Every Survival Tactic for Surviving High School

... I learned while writing a book about the greatest high school movies ever.

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Rule No. 1: Suburban Outcasts Are Your Allies

I watched John Hughes movies over and over when I was kid. I imagined that films like Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful were exactly what high school would be like. Then, when I reached high school, I began to feel lost in the world. I was a weird kid who just wanted to read books and skateboard; I could hardly connect with anybody around me, whether they were my age or adults.

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There were a few notable exceptions: Allison Reynolds in The Breakfast Club, she made sense to me. I could relate to Molly Ringwald's Andie Walsh in Pretty in Pink, and Ferris Bueller's effortless—but still kind of dorky—cool while giving the middle finger to the adults who held him down when he was just trying to show his friends a perfect day. I so wanted to be like that.

Those things that mean so much to us when we're not adults but are told we need to start thinking like we are, they stick with us.

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The movies Hughes wrote, produced, and in some cases directed, helped me feel like I wasn't totally alone in the suburbs. The characters he created, along with characters from other '80s films—Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice and Heathers, or John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything…, who's unsure of anything in his teenage life except the deep feelings he has for somebody—all seemed very real and relatable to me.

Ah, Jake Ryan. A teen heartthrob out of reach for the most awkward of teens. Or is he?

Rule No. 2: Turn an Obsession With Misfits Into a Career

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Those things that mean so much to us in such an important stage in our lives—when we're not adults but are told we need to start thinking like we are—they stick with us. Those movies, those characters, and what they meant to me when I was their age, have stayed with me.

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I was always writing—scribbling nonsensical short stories when I was a kid and laying out punk zines I wrote by hand as a teen.[/pullquote

"Write what you know." Pretty much every teacher and writing workshop instructor repeats this mantra. You eventually hear it so much that you start thinking of it as cheesy advice that belongs on motivational posters in your guidance counselor's office.

John Hughes films possess a timelessness, a sense that all teens are cosmically linked by the same cyclical heartbreaks.

But it's not. It's actually one of the few bits of writing wisdom that worked for me. I was always writing—scribbling nonsensical short stories when I was a kid and laying out punk zines I wrote by hand as a teen. I couldn't figure out what I wanted to write when I moved to New York City at 23 to pursue a literary career. Then I went down a weird path: I decided I should write the biography of my favorite director, John Hughes.

Filmmaker John Hughes and a baby-faced Matthew Broderick in 1985. Photograph courtesy Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
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Rule No. 3: Fail and Fail Hard (It's Good for You)

Movies that focus on teenagers often have a common trope: the teenage heroes feel held back. They're always struggling to find out who they really are, and not who people think they should be. When I was 16, my mother moved 1,000 miles away from me. I hadn't talked to my father in nearly five years, and I was left to float around the suburbs, depending on people to let me stay with them while I tried to make it through high school.

I moved to New York City and my life became a big pile of notebooks and scribbled-on paper, and a whole load of experience in failing as a writer.[/pullquote

I eventually made it out. I survived my weird teenage years. I moved to New York City, and my life became a big pile of notebooks and scribbled-on paper, spent pens in my bedroom wastebasket, files tucked away on my desktop that I had no intention of reopening, and a whole load of experience in failing as a writer.

John Hughes perfectly captured the pain and thrill of being a teenager in any suburb. Photograph by Paul Natkin/WireImage

I tried to write a John Hughes biography and it didn't pan out. But I know a lot about John Hughes movies. So, I decided to write about growing up and connecting to Hughes's movies while trying to find my place in the world and failing a lot along the way. I screwed up and failed enough until, one day, I realized that I finally had a book I really wanted to write.

Jason Diamond's Searching for John Hughes will be available November 29 from William Morrow Paperbacks, $16. To pre-order, visit harpercollins.com.

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