confessions / fiction / memories / novels / publishing / writing

You Are Not Your Book? I’m Mine

I’ve been called “weird” a lot lately. Not always unkindly. I’ve just noticed that word thrown around a lot on my Twitter feed and in reviews.

Weird. Strange. Creepy even.

Oh I know, no one’s saying I’m weird (or creepy, for that matter). They’re talking about my book.

But I wrote that book. That book came from me. I’m on every single page.

I guess I don’t get how authors can remove themselves from the books they write once they’re out in the world, though this is what you must do for your own sanity. Professionals tell you this—for when your book goes out on submission, to when it’s read and reviewed and once it (hopefully) makes it onto library shelves and into stores. Isn’t that the advice you hear? You are not your book. Don’t take it so personally.

Here I am to admit to you that I’ve never been so good with that concept. Especially with Imaginary Girls. I really actually am this book. Maybe only people I know can see that—my little sister, my other half, and oh especially my mom sees it—so maybe you don’t realize.

Besides, I don’t want to separate myself from my book. I want my emotions all tied up in it even if that’s dangerous. I don’t want to numb myself to this book because I’ve done that before. Quite a few times.

You see, I actually have written fiction that is entirely separate from me. So separate I wrote it under a different name. So separate that I wrote it “on assignment” with someone else telling me what to write. I was informed what the characters wanted and looked like and were named and/or what movie script plot to follow, beat by beat, with images of famous actors for reference. When you write on assignment like this, you have to remove your emotions entirely from the process. You have to basically be willing—and eager, because your paycheck is riding on it—to do whatever someone else wants and not be upset when they want something you don’t. Or hate what you wrote. Or you hate what they’re telling you to write.

One time I wrote a licensed book on assignment, a book that was supposed to be funny. The editor said she liked what I was doing and thought it was great. But then the manuscript got sent to the licensor for approval and feedback—that’s the Big Famous Studio that owned the characters and story I was writing about. Well… they hated it. They hated it so much, they didn’t want the book published at all. Not just not by me… by anyone. The whole project got canceled, though I got a kill fee. I remember overhearing the editor telling someone why the book got canceled: “They said it wasn’t funny. They thought their writers could do better.” (Their writers could have.) But I remember overhearing that and thinking: She’s talking about me. She’s telling everyone I got rejected so badly by this Big Famous Studio and I suck and I should never write anything again.

I was upset for one hour. They don’t think I’m funny! I thought. (In actuality, really I’m not so funny.) They want to write it themselves! Then I realized: This book had nothing to do with me. It was absolutely separate from who I am as a writer, who I really am and what my real writing is like. I numbed myself, divorced all emotion from the work I’d produced, and then went to the bank and cashed my kill fee. Maybe I bought a pair of new shoes with part of it, who knows. All I know is that was that.

That’s what writing a book that’s not you feels like.

I’ve also written books that made studios and editors and licensors happy—that was the only time I failed so embarrassingly—but I learned from that experience and kept my feelings in check at all times ever since. Meaning I wrote with only the emotion needed to get the assignment done. No more. I did not let those books get inside me. They did not carry my name, and they weren’t me, and I didn’t really care when they were published because I’d already been paid and I’d already bought my new shoes (or sent in my student loan payment or the rent check or whatever).

Then I chose to stop. I quit writing work-for-hire. I chose to write the books I wanted, the books that were mine and mine alone. Even if I never got paid a cent again.

Something happens when you write fiction from your heart. You expose yourself on a platter, handing yourself over to strangers with all your grotesque bits sticking out and you can’t expect everyone to think you’re pretty.


That book Imaginary Girls? That’s me.

And that book I wrote before it, Dani Noir? Some of me found its way into that, too.

And the book I’m writing now, the one I’ve been working on all these months? Me.

I’ll tell you this: Every book I write from now until infinity is going to be me. (A side of me at least, because I’m not just one thing.) And it may not all be pretty. And you may not all like my book me. And you may think I’m creepy or weird. But you know what? I’m not going to waste my time writing something fake. I quit doing that years ago. So I may take reactions personally and measure my worth up against my book’s… but it feels so much better than being numb to it.

Here’s where I admit that I’ve put my whole self into Imaginary Girls… It’s a risk, but after what I’ve written before, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besides, I am a little weird. That’s true.

23 thoughts on “You Are Not Your Book? I’m Mine

  1. So true. No matter what people say, it’s us writers who have our souls on the pages for the world to see.

    Things are different to what people presume to tell us. Sometimes it annoys me. Other times I just shake my head and go back to spilling more of my soul.

  2. If you want authentic, how can you NOT write yourself into a story,a poem, or your book? I write across lots of genres, but there’s something of me in the dark stuff, the humor, even the ordinary. I couldn’t take myself out if I tried. (Well, that’s not true…I’ve written a ton of web content and I’m pretty sure “Do Owls Keep Predators Away?” did not have my signature in it).

    So, I agree completely with you–and now I’m off to find your book!

  3. Thanks for this honest post, Nova. Years ago I learned to own my eccentricity. To embrace it. Writers sharing emotional truth is what makes us react to story. It makes us FEEL. I’d rather shudder than be numb as I’m reading a book.

  4. This is very true. If you write from the heart, write the books you want to write, you can’t separate from them completely. For me, I think the trick to handling people not liking my books is less about separating myself from the books and more about realizing that only the most bland and boring things are enjoyed by everyone. Interesting things spark strong emotions, negative or positive, and people have different tastes. For everyone who doesn’t like my books, there are (I hope) many more who do. I try to focus on the fact that many readers do like my books…

  5. Thank you so much for posting this, Nova. I’m so deeply entwined with my books too. Glad to know I’m not alone and other writers feel this tightly bound and impossible to separate from what they write.

  6. All I can say, Nova, is thank you for being weird. I loved Imaginery Girls, so I think I would love you very much. I especially saw the sister connection (I have 2 younger sisters so I guess I related). I am also from upstate New York, so can sort of relate to the scenery as well. And last but not least, I have been called weird all my life. Not creepy, but weird. And now I write. Guess writers are just misunderstood by the rest of the world. That’s ok. Keep writing girl, you are GOOD!

  7. I love this post. It helps me articulate what I’m feeling now, working on my writing. A couple days ago, I realized how much I loved the main character. She wasn’t just my brainchild, in a way she was part of me.

  8. Who wants to read a book that’s completely divorced from the person who wrote it? THANK YOU for putting yourself into your novels, and for being willing to stand up and own that. Writing is one of the most personal things I can think of – your fingerprints and handprints and heartprints ought to be all over it. That’s what makes it so amazing!

  9. Pingback: The Self-Imposed Page 1 Rewrite | Nova Ren Suma • blog

  10. I think this is kind of our motto at ‘Welcome to the Asylum.’ In fact, it’s kind of why we exist at all. We’ve never understood authors who don’t think this way. Great post!

  11. Isn’t this why we want to write in the first place – to write something we feel deeply about, and hopefully to have it validated by the world? Worth more than money. (Of course, a enough money to let us write the next thing doesn’t hurt.)

  12. I think you’re absolutely right. As much as I’m willing to take criticism and see how my work can be improved to make it more appealing or to get my point across in a better fashion, I am still in every word on every page.

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