How Breakfast at Tiffanys Teaches You to Become a Classic Writer

How Breakfast at Tiffanys Teaches You to Become a Classic Writer

If I asked you the question, “What’s the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s about?” you’d probably say something like this:

“Isn’t Audrey Hepburn in that? And doesn’t she really want to have breakfast at Tiffany’s?”

Yes, she is, and yes, she does, but those things are not, in fact, what Breakfast at Tiffany’s is really about.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is about overcoming discouragement and fear. It’s about achieving a unique, compelling style. And most of all, it’s about fierce, do-what-you-have-to-do love.

In short, it’s about everything you need to succeed in your writing life.

How to Fight Off the Mean Reds

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly describes the difference between “the blues” and what she calls “the mean reds.”

“The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.

As a writer, you will get the mean reds. It’s guaranteed. If you are sharing the stories that need to be shared, you will get scared. You’ll doubt yourself. You’ll consider giving up and running back to the safe little life you had before.

The mean reds are the unanticipated fears that halt your progress.

I’ve been there. When I submitted a guest post at Firepole Marketing on creating your most compelling content, I felt the mean reds sneaking up on me. I felt afraid, and I didn’t know why. I wondered if I’d been too honest, and if I’d shared too much.

Fortunately, there’s a cure for the mean reds, and you can look to Holly’s personal antidote for a clue. Her response to the mean reds is to go to Tiffany’s. But why?

In her words: “[It] calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.”

Tiffany’s is a place of elegance, beauty, and most of all, craftsmanship.

When the mean reds strike, go to a quiet place. Think of a piece of writing that inspires you. Then, start writing. Do the work. You don’t have to finish, and you don’t have to say anything brilliant (though, once you get going, you might.) You just have to begin. You find your writing voice by…writing.

The antidote to the mean reds is proactive creation.

Attracting Fans with Compelling Style

Contrary to popular belief, Holly Golightly’s magnetism isn’t based in the pearls or the little black dress. It’s found in her charismatic personality, her winning smile, in the bold way she moves through the world.

The same is true for you and your writing. Crafting a compelling style is about doing the unexpected and making people notice. As Holly observes, “It’s useful being top banana in the shock department.”

In today’s terms, Holly’s ‘personal brand’ is one part naiveté mixed with two parts elegance, three parts impulsivity and a dash of humor. She keeps a bottle of perfume, a lipstick and a mirror in her mailbox. She sleeps with tassled earplugs. She keeps her phone in her suitcase to muffle the sound. These are small, idiosyncratic details, yet they capture viewers’ attention. Decades later, we still can’t look away.

Consider this in terms of your website, your writing. You need to stand out as yourself, with your quirks on display. Where do you do the unexpected? How do you take your interests, your personal stories, and use them as creative fuel?

Erika Napoletano promises readers free ponies when they sign up for her mailing list. (I haven’t received my ponies yet, but that punchy little false promise made me want to subscribe.) James Chartrand adds spice to her writing with pull-you-in analogies and provocative web design. These writers produce fantastic content, but it’s the small personal touches that serve as bait to hook readers in.

Becoming a Classic Through Fierce Love

Contrary to popular belief, the emotion that motivates Holly Golightly’s character is not romantic love. In fact, the happy movie ending we love so much doesn’t exist in Truman Capote’s original story on which the film was based.

What, then, drives Holly to do all that she does? It’s sisterly love. Holly’s character is shaped by her profound, protective love for her brother, Fred. Though Fred never appears in the film, he has a deep significance for our heroine.

Fred’s disability is only hinted at in the film. Holly says that she’s saving money so that she can take care of Fred, though she doesn’t specify why he needs her help. Most tellingly, Holly says people think Fred is, “a little slow…a bit dotty…” and that, “[the Army’s] really the best place for him until I can get enough money saved.”

Despite appearances, Holly’s gold-digging isn’t the work of a social climber. It’s the desperate effort of a sister who longs to provide for her brother. The vision of being reunited with her brother is what Holly holds closest to her heart.

In order for you to succeed as a writer, YOU need to have a vision. You need to have a goal you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to humble yourself and face potential rejection for it. Underneath the glitz, that’s what Holly is doing.

Every day, ask yourself: What is it that I’d be willing to get down on my knees for?

Whatever it is, that’s what you love. That’s why you write. That’s what will keep you going when you feel like giving up.

And that’s what will make you a classic.

Post by Caroline McGraw

Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist who digs for treasure in people. She blogs about finding meaning in your most challenging relationships at A Wish Come Clear.

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  1. Great title and ideas. Now I’m singing “Moon River” and trying to think of a happy place. I know the passion that gets me down on my knees, what I’m searching for is how to get up and keep moving forward.

    Humm, my writer’s group is having a “high tea” tomorrow to celebrate their 25th anniversary. I think I’ll dress up like Audrey for fun. I’m going to get me some pearls, make some gloves and a hat to celebrate. I won’t look like Audrey, but I’d bet she would approve. That should keep the “mean red” away!

  2. Mary, I love it! What style + sass. Congratulations to your group on 25 years ~ here’s to you!

  3. So, Caroline, you’ve made me want to:

    a. See Breakfast at Tiffany’s (I really don’t know how I’ve never seen it…embarrassing!)
    b. Fight for something worth fighting for and let it show in my writing

    Everyone needs to have a vision. It’s only then when your true writing abilities can show and as you say, make you a classic.

  4. Nice Post. It’s fantastic how we as writers, marketers or really any entrepreneur can look at one thing that everyone see’s mostly the same and come out with profitable and enriching lessons for all to benefit.

  5. “In order for you to succeed as a writer, YOU need to have a vision. You need to have a goal you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to humble yourself and face potential rejection for it.”

    Wow. You really hit me emotionally with that.

    I’ve started blogging recently and it’s the transparency, the bearing of the soul, and the potential for rejection that, I feel, has kept me from doing so for so long.

    I think I’ll Netflix “Breakfast …” too.

    Thank you for your effortless style. I almost overlooked that you’re actually teaching fundamentals. Very nice.

  6. An inspiring post. I loved the tie-in to the movie, and how well you used that to illustrate your points.
    To find something we are passionate about is hard. To be so passionate as to risk rejection and failure, and to accept our dreams may never be seen by others – that is harder still.
    Yet somehow, we keep writing.

  7. This post, along with James’ “Is Perfectionism Holding You Back”, were like sucker punches to the gut for me this week.

    My fear, and the mean reds, crept up on me this year. Where once I was fearless, passionate and driven, I now find little things holding me back. A series of unfortunate events blocking my path to success because I am letting them.

    When it dawned on me that fear of failure was a non-issue, but the fear of success had me paralyzed, I wanted to smack myself. Here I was lecturing all my friends that you have to do that one thing you are so passion about that money and time wouldn’t change a thing, That thing you love and are driven to do regardless of any outside circumstances. Writing for me is that one thing. Writing is my euphoric drug. I certainly can’t stop doing it, and wouldn’t want to.

    These two posts have reminded me of exactly what I am doing and why I am NOT currently doing it. That it is time to pull myself up out of this personal pity party I wallowed in all week and get over it.

    Thank you.

  8. Not too long ago when I met again R Omar a Somalian lady , it was yesterday during the African Prosecutors Association(APA)conference held in SERENA Hotel from August 11-12 ,2011. discussing on how they can help people to access justice . When I asked her if she still active through her pen tracking down Genocaires , she was about to scream….She replied to me that : none is will to fund that project any more. People are busy funding something else.I got chocked in a way that overcoming discouragement and fear was almost impossible for about 25 minutes I turned my pen on her again during our lunch because I wanted to achieve my unique way of dealing with situations before writing, simply because I love do what I have-to-do . Do you know her last reponse? brother I do not want to talk about it any more….So Overcoming discouragement and fear is a continous struggle of war.

    I love writing you know???

    Ntarugera François
    +250 788500199

  9. Caroline,

    Girl, you shined like a “Tiffany” Diamond on this piece! I loved the writing, the lessons and the parallels between the movie. Rock on!

  10. Great post. I think the point about compelling style could apply to character development as well–they need their own “small, idiosyncratic details” to keep us interested. (Then again, I suppose branding is a bit about becoming a character yourself.)

  11. Oh yeah, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with “the mean reds.” Sooner or later though, you have to silence the inner critic and just put yourself out there. Easier said than done of course. But I’m making my way 🙂

  12. Hell yes!! Being proactive is the only thing that gets me out of my “mean reds.”

    While nothing to do with writing, last year I was detained for two days in British customs (long story, it got solved). While I cried for a good million and a half hours, as soon as I started doing things to get me the hell out I stopped freaking myself out. I bought a return ticket home, I wrote letters, I was on the phone to friends in the UK. I took notes, I got back statements, I got lawyers.

    Basically, when I’m scared, it’s usually because I feel helpless. This could be because of my blog or the latest project I’m working on or some crap in my persona life. Whatever it is, the absolute best way to stop wanting to cry and scream and run away is to think, “Shit. I can DO this.” and take one tiny step to solve it.

    Works like a charm 🙂

  13. When you have made the decision to come out onto the web, or write anything for that matter, we all get a case of the mean reds once in awhile. It may slow us down, but hopefully doesn’t bring to a full stop. I really like your line about “doing the unexpected and making people notice,” – so true! We can be tempted to fall into the mode and emulate everyone else, but to stand out, you need to be different and have something you can bring to the table that is unique. Nice post!

  14. So well put, Caroline! The “mean red” attack us all…Keeping the goal in mind while taking another step forwards keeps it all going and growing.

  15. Thank you Donna! 🙂 Here’s to beating the mean reds + becoming a classic.


  1. […] writing is my way of ‘taking down a musical instrument’, my way of counteracting the ‘mean reds’ with proactive creation. Sharing this story with you is my way of bearing the […]

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