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Just Write: Diablo Cody’s Improbable and Unstoppable Rise

By Kevin Nelson · May 23, 2022

Seemingly out of nowhere, Diablo Cody burst onto the writing scene with a style no one had seen before.

For many writers, it’s hard to be vulnerable on the page — and even harder to share that vulnerability with the world.

After all, these pages contain our deepest insecurities, wildest fantasies, and darkest traumas. For many of us, writing is an act of catharsis — a necessary way to grapple with all of life’s difficult twists and turns. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and honest in your work knowing others will both criticize and cherish it. 

For a while, Diablo Cody was okay with this.

Born Brook Busey in a suburb outside of Chicago, Cody started writing at a young age — at just 10 years old, she typed out an entire novel about teenagers living in the San Fernando Valley. Eventually, she went to college at the University of Iowa where her writing teachers recognized her talents but considered her lazy. 

Cody told Wired:

“He [the professor] said, ‘I think you’re the best writer I’ve ever taught. But I’ll never hear from you again because you have no ambition.’ I never intended to get my writing out there. I always thought of published writers as honor roll students — the real overachiever types. I never intended my work as a springboard to anything else. I write because I’m addicted to it. It’s my confessional.”

Despite being discouraged by her teachers, she still wrote in her spare time and created the blog Pussy Ranch, where her voice shined because there was no editor to hold her back. She always had a fear of being rejected, so self-publishing on the internet allowed her to be free from any constraints of editorial criticism. She wrote about her time working in Minneapolis strip clubs, offering a woman’s perspective on an industry usually viewed through the perspectives of men.

Her words were rich with sharp sarcasm and honest sincerity. Her writing style and voice attracted manager Mason Novick, who approached her about writing a book. He was able to line up a publishing deal on the strength of her blog writing alone. 

She continued:

“Without Mason, none of this would have happened. I’m not awesome at self-promotion. Mostly I was just blogging in my own little bubble. I’m lucky I did what I did when I did it.”

She wrote her memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper at the age of 27 and shortly after, Novick encouraged her to try her hand at screenwriting. It didn’t take long for the world to notice. 

Scripts from this Article

Juno

Diablo Cody wrote Juno over several months, finishing in February of 2005, and it was optioned by the summer. Around that time, several raunchy coming-of-age comedies became huge hits — but they were all centered around male characters. Juno was the female counterpart to films like Knocked Up and Superbad which largely depicted underdeveloped women. Ultimately, the woman is the one carrying the baby — and Cody allowed her character to make her own choice. 

Cody always found hilarity in awkward situations, silences, and forced politeness. The idea for Juno came about after she thought of the ultimate awkward encounter.

“I was kinda sitting in my kitchen in Robbinsdale, and thinking about the image of a teenage girl sitting across from these uptight yuppies in their living room. They’re basically auditioning to be the parents of her unborn child. And I was like, that’s possibly the most awkward thing I could imagine, and it is therefore hilarious. And I wound up building the film around that image.”

Juno marked the first collaboration between Cody and filmmaker Jason Reitman and earned Cody the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. 

Download the script

United States of Tara

Before Juno’s premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September of 2007, the screenplay had already made its rounds and earned her work thanks to the strength of her voice leaping off the page. It earned her open writing assignments and interest throughout the industry. 

One of those opportunities came in the form of an idea from none other than Steven Spielberg. 

Spielberg entrusted her with an idea had with his wife Kate Capshaw about the compartmentalization of the human psyche. United States of Tara is a series centered around a mother who struggles with dissociative identity disorder. They wanted a relatable take on a tough topic and thought that Cody would be the perfect person to tackle the disorder with a daring sensitivity. Good choice.

Download the script

Jennifer’s Body

Shortly after the premiere of Juno and before its public release in December 2007, Diablo Cody sold Jennifer’s Body in October 2007. Jennifer’s Body would be Cody, Reitman, and Novick’s follow-up to Juno as a team.

Jennifer’s Body is a horror comedy rooted in feminism. It wasn’t well-received by critics upon its release, partly due to marketing mishandling. Cody paid homage to horror conventions and the films she grew up loving by turning them on their heads. Horror is inherently feminist, with the final survivor often being a woman. Instead of women being terrorized, they’re both the heroes and villains of this story.  

Cody wanted to speak on female empowerment and allyship, which in the wake of the Me Too Movement, provided the film with a rejuvenated appreciation from audiences and has since gone on to cult status. 

Download the script

Young Adult

A recurring question that Cody faced during press tours had to do with her focus on coming-of-age stories based on adolescent characters. 

So she began wondering:

“Am I stunted somehow? And so as I thought about my own life, I thought, “Gosh, that would be a great character—a woman in her 30s who writes young-adult fiction and does in fact cling to deluded teenage fantasies in her real life, and is obsessed with recreating her teenage years come hell or high water.”

She wrote the script for Young Adult on spec and sought to make it realistic on a personal level so mothers everywhere could relate. Cody and Reitman aren’t just professional collaborators, but friends — so that means they share drafts with each other for feedback. Reitman’s movie Labor Day was pushed back, which opened up a window of opportunity in his schedule to direct Cody’s script with Oscar-winning actor Charlize Theron in the lead. Everything came together in six weeks. 

Cody thought to herself:

“I must be dreaming!”

Download the script

Paradise

After Young Adult was released in 2011, Cody wrote a short film called The Magic Bracelet and performed an uncredited rewrite on the Evil Dead (2013) remake. She followed these with her directorial debut with the film Paradise, originally titled Lamb of God

Cody often finds the characters first and forms a story around them, which is why her protagonists are so relatable. She was intrigued by taking an innocent, sheltered character who never experienced life outside of her strict religious upbringing and placing her in the wildest environment imaginable: Las Vegas. 

Cody again makes use of her love for awkward situations, setting up the film with Lamb renouncing her faith in front of her congregation. 

Download the script

Ricki and the Flash

The protagonist of Ricki and the Flash is inspired by Diablo Cody’s mother-in-law, who has rocked New Jersey bars for decades with her band. Cody always saw a movie in the aging rocker, and decided to write a script about an estranged mother who gave up her family to pursue her dreams — but never quite made it. 

She also wanted to write a strong character for an actress over 50, knowing that opportunities are rare to explore well-rounded characters. Cody was working on her own complicated feelings about balancing her profession with motherhood, wondering if her kids would admire or resent her for being a filmmaker and not always being there to pick them up from school. 

Cody told her mother-in-law about the film on Mother’s Day. 

What a gift.

Download the script

One Mississippi

One Mississippi was co-created and co-written by Diablo Cody and Tig Notaro and is based on Notaro’s experience of being sick with an infection, being diagnosed with cancer, and having to deal with her mother’s death — all in a very short amount of time. Her fictional protagonist heads home to heal and learn about her family’s true history.

Notaro and Cody display a tender balance between heartbreak and comedy, where jokes are told as a defense mechanism against the pain of the trauma. The show only lasted two seasons but deserved far more. 

Download the script

Tully

Cody wrote Tully to try and deal with her difficult pregnancy. The act of writing became a place of refuge whenever she felt overwhelmed. She pitched the film to Jason Reitman but didn’t think he’d be interested because they had already made two films about motherhood. 

Reitman pointed out:

“… that ‘Tully’ would be the logical final installment in our (unplanned) trilogy — ‘Juno’ is about being prematurely thrust into adulthood, ‘Young Adult’ is about resisting adulthood, and ‘Tully’ is about finding grace and acceptance in midlife.”

The script for Tully felt like it saved Cody’s life during a trying period. For so many, the act of writing is catharsis and a way to deal with the trauma and stress of our everyday lives.

Download the script

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She learned a tough lesson over twenty years ago and it still reverberates through her life and work today:

“When I was 20, I had a job at an academic summer camp for gifted high school students, sorting their mail and care packages. I was at a point in my life when I was depressed and friendless and lonely—I had no direction. Being surrounded by these bright young kids made me feel even lower because it reminded me of my squandered potential. I sat at my desk all day, avoiding interaction with people. 

 

But two weeks into camp, one of the teachers, who was a very charming Southern gentleman, stopped to talk to me. During our conversation, he told me he had cancer. He was such a strong, cheerful man, even in the face of illness. I didn’t understand how someone in his position could be so positive. So I asked him, ‘How are you so happy?” He said, “Well, I never waste time asking myself, ‘Why me?’ Instead, I ask, ‘Well, why not me?’ 

 

I had spent so much time asking myself questions like “Why don’t I have a boyfriend?” or “Why am I so lonely?” But after we spoke, I realized that no one’s entitled to anything in life. Bad things happen; good things happen. That could sound depressing to some, but rather than being a statement of resignation, I think of it more as a battle cry: “I am not my circumstances.” How we deal with loss and pain is what really makes a difference in our lives. Ever since that conversation, whenever something happens to me and my knee-jerk response is to ask, “Why me?” I immediately hear that man’s Southern drawl saying, “Why not me?”

Diablo Cody didn’t aspire to win an Academy Award, nor did she seek fame or fortune. She just wrote. She never thought her words would find an audience, she just put them out into the world and they came back to her because her words have a magnetic energy to them.

They draw you into the shoes of her characters as they journey through a world much like your own, with issues and problems that seem insurmountable. Yet, you find strength in her words. Resilience. A tenacity that cannot be denied.

After all, why not you?

Your script is your battle cry.

Just write.

Make your voice ring true.

Scripts from this Article