This week, the Cut is talking advice — the good, the bad, the weird, and the pieces of it you really wish you would have taken. Here, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody on overcoming self-doubt and learning to collaborate.
When I was in college in the late ‘90s, I dated this guy who was completely out of my league, looks-wise. At the time, there was this Versace campaign that was splashed everywhere, and people actually thought he was the guy. That’s how hot he was. He had sideburns like Jason Priestley and Luke Perry, which was really considered an asset in a partner in 1996. I just couldn’t believe my luck. Unsurprisingly, he dumped my ass, like five weeks in. Poor me and my pixie cut and my frosted eye shadow.
We had met at this coffee shop that I went to every single day. And one day, a few weeks after I got dumped, my dad called me and he said, “So, how you doing?” And I said, “You know, I’m fine, I’m hanging in there,” probably while I was holed up in my room listening to Fiona Apple all day. And he goes, “Have you been going to the coffee house?” I said, “Dad, are you kidding me? No way! It would be so mortifying if I ran into my ex. He could be there and I don’t want to see him.” And my dad was like, “Tomorrow, I want you to go to that coffee house, and walk in like you own the place.”
It was such a small moment, but it’s something I think about constantly, because I do have a tendency to retreat when I’m embarrassed. I try to remind myself, “These other people don’t deserve to be here any more than you.” Every time I walk into Soho House [in L.A.], I get scared because that place is like the unofficial high-school cafeteria of Hollywood. I’m inevitably going to run into somebody I pissed off. I just have to say to myself, “You know what? Fuck it. Be a grown-up. Maybe that’s a relationship you can rebuild.” Because I try to maintain relationships. When you get to a certain age, you run out of people. You can’t keep making new friends. You have to figure out how to mature and sustain the relationships you have, instead of constantly building new ones.
I feel like the same high-school dynamics are still playing out all the time. Hollywood is definitely cliquish. There are definitely cool kids in this business. We cycle through cool kids very quickly though, because the instant you fail, you’re out. After you fail, which I have, you can either choose to crumble and retreat and become nonfunctional, which I’ve seen happen, or you can just become a lone wolf, forget about the cool kids and just continue to do your own thing. And that’s been my M.O. I’ve been able to keep working because I’ve insisted on it.
That said, we romanticize the idea of the man who stands alone and marches to the beat of his own drum, but sometimes that’s a really bad idea. My work is a collaborative process and that’s torture for me, because I really prefer the solitary aspects of my job. I like to be with my laptop, I like to be in my sweatpants and create. The instant you bring other people into the equation, you have to learn to collaborate, you have to learn to listen to people. I guess I had to make a decision at some point to become more humble and more receptive to criticism and to listen. And I guess I did have to make that decision on my own. Nobody told me to.
In the past, I think I was more arrogant. Nobody had any information that they could possibly impart to me. I wasn’t a great listener then. I’m definitely more open to feedback now. I’m thinking of times when I disregarded what other people had to say and squared my shoulders and made my own decision, and it was always a fuck-up. So my advice here is to listen to advice.
Oh, and the ex? I totally ran into him. It was rough, if I recall, because he was always with his brand-new girlfriend. That’s how it goes.