distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Shredding the Old to Celebrate the New

Last night—while I probably should have been writing—I was home in the too-tiny apartment I share with E and I tripped over a carton of books I’d left on the floor because there was nowhere else to put it. This carton contained my author copies of Imaginary Girls. Another carton had been sitting on the coffee table for two days. I just got the author copies this week, and when they first came I tore open the cartons to look at the contents, but I’d just left the boxes there… out of part laziness maybe, but also denial.

What is it about a person—a certain kind of very cautious and superstitious person—who is afraid to embrace the fact that good things are happening? That they HAVE happened? That this is the moment and soon it will pass and maybe it should be appreciated now, before it’s over?

I post pictures online and it probably sounds like I’m celebrating, but really I’m not. Is it that I’m afraid to? At home, I’m very quiet about these things. When the book deal happened, I didn’t want to go out to dinner to celebrate right away. I’ve decided not to have a launch party. Here are my books and I’m tripping over cartons because I’m too nervous than I can admit to here. It’s very hard to explain this feeling and I wish I could put it to words, but I haven’t found a way to for months.

But last night, seeing the cartons, I decided that I was going to acknowledge the fact that this is happening. The book I worked so hard on—harder than I’ve ever worked on anything in my life—the book I love—my most favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life—the book I’m proud of… it was hiding in those boxes and I was going to let it out.

I decided that I was going to put all the books out on a shelf in the living room where I could see them every single day. I’ve been to other authors’ apartments and houses, and they do that. They display the books they’ve written in prominent places. I looked up and there was a shelf above the couch that would be perfect… except it was stuffed full of old papers and random crap.

I began cleaning off the shelf, putting the books in the bedroom and the electronics boxes on the top shelf, and then I came to the massive mound of manuscript pages that basically took up the whole shelf. These were old drafts of my old novels. Old outlines. Old edited pages. (This was before I began editing on-screen for most drafts.) There was the first, which I think I started writing in 1998, and the second, which had a series of drafts dated around 2005. Both of these novels were literary fiction for adults… never published.

I started shredding. I must have spent an hour shredded and ripping up pages. While doing so, I realized how symbolic it was and I tweeted this:

It wasn’t sad. There was no regret or anger at how things turned out or any bitterness. I’m glad I gave up those novels, really I am. And I was gladder still to shred those old drafts—all that hope stuffed in those pages—to make room for my book.

It was a strange kind of moment where I felt myself back in the past—in 1999, in 2005—having no idea I’d one day be here. It was a quiet celebration, but a celebration nonetheless.

Now when I look at the shelf, here’s what I see:

8 responses to “Shredding the Old to Celebrate the New”

  1. What a beautiful sight! I’m so glad that you are gradually learning to have the courage and the wisdom to celebrate you and your successes, which I’m sure will only continue to grow from here.

  2. Oh, Nova. I loved seeing that shelf! It’s the most wonderful thing. You know how people say that at each stage of being a writer another stage opens up, and you’re never really finished? (i.e., learn to do it, learn some more, write a crappy book, write another one but don’t finish it, get a job and get distracted, get back to writing, write a pretty good book and get encouraged but go no where, millions of letters to agents (I don’t think that’s what happened to you though), some interest, but not a lot, work on the book, find a crappy agent, waste a year working with the not-so-good agent on more changes to the book and, finally, find a great agent and then revise the book again, sell it — and good GOD, you’d think you could relax but you can’t. Actually, of course, you can, but it’s a hard one to learn.) Anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, and I’m looking forward to reading Imaginary Girls and giving it as a gift to lots and lots of people. xo

  3. Having read and loved the excerpt from Imaginary Girls a few days ago, and am still thinking about it, I am certain your book will live on many people’s bookshelves. Success is harder than failure for most.

  4. Good for you! And what a beautiful shelf!
    I’m getting ready to move, and have also been debating what to do with all sorts of old ms pages, and edits, and critiques. I don’t have a new book to celebrate, but I can imagine it would be somewhat liberating to recycle the whole thing. Hmmm….

  5. Those books look great on the shelf. What a wonderful way to celebrate your new books. I like living in a small space because of the simplicity and because stories like this.

  6. Dear Nova, You look beautiful in that shade of blue!!!! I’m so awesomely impressed that you have made this dream come true. You are an inspiration to all of us! Ethel

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