Last week, I had the exciting opportunity to attend Taylor Jenkins Reid’s author signing in Tampa. We don’t get a ton of author signings – at least for authors I’m excited about – here, so it was a thrill to meet her, learn about her newest novel, and hear more about her writing process. In fact, meeting TJR was exactly what I needed to get inspired by my own novel and to understand that most authors, no matter how many books they’ve already written, always have that fear of “oh my god, what am I even doing?”
TJR’s newest book, Daisy Jones & the Six, is an oral history of a fictional band from the 70s, and it’s a book I probably wouldn’t have been totally interested in if TJR wasn’t the author. I’m not much of a music person, nor am I into oral histories (and to be honest, I haven’t read the book yet, so I could end up not liking it!) but the way TJR described this book and her writing process engaged me completely. The most interesting thing I think I learned is that TJR isn’t the biggest music person either, but an idea to write an oral history just popped into her head and she went with it. It meant a lot of research about oral histories and music and drugs (she was really honest about how much she didn’t know about drug culture in the 70s, haha).
I was so inspired by this idea that you actually don’t have to write what you know. That’s what we’re all told, right? The best way to write is to write what you know. Your writing comes from a more authentic place then, it reads more realistically. And it’s not as if I disagree with that advice, but more that I feel like I was given permission to write what inspires me, not just what I’m familiar with. Even if it means many more hours of research and feeling like I’m flailing about. That’s okay because that’s the beauty of the writing process. We get to learn and experiment, discovering new ideas and testing out different characters.
I was inspired by TJR’s writing process, and how she described those hours and hours of trying to get the tone exactly right. I think that’s what’s so complicated about writing, how solitary it is. We just spend so much time in our own heads, crafting dialogue and plot and scenery, and just hoping we’re getting it right. Hoping it’s not boring or unrelatable or straight-up trash. Hoping this thing we’re writing won’t be another Word doc filed away on our computers, but an actual book that people can hold in their hands. A book that can heal or help or charm or entertain or cry over or stun. TJR had this crazy idea and decided to give it a try, but I can only imagine how much she had to fight against her fear and resist that little voice inside her head that told her she wasn’t good enough to write a book like this. We all have this voice, and TJR herself said that she kept thinking that she had no business writing an oral history of a fake 70s rock band. And yet… she did it. She wrote the book. She pushed through the fear. All we see is the polished, final product. We don’t see the blood, sweat, and tears. We don’t know what that first draft looked like. We don’t know how many mornings she woke up, sat down in front of her computer, and couldn’t get started.
During the question-and-answer part of the event, someone asked about TJR’s evolution as a writer. TJR started her career writing contemporary romance. Each book brought to life one of her fears as a newly married woman: what if something happens to my husband? what if we fall out of love? what if? what if? And then… after four sweet romances, she was done. She didn’t have anything left to say. At least in that genre. So, she transitioned to a different genre. She wrote The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and later, Daisy Jones & The Six, two novels that are completely removed from the romance genre. There’s just something so lovely and human in that. It reminds me to stay open and curious. Because romance may be the genre I find myself writing right now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve pigeon-holed myself. It doesn’t mean I can’t move into historical fiction or thrillers or dystopian YA in the future.
TJR’s author event was everything I could have wanted. She was a sweet, humble, gracious, and kind person. I couldn’t have asked for anything better! (Okay, perhaps I would have preferred that I hadn’t stumbled over all my words and acted like the most awkward person ever when she signed my books, but alas.)