Why Do Writers Make the Decisions They Make? A Q&A with author Caroline Kitchener
March 15, 2017
by Fran Webber
I sat down with Caroline Kitchener, and we chatted about her soon-to-be released book “Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College,” in which she follows the lives of five young women in their first year out of college. Read all the way to the end for her advice to young authors!
Q: Was it weird writing about yourself?
A: Yeah, [it’s] sort of just starting to dawn on me that people I don’t know are going to know things about my life. Up until this point, with a few exceptions, the vast majority of people who have read the book have been people I know. So that’s going to take some getting used to. I think that when I wrote all the stuff about myself for the first time, [my approach was] to write everything uncensored. And then I thought I would go back and edit, thinking about the way that different things would impact different areas of my life. But I didn’t end up editing as much as I thought I would because I wanted it to be really honest.
Q: So was that a hard decision: to include yourself in the book? Or that was just natural?
A: No, it was a hard decision. I originally wasn’t going to at all. It wasn’t until I had graduated and I was maybe three or four months into my year that I had a conversation with my editor, and she was like, “Caroline, I think you should put yourself in here.”
It also started to be really obvious that [including my story] was something I had to do when we were experiencing so many of the same things. [For example], the whole loneliness factor.People started bringing that up and, and it was interesting because my other friends weren’t so open with each other about that feeling. I don’t think anybody wanted to say, “Oh, I’m lonely. I’m having a really, really hard time.” But because I was interviewing these people I knew that about them, and I thought, “Ok I’m feeling the exact same thing. I need to put my feelings in here too.”
I think the point at which I knew I had something—something good that could help people—was when I really struggled myself. The six months right after graduation were the hardest that I had ever gone through. And I had to go through that to realize: This is the purpose of the book. There are other people who are feeling this way and just don’t want to talk about it. The purpose is those people. So my first few months after college were really hard, but it was good that I went through them because it made me feel like I know what this book is.
Q: I wanted to ask how you think that it frames the book that you guys are all from the Ivy League.
A: I think it was important that we were all from the same school. Because we all are coming from the same place. My editor and I wanted to take “Ivy League” out of the title because we were worried that women who didn’t go to Ivy League schools would think the book wouldn’t relate to them. And I don’t think that’s true at all. The women [in the book] struggle a lot, and I think all women struggle a lot during this time. So I didn’t want people to think it wasn’t going to connect.
Q: Is there a reason why you wanted to focus on women specifically?
A: Now, having written the book, I think that guys will connect with it as much as girls will because guys also really struggle with this year. Originally, I pitched this book when Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s
Q: So this sort of follows on what we were just talking about, and some themes you brought up earlier about loneliness. Do you think that’s something women particularly struggle with? The whole independence/dependence thing?
A: That’s a good question. It’s hard for me to say—first of all, because I only followed five people, and, second of all, because I didn’t follow guys. But one of the biggest takeaways for me was that everyone [in the book] gravitated towards relationships and prioritized relationships. Everybody either started a romantic relationship or continued one that they already had. And that was something that played a really central role in the year to an extent that I didn’t expect.
I think it was surprising to me how much we wanted to rely on other people and how much we wanted that support system. Colleges drill into you that independence is the thing to want; independence is strength; independence is success. On the other hand, dependence or relying on other people is not something that you’re taught to want. So I think we all wanted [our romantic partners] to play a central role in our lives, but we weren’t sure if we were supposed to want that.
I think that sort of feeling—like, oh, we’re not supposed to—is even stronger for women because, for example, I moved to D.C. [after graduation] because that’s where my boyfriend’s job was. And people were kind of condescending about that. People were like, “Why are you doing that? Why are you going there of all places? Do you really want to follow him?” And then I saw lots of guys doing the same thing, and it was always like, “Oh, you’re such a sweet boyfriend. You care so much. Wow.” So there’s that. I think that pressure of “I’m not supposed to want this. This is bad for me,” is stronger for women. But that’s just my sense. I don’t have data on that.
Q: So I just wonder if, writing this, you had any thoughts on how you’re representing millennials?
A: I think this book might freak parents out. A lot of parents I know send their kids to good schools thinking, “They’re going to graduate and they’re going to be set. They’re going to have a great job and they’re just going to have a great life, and we’re not going to have to worry.” And that just doesn’t happen. What I hope other generations will take [from the book] is that we are exploring and wandering and finding it difficult….so be supportive.
Q: To me, it seemed like one of the themes of the book was really about what it is to be become an adult. So I was wondering, if going through this experience changed your idea of what it means to become an adult.
A: I think that adulthood comes later. We’re in this weird in–between space right now. For this book, I thought a lot about transitions. It’s obviously a huge one when you graduate and start a job and you go out into the real world for the first time. But I think there is a sort of allowance for exploration in your early and mid-twenties that doesn’t really correspond with what we think of as adulthood.
When you hit your upper twenties, which I see as starting at 27, it’s sort of like, “Huh, 30 is looming, and I have to figure stuff out.” And it’s time to get serious. I’ve got to decide: Do I want to get married? What do I actually want my career to be? Enough jumping from career to career, which many, many people that I know are doing right now.
Q: To me, it seems like this whole emerging adulthood period is because we don’t know how to define adulthood anymore. So that’s what we’re trying to figure out, is what it means.
A: I mean, [adulthood] means something different to everybody… I do see myself getting married. I do see myself having kids. So I associate [adulthood with] all those things. But now, everything is changing so much. Many people I know don’t want to get married. Many people I know don’t want to have kids. So that can’t be [what adulthood is]. I don’t think I have a good answer. To me, it means those things, but also it means picking your career and thinking: This is what I want my path to be. I’m still not totally sure. I see a couple different paths that I could go down, and I see adulthood as committing to one of those things.
Q: I was wondering if you—being a young author—have any advice for young authors.
A: First of all, there’s a lot of luck involved, and I benefited immensely from circumstances, as I think that just everyone in this world does. But, in terms of advice I would say, if you are in college, take advantage of the fact that you are in college. You have writers—and professors who write—all around you. That is how things happened for me—seeking out journalism professors and getting to know them, learning from them and creating relationships with them.
When you’re in college, you’ve got so much going on. You might not take advantage of the community of people who want to help you—people who are established in their careers. Office hours are so often just empty. So for you writers who are in college, use those resources.
Caroline Kitchener is an author and journalist living in Washington, D.C. She graduated from Princeton in 2014 with a degree in History and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Caroline is the author of “Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College,” forthcoming in April 2017. Her freelance work has appeared on The Atlantic, Vox, and The Guardian.