Gamechangers Emily-Anne Rigal and Jeanne Demers worked together to develop the recently released novel, FLAWD. The novel, takes readers through a journey of self-acceptance. Rigal and Demers answered some important questions about self-love, the novel writing process and what it truly means to be “FLAWD.”
In your eyes, what does it mean to be FLAWD?
Emily-Anne Rigal: We are all perfectly imperfect. The main message that Jeanne and I received when reviewing the teen-made WeStopHate videos was that flaws were the biggest thing holding young people back from full self-acceptance, because they would look in the mirror and only see their flaws. We challenged ourselves to write a self-esteem guidebook that would “re-brand” the idea of all of us being FLAWD because none of us are perfect, and it is critical that we can embrace the whole of ourselves.
Jeanne Demers: To be FLAWD is to be human. We’re all working the exact same material, just the details vary: We all wish we were different than we are in certain ways, we all feel like we come up short in certain ways. That’s part of what it is to be human.
Accepting something about ourselves can be very, very challenging. But being a good friend to ourselves even if we don’t like everything about ourselves is something we can all work at. It’s a skill–the skill of being your own best friend, flaws and all.
What was the inspiration for this book?
EAR: This book was inspired by the teen-made WeStopHate videos where teens told their stories about overcoming bullying experiences and sharing their favorite confidence tips and tricks.
JD: Those videos are amazing, so entertaining [and] at the same time so heart-felt and sincerely helpful. The voices in them deserved to live in a book in addition to the videos, so more people could benefit from them.
How did you two develop the concepts?
JD: I remember being in Emily-Anne’s dorm room at Barnard. We knew we wanted to turn the WeStopHate videos into a book somehow, so we were watching them [and] identifying what the main message in each of the videos was. We were writing them down on Post-Its.
We got all those Post-Its up on her wall and started moving them around into categories. It was very colorful and fun. At the same time, it was a real brainteaser. Eventually we could see what the chapters of the book would probably be. We didn’t want it to be just a quote book, so we got busy figuring out how to write a guidebook around the things they were talking about.
What was the collaboration like between the two of you?
JD: Emily-Anne and I have a really easy back-and-forth. We’ve known each other for six years, [and] worked closely together on some important projects, so we just get each other.
EAR: Yeah, we know each other really well, and we also have a similar style when it comes to how we put things into words.
JD: We talk things through, blab and blab on Skype. Emily-Anne processes things out loud and is very repetitive, which I really appreciate. It helps me be clear about what we’re doing.
Then I go off and do the writing. When it gets to a point that it’s a shareable piece of writing, I send it her way and then we go over it together. Unlike me, Emily-Anne is really good at keeping things simple. I suffer from what’s called “scope creep.” Scope creep is when this leads to that and that leads to this other thing and…yeah, I get too far afield from the place we started and can’t even remember what original intention was. Emily-Anne is like a laser. She knows how to reel me back in.
EAR: That’s so true! We are a great collab, really. [We] have fun. I think [it’s] because we both know how hard the other works, and we respect what the other does so well. We trust each other.
JD: Yes, and there’s no problem around being honest with each other. Emily-Anne will tell me things about myself, but the way she says it is so easy. She’ll just laugh and say, “Nobody’s going to notice if you spend another five hours making it 10% better. It’s good enough. Move on.” And I’ll be all, “I know, I know, I can’t help it. Let me take one more pass at it.” We laugh. We laugh a lot actually.
What is the main message you’re trying to convey through this book?
EAR: The main message is that we are plenty good enough to be a light in the world. We are good enough and ready enough and important enough just as we are to make a positive difference in the world. We really are.
If you could give one piece of advice for people who are having trouble accepting themselves, what would it be?
JD: Well, I found this out after finishing writing the book and I think it’s so interesting. As humans we are wired to be on the lookout for what’s wrong – so we don’t get taken by surprise attack and killed.
The problem is we turn this way of protecting ourselves against ourselves. We think we need to keep ourselves safe from ourselves, we need to be hard on ourselves so we can make ourselves do better, safer, more okay in the world. And we are wrong about that. Or we’re going about it wrong anyway. The advice I’d give is accept that self-acceptance is a very challenging to pull off, and that’s why it’s a skill. You can get better at it by noticing how you’re talking to yourself and changing it if it’s not nice enough.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
EAR: Don’t give up! Big dreams are fully possible to achieve, but take time. It is good to start small (WeStopHate was just a YouTube channel at first!) and then grow from there.
JD: And what I would say to an aspiring author is write. Write without any objective other than to “just see what comes out.” And don’t judge it on its way out of you as “good” or “bad.” You get to play editor later, [but] not while the muses are being invited to visit.
I’d also suggest reading. Inspire yourself with the great writing of others. I’d even suggest mimicking their writing style if you really like it. Again, just to see what happens. I remember reading something and noticing how much I enjoyed how short the sentences were. I tried writing more like that and it became part of my style.
What was the most rewarding part of the whole writing process? The most difficult?
JD: I’ll start with what I found most difficult: The mucky middle. After amassing a whole bunch of ideas on, for example, the chapter that was about “playing with your perspective,” I remember trying to take those ideas and turn them into something that was worth saying – something genuinely insightful and helpful. I remember my niece was over and I looked at all my hanging folders filled with ideas and looked up at her and said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, Taylor. I don’t know what I’m doing.” There were too many great ideas, and I had no idea how to proceed, how to go about choosing some and bringing them together into a message.
What was rewarding was staying with it (when what I wanted more than anything was to throw in the towel), and all of a sudden seeing that a piece of the book had come together into something not just okay, but what I would call really well-written. I remember thinking, “I can write. It’s going to be okay. If that can happen with this troublesome section, it can happen in the other places that still need a lot of help.”
What kept you motivated during those difficult times?
JD: Our literary agent retweeted something by a man named Josh Hanagarne: “Sometimes it takes thousands of words to figure out where a book is going. It’s not wasted time. Still good writing practice.” That really helped.
Also, what kept us motivated was knowing that the teen quotes we were working with were really special, and we wanted to create as great a guide book around them as we possibly could to honor them.