Coping with Anxiety Today

Well. Today is… it’s not good, is it?

I don’t know how to make the world less horrifying right now, but I do know a thing or three about anxiety. And if this isn’t an anxiety-provoking situation, I don’t know what is.

So here’s what I can offer. Some tried-and-tested anxiety-fighting techniques to keep us going in the face of whatever’s to come.

  1. Take What Action You Can

First, tackle this on a personal level. Is there anything specific you’re worried about facing, and if so, is there anything you can do about it? Honestly, the answer may well be “not much.” But there may be small things. Perhaps you can think up a “worst case scenario” plan. Perhaps you can practice a script for if a dreaded encounter happens. Perhaps you can reach out to someone you know you can rely on, or put a list of important phone numbers in your pocket in case you need them. Just doing something will put a sense of control back in your hands, and if you genuinely can’t do anything, then knowing that is, in itself, a way to help handle anxiety about it. “I’ve done all I can. I can’t do any more until the thing actually happens.” You can acknowledge that you’re anxious, and then move on to other things you can do things about.

Then there’s the issue of what we can do in a general sense. How do we stop the world going to hell? How do we protect society as a whole, and help people who aren’t us? A lot of anxiety comes from the idea that we should be doing things, combined with the belief that we can’t do anything. Bad things are going to happen, and we don’t know exactly what they are, and we can’t stop them, but we should stop them, and… *brain explosion*.

So, listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s a smart guy, right? And he’s said this:

Decide how you are going to help. Decide how you are able to help, something you can maintain. Maybe it’s being an online crusader, highlighting issues on Twitter or on a blog or on Youtube. Maybe you have professional skills you can lend to a cause. Maybe you’re going to get involved in protesting. But it can be smaller. Find somewhere to volunteer and do some good on a regular basis. Commit to donating to your local food bank once a week. Find something concrete that you can do, and do that thing.

This doesn’t mean you’re washing your hands of every other problem in the world. But one person cannot possibly do everything. We have to keep going, keep living our lives, and we need the energy and mental health to do that as well. But the enemy of anxiety is action, so pick a thing to do, and then whenever your anxiety starts eating at you, tell it no. You’ve decided what you’re doing. You’re doing it. End of discussion.

2. Filter the world

This feels like the opposite of the usual mantra of “stay woke,” but remember Lin-Manuel Miranda. If you let everything in, you’ll drown. Stay up-to-date on the world, but decide how and when you’re going to do that, and stick to it. Maybe there are a few really smart activists on social media that you want to follow. Or maybe you’re like me, and the constant flow of social media makes you more anxious. In which case, pick a time of day to read the news, from a couple of sources that you’ve decided you trust. Get the information. Take whatever action you’ve decided you’re going to take. And then step the hell away from the flood. You’ve figured out how and when you’re going to learn things. Letting yourself get overwhelmed with constant updates helps no-one, least of all you.

3. Distract yourself by living your life

You’ve got to be able to keep living. You’ve got to take care of yourself. So don’t sit with your anxieties. Don’t let them be your constant companions. Find distractions.

First, there’s the obvious self-care stuff, the kind of things that anxiety might say we shouldn’t do when we’re so worried about big-picture things. Watching a favourite Youtuber who makes you smile. Checking out a new Netflix series. Playing a video game. Things that make you feel calmer. Embrace those things. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself right now. It’s more important than ever. You need downtime, and it will help so much, I promise.

Then there’s the other distraction stuff. Hobbies. Passions. Maybe you write stories, or review books. Maybe you’re a fledgling Youtuber yourself. Maybe you dance, or you love studying languages, or you paint, or play the guitar. And maybe you don’t do those things, but you want to. Maybe you think you don’t have time for them, maybe you think you won’t be any good at them, but you want to do them.

Now is the time. It’s time to give yourself a sense of control over something in your life, and a sense that you’re growing, no matter how dark the world gets. It’s time to take care of yourself, and make sure you’re paying attention to what you want.

And those things, those ‘distractions’? They help the world too. Writing things that may one day enlighten or comfort or entertain others. Making people smile with music. Learning new ways to communicate with people and make friends where you otherwise would not. Reading books that broaden your view and understanding of the world and the people in it. Making yourself healthy and strong, so you can keep going, and do more in the future.

Writing Lessons from… Rogue One: Death That Matters

This is part of a new series on this blog, looking at what we can learn about writing from great (and not-so-great) pop-culture hits, from movies to video games and everything in between. You can check out the backlist of posts here. This week is more Rogue One, where I want to talk about…

Death That Matters

Game of Thrones has a lot to answer for. Although its dramatic “anyone can die at any time” attitude initially made for some surprising and discussion-worthy TV, it’s created a new obsession with being as dark and shocking as possible. Everyone wants to kill characters as randomly and unexpectedly as they can, and this creates problems for a bunch of reasons.

  1. It loses its impact. We get accustomed to these dramatic, horrible deaths, so the show constantly feels the need to escalate, make things even more awful and shocking, to keep our attention. Meanwhile, we stop reacting with sadness and horror, and start just going, ‘Oh, another death. Okay.’
  2. It pits writers against the viewers. It no longer feels like the creators are sharing a story with us, but like they are going out of their way to inflict the story on us. And that isn’t fun.
  3. We emotionally detach from the characters. If anyone can die at any time, it’s much harder for us to bother connecting with them or considering them real.
  4. It’s unsatisfying. If characters die randomly, they can disappear without any satisfying resolution to their story arcs or their goals. They just vanish mid-tale, and viewers feel like something is missing from the story as a result. As an occasional trope, this can make a statement. As something that happens constantly, it just ends up being incomplete storytelling.

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Writing Lessons from… Rogue One: Modified Three Act Structure

This is the start of a new series on this blog, looking at what we can learn about writing from great (and not-so-great) pop-culture hits, from movies to video games and everything in between. First up is Rogue One, where I want to talk about…

Modified Three Act Structure

The three act structure is traditionally the setup (who is the protagonist and what are they trying to do?), the conflict (the trying to do it), and the resolution (yay, they did it).

The quintessential three act structure is A New Hope. The first act ends with a key turning point for Luke, when he sees his family farm burned and agrees to go with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Act Two is their pursuit of that quest, ending in the rescue of Leia and a successful escape from the Death Star. Act Three is the destruction of the Death Star.

Rogue One is a very different movie, with a very different ultimate tone. And so, although it arguably has three acts, it’s definitely not the traditional three act structure we see in Episode IV.

Spoilers (obviously) below.

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Welcome to 2017!

Happy 2017, everyone!

I’m so excited for the new year, and all the new things that are on the way. New books! New projects! Star Wars Episode VIII!!! And in the meantime, lemme talk about what I’m going to be doing in this online space in 2017 — where you can follow me, what you can expect, and a few new projects coming up!

This Blog

really enjoyed doing Blogmas last month, and part of me wants to keep it up forever. Another part of me knows that’s insane. But I’ll definitely be doing several posts a week, at least, of the “nonsense from Rhiannon’s brain” variety. Book, TV and movie squees. Musing on current events and cute news stories. Excessive navel gazing about technology and mental health and being a better self. All the normal stuff you’d expect from me. 😛

I’ll also be starting three blog series this year, which I’m pretty excited about!

  1. Writing Lessons From… talking about what we can learn about writing and storytelling from various popular series, including movies, TV shows and video games. First post on Friday will be about Rogue One.
  2. Fantasy History (which needs a better name — coming soon, I hope!). I’m a history nerd, and a fantasy nerd, so let’s combine them, and talk about various dramatic, grisly and frankly unbelievable events in British history that work their way into fantasy. There’ll definitely be a couple of Long May She Reign posts, nearer to release, because I really stole a lot from history with that one.
  3. Tropes in YA Fantasy. This is a bit of a Feminist Fiction-esque series, although they won’t all be feminism based. Let’s talk fantasy tropes, and YA fantasy tropes! How are they reinvented by YA? How does YA tackle the BS that traditional fantasy brings with it? Does it tackle it? Does it create problems of its own? I’m not sure, so let’s find out!

As these are all new, I’m currently committing to putting one of these out every FridayWe’ll see what my schedule looks like, and whether I can make the Tropes in YA Fantasy a separate post on Mondays instead. But for now, check back on Fridays for these.

Goodreads

I’ve started using Goodreads, and I’m having fun there! Follow or friend me for my updates on books I’m reading, and my mini reviews when I’m done, and let’s talk books! I just finished The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet and The Princess Diarist, and I’m just starting The Bear and the Nightingale.

My questions are also open there, so if there’s anything you’re wondering about Long May She Reign, feminism or writing in general, please give me a shout!

Feminist Fiction

As always! The website‘s been running five years now, and although I haven’t always posted as regularly as I’d like, I’m feeling super excited about the new year. Posts go up now on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I talk about feminism in fiction. Obvs. I try to make it as intersectional as I can, considering that all the posts are by me, a British white girl, and I hope it’s a feminism that is thoughtful, challenging, but also kind and accepting of the fact that society forces biases upon all of us, and escaping them is far harder than most of us think. Those are my goals, at least. You can decide how successful I am with that.

Posts coming soon include talk about the video game Never Alone, discussion of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, and the problem with female characters in Rogue One.

Instagram

I still have Instagram! I have a cute cat called Hermione, and lots of stuff coming up with the Long May She Reign release. If you like books, animals, and photos around an old British town that looks like Hogsmeade, come join me there!

Coming Soon

Which you’ll find out about in the next couple of weeks! Can’t reveal anything yet, but it’s going to be really fun.

And then, of course, there are books! Long May She Reign comes out on February 21st (!!!!), and you can preorder it now, if you like. And two days after that, the German edition of A Wicked ThingEwig: Wenn Liebe Erwachtcomes out! It’s going to be an exciting week!

In the meantime, have an awesome start to the year, and I will chat to you all soon! <3

Blogmas #23: The One Where I Forgot

Let’s ignore the fact that I’m writing this after 1am on Christmas Eve. I remembered that I hadn’t written a blog post before I went to sleep, so it counts as maintaining the streak, right? Right.

And since it’s 1am and my brain is mostly mush, here are just a few THINGS, in no particular order.

1. I’m home! Back to my parents’ house for Christmas. If the place where I live now is postcard-perfect Hogsmeade-esque England, the place around my parents’ house is very Wuthering Heights. Which make sense, because the Brontes were from around here. We have more horses for neighbors than people. “Oh, there’s a pony in the front garden” is a thing that happens.

2. But there are no pokemon here. I mean, in the Pokemon Go sense. I wasn’t expecting to encounter an actual Jigglypuff while wandering the fields. But I’ve gotten reobsessed with the game over the past couple of days, and now there isn’t even a pidgey in sight. On the bright side, I finally evolved my Gyrados! I feel like that’s my achievement for 2016.

3. Never travel with a cat. I think Hermione has forgiven me for the car journey to my parents’ house. I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven her for the chaos. It’s a good thing she’s so cute.

4. My Gilmore Girls rewatch has got me to the start of Season Three. And even though the sensible, grown up part of my brain knows I shouldn’t like Jess, there’s still a big part of me that squees over that moment at the end of S2. And so many other Jess moments too. “You know, Ernest only has lovely things to say about you.”

5. I’m so glad that I was deeply absorbed in watching Youtube for the past couple of hours (thanks, Dan and Phil and Undertale), and so didn’t learn about Carrie Fisher’s heart attack until it was announced she was in stable condition. I really hope she’s okay. I still keep checking the news, like it might say, ‘Carrie Fisher confirmed to make full recovery and live until she’s 143.’

6. I am so ready to abandon all work and have a festive readathon. I’m still reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which I’m loving, and then I have a whole host of 2017 releases to dive into. No better way to end a year than getting started on all the amazing books that the next year has to offer!

7. Brainmush turning into official zombie status, so now I’m going to go pass out and hope things are good tomorrow.

Blogmas #22: Changing Mindsets

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Mindset. It was given to me, along with a few other similar books, by one of my closest friends when I was having a bit of a rough week, and although the basic premise of the book is nothing new to me, oh my god is it a revelation.

According to Carol Dweck’s research, people fit into two groups — those with the “fixed mindset,” who believe that ability is innate, and those with the “growth mindset,” who believe that ability can be gained and improved through hard work and practice. And the most interesting element, to me, is this idea that people in the fixed mindset group view hard work, in itself, as a failure. Talented people can do things easily. The harder you work, the less good you are, so if you have to work at something, you’re already a failure and you should feel bad about yourself, even if, through hard work, you ultimately succeed. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a mindset that leads to you striving extra hard to achieve your goals when you find obstacles in your way.

For about a year now, I’ve been reminding myself, “Be more Hufflepuff.” Focus on the hard work, on the learning, rather than obsessing over where it’s going and why you’re not there yet. And although I’d heard of Dweck’s mindsets before, and even learned about them in my college psych classes, this book is giving me a whole new insight into this impulse I’ve been having, that I need to shift how I think about the work along the way.

Because Dweck’s fixed mindset is me to a tee. To this day, I think about how awful I was at GCSE music. It was my worst class. I had to work really hard, and really stretch myself, and I couldn’t be sure that I was going to do well. I got an A in that subject, by the way. You don’t get an A at GCSE from being completely hopeless at the subject. But because it was really hard, I’ve always subconsciously felt like it didn’t really count. What mattered was where I was when I began working, not when I finished.

And although I’m more than willing to work hard at things that I already think I could be good at, I’m still finding it hard to convince myself of the book’s premise that this doesn’t just count for academics. That it counts for pretty much everything. Sport. Art. Performing. All the things that are firmly in the box of “things I’m not good at, was born terrible at, and could never get good at, ever.”

But reading this book almost makes me want to try out the theory. An experiment of sorts. Take something I think of as ‘wow, it’d be nice if I was good at that,’ while 100% believing that I’m terrible at it and will never improve, and see if I can approach it with an open mind and maybe get better along the way. There’s a big barrel of stuff it could be. Drawing (seriously, five year olds are better than me). Painting (how do people not just end up with a splodgey mess??). Graphic design (every time I try to add text to an image, it looks like a comic sans meme). Singing (just… oh dear). Photography (how does light work? How does any of it work?).

I would so love to be good, or even passable, at all those things. I’d love to sing along confidently while playing my ukulele, or be able to sketch a picture from nothing (how do people do that??). And it might be handy to be able to make graphics considering the internet-based nature of my job. But whenever I do think I’ll give those things a shot, I see how bad I am when I start, and I get disheartened. Maybe this book can show me how to push past that?

So, yes. Something I’m considering. Haven’t got to the part of the book where Dweck hopefully talks about transforming your mindset, so fingers crossed that actually comes up. And in the meantime, I really recommend people check out her work. If nothing else, it’s definitely making me think! 🙂

Blogmas #21: Never Alone

Oh my god, guys. I just started playing this game, and it is absolutely magical. It’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. The game is based on a traditional Inupiaq story about a young girl and her snow fox companion, searching for the source of a never-ending blizzard that’s endangering her people. The whole game is a collaboration between the Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Alaska and the first indigenous-owned game developer in the US.

It’s a puzzle platformer, where you control both the girl and the fox, but as you progress in the story, you also unlock brief videos that teach you about the Inupiaq people and their culture, stories and traditions.

And it’s absolutely beautiful.  I mean, look at it!

I’m not that far into the game yet, but it’s completely stunning. Add in the oral storytelling aspect and the amazing video clips, and I already love it so much. I will definitely be writing about this on Feminist Fiction in the new year, once I’ve finished the game, but for now, I’m just enchanted.

Blogmas #20: Best New Releases of 2016

Sure, 2016 has been pretty crappy. But there have been some amazing books!

Turns out, I read a lot of epic fantasy and quite a bit of non-fiction this year, and I wasn’t as excited about some of the new additions to ongoing series as I expected to be, so I don’t have a mega long list of 2016 YA releases to recommend. But I read some great standalones, especially in contemporary YA, so if you haven’t read them, be sure to check them out!

The Imposter Queen by Sarah Fine

Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic.

Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

I was absolutely obsessed with this book, and I can’t believe how little buzz it seems to have gotten. Amazing world-building, a fantastic main character, really fun magic, great shippiness, a bisexual protagonist, tons of danger and feminism and adventure. This is such a great fantasy novel, and everyone should read it.

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