wild colonial girl

A freelancer moves to Castlemaine

Grieving for the book: stage one=denial

A beautiful bookshelfMy (somewhat lazy) goal of writing a blog post once a week has fallen into disarray this past month as the reality of doing paid work (along with a structural edit of my novel, and my toddler starting to talk and climb up on tables) has started to hit home. One of the reasons I started the Writing Mothers series was because I wanted to see how other writers coped.

There have been ups and downs.

When the structural edit came back from the editor, I had a good bawl. A friend says that you are entitled to have one tantrum with your publishers and it’s best to save it. For when you see the book cover. So I bit my tongue. I had a good sleep and looked again at the suggestions. A week went by and some of the comments started to sound quite good. As I began a rewrite, the work started to reshape and it felt wonderful.

I’ve never been good with criticism. Even when it’s delivered with finesse (as this was). Writers often say they are missing that outer layer of skin. I feel exposed to everything and everyone. Any negative comments hit deep while positivity and praise washes off. I thought this might change as I hit my 30s. But now I’m 40 and nup. I want to know how to get over that before the book comes out. But perhaps it’s best not to think that way. To embrace the vulnerability, once and for all.

The thing is, though, I am good at bouncing back. Perhaps that’s the key. It might hit me hard but after a week I’ll be ready. To look at things clearly. To start again with passion. If there’s a chance the writing will be better, in the end I’ll give it a go.

Edwina Preston, The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer

My review of Edwina Preston’s book appeared recently in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age.

And then there’s the high points. My first critique was published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age (a review of Edwina Preston’s The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer). I didn’t know exactly when the review was coming out so hadn’t bought the paper. I found out by receiving a strange and abstract text from my mum reading it over coffee. I looked at the review online but didn’t get too excited, until I’d flicked to the page on hard copy. What is it about this attachment to the printed form? Why do I get so puffed up when I see myself in print?

It might be to do with layout and design. I’ve always loved working with designers on projects. When I look at an article of mine in digital form (an online newspaper app, at any rate), it doesn’t look so different from when I emailed it off. But when it’s in a newspaper, laid out and conversing with other articles on a page, I enjoy looking at it, as if it’s been shaped by someone else.

I went to a panel at the recent NonFictioNow conference (and what a buzz it was) on longform nonfiction and digital distribution. One of the panellists, the wonderful writer Elmo Keep, mentioned she never reads on paper any more. Everything she needs can be read on an iPad. I wonder at my continued attachment to see things on a page. The writer, Arnold Zable, said to me that we are in the first stage of grieving for the book: denial. There’s something to that. But I have always been excited by the possibilities of the digital for text. Hypertext? Anyone remember that? My own novel started off as a hypertext project but I got too distracted by the technical possibilities so squirmed free to concentrate on content.

But I never have liked binary oppositions. I don’t see why I can’t enjoy reading on the Kindle and buying books at the same time. And I hate being told by the media that I have the attention span of a gnat. I enjoyed Elmo’s introduction to the panel because she quickly dismissed the idea that people don’t read longer works on the net. Websites like Longform and Longreads select a range of longer journalist pieces and essays for readers to browse or read later when they have time (but who does?).

So, I’m in the curious position of being super-excited about my first novel being published (as a book) next year — developing ideas for the book cover, the back cover blurb, the marketing and distribution — while recognising that my future publishing world will be geared in a different direction. Sam Twyford-Moore, in the same conference panel, said that publishing in book form, you may as well print it out and ‘put it in a box’ (compared with the audience you get online).

The books of Haruki Murakami

The books of Haruki Murakami

Elmo also said she had got rid of all her books, seeing bookcases as a waste of space, a way to show off how smart you perceive yourself to be. I guess there is that element of ego to books on display (and every collection: I have hundreds of DVDS, mostly of TV series), but they mean so much more to me (it’s not often other people peruse them). I can spend hours running my hands and eyes over a bookshelf, remembering the worlds within. I used to sort my books (by author, sometimes by publisher, by Australian or not) but now they are random and I like encountering the new, the ‘to read this year’, along with the favourites, the sleek black and white Haruki Murakamis, the violent Bret Easton Ellises, the evasive Lorrie Moores (there’s that ego again).

I love looking at other people’s bookshelves too and it’s more a chance to see if we have similar threads of interest, to get a feel for their personal space and tastes, and occasionally to ask to borrow something; one of the most intimate things you can do is take a book off a shelf and take it home.

If in the future there are no books (in printed form), I will grieve. But for the moment it’s too soon, and I don’t believe it. I think they will always be there, even if’s an expensive and very niche market. But, then again, perhaps I am just in denial.

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21 thoughts on “Grieving for the book: stage one=denial

  1. Lorrie Moore, hey? Nice to hear her name in a list like that. God she’s good.

  2. You’re my kind of gal, Kirsten! I feel the same way about seeing my name in print–I mean, in REAL print, like in a hard copy book! As for getting over the reaction to criticism–nope, it doesn’t happen, you just get a little better at dealing with it as you see more in print. And I am an optimist about books–I don’t think they will ever go away. Those of us who love them may shrink in number, but they will always be magical to many.

  3. It’s not over for print books. In Australia the paper-y ones far outsell the digital ones – and likely will for at least a few more years.

    And if in the future publishers only release lovely hardcovers with ribbon markers and dust-jackets – printing one copy at a time and avoiding the heartbreak of pulping – so much the better.

  4. annabelsmith on said:

    I am definitely still in stage one: denial. I wouldn’t even contemplate getting rid of my paper books. I think they make a home look so warm and inviting, and also provide a springboard for getting to know people. John Hughes is famous for saying “If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t f**k them.” For me my Kindle is strictly for when I’m travelling and don’t want to carry heavy books, or for things that are only available electronically. But aside from that, paper would always be my first choice.

    Having said that, my next book is probably going to be an e-book only. And I’m sure I won’t have that same feeling of elation as I did seeing my first two books transformed from Microsoft Word documents into actual books. Still, I think it is the right choice for this work, which comprises digital documents.

    I often feel a combination of depair and resentment in relation to editorial feedback. Later, when I’ve made the changes and know the book to be much better for them, I feel gratitude.

    I hope you don’t have to have a tanty when you see your book cover. I feel lucky to have liked both of mine very much. I wish you the same fortune!

    • I love that John Hughes quote! I would say from my experience so far, probably true:-) I’m looking forward to reading both your print and e-ditions. Actually, moving from one to another could be a good idea for Newswrite magazine. I’ll email you!

      I’m glad I’m not alone with the despair > resentment > gratitude cycle. So far the publisher and editor have been wonderful; just me struggling with the process. And they let me tantalise them with my ideas for the cover:-) so I won’t have a tanty as I have been heard (at least).

      • annabelsmith on said:

        Glad to hear your editorial relation ship is a good one, at least. I’ve heard some horror stories. And it’s fantastic that they’re including you in the cover design process. It all sounds positive.

  5. annabelsmith on said:

    PS This is the second review of read of Ivorie Hammer, the other being on ANZ Lit Lovers, and I’m absolutely intrigued. I think I’ll make it my first book for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

  6. Hi Kirsten,

    How wonderful that your book is about to come out! Rightfully you are going to be extremely excited to hold this finished, hard-won object in your hands.

    Thanks for coming to the panel. I guess I should explain a little what I meant: I’m not strictly anti-book, it’s just that for me it’s become so irresistibly convenient to read almost everything on a tablet. That said, I do often still consult the actual paper books in our house, I just find myself not buying too many new ones in that format.

    To be able to effortlessly search ebooks for what I want to refer to is a small miracle, to look up definitions instantaneously; these new capabilities for me enhance the experience of reading. Equally, some people find that all unbearably distracting!

    I feel we shouldn’t hold too fast to definitions or forms. I’m with Sam on this, what is being written matters more than what it is being published on. Ultimately I think for writers, all the matters is creating the work that is important to you. How people read it is completely up to them.

    I mourned briefly the walls of CDs that once lined the house, now I can barely remember why I ever thought they were aesthetically pleasing. It hasn’t dulled my love of music, or change how much of it I listen to. Bookshelves though, maybe they are different, and no one will abandon completely the pleasure they get from seeing them in their home. I don’t know. It’s all reading to me, and that’s all to the good.


  7. I’m definitely in denial about the death of the book . I can’t imagine reading long things on a screen – I simply don’t take in information as well from a screen. That might be a generational thing? I love the physicality of a book, knowing how far I’m in and how far to go, the pattern of text and colour of the page. I could NEVER get rid of my books on the shelf. And although I have digitised my cd collection -and I hate it! I long for a cover and liner notes, lists of songs, lyrics and musicians! And I have a completely different relationship with the list of “artists” and “albums” now – no pictures! It’s awful! And it has changed how often I listen to music – which is less now because I don’t enjoy the process of selecting anymore. Good luck with the re-write – and congrats on the review.

  8. Victoria Dawson on said:

    Hi Kirsten

    I enjoyed reading this post which I’m doing as a mini break in the middle of marking 2o x 2500 word essays on documentary media. I’ve had to learn to take criticism of my creative film work and academic writing as part of my PhD. I find there’s actually some pleasure in being able to take the criticism and then get on and make the changes required. It’s like a measure of toughness. Although one way of dealing with it is to accept the criticism you agree with and disregard the criticism you don’t. But I think its always interesting to get feedback from others about your work even if you don’t agree with it.


  9. I feel like I should transfer the comments that I made on Facebook over to here (Facebook is remarkable in it’s ability to close off the kind of discussions I love having about new forms of literature, making them exclusive and complicating access).

    I too feel I should make a clarification. When I said “you may as well put it in a box” I was specifically talking to audience engagement. There’s still a great sense of achievement with print, but it simply doesn’t exist in real time anymore – the conversation is happening elsewhere, and happening faster. Publishing in print is tantamount to archiving, no longer an alive culture. That archive status is no bad thing – I happen to think the boxes we’re putting writing in are increasingly beautiful and complex in reaction to the function-heavy under-designed look of digital spaces [see Chris Ware’s Building Stories] – but it is a reality.

    Like you said Kirsten, in reply to this point on Facebook, you’ve had an interaction here with Elmo almost immediately after hitting “publish”. Would this be the case if you crafted these observations for publication in journal and then published them six months later? Would either party take the time to respond and how private would that discussion be? Would they still resemble a response to a panel, or would they have become your own thoughts? This latter point is perhaps where print redeems itself, allowing for slow criticism, but would we be able to trace these thoughts back to the point of origin? I love the traceability of digital conversations and the formation of ideas.


  10. What an interesting discussion your post has stimulated, Kirsten.

    Recently when visiting the Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia exhibition and staring at clay tablets of the first writing, which have for thousands of years preserved the history of that ancient culture, I remember wondering what record will remain of my generation and the ones to follow. Were digital artefacts to survive thousands of years, would future generations even have the means to read them?

    I realise paper doesn’t have the permanence of clay. But one of the reasons I love books, and photographs for that matter, is that they are ephemera, solid records of time, people and place able to be passed on and enjoyed without the need for compatible devices, even electricity.

    Sammy J taps into my feelings on this in his hilarious song ‘Delete’: http://youtu.be/DWzuBMzlhlo

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