How Not to Write a Novel in a Month


Mackenzie Thomas


In honor of NaNoWriMo, I have decided to gift you, dear readers, the key to my success. At the very young age of 20, I have not written four best-selling novels, not gotten 20 short stories published in various respectable journals and magazines, and I have not had a TED Talk on the art of writing. Impressive, I know. Please hold your applause. You may be asking yourself how did she do it? I will tell you in eleven easy steps. If you follow these steps, you too can be as successful as me.


  1. Surf your social media of choice and see all your friends hyping each other up for NaNoWriMo!
  2. Decide that you too have what it takes and join the challenge.
  3. Think of possible characters and plots while doing dishes, but don’t jot down your ideas because your hands are wet. It doesn’t matter because you will definitely remember them!
  4. Forget your ideas for plots and characters.
  5. Realize it’s already been a week into the challenge and you don’t even know where to begin. But, you like the name Sonya for a character! You don’t know which character, but Sonya will definitely appear in the story somehow.
  6. Realize that all this planning is not for you! It would be much more productive and artistic to freewrite (a.k.a “word vomit”) for eight minutes straight. That will get the ballpoint pen rolling. No doubt about it!
  7. Yes! YES! You’re doing it! Look at those words appear in fast and seamless succession. Why were you having such difficulties? Writing is in your blood! You are Stephen King the Writing Machine without the cocaine.
  8. Eight minutes is up. You read through your mind dribble and realize it’s garbage.
  9. That’s okay. Don’t panic. It’s only been two weeks and since you don’t watch TV, you have plenty of free time. You work better under pressure anyway. You just need some inspiration.
  10. Spend your time trying to find said inspiration by reading “How-To” articles just to get in the writing zone.
  11. Never actually write.


Before you know it, it’s been a month and you have successfully not written anything. It’s as simple as that.


Mackenzie Thomas is a staff reader for Blue Mesa Review


Move Aside, NYC. The 505 is Your New Short Story City.

By Alice Yang


Dear New York Publishers,

Out here in the West, we continue to consume short stories set in New York, chronicling the melodrama of humanity against the all too familiar backdrop of skyscrapers, subways, and large bodies of water. Sure, New York is the quintessential short story city and is perhaps one of the best cities in the world.

But Albuquerque’s pretty great, too. Let me humbly recommend a new literary world where characters play out their conflicts in the desert, with fewer people, and (yes) unbeatable sunsets. It’s situated in the middle of New Mexico, steeped in all things Southwestern, and could be a new kind of short story city. I’ve taken the liberty to re-imagine a piece of fiction from The New Yorker:  Donald Antrim’s “Another Manhattan.”


NYC: “The bar next door to the restaurant was bleak and depressing, an old men’s dive, and the bar inside the restaurant would be a mob scene of people pushing for tables. She could stand idly flipping through magazines at the newsstand across Broadway. . .”

ABQ: “The bar next door to the restaurant was bleak and depressing, an old children’s psychiatric hospital, and the bar inside the restaurant would be a relatively calm scene of people waiting for their green chile margaritas. She could stand idly by the balcony, overlooking Central Avenue, illuminated by the surreal coral pink sunset. . .” (Seriously, there’s a fancy new place called Hotel Parq Central that was originally a hospital in the 1926 and then was turned into a children’s psychiatric center in the 80s. Can you say spooky and intriguing?)


NYC: “‘There might be a Boucher hanging at the Frick.’”

ABQ: “‘There might be an O’Keefe hanging at the Q-MAH. Or you could just take The Railrunner up to Santa Fe, where all art actually lives.”

I realize that a sign of a first-class city is that everyone is on a first name basis with the museums: the MOMA, the Met, and what-not. Nobody actually calls the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History “Q-MAH.” In fact, nobody refers to Albuquerque as “The Q.” But maybe once we land in a few literary short stories, we can start a hashtag.


NYC: “He peered from behind the ficus. He was wearing a ridiculous cashmere overcoat, and his suit today was a medium-gray flannel herringbone. It featured, on the jacket, minimal shoulder padding, dual vents, and a graceful, three-rolled-to-two-button stance (his current favorite lapel style), and, on the pants, single reverse pleats and one-and-a-quarter-inch-cuffed trouser legs. Why would a man ever not cuff his trousers? He kept a single jacket-sleeve button open on the left, another open on the right.”

ABQ: “He peered from behind the yucca. He was wearing a ridiculous cactus-patterned short sleeve, and his suit today was completed with a pair of shorts. It featured, on the front belt loop, mirrored aviators, not Ray Bans, because they would be stolen if left in the car. Why would a man ever wear pants in this sunny city?”


NYC: “Had you been walking downtown on Broadway that February night at a little past eight, you might have seen a man hurrying toward you with a great concrescence of blooms. You might have noticed that he did not even pause for traffic signals, but charged across streets against the lights.”

ABQ: “Had you been walking downtown on Central Avenue that February night at a little past eight, you might have seen a white woman decked out in turquoise jewelry and red chile earrings, hurrying past you with a great sense of awe and wonder as she recognized Burt’s Tiki Lounge from Breaking Bad. You might have noticed that she did not pause for traffic signals, but charged across the streets against the lights, easing into normal Burqueño jaywalking habits.”

Some stories are made for NYC. But many others can only be told in the ‘Querque.


Alice Yang is an undergraduate staff reader for the Blue Mesa Review. Born and raised in Albuquerque, she studies English and Psychology at UNM.

More of Alice’s work can be found at

Our Best of the Net Nominations. Drum Roll Please…


Blue Mesa Review is proud to announce our nominees for Best of the Net:



Ghosted Image of a Naked Girl  By Anne Riesenberg

—vibe  By Marcos Gonsalez


McDonald’s  By Anders Carlson-Wee

The Boat I’m Building You  By Robin Cedar


Quartzsite  By Debbie Vance

The Meaning of Life  By Myriam Lacroix


We are thankful to our talented contributors for allowing us to share their work and we wish them the best of luck!

The Role of a Nonfiction Writer

If you’ve read the past few blog posts (and you should!), you’ve heard a similar message from each of my fellow editors about what they hope to publish in the coming year: Steve, our EIC, wrote about finding new and interesting perspectives on the same set of stories we all tend to write, Tanya used the word “fresh” to describe the fiction submissions she hoped to see, and Ruben asked for poetry that would spark a fire inside him. We all have our own way of thinking about what makes writing speak to us, and for me as the incoming Nonfiction Editor, it’s all about redefinition.

I think of writing nonfiction as an attempt to redefine the reality we see around us by re-imagining the meaning of the words we use to describe and analyze it. We are writers; we have a duty to language to stretch, test, break, and repair each word we use, until we have created a new space in which we can conceive of the world differently, in which the world really has become different. I think the job of nonfiction isn’t to give readers our unique perspective, but to write in constant pursuit of the perspective we can’t yet imagine. I’m looking for work that does more than tell a story, give an opinion, or recall a memory, as so many of our first drafts do. I want to publish the piece that allows the reader to witness the intellectual progress made within its first 20 drafts – an ability I would argue is exclusive to this genre.

It’s almost impossible to capture this kind of depth in your work if you’re afraid to go toward your writerly preoccupation – that ambiguous, unknowable, itching, and seemingly insignificant thought of which you can’t rid yourself – in an overt and vigorous way. You must chase your preoccupation down, corral it, reach out and invite it into your arms, examine and care for it, let it get away, let it trample you in the process, watch how it moves, what it hides beneath, then approach it again as if you’d never seen it before. You must search for the bottom of what you know is bottomless.

It seems apt to hear from the Nonfiction Editor last. I think we could all agree that nonfiction, though gaining in popularity, tends to be the least read and encouraged of the three main genres. Many MFA programs don’t offer nonfiction tracks, more than a few literary magazines don’t accept nonfiction submissions, and those that do, like Blue Mesa Review, see fewer submissions for nonfiction than any other genre. I would really like that to change. I think creative nonfiction has potential beyond what we can imagine–and it’s there waiting for you to discover it. Go, write, submit.

This New Year of Continual Expansion

The St. Vincent de Paul Society Thrift Shop in the heart of Albuquerque’s thrift district is a prototypical second-hand store, with long racks of used clothing, glass cases that encircle the cash registers, shelves of home goods and knick-knacks, furniture at the rear, and a book section crowded with popular fiction and old text books. Those familiar with the place know that fresh wares start their second life on three large tables in the middle of the store. The experienced thrifter that I am, it is here where I begin my hunt. About a month ago, I found these tables teaming with books. Hundreds of them—their spines facing heaven. An Anthology of New York Poets, put out by Vintage Books in 1970, was the first to catch my eye, then The Magician’s Feastletters by Wakowski, Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda, The Jacob’s Ladder by Levertov, Plath’s Winter Trees, Poem from Jail by Ed Sanders…thin title after thin title interspersed by thick anthologies. I had come across a small library of poetry. And then there was the sign: All Books—4 for a $1. I left St. Vincent’s that day with a box that constituted 76 titles. I was thrilled and eager to get reading.

As a poet, and now poetry editor of the Blue Mesa Review (BMR), I approach the job with eagerness. I find so often that our words are the kindling of our spirit. The thousands of poems I will read for this job is daunting, but also excites. I am looking to be set on fire. The spark will come from many places: the established, the emerging, steady and scribbling hands. In essence, my editorial work is selfish. Know that I am getting something from the work you are willing to share. Whether you are a novice or a Neruda, your words carry weight. When I consider the box of books that required me to purchase yet another bookshelf for my ever shrinking casita, I think of all the minds that traced those lines before they were bound, the vulnerability offered by their writers, and the flame lit within those initial readers—some friends, some colleagues, some editors. Literature requires community.

By taking on the role of poetry editor for BMR, I am accepting a sort of leadership role in this branch of our community. This makes me uncomfortable, but this awkwardness is quelled by the knowledge that many others are caught in similar pursuit. I believe that poetry is an attempt by the writer to clarify the universal through an individual experience and that our horizon is further pushed by these many voices.

Earlier, I wrote a list of poetic elements that excite me. I planned on placing them here as a sort of stream of consciousness/list of requirements. But why? I don’t want to limit any of our submitters and future contributors by my preconceived notions of where the sun sets on poetry. Instead, I will offer you the final lines from Denise Levertov’s Song For a Dark Voice, for it is here where I believe our future begins—the basis from which I can stand and lead.


                        To my closed eyes

appears a curved

horizon where darkness

dazzles in your light. Your arms

hold me from falling.

On Stepping in as Fiction Editor and Advice to Our Submitters.

Recently, I have assumed the role of fiction editor of the Blue Mesa Review after being a grad reader for two semesters. Although I now have the final say when it comes to choosing which stories to publish, my responsibilities after the “promotion” haven’t changed that much. Just like before, I spend most of my time reading tons of submissions without any forewarning whether the next one is going to be a masterpiece or a disaster. That can be scary sometimes. What if there aren’t any good stories in the pile? What if there are too many good ones, more than we can publish? Or what if there’s a great piece, but I will never know that because of a few missed commas and a weak opening?

These questions are on my mind a lot, but the number of submissions we receive makes it harder to give each story a chance if it doesn’t pull you in from the first page. Yet, after about a year of reading for the magazine, I noticed there are always some stories that manage to catch my attention, even if it is a thirtieth story I read that day. Whenever that happens, I try to pinpoint what exactly draws me in. To put it simply I would say “freshness:” an unfamiliar subject or approach, a different perspective or a point of view, sometimes even just well-crafted sentences free of clichés and stagnation. “Fresh” to me does not necessarily mean an avant-garde, boundaries-blurring riddle for the reader, but simply something new, unfamiliar in one way or the other. Surprising your reader (not in a literal sense, let’s say by resurrecting a character you killed on the first page) is important and even essential, and when I think about it, every single story or a novel that impressed me showed me something I hadn’t seen before, surprised me.

However, while catching and maintaining reader’s attention are important, those things alone will not get you published. I sometimes encounter wonderfully crafted stories that are a pleasure to read until the very last page where they just end abruptly without any satisfying conclusion, and I am left wondering what was the point of writing the piece at all. Ending a story in a powerful way, or more precisely wrapping it up, making it a story, a piece of fiction that is not necessarily conclusive, but satisfying is very challenging indeed. I believe that asking yourself the question “why did I want to write this story?” helps a lot. If you can’t answer this question or don’t think your piece on its own can that is probably the indication that you still have some work to do. When I read your submission, I want the story to answer this question without any outside help.

And a few last notes: Although you definitely want your submission to stand out, fancy fonts or unconventional cover letters are not the best way to do that. I will not discard a submission simply because of the wrong font, but I do prefer Times New Roman, 12pt, double-spaced. It’s always a good idea to read our guidelines and follow them.

Good luck. I am looking forward to reading your submissions this year!


Tatiana Duvanova, Fiction Editor of the Blue Mesa Review.

Handing Over the Helm

This time last year, after taking the helm as Fiction Editor, I wrote what I wanted to do, see, and accomplish with my year navigating The Blue Mesa Review. I was eager, excited, and ready to sail into uncharted literary waters. Now, after the call of land-ho, the gangplank is secured and I’m handing the sextant over to Tanya Duvanova, who I have no doubt will be an excellent helmswoman.

So, as I retire to the seaman’s pub to spend my hard-earned ducats and dream up the next port of call, a pause for reflection feels a worthy purpose. I’ll start with the high seas before describing the balmier days.

Rough Waters:

  • Very few submitters, say less than 10%, read or follow submission instructions. Sixty page novels were submitted. Single spaced, 8-point font dystopian-sci-fi tales of zombies battling vampires for the love of a fair maiden were also found the inbox. Cover letters worthy of tenure-post consideration were submitted. Clichés, typos, horrendous dialogue, and title-less first drafts also flooded the slush pile.
  • There were loads of great stories badly written and bad stories written greatly.
  • There were loads of stories with great beginnings lacking great endings.
  • There were loads of stories. I lost count around 933. But anything with a tight first three pages beat the cull into the second round of reading.
  • University literary magazines are under the majesty of The University and can be looted, re-structured, or simply folded at anytime for no explicable reason or logical explanation. Just look at the national budget and extrapolate.
  • Being an editor is extremely time consuming. I knew that taking the helm and love reading vast amounts, but make sure you have a healthy dose of staff readers to help batten down the hatches.


Smooth Sailing:

  • AWP is much better as an editor. People give you more time. People give you more attention. The imposter syndrome evaporates because you are actually an editor. You make the decisions.
  • Interviewing writers rocks. Lori Ostlund, Andrew Bourelle, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, and Erika Sanchez are all fabulous, generous, and talented. It was a pleasure to pick their brains.
  • Writing those acceptance letters and telling the writers why and what you loved about their stories is worth a thousand treasure maps.
  • Continually attempting to understand the readership and how you can serve them and the community can be frustrating, but extremely rewarding.
  • Watching the magazine grow (Yes, we now pay our contributors!) and surviving the growing pains feels like a strong knot wind on your back.
  • Stepping aside when your watch is done, knowing good people are in place to continue the journey, emanates both satisfaction and relief. That little voice in the head saying, I didn’t mess up. I left it better than I took it. I enjoyed it. I’d do it again but better… is what we all need to hear sometimes.


Outside of BMR, this has been a hell of a year, personally and politically. Although, I would love to keep the helm for years and years and take the ship around the world and back, it’s time to focus on my own little kayak dodging in the rapidly approaching, rushing Dissertation River. With great gratitude and joy, I step on terra firma knowing much more than when I departed, and knowing The Blue Mesa Review will continue on course.

A Message from the Incoming Editor-in-Chief

By Steven D. Howe

As an MFA affiliated magazine, the Blue Mesa Review editorial staff changes with the academic year. This change is part necessity, due to graduations and new writers joining the program, and part choice to encourage new perspectives and varying aesthetics in the production of the magazine. The tradition at Blue Mesa Review is the outgoing editorial staff selects the incoming editors, and I count as one of my highest honors to have been chosen by my peers to be Editor-in-Chief for the upcoming academic year.

What I hope to bring to the magazine is a compulsion for new and interesting perspectives. It can be argued there are only a handful of things to write about; relationships between one another, relationships between intersecting cultures, the relationship with ourselves as we navigate the tragic and fascinating in our lives. Of course, this is incomplete, but as readers, when picking up an essay, poem, or short story, how often have you felt like you’ve read this story before? With the thousands upon thousands of submissions being presented across the literary magazine spectrum, it’s expected that you’d find multiple versions of the same story. But Blue Mesa Review is not looking for the expected. If you want to write about a common theme, we want to see an uncommon approach. Are you giving the readers a perspective that is underrepresented in the canon? Are we surprised by your choice of language and structure? Are you teaching us anything new? While our stories are often similar, we want you to feel free to break the conventions of your genre.

I feel we have an obligation to our readers to be a boutique in a big box world, and the task is difficult. Literary magazines play a role in curating the culture. We help decide what the world sees, what trends are supported or dismissed, and what voices are heard, and we take that job very seriously. To do this, and do it well, it takes a team of dedicated people willing to volunteer hundreds of hours from lives with precious little time to spare, but they do it for the love of the craft. Joining me in the curation of Issues 36 and 37 will be a wonderful team of talented and generous writers.

• Our new fiction editor is Tatiana Duvanova, a brilliant scholar and writer who will bring an international eye to the magazine.
• Nonfiction is led by Hayley Peterson. Hayley is unafraid of taking on challenging subject matter that breaks conventional boundaries.
• Our poetry editor, Ruben Rodriquez, is well published in the craft and is our connection to the what is most compelling and fresh in modern poetry.

Each of these editors will share their feelings on craft and what moves them within their genre in blog posts throughout the summer, so watch this space.

Helping in the day to day operation of the magazine is Lydia Wassan, who will assume the role of Managing Editor. She will also coordinate the Works In Progress reading series and the BMR blog. Aside from being a gifted essayist, Lydia has a wealth of international work and academic experience that will be invaluable in maintaining a professional culture within the magazine.

Blue Mesa Review has always been fortunate to have accomplished and exceptional faculty advisement to round out our team. Recent advisors include, Justin St. Germain, Emily Rapp Black, Marisa P. Clark, Jack Trujillo, and most recently, Jose Orduña. For the upcoming academic year, the trend of excellence continues. We are thrilled and proud to have as our advisor, Mark Sundeen, who was recently named the Russo Chair of the Creative Writing Program at the University of New Mexico.

Of course, none of what we do is possible without the staff readers who will be named from the incoming class of graduate and undergraduate students at UNM.

With deep gratitude to our past editorial board of Aaron Reader, Jason Thayer, Crystal Zanders, and David O’Connor, the current board thanks you for the trust you’ve placed in us and we are eager to represent the great tradition of Blue Mesa Review in the coming year.

2017 Summer Contest Judges!

Like the passing of the seasons, our spring issue release means it’s time for our summer contest. Beginning June 1, 2017, contest submissions will be open and we couldn’t be more thrilled with this year’s judging line up:

Safiya Sinclair for Poetry, Rigoberto González for Nonfiction, and for the first time, co-judges for Fiction, Anne Raeff and Lori Ostlund. See below for bios.

Contest winners in each genre will receive $500 and publication in Issue 36 later this year. Second place will also be published in the issue.

For more information on the contest and submission guidelines, click here.




Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, the Addison M. Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and named one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.”

Sinclair is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, fellowships from Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, as well as the Amy Clampitt Residency Award. Her poems have appeared in PoetryKenyon Review, Granta, The Nation, New England Review, Boston Review, TriQuarterlyOxford American, and elsewhere.

She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California. (Source:


Rigoberto González is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include two bilingual children’s books, the three young adult novels in the Mariposa Club series, the novel Crossing Vines, the story collection Men Without Bliss, and three books of nonfiction, including Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships, a NYFA grant in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, he is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine and writes a monthly column for NBC-Latino online. (Source:

Currently, he is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, and the inaugural Stan Rubin Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Rainier Writing Workshop.


Anne Raeff’s (left) short story collection, The Jungle Around Us won the 2015 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. The collection is also a finalist for the California Book Award and was on The San Francisco Chronicle’s 100 Best Books of 2017 list. Her stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, ZYZZYVA, and Guernica among other places. Her first novel Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia was published in 2002 by MacAdam/Cage. (Source:

Lori Ostlund’s (right) first collection of stories, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, among other publications. (Source:

Which Came First: Alcoholism and Mental Illness or Writing?


As a writer, but even more so as an indigenous writer, I’ve always been plagued by the pervasive image of the self-destructive, mentally ill, alcoholic writer. Think Hemingway, Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe. And these are just a few on a list of American writers whose names are synonymous with alcoholism, mental illness, and deterioration. It doesn’t help that I’ve made this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anais Nin writes, “Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”

I’m not the first writer who’s been perplexed by this stereotype of the mentally ill, self-destructive writer. Maria Popova, of, has explored the complex relationship between mental illness and creativity in her article “The Relationship between Creativity and Mental Illness” (2014). Decades before her, Thomas A. Dardis addressed a similar concern about the apparent connections between alcoholism and the writer in his 1989 book The Thirsty Muse: Alcohol and the American Writer. My questioning is only a more personal investigation of an ongoing, public conversation in the arts.

Simply being a writer who uses alcohol or who has a mental illness, or both, doesn’t necessarily condemn one. The connection is not so simple. Despite this, there is a stereotype that persists of the self-destructive writer: again, think Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Anne Sexton. I can only offer you a voyeur’s look into my own experience to deconstruct this perceived connection between mental illness, alcohol use, and self-destructive behaviors.

My family’s legacy, both matrilineal and patrilineal, is alcoholism and self-destruction. I’ve inherited that legacy and continue to contribute to it. I started drinking when I got to college, around 18-years-old, and what initially started as social drinking with friends, quickly developed into drinking as a means of coping. I had chronic depression because of the traumas I’d suffered growing up in a home with intrafamilial violence and alcoholism, not to mention the everyday reality of living on a reservation where alcoholism, poverty, unemployment, early death, all forms of abuse, and drug abuse were, essentially, a contagion.

By age 21, I’d already been briefly hospitalized for a psychiatric stint facilitated by (not caused by) my drinking. I’d ended up cutting my forearm deeper than I’d intended and calling 911 after a brutal end-of-semester bender. My alcohol use has fluctuated over the years: after I married and had a child, it tapered off somewhat. I drank occasionally, but the state of my marriage induced another severe period of depression that lasted several years. I binge drank throughout this period.

Three years ago, I returned to academia to seriously pursue a career as a writer. Writing has ever been the only thing which fulfills me, this capacity to write which has no dependence on an external person or state. It was entirely internal, originating from my Self, and that recognition that I could fulfill my Self, rather than relying on social status, a husband or lover, or even a child, to do so, was poignant. Writing, however, was (and is) evasive in practice.

I couldn’t maintain my writing! I couldn’t force myself to write everyday as my professors told me I needed to in order to be serious about it! The greatest barrier to my writing has been my alcohol use, depression, and anxiety. The first couple of shots may help with breaking down the cognitive barriers (the internal critic) to allow me to write for a couple of hours, but long-term drinking has effected the quality of my writing. My writing doesn’t have the same precision that it does when I’m sober. The cycle is self-perpetuating: I become depressed over my inability to write, and I become anxious that I won’t be able to produce any good writing (much less consistently), which is what I must do if I want to write as a profession.

In spite of my mental illness and alcohol abuse, I’ve been able to write. The relationship between my ability to write and my mental illness and alcohol abuse is complex. My mental illness, or rather the experiences that led to the development of my mental illness and alcoholism, gives me material for writing, while simultaneously the act of writing itself is hampered by these same conditions.



Heather Johnson (aka Heather Johnson Lapahie) is a writer, teacher, mother, and lifelong student. She is an MFA student at the University of New Mexico and explores issues of marginalization, the individual identity, and voice in her writing.