Thinking About

How the What Reflects the Why in Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie

Recently I went back through DIYMFA 101 and I am now going through the Reading modules. These modules are great, but in past run-throughs I typically didn’t have time to really commit to every exercise.

But this time around I dove right in!

One in particular is called How Does the What Reflect the Why?

In this close reading exercise, we are asked to read something of interest but closely reflect on not just what is happening, but why it is happening.

Why did the author make these intentional choices with things regarding character motivations?

Who are these characters and why do they exist in this story?

Why does it begin and end the way it does?

Essentially, we must ask ourselves as readers:

How can we keep track of these nuances?
And as writers how can implement them into our own work?

I thought for a fun exercise, I might use my most finished WIP and ask myself why did I make the choices I made?

Who are my characters and why do they exist?

Why does my story begin and end the way it does?

I addressed all of these questions and here is a sneak peak/maybe even a spoiler that answers: How does What happens in my novel reflect Why it happens?

HOW does the WHAT reflect the WHY in:

Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie?


The What is: the basic plot points. Identify those major plot landmarks from Module 3: three acts, two decision points, and one midpoint.

ACT 1 Joanna is talking to Gabby; the reader thinks Gabby is her therapist. Joanna retells how she fell in love with Max. The reader learns that Max and Charlie are the same person. Joanna gives the backstory of how Charlie and Joanna meet in 90’s Baltimore and become friends. Joanna rivals with Jane and Natasha, loses her friends, loses Max, gets new friends and changes some, reunites with Max, meets Sam, uses Jayson to make Max jealous.

Decision point: Max and Joanna agree to try again. Joanna is unimpressed with Max’s efforts. Things fizzle between them. Joanna leaves high school depressed but hopeful for the future.

ACT 2 Joanna is reunited with Sam and meets Reagan in unflattering circumstances that colors Reagan’s impression of her. She meets Sasha and George and dates both of them simultaneously while her friendship with Sam deepens. She sours the relationships with those men and goes back to being a loner. Max writes her a letter that he wants to visit. He visits but says he is moving to DC. Reagan kicks Joanna out.

Decision Point: Joanna moves to Austin, TX. While there experiences a different, more productive life, but tells Gabby she came back because she missed Sam (and we learn of Sam’s child)

ACT 3 Joanna comes back to Baltimore. Max comes back as a new alter Maxwell. Sam wants to integrate Maxwell into their group. Sam sleeps with Max with Joanna’s blessing, since she is still keeping their relationship/friendship a secret.

Midpoint: Joanna is looking in the mirror the next morning and notes how her physical appearance has changed, but also how cracked the mirror is that she is looking into. Also, Maxwell is standing behind her looking in the mirror, so his reflection is also in it.

Decision point: After hashing things out, Joanna and Maxwell agree to try again. He attempts to do all the things he didn’t do for her before: take her out on dates, buy her candy and flowers, take her on trips, including her in his life and meeting his friends announcing at her job how impressive she is. The only thing he doesn’t do is tell Sam about his illness, the ultimatum for Joanna to agree to marry him. Meanwhile Joanna is getting inklings that he is only using her to further his career.

Decision point: She decides to get even with him and take back some power in her life by leveraging her job to get him fired. He gets fired and decides to voluntarily check himself into a mental health facility. We learn (2 spoilers) and out of guilt and desperation Joanna attempts to clear his name. They reunite and he forgives her and as Charlie owes his betrayal to her, and so she ultimately forgives him.


The Why is: Why do the characters do what they do? What are their motives? What role do they each serve?

The Major Characters:

Joanna lost Charlie as a friend and she is mourning their friendship when she meets Max. However, since she pines for Max from afar, she doesn’t make the connection that they are the same person until he tells her over the phone.

Joanna feels she is broken and limping through life due to her depression and what she considers hurdles to what she wants: Max. Her broken ankle as an adult is a metaphor for this.

Joanna does much of what she does in the story to either: escape Max, and who other people think she is because of him, or doing things to foster his attention when she feels she has it. Sometimes she goes looking for it, but more often he approaches her with his offers of reconciliation.

Joanna is often left feeling as if there is something she could do to remedy their dysfunctional relationship but is often at a loss as to what that would be. She finally tries to tank it at the climax but reconciles with him after remembering how much he means to her.

Charlie/Max/Maxwell.  By virtue of the story, Max is three different people and therefore might have three different motivations.

Charlie lives within Joanna’s mind. Her only real memories of him are of who he was before he came back as someone else. With the loss of his parents, Joanna is the only tie to their shared past.

Because of this, his memory of events and also when and how they occur, frequently comes up in conversation. It is always very important to seemingly sentimental Joanna that Max remember their times together and their significance. She is always pushing for his perspective.

His inability to provide it often makes it harder for her to come to terms with his flights of fancy which typically come between them and sours their love/friendship.

But Max has his moments where it is clear that he wishes he was more together, and he does try as Maxwell to shape up, be more adult and less selfish with his actions.

But Joanna quickly learns that just as Max was a cover for his insecurities, Maxwell is even more of an over-correction and so his actions never sit well with her.

Maxwell’s realization as Charlie arcs his story and makes him more likable, but as the love-interest/supposed-villain, his actions could easily sour readers who are not rooting for him.

Jane is a BFF stand-in for Joanna after Charlie’s disappearance, but quickly becomes something of a villain herself.

In true mean-girl form, it is clear Jane does not respect Joanna, nor does she really understand or defend her when she has multiple opportunities to do so.

The meanest and nicest thing Jane ever did for Joanna was to give her Max’s phone number when she admits to having a crush on him.

She does so only after she has dated him herself and deemed him “nerdy and boring” and after he started dating their popular friend Natasha creating a classic rivalry between them (more on that in a bit).

When they are deemed “Janie and Joanie” it’s clear that Joanna is unhappy with her new “persona” and never really fits in with the clique Jane is trying to wedge her into.

Even moreso when the other girls get wind of how flirtatious Joanna has been not just with Max but with the other boys in their class, and they shun and ostracize her as a result.

The relationship with Jane does wane but carries over into their late teens, when they both end up dating the same boy again (Jayson).

Jane disapproves of Max and Joanna’s eventual “courtship” and refuses to acknowledge it for a time. Ultimately she betrays Joanna, when Joanna tries one last time to get Jane on her side, ultimately destroying Joanna’s trust in everyone involved.

Jane could be seen as Joanna’s only chance to reenter the real world and come back down to Earth, but since she isn’t much a of a comfort Joanna is forced to walk away from Jane for good.

“Sam” Samantha ( and a bit about Reagan) Sam is easily a foil for Jane as she has more of a playful, kooky bad-girl persona. She isn’t mean, supposedly because she isn’t “intelligent” enough to be conniving and not because she doesn’t have any hard feelings for Joanna. The reader knows better.

We learn exactly what and who Sam is when she first meets Joanna by happenstance at the dance where Jane and Joanna are finally done with each other as friends.

Sam foreshadows their eventual BFF relationship and even gets inklings of Max’s existence though she doesn’t meet him face to face until he becomes Maxwell.

When Sam and Reagan are reintroduced (as sisters and in tandem) we get the full impression of how Reagan is a foil, an obstacle and a new villain in Joanna’s life. The first major climax in Act 2 is when Reagan kicks Joanna out forcing her to make the decision to become someone else.

Sam and Joanna have a bit of a dysfunctional relationship themselves, Sam is clingy and touchy feel-y and Joanna often feels trapped by her, and even is negatively influenced by her.

Yet we see glimmers of how this relationship is one of the best Joanna has had so far in the novel and what a good, solid friend Sam is to her.

A few of the minor characters:

Gabby: a therapist trope (but a good one!) she helps Joanna navigate her narration of her life story and tries to keep her reliable and accountable. There is a twist with Gabby but I won’t put that here!

Joanna’s mother: Nameless and almost as distant of a character as her father, she is the seemingly only grounding force in Joanna’s life that reminds the reader Joanna is only a child through much of this yet still forced to make adult decisions.

Joanna’s mother is a cornerstone for understanding her relationship with her father, and why she approaches certain situations with fear and trepidation rather than assertiveness. Her mother serves to point out the changes in her, and her ease with letting Joanna grow up and move on points to how Joanna doesn’t feel she has roots anywhere.

Natasha: The third part of the love triangle and initially the ultimate obstacle to Max. She also aids in the readers confusion with Max’s decision-making as she is thoroughly unlikable. Max is afraid to break up with Natasha though doing so would be the only thing to regain Joanna’s trust. An important foil/villain in Joanna’s life.

Nelly: Sam’s 4 year old daughter, and the “reason” Joanna moves back to Baltimore, she is also a great Fool.

Nelly is very possessive of her friendship with the “moon” and doesn’t want to share the moon with anyone else. Joanna can relate but doesn’t pick up on the irony of how weird it is that she relates to a 4 year old.

Nelly is an excellent representation of the passage of time, and how these characters are exceedingly emotionally immature despite having a small child in their care. Nelly also humanizes Maxwell integrating him so seamlessly into her own life, But she also sees him as larger than life much like she sees the moon or a Ferris wheel.

Why is the author writing this piece? What is its purpose and message?

Well I am the author so I will let you in on the secret!

Joanna is forced to ultimately reconcile with herself. She has the realization that even though she doesn’t have DID diagnosis she has also become three different people in her efforts to better herself. Her relationship with Charlie/Max/Maxwell is also a circular one often represented by things like Ferris and bicycle wheels.

When she realizes that all of her ill will is due to her own memories of the past and her inability to let them go, she finally starts her arc. Joanna is not a hero but a villain of her own making in her desperation to no longer be the protagonist.

Her realization that another person’s life is also at stake might be a touchy thing for readers who want Joanna to pick herself up and focus on her own well-being.

But the realization is that she cannot achieve that without coming to terms with her own mental health and her own choices. She does not want to end the story a victim so she embraces her pain, forgives the villains, and moves on.

If you want to know more about Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie? and about other projects I am working on, email me!

How To Talk About Your Writing

Has this ever happened to you?

You are having a conversation with a friend, colleague, coworker, family member, hairdresser, etc. and it comes up that you are a writer.

And they ask you one of (or some hybrid of) these dreaded questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • What do you write?
  • Can I read something you’ve written?

If you are unprepared you might respond in a particular way and the way you responded may leave you feeling like this:

Man, I have been there. More than once! It’s awful.

But when you are in that situation you learn a valuable lesson:

Talking about your writing is almost more important than having written.

We’ve all practiced our TedTalk about our book in front of the mirror (Oh, not you? Well, imagine you did this)

…and yet when we are face to face with the prospect of condensing, explaining, reiterating…


we just suddenly…


…run out of words?

Well, it’s tough! Your brain is full.

It probably doesn’t have any more room for a 280 character-condensed version of your 400 pg manuscript that you can quickly spit out at people as they walk by you.

Or put on a sandwich board as you parade up and down the street.

(Yes, I know that’s not how marketing works.)

But here’s the thing, you have to try. You must have something at the ready when people ask you.

But going back.

How many of you don’t like talking about your writing because:

  1. You assume no one is interested.
  2. You feel like you’re bragging.
  3. You feel like you come across as one of those millennial hipsters who never got around to getting a real job.
  4. You don’t like the conversation to turn into a sales pitch.
  5. You feel like (oof this is the worst) that talking about your idea gets it out of your head and into someone else’s head and now you have to hear their unsolicited opinion of your precious work?

Did you raise your hand? Sorry, I can’t see you.

Look, these feelings suck.

And though they aren’t derived from nothing, to be a successful writer you have to get over them.

So how do you fix this icky problem? How about 5 easy steps.

Step one: Stop being afraid.

*laughs in writer* No, seriously, stop.

It’s not a good look. I know you think you look all broody and wise and reclusive and hip and other words that might pertain to the image you have of yourself, but you just come across as a jerk.

That’s right, I said it: a jerk.

A jerk being someone who is not necessarily mean, but someone who is not very bright.

Sorry for the tough love, but if you don’t get past this step (where I lived for a very long time) you will never move on to step two.

Step two: Reflect on what you have written.

What kind of stuff do you write, what’s your genre, what inspires you, why do you write in the first place, who are your favorite authors (I know, ugh), think about all this stuff though (maybe even write it down, you writer) so that when someone asks you- you have an answer!

Step three: Talk to other writers; ask them questions and see what they say.

Seriously, learn from them. If they are super confident about their writing, why is that? Is it because they love sharing what they do and not hiding it from the world?

I know, weird, right? Seriously, though, learn from these people you will find it will change your perspective on your own writing forever.

Step four: Have a mock conversation.

I know, gross, but this really works. You can pick a writer-friend and that’ll make it easier. In fact, do yourself a favor and talk about writing with other writers on a daily basis

In doing so, you will build up the muscle required to speak with civilians.

Step five: Write some blurbs and pitches.

Because first of all, you’re going to need them anyway. And when you start querying, pitching and moving towards publishing you want to have a good idea of what you are doing first. It never hurts to practice.

Most people can’t promise you a magic bullet solution to this, but I can!

And only because it’s really a matter of getting out of your head and getting out there. And once you do that, you’ve done it.

So get out there and…

What Writers Want

To quote Huffpost “apparently everything”.

But hey, cut us some slack.

Just because we want things, doesn’t make us greedy.

I think it’s only fair that writers want things. And better, know what to ask for, and how to ask for it.

When I started to try and hack this writer thing, that was one place I struggled. Well I struggled with finding the right words, with using the same words too often, using words like really too often, unnecessary sentences, frequently using too many adverbs, not knowing how to talk about my writing and even what to do with that damn Oxford comma (,).

But as writers we know those are just the basics.

But we all make mistakes.

Even if some of us project that we never do.

And sometimes comparison will steal our joy.

And it’s just better to avoid public opinion, lock yourself in a room and just write.

I think that is where a lot of writers get stuck. I might not be speaking for you, but my desire to be a writer came from sitting alone with my ideas and ruminating on them. Yes, that’s where it all started, but it obviously can’t end there.

It’s all well and good to write things. That’s the art of it.

But then what?

Analysis Paralysis?

Some poor writers might be left with the only alternative to yell into the void, but when nothing answers back it is as if the questions were never asked.

So you might go looking for the answers yourself. Suddenly you are the protagonist on your own hero’s journey.

You are seeking the Holy Grail: What to do next.

Maybe you are past that point. You are grizzled, having been on the journey for quite some time. And yet, you still have questions. And that just feels…wrong.

Shouldn’t you have all the answers by now?

“I did,” You might say, “Or I thought I did, but the answers keep changing.”

Man, I know that feel. The longer you are at it the more it feels like just as you reach your destination the map keeps getting rewritten.

Excusez-moi? A little help here?!

There is a consensus on certain things: How to get an Agent, What to do to get Self-published, What makes a good story, etc.

But as writers we are also told not to break the rules but then break them with skill. To do things in the right order, or to rebel and do your own thing.

To keep up with constant changes while still doing what is tried and true.

End of the day you have to have all the answers, know the right people, be nice and work hard. That’s it.

What if you do all these things and you still don’t seem to get anywhere?

You still feel like you are running on that treadmill.

How frustrating.

Don’t worry, you are NOT ALONE.

Yes, we are well best the dawning of the digital age that threw everything for a loop. And yet we might have endured a decade of those who refused to keep up, who were stuck in their old ways and therefore didn’t have the answers we desperately needed.

They left us to fend for ourselves in this literary dystopia.

But all is not lost.

Some have seen the light and want to point you toward it. And like a conduit, I am here to show you where those people are.

Here is the list you’ve been waiting for!

  5. AMYMARIEAYRES.COM (oops how’d that get there)

They might not have ALL the answers, but they point you in the directions you want to go in and that’s what writers need want.

We want…


Here is a list of things I think writers want:

  1. We just want a solid dot on a map and steps to get there.
  2. We want immediate feedback from people who care about what we are trying to do.
  3. We want the freedom to do those things in the first place.
  4. We want to learn how to advocate for ourselves and our writing.
  5. We want to be a visible, viable part of the writing community.
  6. We want to fit in, but also stand out.
  7. We want to be successful. (I mean, duh!)

If any of those things are true for you, go to those places first.

They not only know a thing or two or three or four, but the people are approachable.

And you will have what you need want all in one place.

And if as a writer you don’t even know what you want (I see you), this will help you figure that out.

New Years Resolutions 2020 (and on…)

I know people typically have their resolutions laid out for them on January 1st, but I took my time this year. What is the reason I took a step back to truly evaluate my resolutions?

Well, I was already putting many of them into practice. I resolved somewhere around my birthday, back in October and maybe even a few months before that, how I was going to spend the rest of 2019. I hoped that ultimately whatever I was doing in 2019 would carry over into 2020.

In fact, I wasn’t even planning on resolving to do anything. The thing is though, even though I had “plans” and I was doing lots of “stuff” I was pretty disorganized.

Juggling multiple projects, and making incremental progress in many different directions, it was getting to be difficult for me to pinpoint the exact progress I was making.

And that might be happening to you.

Big, unrelated goals are difficult to accomplish. “Lose 50 pounds. Learn to ski. Get along better with my family. Move to Timbuktu.” It can seem like shooting for the stars might be the best way to start so you have your ultimate goal in mind.

It might seem like a good idea to tell yourself you have to lose 50 lbs by X date. Otherwise, how else will you know what you want to do. See how silly that sounds?

I’m here to tell you, that’s not how it works.

I’ll give you an example of some of the goals I want to reach and what my unrealistic goals are side-by-side.

What I want to accomplish:

A regular exercise routine, a healthy diet vs. Meet goal weight by April 30th

Engage in activities that improve my self-confidence vs. Be more confident

Practice better time management vs. Accomplish every task laid out before

Track progress towards my ultimate goals vs. Accomplish everything I set out to do

These goals don’t let me off the hook. I need to be doing things and making progress and ensuring that what I am doing isn’t getting me off track. But at the end of the day, if I accomplished anything, even a very small task that keeps me going, I have met my resolution.

I might fail, but I am not letting it stop me.

One of the best things to do to stay motivated is to remind yourself of what you have already accomplished before you set out to reach your new resolutions.

What I accomplished last year:


You can peruse their site and let it speak for itself. I have learned so much from this group. I have improved in every avenue they list off:

  • My writing has improved. Just take one look at all the resources on just one page
  • I am scheduling daily reading and reading more constructively!
  • I have joined a community of writers and become more confident in putting myself into the community of writing. I will be blogging more about how I have improved leaps and bounds in this area. Hopefully you will see this blog soon on the new iteration of my website!

Overcoming Religious Abuse

This wonderful group led by Connie Baker, the author of Traumatized by Religious Abuse has provided me with so many things.

  • A new approach to therapy
  • A better understanding and new sense of self
  • Exercises and group therapy that help in combating intrusive thoughts/anxieties.
  • An overall therapeutic approach about a not-so-talked-about problem.

It even inspired me to write this article that was published in Recovering from Religion (ExCommunications)!

Just joining these two groups, on a whim, put me one step closer to self-actualization. So give it a shot. If these groups don’t speak to you, think about the kind of things you are interested in and check them out!

Here are some things I have already put into practice:

Daily restorative yoga through Peloton

Decluttered my office and home

Improved organization of my daily workload

Timed iteration of tasks

Also, I married my best friend and officially became a stepmom to my buddy!

My New Years Resolution tip for you: Do what makes you happy. Period. That’s the ultimate goal. Make a short list of things that make you smile and how to get closer to having those things daily. Mark my words, you will feel more accomplished than you might have expected.

Happy New Year and Good Luck!

Why I Don’t Hate NaNoWriMo

To be a successful writer, you can no longer go it alone. You need a community of guidance and help.

But I came from a generation of writers who were taught the opposite. That talent came from honing your craft secretly, in seclusion, and being highly competitive with other writers.

NaNoWriMo flies in the face of all of that.  

Because of that mentality, early on I struggled with the concept NaNoWriMo.

Here were some of my early misgivings. 4 clever reasons that I thought made me so clever:

Disclaimer the following 4 “clever” reasons are far from how I actually feel about NaNoWriMo and more misgivings I have heard from other nay-sayers (Just sayin’-don’t hate me)

1. What’s the point?

Many of us, at least many of us grizzled seasoned writers (eye-roll) were used to writing ALONE. No trackers, no guidance, no pep talks, no help what-so-ever.

Talking to other writers about writing? Yikes. You’re just supposed to write in secret and then lay your manuscript out on the desk of a snooty writing professor like a lamb awaiting it’s slaughter.

But it was more than that. Some early attempts at this concept sort of fell flat.

Maybe it was a terrible writer’s prompt here and there. Maybe it was the concept that all writing needed to be literary and highbrow and beyond reproach and only talked about in English classrooms.

Who needs ya. Get off my lawn. And so on. Yes, I was turning into one of those crotchety internet know-it-alls. Elitist, stuffy, and spending more time complaining than getting any work done. Which leads me to my next point:

2. Everyone on the site only reads Harry Potter and is only 12-20 years old.

This generalization is way off base, but at first glance, it used be true. There are a lot of references to Harry Potter on the website, sure, and that can be off-putting to non-fans. The good people at Nano did just do an update to the site visual, I assume to appeal to the grumps. It has a more polished look, but it’s still fun and customizable. Check out mine! 

It’s not that I’m not a fan of the series, it’s just that it’s not in my opinion the best thing that was ever written.

But let’s face it, I’m old. JK Rowling didn’t inspire me to be a writer, simply because I was a writer long before the Potter saga broke.

I think the problem is as writers, especially writers of a certain generation, we tend to assume that we cannot learn anything from anyone younger than us because younger=less experienced, which let’s face it, is just not true anymore.

But I would like to point out where this mentality came from. Elders who used my age and inexperience against me and instead of encouraging and mentoring me, wanting to hold me back. Now that I am in that age bracket, I fully understand their feelings of jealousy, but also wholly abhor them. And I work hard to do the opposite of what they advised. To my own benefit!

3. I don’t typically write in the fantasy genre and I refuse to try.

Something you may not know: Fantasy or Sci-Fi or Paranormal or Supernatural or those similar used to not be taken seriously as genres.

Sad, I know. They were no doubt taken VERY SERIOUSLY by fans of the genre, but those people were not taken seriously themselves. Lame, right?

NaNoWriMo, at first glance, appears to be flooded with amateur fantasy writers. Even if that were the case, so what? But still, it’s simply not true, just check the forums for the question “Anyone not writing fantasy?” to find your desired genre.

Those old farts had no idea how quickly these genres would take off in popularity. 

So who’s laughing now?

“Write what you know” Pfft.

Because you don’t have firsthand knowledge of vampires, zombies, or aliens you shouldn’t write about them?

That’s silly. Write what you want to write.

Also, there is a reason why there are multiple genres and sub-genres of fantasy and Sci-Fi. We don’t all fit in the box. But look, it is what sells, why not figure out how to take your own spin on it?

Stop being such a grump!

4. NaNoWriMo is a fad and will disappear like every fad before it.

*Laughs in writer*

Remember when they said Facebook wouldn’t last? Yeah, me too.

In fact, what helped Facebook succeed is everyone involving everyone else. Word of mouth gave NaNoWriMo it’s longevity. It’s stood the test of time and has turned into a Utopian dream for writers.

That’s all that really needs to be said about it. And if you don’t like NaNoWriMo, don’t participate in it. No one has a gun to your head. It’s not like it’s Facebook.


And here is what I figured out. Those who are writing negative spiels about NaNoWriMo are just upset and jealous people teeming to the brim with the deep-seated frustration of not being the one who thought of it first.

Get over it.

Before NaNoWriMo there really wasn’t anything else like it. Just a lot of frustrated dreamers wishing it did exist. As a result, it has bred plenty of contempt from the people who didn’t think of it first.

When I finally gave Nano a shot, it all clicked for me. After a few years of creating content, connecting with other users and being wholly more productive than I had ever been, I eventually changed my tune.

So, I didn’t think of NaNoWriMo first. I couldn’t have created something like that on my own. Neither did any one person. It was a joint effort of hundreds of dedicated people. Who wouldn’t get behind that?

These are the reasons I LURVE NaNo-ing. A place where my inner geek could finally shine!

You’ll note it’s a longer list:

1. You’re developing content faster than you ever have before.

Yes, faster, trust me. They say you can’t write a novel in a month. I couldn’t do it in a year, because I wasn’t focused on finishing, I was focused on writing a perfect novel.

But the dirty secret of the publishing world is that you have to finish before anyone will read it.

You have an entire month to write ~50K words (or more, or less) and you can do it. It’s possible. I know, because the first time I wrote ~50K in a month.

But you don’t have to take 30 days. Plus, the amount you are pumping out at a regular basis to keep your word-count is most likely more than you would typically write.

I know, I was that writer who totally tried to do NaNoWriMo on-my-own, without the tracker. Couldn’t do it. I just wrote until I couldn’t write anymore, and then I stopped.

Every morning in November you wake up, you start again.

2. A community of writers who actually want to see you succeed. 

You read that right. WANT you to succeed. No begrudging, no sabotage, no idea-stealing, no subterfuge, no cattiness, no cutthroat competition to get there FIRST. No teacher’s pet. We all get there. We all win.

In the seven years I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo, I have yet to witness any back-biting. I have yet to see anyone undermine anyone else. I have yet to see anyone give any overly harsh criticism. In fact, I’m usually harder on myself than NaNoWriMo wants me to be, which is a nice respite.

Weird, not being constantly criticized makes me write more, and more successfully.


3. Professional help during the process in case you get stuck.

Even in the best of circumstances, the writing process can make you crazy. That’s true for everyone, I don’t care who you ask. If it’s not just an ongoing emotional purge, it’s a lot of sleepless nights, early mornings. Lots of thinking and overthinking.

When you think you’re the only one going through this process, it can become insurmountable. 

When you know that roughly a few thousand people (or more) are taking on the process as well, and struggling too, it can be a huge motivational boost.

4. Frequent encouragement of all sorts.

Many writers involved in the process have done it countless times and are more than willing to offer help with email blasts, YouTube videos, and writer sit ins*. The community overall is one that touts engagement.

And engagement is key to this particular process.

No matter what anyone else tries to tell you.

Writers need the encouragement of other writers. Why? Because you are a human being and not a writer-robot, and you cannot go it alone.

NaNoWriMo proves that there are thousands of people who have accepted this about the process. You might be hot stuff when it comes to writing, but you will have off days. You will have doldrums. You will question why you even do this.

 But then you will talk to someone on a forum, watch a funny video, find a writing prompt that interests you, and or read an encouraging article someone else wrote who is feeling all these same things.

You will resolve to not give up.

5. You can get involved outside of yourself and your own writing!

ML’s or Municipal Liaisons as they are called, are volunteers who create live writer’s groups in the community. And you can be one! You can put all that writing expertise to good use and be a leader! Isn’t that a better thing to be than a nay-sayer?

My local chapter has a discord chat that is AMAZING. Everyone on it is funny and cool.

It takes the edge off, and I write more as a result.

6. I tried it more than once and succeeded. So, don’t knock it until you try it at least once. 

I know I was not, and still am not alone in my once hatred for NaNoWriMo. Go ahead and Google “Why I hate NaNoWriMo”. I’ll wait.

But even me the once crotchety nay-sayer, I have almost 500K words under my belt just from the last few years. I have a catalog of work now instead of folders on my computer of WIPs. I also have won every single time.

That feels good.

It feels good to win when all you did was your favorite thing, write and write and write some more. You can even do NaNoWriMo multiple times a year, you can do it for 365 days if you wish. NaNoWriMo is always there to support you!

I get that lots of people hate it. They would rather edit themselves to death line by line, trying for perfection than just think and create and interact. But their unoriginal reasoning is constantly stuck on repeat.

If they can write, on a whim, 50,000 words without any outside help, they can at least set aside some time to just do it in a different way. And if they still refuse to try it at least once, their reasons lose validity.

Why I Wrote a Character with DID (Dissociative Identity/Multiple Personality Disorder)

I started writing Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie? in 2012. That’s what the timestamp of my first manuscript says. I finished writing it in 2016, finished editing it in 2019 and that is when I began querying. Novel-writing is a very slow process. When I started this novel, it was a couple of short stories. I fell in love with the main characters in those stories and I felt like they could live on if I kept going with them. I wasn’t ready to let them go.

The stories, I will admit, are based on true events from my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. However, I have never formally met, nor did I ever intimately know anyone diagnosed with DID. But still I wanted to tell a story where the love interest of the main character had to be divided mentally somehow, have a source/reason behind frequent memory loss, change immensely over a short period of time, in multiple ways over the course of his life with little explanation for these changes. In short, I wanted to write three different men inside of one individual. I wanted the main character to lament his “multiple personality”.

So, in 2012, when I had the idea for the novel, I began researching the validity of multiple personality disorder, where we were with the illness, how it was being diagnosed, how it was or if it was no longer stigmatized. Like most, the only understanding I had of the illness came from movies like Sybil (who had later come out as having faked the illness) and other stories where the person did not appear to be a genuine human being but rather, a monster.

Before I wrote the novel, I was watching a show called United States of Tara. A Showtime comedy-drama about a woman diagnosed with DID, with a heart, and a real life. A high-functioning wife and mother, who still had immense difficulty controlling the actions of her alters. It was refreshing and might have been the ultimate push to write that novel.

It also inspired me to find people who suffered from the illness and strike up a dialogue with them. For the sake of their privacy I will only say that there are certain online forums where people can go to share their stories and talk either with other survivors or if they are feeling generous people curious about the disease.

I found this information invaluable, and it reinforced the idea that I would be writing about a person with an illness they had very little control over. I would be writing about the trials they encounter, the actions that may or may not villainize them, and even attempt to discover the motivations, if any, behind these actions. It was an eye-opening experience for me.

Some of these individuals shared an issue that comes up quite frequently in the movie Split, that while they require and insist on a need for therapy, it can be next to impossible to see any real progress. The therapist character in Split and the therapist character in Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie are quite different. While one is earnestly trying to help her patient, even to her own detriment, the other is flippant, accusatory and distrusting. And to not disclose the ending of either, I will not explain why.

But more often, those individuals I talked to experience the latter. They couldn’t even get to the point of confusion before they hit the barrier of stigma. In fact, many therapists refuse to work with patients with DID because it’s seen as wasted time. The work that has been done for these patients, reveals that the illness is the result of trauma. The disease itself acts as a coping mechanism, to hide the individual who suffered the trauma behind other individuals more capable of handling it. The trauma these individuals experience usually occurs in childhood. So, it stands to reason that inside of most DID patients is a terrified and traumatized kid.

Getting to that child in order to heal them can be difficult, depending on how protective the other alters are of him. It is alluded to the fact that the character from Split does in fact have this child personality, and if paid close enough attention parental figures who protect him. It stands to reason also that the more personalities an individual expose, the more barriers there are to treat the actual person with the disease.

Portraying individuals with DID in the media often leans on the active personalities who tend to make poor decisions. Actions that the central personality would not dare commit. This can be exciting, albeit terrifying to watch, and unfortunately is only one side of the coin.

In Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie the desire for the alter ego to exist supersedes any willingness the original personality must exist.  Again, to not spoil the book, I will just say that the idea behind why someone would choose to become someone else and not who they are can be an intellectual and emotional struggle that lives in all of us. Therefore, it is something we can see ourselves doing if need be. How often do we put on a facade in certain professional situations in order to be successful? How diligently did we work in adolescence to shed our awkward teen years before we became the adult, we dreamed of one day becoming?

What if we did have the “power” to become anyone of our choosing? Especially on those days we don’t feel so hot about who we are? Obviously, a mental illness isn’t that simplistic. But it doesn’t hurt to explore the idea that identity crises we face could easily get out of hand if not tempered. And even so, should we temper them?

Much of Whatever Happened to Maxwell, Charlie focuses on the troubled interpersonal relationships that exist between those with the illness and those without who struggle to understand or even become intimate with them. It addresses the anxiety and depression that can be the result of the trauma that can come to those individuals as a result of interacting with the DID patient. It points to the types of a relationships that would force an individual to feel tied to the patient emotionally, rather than to leave them in the dust.

Ultimately, the patient in Maxwell, Charlie is never violent and never has the desire to be. But can still irrevocably damage the emotional and mental state of the person they are closest to. In that way, they can appear to be a villain, even if they are not intentionally trying to cause harm. We might even at some point find ourselves rooting for someone with DID, if we can relate to who they are as people, and the choices they make. What if they even begin to see some progress?

I think the movie Split teases you with the idea that it is going to address this condition with sensitivity. I don’t think saying this will spoil the movie, but it does not. Nevertheless, this article is tagged with spoilers for those who had not yet seen the movie.