaged in conversations you can envision happening in real life are often the anchor that keeps a new reader turning pages. Some stories just get off to a rough start. Especially first drafts, which you know well if you’ve written plenty of them. Counteract that weaker beginning with strong, dynamic characters right from the start. Those personalities will carry you through the rough points until you can go back and write a stronger introduction.

Layers that keep going deeper

A good story, good characters and good pacing all have one thing in common: layers. All those stories you’ve read about a hero going deep into a cave or beneath the earth’s surface are just metaphors for good storytelling (well, maybe). Depth in a story is everything. A cast of flat characters, zero character development and little to no deep discovery are sort of just like walking around the Midwest. There’s not much variety and our hills don’t count. It gets boring, and fast.

To keep a reader engaged, you have to peel back the layers of every character, conflict and event and dive deeper into back stories (but no more than necessary), internal conflicts and so on. You don’t have to tell all, but age-old techniques like foreshadowing something yet to come are the things keeping the pages turning, even if it seems cliche to you right now.

If you’ve ever fallen in love with a story, you’ve probably never stepped back to analyze exactly why you love it. Everyone likes a story for different reasons, and as a writer, it’s not possible to cater to everyone’s needs and satisfy every person that picks up your book. Don’t make that your mission. Aim to write a story that has as many good storytelling ingredients as possible without overdoing it.

Go with your gut. Often, it will steer you right.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Introducing The Novella Concept, Our 2016 Writing Challenge


So I’ve been doing some thinking lately. Dangerous, I know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing. Obviously. About how, as much as we all would love to get paid to write (and many of us do), that’s not really why we do it. We simply want to be able to do what we love while making a decent living doing it.

But here’s the thing. I think we can do better than that.

I think there’s a way we can all accomplish our overall goal – to write as much and as often as possible – while contributing to something much bigger. A cause, or multiple, that satisfies much more than our desire to put our ideas into words.

Friends. Fellow writers. I think we can take it a step further, and turn our words into actions. To promote change, just by sitting down and writing.

That’s why I’m taking a risk this year. Not for myself, but for hundreds of thousands of people I’ve never met. You can join me, if you want. Here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to write 12 novellas this year. You read that right: 12. One novella per month. Each covering a different topic. Each addressing an issue that needs attention, the kind of attention only storytelling can  gift.

I’m going to take those finished novellas and self-publish them on Amazon throughout the year. And I’m going to donate the money, every cent, to 12 different charities, each representing one of the causes I address in each of my novellas.

That might seem like a lot of work to do if I’m just going to give the money away.

I don’t see it that way.

I see it as a chance for me to give something to someone in need when I have nothing to give other than my ideas and my words.

I’m telling you this so I don’t brush this idea off to the side like we’ve all done so many times before. It’s been rolling around in my head ever since Project for Awesome, in that way good ideas do. I waited for it to go away and it hasn’t. So that’s how I know this is meant to be. And I hope, if you are willing, if you have the time and words to spare, you will join me, and write at least one novella this year to contribute to the cause.

There will come more info as the month goes on about how we can make this more of a community effort. I will probably start a Facebook group as a place where I, or a few of us, can share our finished work with one another and help promote this totally awesome (and terrifying) idea I’ve come up with.

For now, check out this page with more general info about The Novella Concept.

I’m not asking you to make a commitment to writing one novella or 12 or anything in-between. You have your own goals to achieve in 2016. I am asking for your support. There will be periodic updates, because to be honest, I’m a bit terrified this will not actually happen. I can write a lot in a short amount of time, but I’ve never done anything like this before.

Then again, it’s not about me, is it? It’s about everyone else. I’m not just donating to charity. I’m using my words to make a difference, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do anyway.

I don’t know. I think it’s a great idea.

I’ll keep you updated.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

How to Use Your Fandom to Write Better Stories in 2016


There is one thing, above all others, we never have to be ashamed of as adults. That is, of course, the stories and characters we cannot help but obsess over as part of (often multiple) fandoms.

Being part of a fandom has its psychological rewards. It’s basically the same as being part of a social class in any societal setting, involvement with a group of people who have at least one thing in common. In the social media age, a fandom connects people not just locally, but across the globe.

Have you ever thought of how your fandom, as distracting, time-consuming and productivity-hindering as it may seem, can actually improve your skills and techniques as a writer?

As I often do during the holidays, I spent roughly six total hours in a car this past weekend. I am one of the unlucky many who cannot read, game or watch movies in the car without feeling nauseated, which was particularly frustrating until I discovered the wonders that are podcasts.

Looking for something new, and having recently seen The Force Awakens, I searched for something Star Wars-themed to get me through the trip. And that is when I, finally, discovered StoryWonk. Specifically, the Story and Star Wars podcast series (though there are many others to choose from).

I have been a Star Wars fan for over a decade, which surprises a lot of people when it comes up, because I am a highly feminine, princess-loving, Disney, fairytale-obsessed girly-girl. But I am also a storyteller and may or may not have just ordered a $25 hardcover edition of a Star Wars novel for myself because I cannot get enough of Clone Wars stories (sorry not sorry).

What I love about StoryWonk, and its Star Wars podcast series, is its emphasis on story analysis. I was an English major and did briefly (very briefly) consider pursuing the subject at the graduate level. But as much as I love stories and analyzing them, the last thing I wanted was to trap myself into a two-year commitment where all I was allowed to do was analyze and annotate the binding out of old, dusty anthologies.

Until I found StoryWonk, I honestly never really considered the fact that you can pick apart any story you want to. I never even thought of analyzing the Star Wars universe at the literary level. And going through this seminar series this weekend really made me realize how effective belonging to a fandom can actually be for an aspiring writer.

Putting a story in front of you, one that you know backwards and forwards because of how much time you spend within it, and treating it like any other literary work, changes the way you view both elements. Even after only a few days, I don’t look at Star Wars the same way. The lectures made me want to dive deeper, not only into Star Wars as a multi-part story, but into my own stories, even the unfinished ones.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve really been struggling with writing lately. I’ve cut back on the amount of words I’m writing every day and haven’t been writing quite as many articles. But there’s something about stories, viewed from a storyteller’s perspective. Falling in love with stories in general is like falling in love with a person. It doesn’t just happen once. It happens over and over again, at different points in your life, igniting that fire that sometimes dims and almost burns out completely.

This sort of mindset works with any fandom. Pick any T.V. series, movie franchise or book/comic series you love and pay attention to the story. Analyze that story. Your fandom is more than a bunch of people obsessed with the same characters and setting. It is the ultimate inspiration for all the stories you have yet to create.

What is/are your fandom(s)? What do you love about the stories they tell? Take a few minutes to really think about how much these stories, over time, have influenced your own writing since you started. I’ve attempted a few Star Wars fanfics, but really, it’s the Star Wars universe as a whole that, a long time ago, made me decide, “I want to write. Maybe not something as awesome as this. But something.”

And I have. As I will continue to do. Through the end of this year and beyond.

And by the way, don’t panic. I like Star Wars, but this isn’t a Star Wars blog. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to be flooded with it consistently all of a sudden. Promise.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Project for Awesome 2015: National Novel Writing Month


Never underestimate the power of a good story.

I’ve been looking forward to P4A2015 for a long time. I’ve never gotten the opportunity or known enough about it to participate until this year. I originally planned to promote another organization supporting a completely different cause. Then Sarah Mackey over at NaNoWriMo asked the regional MLs (myself included) if we wanted to take “a few minutes” to make a video for an organization we were, in one way or another, already promoting anyway.

So I thought, “What the heck. Why not?”

I had no idea that, without even donating to P4A (I literally can’t afford to this year, and I wish with all my heart that I could), Project for Awesome would completely change the way I appreciate the charity that has supported me, in many ways, for the past eight years.

I didn’t expect to spend over eight hours scripting, filming and editing a video.

I didn’t expect to tell any part of my story.

I didn’t expect to cry, okay? Especially not on camera.

Philanthropy is often heavily criticized for its dependence on narcissism (I just wrote a paper on this, so bear with me). From some points of view, doing any kind of promotion to support a good cause, and making it “about you” at the same time, defeats the purpose. Before I started working on his project, and as I wrote that paper, I agreed. But then I realized something pretty important.

Just because you’re telling your story doesn’t mean it has to be all about you.

We all go though things. We make mistakes, we learn lessons, we lose people, we fall in love. When we open up and talk about these things (and spend way too many hours hearing the same story played back over and over again), it starts to seem pointless. “Why does anyone need to hear this? It doesn’t matter.”

But it DOES matter. Everyone has a story, and EVERYONE’S STORY MATTERS.

My story probably won’t mean very much to very many people, but it’s not about me. It never is about me. What’s important is there’s someone out there, maybe even just one person out of billions, who will relate to this, or who will be inspired by it. Who will be hearing about NaNoWriMo for the first time. Who will finally be given the opportunity to put their ideas into words and let their story be heard.

That’s why I tell stories. In the hopes that someone, somewhere, will be affected in the most constructive, positive way possible.

You can hear my story, and all about National Novel Writing Month’s impact on my life, in my Project for Awesome 2015 video.

I’m just one person. One writer. It’s one story. But it counts. It’s important. And I hope, if you’re reading this, it reminds you that your story counts, too.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Learn more about National Novel Writing Month’s nonprofit efforts, and if you can, make a donation to Project for Awesome. All donations go toward multiple charity organizations around the world.

Image courtesy of Meg Dowell and Project for Awesome.

There’s a Way to Tell Your Story Without Telling YOUR Story


Everyone has a story. I’ll talk more about that this Friday when I post my Project for Awesome video (bet you can’t guess who I’m promoting!). The trouble is, everyone wants to tell THEIR story. This is what happened to me, this is how I dealt with it, this is what I learned.

Me me me. Which is fine if you’re someone who’s done a lot of notable things and people are actually interested in hearing how you got to where you are now.

But let’s be honest. Most of us aren’t anywhere near there. We might have really great stories. But in reality … no one really cares enough about us to listen to them. No one outside our family and close friend circles, anyway.

Of course we can still share them, and most of us do. I did in my essays for Teen Ink way back in the day. Sometimes you just have to get it out there for personal reasons. You’re trying to get past something or make something useful out of something you’ve been through recently.

Or you have something important to say. A message you want the rest of the world to hear.

Which is the case for many of us, and the reason why it can be so frustrating when it seems like no one is listening to us. Or disappointing, when we work so hard writing about ourselves, for the most selfless reasons, and no one reads it.

It took me a long time to find a solution to this problem. But, almost a decade later (eeeeeek) I’ve found it.

My first ‘fiction’ book, or what I count as a first real attempt at a full-length novel, was strictly autobiographical, but I tried to play it off as otherwise. I changed all the names and made up some of the key events. But it was all about me. All the characters were my friends in character form. I didn’t change very much. Which actually would have ended up being really embarrassing for me if I’d let very many people read the proof copy.

I still have it. It’s sitting right next to me, actually (it makes a cameo appearance in Friday’s video!). It was a nice first attempt. It was a story I, at that time, really needed to tell. But I’ve never written a book based off my life since then. And there’s a pretty good reason why.

Real life, in case you haven’t noticed, is pretty uneventful. Repetitive. Boring.

Still, things happen to us – great things, awful things, in-between things. We usually learn pretty valuable lessons from these kinds of events, and as writers, it’s really hard not to immediately consider turning what we’ve been through into a full-length novel of sorts.

That usually doesn’t work out so well when you’re trying to get a book published, though. From a business perspective, your life story isn’t all that interesting.

However, the things that have happened to you, the lessons you’ve learned, are.

The key to telling your story isn’t telling your personal story. It’s taking the key pieces of your life, extracting the most important themes and morals from those events, and building a story, a fictional character’s story, from those elements.

Doing that, it’s not about you anymore. Not directly. And somehow, probably much better explained by science, that makes the story much more relatable to its audience.

When it remains mostly fictional, it’s easier for the reader to focus more on the theme than on the person whose life a story is based off of.

This is just my opinion, of course. I’ve read a few published autobiographical accounts written by people I’ve never heard of before, and they’re never really that interesting. A memoir written by or about someone you really admire and already know a lot about, that’s one thing. But to be honest, if you’re nobody (yet), it’s just not an effective storytelling strategy.

You can still tell your story. But do it in a way that makes it a lot less about you, and a lot more about the story itself.

Does that even make sense? I’ve been pulling super late nights trying to get this video ready and I’ve only had one cup of coffee at the time I’m writing this.

Get excited. I mean it.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.