An interview with Jenny Lawson

We spoke to Jenny Lawson about her novel Furiously Happy, blogging and her lifelong battle with anxiety and depression.

We spoke to Jenny Lawson about her novel Furiously Happy, blogging and her lifelong battle with anxiety and depression.

As Jenny says:

'You can't experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.'

It's a philosophy that has - quite literally - saved her life.

Having already topped theNew York Times bestsellers list with your debut book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, what inspired you to go in for round two with Furiously Happy?

The two words that best describe me are "weird" and "unbalanced". I tackled celebrating your own weirdness in my first book so it felt like the next logical thing for me to write about would be my own struggle with mental illness. Write what you know, I suppose.

It can't be easy to share your personal struggles with the world… or can it? How did you find the process of writing Furiously Happy?

I found it really difficult at the time. Some of the things I write about are triggers for me so there were times when I'd have to just put away the writing and watch Doctor Who for a few days until it passed. I did, however, find it really freeing. There's something wonderful about writing of your deepest fears and problems that can give you a feeling of power over them. Being able to explain how mental illness effects me was really therapeutic in a way. It helped me understand myself better and I think it helped people in my life who might not have understood it so well before.

Did you encounter any writers' block along the way? If so, how did you quash it?

I deal with writer's block all the time and every time it happens I'm convinced I'll never write again. I always do but it's so scary at the time. What I've found that helps is to "refill my creative cup". Basically reading and watching shows or doing art or doing anything that might possibly inspire me. I've found that if I panic and push myself too hard it just gets worse. Giving yourself permission to no write can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes you have to stop and experience life in order to write about it.

You've said “this is a funny book about living with mental illness”. Was it a delicate feat, balancing humour and the very serious issues of anxiety and depression?

It's a humor book but it's not a subject that easily lends itself to humor so I was really worried about how people would react to it. In the end I decided that all I could do was write my own personal story and I've found that if you find a way to laugh at something really horrific it can become so much smaller and easier to deal with. When you're dealing with mental illness you need every tool at your disposal to fight it and humor is one of the best weapons that exists. Or at least the only one I don't have to have a permit to carry.

The book documents your journey of becoming a “yes” person. What was the thing that you most wanted to say “no” to along the way?

Traveling to Australia. I'd never been so far away from my family for so long and getting on that plane I honestly didn't know if I was going to have a panic attack before the doors closed. I knew once the plane doors closed I'd have no other choice but to have this amazing experience, but up until the second the doors closed I was poised to leap out of the plane and run back home.

We've got to ask about that cover – why did furry critter Rory come to be your star?

The first time I saw Rory I knew he was the true personification of Furiously Happy. He was a roadkill raccoon that my friend Jeremy Johnson taxidermied into an ecstatic, tiny cheerleader and he made me smile in spite of the fact that he'd recently lost his arms in a debaucherous Las Vegas weekend. Jeremy thought that I wouldn't still love Rory after all the damage he'd accumulated but in fact that made him even more perfect. He was smiling cheerfully in spite of the fact that he was broken and that's exactly what this book is about. Later my dad sculpted Rory small prosthetic hands and feet and now you can hardly tell he's been broken unless you look close enough. I suppose we're all like that in some way. (Broken if you look close enough, that is. Not that we're all taxidermied raccoons.)

Would you say blogging is a good place to start for budding authors? What advice would you give to someone at the very beginning of their writing career?

Blogging is fantastic because it gives you a chance to discover your voice and to find out what people relate to and enjoy versus what they don't. My advice for new writers is to find your voice, don't be afraid to make a mistake, and try to delete half of everything you publish. I always find that there's too much extra stuff in my own writing and the process of making it tighter makes the writing stronger and makes your audience less likely to get bored.

Furiously Happy

by Jenny Lawson

In Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.