Like meditation, writing helps to clear the mind by transcribing emotional clutter onto the written page. The writer becomes a witness to his or her past behaviors which then paves the way for fresh thought and perspective. Join Vanessa in conversation with Drew Barrymore as they discuss the power of writing as a portal to creativity and self-discovery. On the heels of her recently launched blog, Drew shares why she turned to writing, a budding art form of human expression, after one of the most difficult times in our world.
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Vanessa: Early on, when this whole thing was just starting to happen, you just kept saying, just been writing, like, I just, I don’t even know what to do. I’ve just been writing and it felt like something that was just, like bubbling up inside you, right? You didn’t sort of say like, what am I gonna do? I think I need to go right. Like it was like, I could just see that creative energy just pouring out of you. When did you just realize this is something I have to do right now
Drew: Well, I always wanted to be a writer that was like, since I was a kid, like I brought Steven Spielberg, not to name drop, because I hate name dropping so much. I’m like, really, you know them.
Drew: It just genuinely happened. He like took pity on me. He was like, Oh, well, your mom takes you clubbing I need to give you some wholesome balance in your life. And he became like my godfather, not legally or technically, I don’t even know if that’s a thing. And and it’s certainly not ordained. But he just took on a very paternal role to me. So I would show him my writing all the time, when I was like seven, eight years old, I would write little screenplays and stories, and he would read them. And it just was so validating it, I didn’t go to school. So I didn’t have teachers like that I was doing on set schooling for a couple hours a day. And so I never had that sort of education, scholastic kind of repertoire, and like, you know, experience with writing. And then I became a producer at 19. And the biggest thing that I knew was I didn’t want to schmooze with the pretty people. I just wanted to hang out with writers because people can hear pitches all day long. They too may never see the light of day or manifest. But if something’s written, everybody goes from blind and curious to Oh, I know what this is. It’s like immediate, everyone’s on the same page, sharing the same vision, the writing is like the temple. And once that temple is created, you’re off to the races. And I’ve just loved writing. And then I’ve had, you know, my best friend Nan, who you’ve met and know. She always whenever I would have a problem in life, like I can’t figure this out. She’d be like, right? And I’d be like, Oh, I’m so heartbroken. I can’t even like think straight or function. Right? And she, she was such a journaler. And she was like, what a teacher I think does for you, which has convinced you that writing is this cathartic outlet and the power of letters. I mean, so much of my life, I can trace back to a letter I wrote that changed everything. I’ve been a big, like, type it out handed over here is my letter to make this thing happen. Letters matter. They move things. They’re a needle mover. And they’re so forgotten. I mean, nobody writes letters anymore. It’s so sad. I know you do. I’ve started to try and write a couple of letters. Once a week I write someone a letter. Oh, look at you. You’re so sexy. You just are of course you do. Can I By the way, being someone I’ll pen pal with you from a block away.
Vanessa: How cool would that be? If we pen pal? Literally, we could paper airplane them from my house to yours?
Drew: Well, I’m big on the postcards with the girls. So I’ll just write your postcard. But I saw I finally like my big bucket list thing to do always was right. And then finally, and since we’ve known each other, I wrote a book. And it was like the biggest deal for me. And then right after it came out, I got divorced. And it was just one of those things where this way if I really wanted to ride and celebrate happen right at this moment that I’ve never been more internal and lost and quiet and scared to speak or afraid to take a stab. And it just shut this avalanche that was brewing and me down. And I hadn’t written a thing. And what was interesting was we’re on these hamster wheels go go go and something like this crisis and pandemic happens and we are no longer allowed to function in our usual way. And they think we think that that is the death of inspiration, but what it might be is actually the quieting of your habitual things that stop that make room for something else, to rebirth and that was what happened for me in writing. All of a sudden, I just came back after a five year hibernation and I kept looking at the nature and everything was going from winter and honestly dead into blooming and becoming alive and and it takes in nature, that evolution in order to bloom and come alive and we’re doing that in this beautiful dual path. And through the most extraordinary circumstances sometimes comes the most extraordinary parts of you, where the others have to go away. You can’t do it all. And you can’t do it all at the same time. I’ve gotten in trouble for saying you can’t have it all women didn’t like that. I was like, Oh, no, I don’t mean it like that. You can have it all. Yeah, but can you like, well, you literally can’t do it all at the same time, and things will have to give. And so maybe creativity and inspiration is the same and we tend to force it. We’re scared when it’s gone. But what happens when we get quiet? Does something else come up from the left or behind it? And surprise us. And this is a time where, when we’re not under normal hamster wheels, maybe we can make room for something that didn’t have the room. Otherwise, I’m really feeling that strongly now, too. It’s like what is this creating room for? But one of the thing that’s, that’s so striking drew about you, is your capacity to actually be honest and real. Has that always been? Is that just you? Or is that you know years and years of writing and journaling and trying things out? And what why do you think you’re that way? There is a chasm between my ridiculous insane I can’t stop myself from caring about how people think and feel to wondering what they’ll think about something I want. I want I’m gonna do or I want to do, I don’t you know, it’s the ego don’t get in your ego. It’s such bullshit. That is the superego. The ego the ego is such a toxic place. And I will say growing up in Hollywood was like, the best life lesson to me all of the concern in the wrong direction and people knowing what people thought of them or that people thought of them at all. I was like, Oh my god, this is so toxic. I can’t I will never fall prey to this. But it was also like a good springboard for like, you know, that Pippi Longstocking kind of ballsy. Like, I don’t know, if there’s a glass ceiling, I’m just gonna hop around here and try not to hurt anybody. So I I’m glad at the places I grew up in, they gave me a lot of perspective on the things to be brave about and, and, and the mostly the things to just not be so concerned with. If you’re obsessed with your own staff, everybody’s equally obsessed with their own staff getting out nobody cares. Like, just don’t be so caught up with that. And you’ll be paralyzed with thoughts and feelings that may not even be accurate. So you’re actually working in falsities? I mean, oh my god, it’s just the most dangerous place to play. Keep all of it out. So you can be in touch with your own gut. And if you’re not so screwed up inside like I am, and there’s not enough mental gymnastics to survive your own scrutiny all day long. Don’t invite anyone elses in. Yeah, I know. It’s dark enough in here. I don’t beat ourselves up enough, right?
Drew: Oh, my God, I would never treat anyone the way I treat myself. It’s sick. They have a couple of questions here about writing. People who have tried to write books want to publish books don’t have budget to my god books start with a short story. Good advice. Jesus Christ. I’m scared to write a book too. I mean, I did write a book, but I still kept it in. And by the way, I didn’t know this is that it’s their personal and real autobiographical. They are essays, short stories or fiction only. So, but I just think that I’ve read so much poetry and short stories and essays as well growing up in my voracious appetite for literature. That that was that to me, never seemed like a less than endeavor. And it was a great way to sort of give myself a book and I had no idea that like a 2000 to 4000 word count a day was probably going to flow I would never get started on like, 100 words. 1000 I don’t know. You’ll start to find your rhythm. And don’t beat up on yourself. If it’s like 1000 words, it could be 6000 words like I think blocking out time if you block out time to exercise, why not block out time to do this? There is a very long standing of history that mornings are the best. They are crisper. They are clearer. I definitely think there’s a level of fatigue. It seems like a lot of the most famous writers especially women who are struggling with families like I woke up early to get it done. And I think there’s something about that time in the way that the mind and the body are connected. There’s something very electric about that time. I’m a rebel to grammar, I just want to write the way that my head hears it. And the way that I would say it, if I was giving an orientation, that is the way I write, writing, the way that you would say it out loud and mean it to sound is a good place to start when writing. And don’t write for anyone don’t I never have written like to say, if you’re out there reading this you to me, I assume no one’s ever going to read it. And I don’t even want to admit, I think someone might ever read it. So I never call out to anyone. And I try to leave the generals not there and just keep owning everything I’m saying. I want to acknowledge a couple of questions here. Lina, and Nan Dini. It’s so interesting. Both of your questions are I have this passion, I want to write something. But I’m a little afraid to put it out there. I’m afraid it’s not perfect. I’m afraid of rejection. And I think drew is telling you like, take that. Take that off. Just go for it. And nothing exists until it does. I’m making a talk show. I haven’t really talked about it, ironically. So people don’t know about it. But I say in the production meetings. I’m like, I don’t want to talk about this. Let’s just go do it. You filming on an iPhone, it takes five minutes, then it’s done. And everybody’s looking at it. And they’re like, Oh, yeah, but you can literally talk yourself not only to death, but right out of the idea to just do it. And unless you’re revealing something, that you might have some repercussions you are not wanting to bring into your life, there is no reward without risk. But this is also a time to just throw the rulebook out, and they’re like you’ve never dared before. If not, now, I’m not sure really, when…?
Vanessa: I love the story in one of your blogs, when you’re in Hawaii, and you’re lost, and you finally find your space and you I’m going to read it here. I literally danced I shouted like a caveman who had just invented fire. And then you go on to say I’ve been an independent traveler ever since seeing places around the world without fear. So go ahead and get lost. It’s the only way we can find ourselves. Honestly, Drew, and I’m afraid to take a leap I think of you and your fearlessness. You know a lot of the questions and the comments are really reflecting that, like I think I want to I’m a little afraid to take that leap.
Drew: Do it, just do it, you honestly and again, unless you’re about to reveal, like you’ve cheated on her husband, and there’s gonna be some horrible outcome from it. Like, why why not the risk, why not get started on your life, on your dreams on your wishes, we have to pack it all in. We are we don’t know that we’re gifted all the time. And not knowing when it is that we’re all going to do the same thing, which is eventually pass on somewhere, hopefully, so fantastic. We have to give all this up to get there. And we just don’t know when that’s coming. And this is a time when we’ve been stuck in a space. really thinking about the daunting ness of mortality. Some moments, I don’t know where to find my hope. And some moment I’m like, you know, this is a great time to just say, you know what, Hey, sweetie, just do your thing. And I just know that there are so many lives to live in one life and you. You just have to live it. There’s just no reason to be afraid. And I I have a dark side I have doubting devils I have beating up on myself. I’m not devoid or absorbed or free of any of that stuff. I think I’d just rather have a panic attack about something I did rather than something I didn’t. But do you think about structure and how you do things? Is there a way you do things? Or is everyone overthinking it?
Drew: No, no, I definitely I tend to write out what I think is the name of the story. That’s like first and I’m hoping that I might write a few notes here in there. A lot on post it notes, jot it down in my phone, just write it down on a piece of paper, just a get some little seeds that you a sentence, a key story point. And those things will trigger the memory of Oh, I wanted to incorporate that I don’t want to fit in you just grabbed a little butterflies in your net of things you don’t want to forget and they don’t have to be in order. I personally, the way I work is I just I know kind of from the story that I’m going to follow it in a logically linear manner. But I may not tell the story that way. But I’ve got the beats of what the, what is the beginning, middle and end. And then I love like a lack or a lack of chronology. I love going here, but only to end up there. But I think if you have the logic in your head of what it is, you’re trying to tell the story, the time, the place, the things you’re trying to convey, then you can dance and you can be free, I don’t think I would enjoy writing so much. If I had to do like beginning middle and end or keep it chronological. Sometimes I get lost a little bit too much in a tangent. And when I reading it back, I’m like, Oh, I this is not connecting enough. And you cut stuff out. Uh, definitely edited, like a few times before it’s finished. So you know, sometimes I meander, and I’m like, I’m not even following this. And I know what I’m trying to say, this sucks. So have your little seeds, and then you plant your garden. And it to me, I don’t think it has to be meticulous. I don’t think there has to be rules, you just have to remember what is that title? What is that? That crispness of those words that are going to be exactly like when you read the story, you’ll understand that title, like it will be a summation that will make sense it’s not random, and then be free with it a little bit. Because otherwise, there’s a rigidity that starts to lack like emotion. Because when you start writing, it’s like something swells, you hear that music, you feel that cacophony within and you’re like, Oh, shit, I mean, I, I, I cry. And I laugh when I’m writing. Because I know, in that moment, oh, I’m getting to something very real here. And yet, I’m not even that calculated about it. I wrote on the back of my book, we all have our stories to tell, these are mine. Everybody’s stories mean something. to them and other people, nobody is less important. Also, nobody is less interesting. Nobody has a struggle that isn’t valid. I know people’s life paths seem so drastically fortunate or so drastically unfair. And I still hope that there is merit in both people telling their story. It is all relevant. Everybody feels the same way. And interoffice romance is the same feeling that two kids in high school like feel the perspectives and the narratives and the details can be vastly different. But I believe the feelings are so comparable.
Vanessa: Yeah. There are a couple of questions coming through about journaling and asking whether you journal and I love that question. Because the journal to me, you know, it’s like, what’s the difference between writing and journaling? I think journaling implies it’s not for anybody.
Drew: I agree with that. I think it’s an exercise, and it’s a private thing that is only for you. Yeah, I journaled a lot growing up, I have all my journals still to like, hundreds of journals, and they mostly just are so stupid and talking about like, boys. And you know, I was such a love junkie. But there was a lot of good poetry in there. And I even put one of the poems at the very beginning of the book. And I’d like to read, go back and visit that everything at that time in your life. It’s, it’s as powerful as anything you’ve ever known up until that point, but I will look at the poetry because that was where I would like hit a stride. And it was because I wasn’t trying to tell a story I was trying to convey a feeling. I am obsessed with the dictionary and a thesaurus. And so poetry is such a great way way to use those words. descriptively and to convey a feeling that’s like a whole other field. I would love to do a whole book of the Old poetry I wrote, I don’t journal anymore. I don’t have time for it. It’s the same way when I’m not reading novel after novel. I love cookbooks. And I love short stories. And I love magazines, and I love articles. And that’s about the amount of bandwidth I have. And I definitely if I wake up and I can get that window, I run to write because I know throughout the day, I’m going to struggle to find it again. And then I think if it’s like you become like a greyhounds at the gate with a little bit of rabies and foam in the mouth too, you know, and you’re like, I’m ready, I’m ready. And I think there’s something about all those little seeds that you’ve gathered. And then again, if you wake up and can get a window, you’re ready to pounce. It’s all that percolating that goes on inside of you. And like put the post it’s down the story ideas and the titles and the this and all those memories that jogs like, grab that falling star of a memory. Okay, that will go in there. And before you know it, you’ve got this whole little egg carton full of eggs to work with. And you’ve like the gates open and you’re off to the races. Yeah. What’s on your must-read list? You know, some of the authors that you love, just think you remember reading that, that moved you or changed your opened your eyes in a way before children. For children? Yeah, you have, I have many books stacked on my on my dresser. They’re very pretty. I need to go to the bookstore. And when I finished a book, which I do, you know, but I used to read a cup, like several books a month. And now it’s like, I’m happy if I could read in a year what I used to read in a month. And that’s just, that’s my reality. I loved Kurt Vonnegut, and Joan vontae, john Conte and Joan Didion, and Charles Bukowski. Those storytellers really got under my skin, I love their voices, I loved their stories, I related to their screwed-up ness. I felt really screwed up when I was younger. And I knew that I was and I weren’t like an honor badge I didn’t know that I didn’t really beat myself up for I hope. I hoped i’d grow out of it one day and become a more accountable, responsible person. I’m getting there. But they’re looking at you mom holding down the fort. managing it all being creative, creating a home for your kids, you’re doing it. Thank you, I have fought to get here. Every saw my plans did blow up in my face. You know, when I had two young kids, so I had to face things. It wasn’t like I had kids and I got it all together. I was like I had kids, my life fell apart. I had to relearn everything. And it took a really long time and but I loved reading the classics, I wanted to know why iron Rand was important. Why just say ASCII or Pride and Prejudice was so important. And it’s so I hooked into writers that I loved and that I wanted to read everything they ever wrote. And then I really wanted to just attack every classic I could. And I if it was 800 pages, I knew that it was important. And somehow I was just going to get through it. And some felt more medicinal than others. But there’s just nothing. I mean, there’s nothing like that feeling of like finishing those tones, or just like, I mean, I just it’s like I could dry hump those books and throw them up in the air and shoot them and light them on fire. And I’d be like, that’s right. I loved it so much, it was the best and then I would write my name in it.
Drew: And I would put it up on the shelf and I swear to God, I like I will give you the shirt off my back, I will hand you the keys to my car. If you touch my book, I will cut you. They’re really important to me. Book spines transcend me into I have no sense. My mom was a big reader. And so I just was like every hallway. Everything was just piles of books everywhere. And I have bookshelves all over the place myself. And I’m really protective of the books that I’ve read. And they mean so much to me. They are journeys, they are lovers, they are friends, they are relationships, they’re I mean, I mean, when I read a Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, I was like, I’ve never cried so hard reading a book. I couldn’t get through it at the end. And why is F Scott Fitzgerald important? Um, so I was not very good at reading like current literature. I wanted to go back in time. So I’m still not always knowledgeable about Did you read that new book come out? That came out? No, I didn’t even know it did is it good. I will go buy some of those books. If I’m hearing a lot about it. And I maybe Catcher in the Rye was one of the first big classics I read when I was 14. And I was coming out of a real hard time and I just thought if books can make you feel this not alone, then I need to keep going. I just never stopped reading. Everywhere I went. Everything I did was about reading and I was self taught. So it was like I felt a responsibility but I I really enjoyed it too. It didn’t feel like homework. I just loved it. It’s so much of who I am. But I’m not miss current bookie person. I read cookbooks. That’s what I do. I’m running a test kitchen, I read the recipes, I read the author’s notes, I read how it’s all done, I get in bed with my glasses every day, I wanted to thank you so much for being with me, it actually really helped my heart today to just talk to you. And if you haven’t read Drew’s blog, you should read Drew’s blog. It’s so beautiful. It’s so inspiring. There’s so much view in it drew I just love love reading it. I mean, I could go on and on picking out little bits of the blog that I love, I really, the one that I really, really like is the one that starts with your usual morning routine with your girls getting them off to school, and how you’re self-taught that you really you know, taught yourself and that you value school for your girls. Yeah, that this time is hard with the school sort of school sort of not school. Hard, hard. Managing, we have a couple minutes, I want to know how you’re doing. Just I found such a lifeline and an anchor and something to believe in invest in something I’d never had the luxury of in my life. And so it feels really high stakes for me and everybody, but I know how lucky I am. And I just feel like everyone is going through the same thing. And and I’m on the lucky side of the perspective. While I’m fine. It’s all good. We’ll figure it out. I just want to do the right and same thing by the kids. Well, you know what I do also suggest reading something funny. I read a lot of comedy books, whether it was written by Peter Farrelly, or I’m, I’ve just brought Allie Wong’s book out, like just read some funny stuff. It doesn’t all have to be the heavy stuff. If anyone hasn’t read Tina Fey’s bossy pants run, if anyone hasn’t read Trevor Noah is like born a crime. Run amazing. Read the light stuff, because it doesn’t have to lack in any intelligence or depth. It just provokes a different emotion. And we all need that right now. Can you tell us about your show, because I know that’s gonna be bringing joy to people all the time, I’d love to hear about your show. And then I want to know, if you have another book in you.
Drew: I hope maybe this blog will make it into a book. And I always idealized and fantasize about having a book like it just seems so Julie and Julia to me. So I attribute it to that. And I. And ironically, the blogs really started after the you know, the crisis of 911 was a huge onslaught of people’s creativity in that time. So I’ll be really interested to see what I think a lot of social media is that outlet for people like the platform is already designed, so people are taking it. But incredible art always comes out of some of the most horrendous situations. And not that my writing is I’m just saying, I’ll be interested to see what the world produces, at this time in reaction to everything that is happening, which is a lot of when blogs started back in the day. But um, yeah, I have a talk show. And I work on it every day out here. And it’s so exciting. And I’ve talked to you about it for a long time. And it’s been a year in the making. I can’t wait for everyone to know and understand and see what it is because we’re kind of throwing some of the rule books out the window, which is great, and not formulaic, and will keep us all on our toes. But I definitely will be making my application of I’m excited to learn every day I can in life and to do that with heart and humor. And that is definitely what this show will be based in. But how are you? And how are your kids? By the way? You know, you said it, right. It’s challenging, but when you think about what we have, what end of the spectrum we’re on in terms of like the problems we have, we’re good, you know, we’re gonna learn and grow from this. And you know, challenges are good in that way. So we’re fine, but I miss my friends. I know. I know that has been one of the hardest things to maintain, if anybody feels like they’re not seeing or talking to their friends, because you’re with your kids you’re trying to get work in and then by the end of the day, you’re so fatigued and fried. Like the last thing you want to do is get back on another zoom. And it’s just so funny to see the evolution like I was able to write so much and see everybody on zoom and now it’s like I’m fighting to write and I never talked to my friends.
Vanessa: I love you drew. I miss you.
Drew: Thank you Vanessa, So much.