Oscar-Winning Screenwriter Diablo Cody Recalls Her Delightfully Twisty Career Path Thus Far

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1993: Gets First Gig

“When I was 14, my mom worked as a secretary at a construction company, and she got me a job cleaning their offices. So I started as a young janitress. I was thrilled. I was a suburban kid—you have to have money for Sbarro at the mall!”

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1996–2000 : Holds Down Various College Jobs: Lunch Lady, Campus Tour Guide, Credit Card Telemarketer

“As a tour guide, I was dealing with neurotic parents all day long. I’m a people watcher, and I’m also a complete buzzard with dialogue. If I hear somebody saying something funny, that’s going to stick. I might modify that and put it in a script.”

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2000: Works as an Administrative Assistant, BBDS Ad Agency

“I was a terrible assistant! I spent a lot of my time in that office blogging. They must not have been monitoring my internet use. I was writing every day and trying on weird new characters, and I created tons of blogs as different people. I had one blog where I pretended to be an ignorant 13-year-old girl. I also had a really strange blog about ptarmigans. They’re an Arctic bird. It was a good creative outlet for me, and what I loved most was that there was no middleman.”

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2003–2004, 2006: Becomes a Stripper, Then Lands a Book Deal for Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper

“I learned that I am an exhibitionist in some ways. When I was in a situation like that, where nobody knew who I was and I could just drop my pants to Def Leppard, I enjoyed it. However, I do not like being any type of public figure. In retrospect, the book was extremely tone-deaf, coming from a position of total privilege. I wrote it sitting in a Target in my spare time. I love writing at Target when they have those little Starbucks inside.”

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2007: Writes Juno

“I had no idea what I was doing. I just bought some scripts from the store: American Beauty, Ghost World, and Stranger Than Fiction. I learned the structure of a screenplay by reading. And then I attempted to do it—ignorance is bliss. I was like Mount St. Helens; I was rumbling and had built up so much material that I couldn’t wait to just, like, explode onto the page.”

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2009: Writes and Produces Jennifer’s Body

“That was a pet project that I got to do because we were coming off an Oscar movie. I’ve always loved horror movies, and I love teenage girls. That movie is just very me. But Jennifer’s Body was not a success. That was my first experience with failure.”

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2009–2011: Writes and Produces United States of Tara

“Steven Spielberg brought the idea to me. Not a phone call you are expecting to receive. Selling that show was a breeze. People wanted to do it because it’s Steven Spielberg!”

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2011: Writes and Produces Young Adult

“I felt very unsteady writing it because I had come off Jennifer’s Body. I felt like, ‘Okay, you f–ked up. And you need to write something that shows people that you have versatility.’ That’s why the entire first scene of Young Adult has no dialogue, because I felt like people thought that was all I did—write quippy shit. That whole movie was my attempt to just work in a slightly subtler, quieter mode.”

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2013: Writes, Directs, and Produces Paradise

“I was pregnant, I was very tired, and I brought my toddler with me. I’m not a director. I never had any desire to direct. I completely yielded to pressure, because everybody said, ‘Screenwriters direct. That’s your career trajectory; you can’t just write.’ I’m not the most extroverted person, and just having to interact with that volume of people on a daily basis was very draining for me.”

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2015: Writes and Produces Ricki and the Flash

“My husband’s mom is a rock singer and guitarist who plays in bands on the Jersey Shore, and the first time I ever saw her perform, my mind was blown. I’d never met a grandma like her before. Ricki and the Flash is not about my mother-in-law, but she was absolutely the inspiration. Sometimes, when a person is very creative and very passionate, her home life suffers. I’ve experienced that as well. So this is about when women choose their art.”

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2018: Writes and Produces Tully

“I’m a married mom of three. In the movie, the sheer exhaustion of parenting—particularly when you’re on the third kid and you are caring for a baby and you realize you have two other kids you forgot about—is drawn from my life, but tons of stuff is completely fictional. I wrote Tully in a postpartum fog. Recently, I was talking to a mom who had dealt with postpartum depression, and she was like, ‘What ultimately pulled you out of it? Because for me, it was Lexapro.’ And I said, ‘I wrote a movie!’ I felt so pretentious, but channeling that pain is what brought me back to life.”

This article originally appears in the April 2018 issue of ELLE.

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