In this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review‘s brief interview with Jonathan Franzen, Franzen recommends in the “self-help book” category Harriet Lerner’s Dance of Anger, which he says “acknowledges the true difficulty of helping the self.”

I was grateful for the reminder of how much I enjoy Harriet Lerner’s work, from her many books (read excerpts HERE) to her “Dance of Connection” blog at Psychology Today. Her candid sharing of experiences and knowledge are insightful for both our personal lives and the lives we create for fictional characters.

Consider this excerpt from a blog post about how anxiety blocks our thinking and how it may apply to periods of writer’s block or how it might be used to add depth to a nervous protagonist:

“When you’re really anxious, your thinking center may shrink to the size of a pinto bean. It’s obviously hard to feel good about yourself when anxiety disrupts your memory and concentration, leaving you unable to read, write, study, analyze, or take in new information.

I am quite familiar with the experience of anxiety turning the brain to mush. I’ll bring someone along to any important medical appointment because I know that my mind is apt to race, go blank, flood or freeze. Also, my sense of direction, shaky in the best of circumstances, is especially vulnerable to the brain-numbing effects of anxiety.”

Dance of AngerOr this on the importance of self-observation from Dance of Anger:

“Sometimes, however, even when we are ready to risk change, we still keep participating in the same old familiar fights that go nowhere. Human nature is such that when we are angry, we tend to become so emotionally reactive to what the other person is doing to us that we lose our ability to observe our own part in the interaction. Self-observation is not at all the same as self-blame, at which some women are experts. Rather, self-observation is the process of seeing the interaction of ourselves and others, and recognizing that the ways other people behave with us has something to do with the way we behave with them. We cannot make another person be different, but when we do something different ourselves, the old dance can no longer continue as usual.”

What self-help or other non-fiction books help you to be a better writer, person, or artist?