The writer talks about sharing herself, people-pleasing versus truth and being driven by, “What if?”
Dara Chadwick is a freelance journalist and the author of You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies – Even When We Don’t Love Our Own (which grew out of her tenure as Shape magazine’s 2007 Weight-Loss Diary columnist). Dara blogs at Psychology Today and recently appeared on NBC’s Today Show and on Fox News Boston. You’d Be So Pretty If… was praised highly in Publishers Weekly and Newsweek online, among others.
MEREDITH: Do you trust yourself when you write?
Dara: I’ve never really thought about this before, but I absolutely do! Much of my writing happens before I sit down at my desk; I tend to compose in my head quite a bit, so when I finally get to it, it feels very instinctual. There’s a lot of ruminating and turning-over of ideas in my mind as I go about my business. But I always know when I’m there.
MEREDITH: You write a lot about self-image and how moms can help their daughters love themselves. But when you write does your mind wonder first what you would like, or what others would? Do you think about pleasing the crowd?
Dara: I’ve found that many of my most “successful” crowd-pleasing pieces are those in which I’ve shared a lot of myself (even if it’s not directly about me). If I’m curious about a topic or struggle with it, I tend to assume that others are curious about it or struggle with it, too. Maybe that’s an egocentric view of the world, but I see myself as a fairly average woman, wife, mom, sister, etc. As for pleasing the crowd, I learned a long time ago that it can’t be done. I’ll never please everybody, so I focus on what I know to be true and feel is right, and I create from that place. (Good-to-remember alert:) If people respond to it – in a good way or in a “you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about” way – then I feel I’ve done my job. I’ve made the reader think and talk about it, and that’s what matters to me.
MEREDITH: When writing, do you wait for the muse, or do you see creating as a job to be done whether the muse is there or not? And by the way, what is your muse?
Dara: The honest answer is, “It depends.” I’m driven by “What if?” Sometimes, it works for me in that it drives me to explore a topic or a scenario or a problem. Other times, it works against me when I let anxiety take hold and question what I’m doing. When that happens, I know I either haven’t spent the necessary time with the topic in my head or I’m heading in the wrong direction. It’s back to that trust issue, I guess. When I can’t wait to research and write, I know I’m in the right place.
MEREDITH: Are you a “big picture” writer, or do you take the Anne Lamott Bird by Bird approach? Can you tell us about it?
Dara: I always have the big picture in mind, but I really enjoy the writing process, too. I try not to stay too married to a master plan, though, because the tangents are often where I find the most interesting stuff. I love the act of puzzling out what goes where in a piece.
MEREDITH: Do you write a chapter at a time? Skip around? Start with a table of contents? What is the process? Are you into outlines? Why? Why not?
Dara: With You’d Be So Pretty If…I wrote in a pretty straight line from my table of contents. But I generally prefer to skip around. I like an outline for the sense of direction it gives me, but I like to be free to explore side paths, too. It’s sort of like driving. I like to have a map with me in case I get lost, but I couldn’t stand a GPS telling me what to do and when to do it. I’m rebellious that way, I guess.
Dara lives in New England with her family. She says, “I horrified my teenage daughter when I took a hip hop dance class a while back, but I loved it and hope to get back to it soon.” Oh, and my friend, who’s a fabulous knitter, keeps trying to get me to knit, but I find the act of knitting really stressful. Maybe it’s that whole “follow a pattern” thing.