I'm going to try to write a chick-lit novel in less than a month. I need your help.

Novels, stories, and more.
Sept. 8 2009 11:09 AM

Saving Face? Or Losing My Mind?

I'm going to try to write a chick-lit novel in real time. In less than a month. And I really need your help.

Read Saving Face  as it unfolds.

Illustration by Deanna Staffo. Click image to expand.

Next month, I will start covering my 10th Supreme Court term for Slate. That seems an apt time for some very serious reflection. Or maybe not. When we were told to take time off from our everyday beats to do some kind of ambitious, long-form journalism, my first instinct naturally was to do something legal. Then I thought I'd like to do the hardest thing I could imagine. Which is writing a novel and filing it chapter by chapter as I go. And that's what I'm going to do, with you watching and helping. And I'm going to try to finish in less than four weeks.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

Some folks think writing fiction is easy. And as I started to describe my fiction-writing project to people, I discovered that at least a quarter of my friends indeed have an unfinished novel someplace on their hard drive. This astounds me because as my kids will tell you, my idea of plotting fiction is to just keep talking until they've fallen asleep.


After much thought, I decided that the best genre for me to attempt is post- Bridget Jones, oops-there's-my-underwear-on-the-outside-again chick lit—because I'm a sucker for it and also because it seems slightly more doable than vampire erotica, about which I could not hope to become an expert in a matter of weeks. (For years, the joke around my house has been that there are two stacks of books on my side of the bed: One pile is about torture, Guantanamo, and military tribunals. The other is bright pink.) I am fully aware of the raging battles between those who take pink books seriously and those who do not. This project seeks to sidestep that entire literary debate by being fun for its own sake.

Of course chick lit is not a single genre. So I aspire to produce a book belonging to the fraught subgenre that's come to be known as "mommy lit." This subgenre is a cross between Bridget Jones and The Bell Jar. At its best, mommy lit is warmhearted escapism with a subtle poke at women who try to "have it all": Allison Pearson's I Don't Know How She Does It and Fiona Neill's Slummy Mummy are classics for good reason.At its worst, mommy lit is just another volley of back-and-forth sniper fire in the mommy wars—a prettily wrapped admonition to quit your job, if you have one, or get back to work, if you don't.

One of the things I want to probe in this month of writing is the question of why we see chick lit as an escape. What is it about women who are overscheduled, underappreciated, and who at some point become invariably compromised by an undergarment, that appeals to us? What does it signify, if anything, that men prefer to read about protagonists who slit terrorist throats from the deck of a yacht anchored off the Maldives while sipping a Makers Mark out of the navel of a pole dancer?

There are some mommy-lit conventions I will try to embrace—the humor, because funny women writers are, I believe, the book world's greatest gift to 21st-century women; the generous girlfriends; the kids; the tilting-at-perfection; the Legos. But there are some others I may try to subvert: the plot arc that holds that women always want too much and always have to settle for less; the cliché that armed with nothing but her grandma's Grand Marnier cheesecake recipe, any woman can start a profitable small business from her own suburban kitchen; and the notion that every woman in America is married to a worn-down and beleaguered 36-year-old male who dedicates what little energy he has left to being a more intuitive parent than his perfectionist wife.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.