distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

On Being Exposed

I’m feeling a little naked lately, with Imaginary Girls getting read by early readers and me stumbling over the things being said about it—sometimes when I mean to be looking (I have peeked), and even when I don’t mean to be looking at all. Imagine what it must have been like for authors before the internet, before Twitter even. Would I so easily come across a stranger openly saying what they thought of what I wrote? Like on a street corner? On a park bench? Would they stuff notes under my door, tagged @novaren so I knew they meant me?

The photos in this post are self-portraits taken by my favorite photographer, Francesca Woodman. She used herself as her main subject, exposing herself first, making it so no one else could. Her story is tragic and I wish she kept living and taking photographs. So many of her images resonate with me. I feel like I know her, but I don’t. I can’t. Maybe none of us could.

I don’t think I posted this here, but Kirkus gave Imaginary Girls a star. I was shocked and didn’t believe it was actually real for days.

This post says things I can’t articulate. (Also, if you like YA dystopians, you should read her book, Divergent—it comes out next month and I thought it was fantastic. In fact, it kept me from writing my own book for many hours because I could not physically part myself from the ARC until I reached the last page.)

I read what she wrote about fear and I felt completely recognized.

I was shy as a teenager, but in a way I was more courageous than I am now. I’d share my writing with whomever asked. I’d meet friends for writing groups and we’d read our poems aloud to each other—I was never shy to do that—and I felt a clear assurance that I was a writer. I was one then and I’d grow up to be one. That was never a doubt. I believed in myself then.

Then something happened to me in my twenties. Maybe it had to do with getting my MFA so early (I would argue too early), and how vicious the workshops could sometimes be, or, later, with the rejections from literary agents on my first two attempts at adult novels. But I began to grow more closed off. It was rare I’d show my writing to friends—often they had to beg me, asking again and again and again, before I’d hit Send on an email. I didn’t believe in myself then.

I do believe in myself now, but I also feel petrified at the thought of being read. And exposed.

Still, I’m honored whenever anyone chooses to read the book. Thank you.

Don’t look below if you have an aversion to nipples.

11 responses to “On Being Exposed”

  1. I love the succession of the photos and how they relate to the development on exposure in your writing life. The last picture looks VICTORIOUS! (or orgasmic–or relief, but in any case, not fearful). Annnd I love the new look and feel!

    Veronica Roth’s post is also amazing. She speaks the truth, and it was exactly what I needed to read.

  2. Yay nipples!

    Yay star!

    Yay that you have KEPT WRITING, even after all the drudge (and thanks for pressing Send a few times to me during those dark days- proud to have helped)

  3. You really (re)claimed those photos…thank you for sharing. I’m not an exhibitionist, but I’d love to have a bigger audience for my writing. 🙂 Enjoy all aspects of your experience. xx

  4. That fear of being caught out in the open, nowhere to hide – it’s a killer, ain’t it? But I’m very, very glad you take the risk, Nova. However big that risk feels to you as a writer, it certainly feels like it pays off spectacularly for me, the reader, and I’m thankful.

  5. Love the new look for the blog, Nova! And as always, thank you for these posts…I read them now as if they are study material. In another year I will remember them, come back to reference them, and look to you and your shining STAR YA debut for reassurance. Is it weird to say I am so glad we are contemporaries and I get to know you like some reader of yours in 100 years will wish she could have? 😉

    Also, I think you should make t-shirts that say: “Don’t look below if you have an aversion to nipples.” 😀

    • Wow, thank you so much for that info! I haven’t seen the doc, so I’ll go check it out asap. I went to one photo exhibit of hers years ago, at a small gallery in Midtown (maybe you saw it too), but I am THRILLED to get to see her work at the Guggenheim next spring.

      Thank you for posting that!

  6. OH, Nova. What an amazing post. Those raw workshop MFA days never really go away do they? They just become… material. 😉
    I can’t wait to read your book. You’re a STAR!

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