9 things I learned in November

9 things I learned in November

Taking Emily Freeman’s lead to share a handful of things I learned this month, from the (occasionally) significant to the (mostly) shallow.

1. We don’t need as much food as we think for Thanksgiving.

Every year we bring so much to our communal dinners, and there’s always so much left over. This year we deliberately made less—and there was still a lot left over. We’re noticing how abundance can be wonderful, but if creating it is unnecessary and time-consuming, then less is a welcome option.

2. Planning ahead actually works.

Last November when we put up the Christmas tree, we discovered a whole bunch of lights were burned out. That’s not unusual—in fact, it happens every year, and it’s exasperating. So last November, we set a reminder to check the lights on November 15 2018.

When November 15 rolled around, we did it. So this year when we put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving, we didn’t have any cranky grown-ups or impatient kids waiting for working lights so we could move on to the fun part, which is actually decorating the tree.

3. Sweat the small stuff.

Okay, maybe not sweat it, but this month I was reminded how much the details matter. I had an unlucky run of botched appointment times—I was hours early, or a little too late, or got the time zone or even day completely wrong. Mix-ups are bound to happen occasionally, as they will anytime humans are involved, but this month I learned that confirming (and reconfirming) dates, times, places, and details is a massive time-and energy-saver.

4. Some authors are truly multi-talented. 

One of my favorite books of 2018 is Harry’s Trees, and I recently had the pleasure of chatting with author Jon Cohen on the podcast. Harry’s Trees is a whimsical, warm-hearted novel, so I was shocked when I discovered Jon also wrote the screenplay for the sci-fi thriller Minority Report.

(Listen to What Should I Read Next episode 160: Books that capture the magic of everyday life, wherever you get your podcasts or right here on the site.)

5. Outlining is exhausting.

When I was on book tour this fall, I paid attention to how many words I used throughout the day. I don’t know what my personal word budget is—although, as a woman, 20,000 would be average—but I do know that as an introvert, if I’m not careful I’ll reach a point in the day where I feel like I’ve used all mine up. Talking requires a specific kind of energy, and if I don’t monitor mine, I won’t have any left when talking is required.

Now that book tour is over, I assumed I’d now have plenty of words to go around. But I haven’t found that to be the case.

I couldn’t figure out why. But then a friend pointed out that whenever I talk about my current writing project, I mention how mentally demanding it is. I’m in the middle of drafting another book, and figuring out the structure is exhausting. I’m not speaking the words out loud, but apparently tinkering with them all day is still draining.

I would love to hear if this is an issue for other authors, especially the introverted ones. If you have any insider knowledge, please tell me in comments?

6. The Bail Project.

Perhaps this sounds naive, but sometimes the amount of good some money can do blows me away. I recently learned about the Bail Project, which is doing great things with a revolving lending fund to pay people’s bail, because, as they say, poverty is not a crime.

The Bail Project started in the Bronx and recently expanded to several more cities across the U.S., including mine. Read more about the Bail Project here.

7. Teen depression doesn’t look like you might expect.

I first learned this from reading Sue Klebold’s powerful book A Mother’s Reckoning, which focuses heavily on identifying and treating depression in children. I’ve been thinking about that book a lot this fall, in part because I attended an excellent presentation, based on Lisa D’Amour’s excellent book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, which also addressed the topic. And a real-life situation (not in my family) led to many conversations here at home about mental health and seeking help.

To those with teens in your life: read up, friends.

8. Lisa D’Amour has a new book coming out.

I adored Untangled—it’s one of those books I wish I could download into my brain—so I was thrilled to learn she has a new book on the way. It’s called Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, and I can’t wait to read it when it comes out on February 12.

9. Bring in the thyme.

I’ve grown herbs outside for years, yet somehow it’s never occurred to me to bring them inside when the seasons change. This year I brought in my big herb pot before the first frost, and while several of the more tender summer herbs were already dead, I’ve so enjoyed having fresh parsley and thyme at the ready. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

What did you learn in November?

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40 comments | Comment


  1. Helen says:

    I noticed you were quick to say “not in my family” when discussing teen depression. To break down the stigma regarding mental health and depression it helps to not be so quick to say we don’t have that here. I do understand the spirit you intended it in but if any progress is going to be made in this regard it takes us all watching our words and how it can be received and perceived.

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Helen,

      I appreciate your comment. Not so much because Anne said “not in my family” – she is in the public eye and even if there was a problem it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to talk about her child and also she would get tons of questions about how things are going. I appreciate it because there is still not only the stigma but because even in one’s own family they don’t believe it is a something the person cannot help feeling. I truly don’t know how I have made it for 60 years without anyone wanting to acknowledge that I have had this problem as far back as I can remember.

    • Anne says:

      You’re so right in the importance of destigmatizing mental illness. Please know that I included that note so as to avoid a slew of concerned texts and phone calls from friends and family who read this post and also protect the privacy of the people involved in the specific situation I was referencing.

    • Donna says:

      Thank you for your comments, Helen. I picked up on “Not in my family” immediately. It’s been a pretty rude awakening for me, at age 66, to realize I must be more conscious of the words I speak. Most of us have far to go, but at least we recognize that we are on the right path.

  2. Nichole says:

    Thank you for the heads up on Lisa D’Amour’s new book. I read her other book on vacation this summer (I know! Not exactly vacation reading, but what can you do?) I just pre-ordered her new book.

  3. As an introverted author, I can tell you that while I *love* to read, I’ve had to focus on non-word based creative outlets when I’m in that space between finishing one project and beginning another.
    It makes me sad to realize that sometimes reading is not the way to fill my creative well. (sniff…sniff) But when I settle in with some knitting or crochet, spend some time in the kitchen, or attend live theater or concerts, I come back to my new project rejuvenated and inspired.
    Given that you spend so much time with words–reading them, writing them, talking about them (and we’re all glad you do this!)–I would think that recharging your personal creative word well would be doubly difficult for you.
    For me, just realizing that I needed to be intentional about finding a non-word based way to recharge was huge.

    • This is genius! It explains why I got “podcasted out” last month and took a break. I think I was filling my life with books, writing, and podcasts— all WORDS. I had no idea they were making me mentally tired, and now it all makes sense. Thanks Anne and Lynn!

      • Same here! Sometimes I need a break from podcasts, especially if in my day job I’ve been on conference calls all day (so many words…) When I sit down to write, it doesn’t bother me, but perhaps that’s because I’m a big failure at outlining?

  4. Dee says:

    As the mother of a son, I would love recommendations for books that deal with anxiety from a teenage boy’s perspective.

    • Anne says:

      Klebold’s book is excellent; she’s writing as the mother of a son. D’Amour’s work is focused on girls but much is applicable to any gender. Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon is focused on boys.

  5. Caitlin says:

    If you can “learn” something you already knew, I “learnt” that I need to build some margin into my life (https://modernmrsdarcy.com/best-organizing-advice/). I’ve had a month of running at 100% constantly and I am burning out. I love to be busy and I know that margin is important but this month it’s really hit home that I need to actively plan in my margin.

  6. #5 — Outlining is exhausting: I had quite a bit of writer’s block about the novel I was writing. I had great ideas, I knew where I wanted the plot to go, how the characters should develop — but everytime I tried to make an outline, everything somehow fell flat and I couldn’t get the story to move forward. I was actually talking to a friend/colleague about my problem, and he suggested a different structure for the story. It COMPLETELY opened everything up for me, and I started writing without any problems once I embraced the new outline and structure. Before that suggestion, though, I was completely stagnating, and it was EXHAUSTING trying to figure out how to move everything forward. It truly is a mentally draining process, even after I had my new outline, because then it was like, “Do I move this chapter here? WHat about here? Oh, but this happens in that chapter, so it HAS to become before that other chapter…” Trying to keep it all straight is exhausting. And let’s not even go into word choice. Half my rough drafts have ______ in them to indicate that I want a “fancier” word to go in there than the one I repeatedly am thinking of (and have used multiple times already).

    My advice: definitely keep talking to people about where you’re stuck. If I had clammed up, I might never have gotten that advice from my friend that changed everything. And, at the same time, just keep writing. Keep scribbling, even if you think it’s no good. You can always go back and revise, and you can massage it into what you want. The planning is a draining process, but remember it’s your book, and nothing is set in stone unless you want it to be. 🙂 Good lick!!

  7. Roni Loren says:

    Drafting a book definitely drains me of my words. When I have a high word count (or heavy brainstorming) day, it can take me a while to transition in the evening and join in with my husband’s and kiddo’s conversations. I usually need some alone time, cooking dinner and listening to music or something, to refill the well before I’m ready to be social. I’m up against a deadline at the moment and writing a lot each day, so the fam has gotten used mom being a little zombified by day’s end, lol.

  8. I love what Shauna Niequist said during the Faith and Writing Conference that I listened to via podcast: http://festival.calvin.edu/podcast/you-re-not-alone-you-re-not-crazy/ . She talked about outlining and how helpful it is for writing, but she always forgets to do it. I am like her, outlining is frustrating for me because I like to write from the heart, immediately. I don’t like to take the time to “figure out what I am GOING to say”, I just like to say it. Shauna and I are both extroverts, so I imagine your experience is different. But all this to say that outlining is exhausting. I am with you on that.

    • Anne says:

      I am right there with you: I HATE taking the time to figure out what I’m going to say! But when I don’t I just go in circles. I’m going to check out that link, thank you for it.

  9. Sarah says:

    I loved #5. I am an ENTP but I have that happen too. I feel like I’ve used up all my words and need to reload. I probably have more words than you, but I’ve defiantly noticed they can disappear. 🙂

  10. Jana Botkin says:

    Anne, over a year ago I learned from you how useful and fun it is to do an end-of-the-month roundup of things I learned during the month on my blog. My readers enjoy it, and it helps me pay attention to the little gifts of new knowledge throughout the month. Thank you!

  11. Brenda says:

    I am a research biochemist at a major university. I am also the daughter of two poets, and I grew up writing poetry. During a period where I had to work part-time as a scientist, I was able to write poetry again, and I even published in a regional poetry magazine. However, when I went back to full-time science research, I didn’t have enough “brain” left over to write poems. I am an introvert, and that might have something to do with it. To me it seems I have a limited capacity for deep thinking, not so much words themselves. I am okay with not being able to do both at the same time. I am an avid knitter and I am learning to draw, and those two activities I think help me with deep thinking whether it be science or poetry.

  12. Phaedra says:

    So happy to have the heads up on the new Lisa D’Amour book. I have Untangled and pull it off the shelf often to reference. Having a teen plus all of her friends around regularly & seeing the amount of anxiety & stress that’s present for all of them? yeah. Any tools that help are much appreciated

  13. Lisa Zahn says:

    I absolutely experience “word fatigue” and am so glad you mentioned this because now I don’t feel so alone. I’ve always been a writer as a hobby–poetry and fiction in my teen years, blogs and newsletters since the internet, and even two NaNoWriMo novel wins in the last 13 years. However, I started copyediting four years ago and since then I struggle to write my own stuff. I play with other people’s words all day, and it seems to take all the words out of me. I sit and look at all the things I’ve written and wonder where that person who loved to write has gone. It makes me sad, but for now I need to the editing work as it pays well and I do enjoy it for the most part. However, I know eventually I’ll want to quit or cut way back so I can write for myself again. Seriously, you’ve made me feel better about this just by noticing it in yourself and bringing it up here. Thank you!

  14. Dana Kumerow says:

    Hi Anne,
    I experienced word fatigue when I was in the final edits and revisions of my book last spring. I couldn’t read at all. Then while on my book tour this fall as an INFP I experienced the same thing after the book events. Just the talking, while enjoyable, was exhausting. I have just been able to read again recently. I took up knitting and went back to quilting as a way to step away from words for a while.

  15. Kelsey says:

    I COMPLETELY relate to #5. I’ve always been incredibly aware of my word limit thanks to my Mom. She would always be so disappointed when I would come home from school or hanging out with friends and have ZERO words left for the day and tell me, “You used up your word limit on other people!” I think written words only count for about half the amount as spoken words, but writing definitely drains me too.

  16. Sofie says:

    I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to hear there are other writers who find writing uses up so many of their words. I was starting to think it was just me. (Most of my writing friends are extroverts!)

  17. Cheryl says:

    This month I learned that I would need to buy your book. I was listening to it while driving and you would describe really interesting books, but I would MISS the title! Looking forward to a reread and a pen.

  18. Janean says:

    Anne, I don’t know if you’re still using Scrivener for your writing or if you use a different tool for outlining, but perhaps a new tool could be useful? Have you heard of OmniOutliner from The Omni Group? I don’t know how detailed you’re going with this outline, but OmniOutliner is a great app that allows you to move sections around seamlessly and slice and dice your outline a million ways. The learning tool isn’t too steep and it’s a well-made app. Just a thought! (Somehow I think you might be shuffling a million index cards around your kitchen island, driving yourself mad. ?)

  19. Jon Cohen says:

    Well, Anne, thank you so much for “things I learned, #4.” First of all, it was delightful doing the podcast (Episode 160) with you. Nothing a reader/writer enjoys more than talking to another reader/writer! And I have to say, regarding Minority Report, I’m as shocked as you are that I wrote a sci fi screenplay, or worked in Hollywood. In other words, that I have diametrically opposed types of writing worlds inside my brain (Movies: action/thriller, Novels: whimsical/heart-warming). By a long shot, I prefer writing novels. And these days, life is a little too thrilling, so I like to escape into gentler worlds.
    And per your question about how to recharge your writerly batteries, and navigate the tangled forest of words. I agree with a number of the commenters – between every project, I’ve had to have non-writing down-time. Usually, it’s cleaning, or painting the porch, something wordless. And guilt is not allowed. You can’t be creative every second, or “productive.” It’s almost like there’s an actual word-well in your brain, and it has to fill up again. Good news – it always does. Bad news – the word-well fills, but when you dip your bucket in, you rarely retrieve the perfect word. I guess that’s because it’s a word-well and not a wishing well! No escaping the revision process. Ah, but that glittering prize you get at the end. A book!

    • Jennifer Rittall says:

      Harry’s Trees is one of my favorites from 2018 as well. It is such a heartwarming, feel good story. I had to force myself to read slowly because it is definitely a book to be savored, but I was dying to know what was going to happen next.

  20. Michelle Wilson says:

    Anne, thank you so much for mentioning The Bail Project in your list. It feels super important to me for 2 reasons-we ALL should be aware of how the criminal justice system works (or doesn’t) and by including these ideas in your writing works to break down stigma/shame that is so often associated with poverty.

  21. Vanessa says:

    No one has mentioned your first comment but that is the one that caught my eye. There is just too much food at potlucks and holiday meals in particular! I remember that once at my law firm’s Christmas Party the organizer said to bring enough food for twelve other people. I e-mailed back to say if all twelve of us brought enough for 12 people that would be enough for 144 people! We each only needed to bring enough for one person and because I don’t eat much that would just be a little. So of course, I am the insane one for bringing that up. This might be why I don’t get along easily. Ha.

  22. Debbie says:

    Hi Anne My book club has several members/family members facing some serious life and health issues. I’m looking for an uplifting book that would be appropriate to inspire, lift the spirits and support my friends. Any thoughts?
    (If this could not be posted publicly I’d appreciate it) a blog post on this topic would be great

  23. Anon says:

    What Made Maddy Run is an eye opening book on depression (and teen suicide) that I read because this has been something I have had to face as a parent in my family, and educating myself on the signs and how to navigate this is a journey. I highly recommend this book but it is truly heart breaking (but so is Klebold’s). We as parents need to acknowledge our daughters and sons are under an immense amount of pressure we can’t even begin to fathom, even if they are smiling on the outside, and that it’s ok to need help. I am grateful mine asked before it was too late.

  24. Jenn says:

    I so appreciate #5. I feel like I’m always finding new ways that my introvert exhaustion expresses itself. I’m not in a nominally creative field, but my role involves research, creating presentations, meetings, and generally a lot of “creating order from chaos.” My colleagues easily understand that a big public presentation exhausts me. But it can be hard to explain to my extroverted coworkers why I can barely respond to a simple email by the end of some weeks, even if I’ve mostly been in the office. Because words… I just have none left, even if I’ve only been thinking them! (As an aside, this is also one of those things that occasionally frustrates me about the “no screens before bed” conversations. I understand the science and won’t argue with it, but there are some days where only some pretty visuals and passive listening actually allow me to fully relax and unwind. I simply can’t look at / actively engage with more words.)

  25. Lydia says:

    I learned that I can’t wait for things to get better. I must focus on my goals and make necessary changes week by week. If I don’t meet those goals I need to revise my plan and act accordingly. No more waiting until next year or until I get a raise or until I finish my PhD. Gotta LIVE and not wait. 🙂 Thanks for inspiring us!

  26. Hannah says:

    I’m going to totally disagree with you on #1, haha. I love when there’s too much food at Thanksgiving, the more leftovers, the longer I can go without cooking again! I appreciate the short break from preparing food, and everyone in my family loves the leftovers, so we’re set! 🙂

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