It’s impossible to speak to someone about a book one has written. Marguerite Duras wrote this sentence in her penultimate book Writing.
Right after the publication of my first novel, I was walking on campus where I was taking an MFA in Writing. My classmates were asking for copies and telling me it was a great achievement. I felt, I don’t know — embarrassed? Not terribly excited? I was proud, sure; excited? That wouldn’t describe my feelings. Even when I got a few favorable reviews and gave readings from this novel my excitement was indeed already spent. I’d wagered it all in writing the book and for that explosion of temporary glee upon reading a letter of acceptance from a small Texas press.
I’m not entirely alone.
Over the years, I’ve asked published writers how they felt about their books being out in the world, so to speak. Most said they thrived on seeing the book out there, being read, and talked about; others, albeit a minority, said they’d simply forgot about the book and moved on to the next one. I’m in this last category.
For me, the excitement in writing is not the product, but the process. I love the writing of the book, the novel, but once it’s done — meh.
Elena Ferrante says this about one of her books in a letter to her publisher: “I do not intend to do anything for Troubling Love, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it.” Further on in the letter, found in her collection Frantumaglia, she writes, “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.” When I read that I felt validated, because not being enamored with your book once it’s published is to some akin to disowning a child. For me the book is not my baby, so I don’t have that attachment—at all.
This doesn’t mean I, like Ferrante, can skip marketing my work: I am no Ferrante. She is the highly lauded author of many novels including the Neapolitan novel series that is currently the hottest ticket in literary publishing. No, I’m small potatoes, the saying goes. I am a tater tot. So, I’m not so foolish to believe that once I finish writing the book, I, or the book for that matter, are done. I do want people to read it, and enjoy it. I find that exciting. But the book itself, not so much. I’m on to the next one.
Here’s a great article on the pull of the private writer and public obligations: