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Lena Dunham on Creating From “The Parts of Me I Find The Most Shameful”

The acclaimed HBO series “Girls” was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series.

I have appreciated the perspectives of creator and star Lena Dunham on being multitalented, and on using many of her “neurotic” qualities (which we all have, after all) for writing about the lives of a group of young women in New York.

In a conversation with actor Claire Danes, Dunham talked about her creative work as actor and writer.

Danes: “Do you identify yourself first as a writer-director or as an actor? Or are they interchangeable?”

Dunham: “I think I’ve sort of made it all into one giant job where all of the parts feed one another. I remember going to see Les Misérables on Broadway as a kid. I was so jealous of the girl that got to play young Cosette, but I never had a moment where I was like, Oh, that’s something I could do. I just felt like, Oh, that’s what certain people can do. I also never got good parts in school plays, and it would incense me to no end, but I was like, ‘I’m not cut out for this.’

“I started writing plays, and I would be all of the characters in my head, but I never auditioned or anything. It was only when I started making short films in college and I was looking for girls to play the me-ish parts that I thought, Well, maybe I’m just going to try doing this myself before somebody else comes in and handles it.

“For a long time my acting was just a marriage of convenience between me and these characters that I was writing.”

Dunham says she went to college “with this idea that I wanted to be a poet…I was a creative writing major, and I would organize a lot of really intense poetry readings and slams. There was a lot of embarrassing audio footage of me, like, reading my poems in a slam voice.

“Then I started writing plays, but the fact that plays don’t last forever was too much for me to bear. At Oberlin, you’d put on a play, and it would have a three-day run… I’d always loved movies, but it wasn’t some sort of desperate love of celluloid. It was literally like, I want to write things, and I want people to see them more.”

On acting: “I play these girls who are close to me, but they’re the parts of me that I find the most shameful, or the parts of me that I kind of want to excise. So I sort of distance myself from it. I have the comfort to feel free and un-self-conscious. I sort of go, ‘These are all the awful parts of me that I don’t get to talk about all day. Here she is.'”

From Lena Dunham By Claire Danes, Interview magazine.

Video: Producer, writer and director Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham from the Sundance Channel series “Iconoclasts”

In the video, she affirms, “I always write about things I’m scared to confront.”

Psychologist Carl Jung and many other depth psychologists and writers have developed ideas about exploring and using our personal shadow: “the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide” which also “displays a number of good qualities such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.”

From my post Filmmaker So Yong Kim on Facing Her Unlikeable Parts When Writing.

Another post on the topic: Dancing With Our Shadow to Develop Creativity.

Also see related post: Using Fear and Anxiety to be More Creative.

Like John Cheever and Larry David

The photo at top is from the article Lena Dunham Addresses Criticism Aimed At ‘Girls’, NPR, May 7, 2012. The caption includes: “The New York Times, in a piece about Dunham, compared her writing to both the novels of John Cheever and the comedy of Seinfeld creator Larry David.”

The article notes she was “just 23 years old when her second feature film, Tiny Furniture, won the best narrative feature prize at the South by Southwest Film Festival.”

Dunham commented, “I am a working woman out in the world, but I still live with my parents half the time. I’ve been taking this long, stuttering period of moving out. … I feel like I’m constantly asking them to please stay out of my work life, but also to please bring me soup. It’s this weird moment where you just don’t have a sense of what age-appropriate behavior is because there is no age-appropriate behavior.”

In another section of the “Iconoclasts” program, both she and Apatow talk about their OCD.

While they may actually be experiencing the disorder, some people say “I’m OCD” when they are just unusually obsessive.

Developing creativity and realizing creative ideas usually takes a degree of obsession. Creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD asks, “Suppose a person is caught up thinking day and night about her current painting or about the direction she wants to take her art? Thoughts about painting ‘intrude’ as she balances her checkbook or prepares her shopping list. She can hardly wait to get to her studio and her rhythms are more like Picasso’s on painting jags than like the rhythms of a ‘normal’ person. This artist is obsessed in an everyday sense of the word – and more than happy to be so!”

From my post Creative Obsession.


Lena Dunham on Creating From “The Parts of Me I Find The Most Shameful”

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Lena Dunham on Creating From “The Parts of Me I Find The Most Shameful”. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Oct 2012
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