confessions / fiction / novels / voices in my head / writing

When You Start Writing (Again) Only for You

Something happens when you publish a novel for the first time. And I mean after the shock and thrill of selling the book and all those glorious and dazed dream-worthy moments leading up to when the book hits shelves, all tangled up with your hopes and expectations and the promises you may have been led to believe… I mean after, when people outside your writer friends and your agent and editor and significant other and the people who work at your publisher start to read the book. When you see how it performs in the world. How it’s taken, remembered or forgotten. How it’s interpreted, or misinterpreted.

All these other voices start seeping in. Critics. Reviewers. Bloggers. Readers. Goodreads-enthusiasts. Tweeters. Screamers. Whisperers. People at events who ask kind of odd questions. People who sound disappointed. People who seem confused. People who say beautiful things—even and especially the people who say beautiful things.

Maybe this is just me, but I started hearing a lot of voices after Imaginary Girls was published. When I was writing the next book, 17 & Gone, I was hearing them. During every draft, on every page, I was hearing these outside voices, considering their expectations and their confusions and their hopes and their dislikes and likes and food preferences. The little cocoon I used to write in was burst open and slashed by fingernails. I was never alone. My mind was never quiet, even at a writers colony. I couldn’t stop hearing all the things I would do wrong, would screw up.

I fought this and finished the book and it was published… But the experience changed me. I vowed to never put myself in that place again.

When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself. This led to me choosing a new publisher: Algonquin Young Readers. And this led me also to be honest with myself about what I wanted to do this time. I wasn’t writing for recognition. I wasn’t writing for commercial success, or should I say “success” because the idea of that changes with every new hoop I jump through. I stopped caring so much—honestly, I began to not care much at all—what would be expected of me from my next book or wanted from me or what would disappoint. I wanted to write this story the best way I could, and nothing more.

Like I’ve said before, I wrote this book for me. Completely and entirely for myself, in the way I wanted it to be. And in these past months while I’ve stayed quiet on this blog, I was revising and working with my brilliant editor who helped me reach my vision, and the book was finished, polished, sent off, and copyedited. Next there will be ARCs.

The other week, while I was reviewing the copyedits, I allowed myself one last read-through of the manuscript. A close, careful read. A scrutinizing read. A chance to pick myself apart and be honest about how I felt about what I’d written.

I kept my ears open for those voices I remembered flooding me during the writing of 17 & Gone.

…But there was a clearer voice. Mine. And I finished my last read of my book with this strange, new, itchy feeling inside me.


I’ve never felt so content with anything I’ve written—EVER.

I found this note on the last page of the copyedited manuscript:



It was wonderful to see that, and I will never forget it.

But the best feeling was knowing I stayed true to myself… and after a whole ton of work, because yes I did work hard on this, I was able to make the book into everything I’d wanted it to be. I stood there on the creaky, slanted, wooden floor in my living room, and I felt myself in my own skin, the weight of my well-read pages in my hands, and I told myself to remember this moment.

No matter what happens after (after the book comes out, after, after, after), I have this.

Remember the good things, writer friends. Hold them close. Keep them safe. Try not to let the outside voices drown them out.

25 thoughts on “When You Start Writing (Again) Only for You

  1. Nova, of course after hearing this, I can’t wait to read your new work, but you’ve really hit on a wonderful truth. We are so good at listening to voices, even that “other” voice that exists in all of us, the one that is only to happy to pipe up and derail us. Writing, the belief in our words and in ourselves, necessitates a high level of energy and drive and it all happens from within. We have no one other than ourselves in those dark moments of doubt to nudge us back on track and prevent a derailing. It can be exhausting, but isn’t it wonderful to get through all that and stand at the end knowing you’ve been up, down, sideways, and hold in your hands and heart that incredible sense of accomplishment and pride. A joyous moment. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for writing this, Nova! It’s a great feeling to know that I’m not alone. I’ve been fighting a similar feeling for a long time and I’m just now starting to work through it. Your blog is a favorite of mine and I always look forward to a new post. Good luck with everything🙂

  3. I find it interesting that 17 & Gone features a protagonist who hears voices, and while writing you were struggling to silence the voices over your own writing. Thank you sharing this, Nova! And I cannot wait for your new novel. That tidbit we got at Djerassi was just not enough.❤

  4. You always express so beautifully and honestly the real experience of writing. I am so excited for you to have had such a rewarding experience from being true to yourself. You know we’ll all look forward to reading this one when it comes out.

  5. Thank you, thank you for this post. Your words gave me a huge boost.🙂

    Very happy for you, that you found such contentment and satisfaction with this story. Looking forward to reading it!

  6. Nova, Thanks so much for writing this. You are stating my exact path as I wrote my first two books. I’m onto my third now and am absolutely writing for me again. I suddenly remember why I wanted to write at all.

  7. This is a wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and experiences. It means a lot to those of us still reaching for the dream. I’m so excited to read your new book and to see you again in September!

  8. Great thing to read! I know as I’ve tried to sell one book and then moved on to the next I think about what I want but also about the market and how this book may fit. But we all have to stay true to ourselves if we’re going to continue and enjoy what we create.

    Thanks for sharing this experience Nova!

  9. *Hugs*❤ You are amazing sweetie. I loved reading this post. And I cannot wait to read your new book; as I adore you and your writing🙂
    Love, Carina Olsen

  10. This was beautiful. What a vulnerable, touching reminder of what we all, as writers, would do well to remember: write fpr ourselves first. Not a trend, not an agent, not even the audience, though some might argue, but if you don’t love what you’re writing, then you’ve got nothing. Good job. And your editor’s note really makes me want to read the book!

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  12. This made me tear up because I have problems with expectations, whether they are my own or someone else’s. Thank you.

  13. Thank you for this post. It gives me hope that staying true to myself while working on my story will lead to good things. Satisfaction!

    I’m writing it on my blog… I have no editor, no training, just a story that I have to tell. If you ar interestd in reading it that would just make my day. I would love to hear from a young writer who has actually published a few books. That is so awsome. I think I’ll have to read them now. Were should I start? with your first book or the most recent? Can I get them in a book store or only online?

    Have a nice day. And congratulations on the ”Note to Author.”

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