Celebrate Independence Day–Burn Your Book

cavorting in enemy territory--me in London--Happy 4th of July
cavorting in enemy territory--me in London--Happy 4th of July

“You should be speaking Bulgarian,” the man said.

A group of us Peace Corps volunteers were on the train into Sofya, Bulgaria. And we’d been talking in English. We got quiet.

The man puffed up a bit more. “You in our country. You speak our language.”

One of us tried to tell him we took Bulgarian language classes. We had tutors. We did speak Bulgarian. But we were with friends.

“You come here. You think you do what you want. You think we small country. You must show respect.” He gave us all one more good glare before he marched off out of the compartment. It took a few moments for any one of us to speak again, and when we did we lowered our voices.

This happened a year into our two-year service. A year earlier when I’d been in country for only a week, I met a different old man on the train. He was very old and well-aged by hard work in hard weather. He asked us where we were from. Then he cried. “I have lived this long,” he said, “to see when Americans are in my country.” He touched our hands. “I am happy.”

And we–our stupid 24 year old selves–sat there and stared at him unable to think of anything remotely equal to his emotion.

Getting out of your country provides the chance to see your country in a new way. Just getting out of your hometown can show friends and family in a new way too. Getting away from your story may reveal more than you want to see.

Sometimes I feel so attached to my own writing, I could never put it away. The story rules my life. The characters invade my privacy. They demand attention. I put in all this work and it will never count. And yet I want it to take over my life. I have no control and I’m happy.

Other times I want to burn the manuscript and be free. Torch it. Shoot it. Deny its existence. Forget I wrote anything, please.

Happy Independence Day. How free from your writing should you be?

5 thoughts on “Celebrate Independence Day–Burn Your Book

  1. I think I’ve been TOO free from my manuscript for way, way too long. I guess, with nothing else to do, I should do something with that.

    Great reminder. And Happy ID4 to you too!

  2. Must admit, when I saw this post’s title I sorta-kinda gasped — thought you were REALLY thinking about burning YOURS.

    Now I think it could have been one of those cool(ish) but slightly weird Twitter campaigns, #burnyourbook or something: a half-kidding, half-serious campaign to get people to agree to destroy a book-length MS in order to completely re-think it.

    Well, probably too late to organize it for 7/4 anyhow. December 16 is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party; maybe you could start organizing now for #bookoverboard.

    Sometimes it feels like I blab way too much about the WIP — having dived so enthusiastically into it that I’ve disowned the MS I finished (more or less) before it. Was in a supermarket yesterday and suddenly realized I couldn’t remember the name of that book’s main character. And it’s only been a year.

    Fickle authors. No wonder our books sometimes seem to hate us. 🙂

  3. I don’t want to be free from my work. When I’m free I flounder. I need it to anchor me. Sometimes I resent it when it’s hard, but usually it’s hard because I’ve gotten too far away.

    Now, if I could be completely free, like it was never a part of me, I might be okay with that. I tried to give it up, and I could not do it.

  4. Don’t burn your book! No no. Oh. well, you can. I have a copy. It’s out there now, you can’t get rid of it the way they could back in the day of the old Underwood typed single MSS copy.

    Do you think burning a book in effigy would have the same effect?

    Anyway, if you think about it, Cremation is only one technique when something has died. Another option is burial. 6 feet under.

    I may not have buried my last book in the ground, but it’s been buried six feet under the years and the words, the pages, the files, the boxes. My poor little trunk novel. It’s probably languishing in that file box, quite like a vampire that can’t quite get out of their coffin, but is too strong to die.

    I haven’t looked at it in 6 years. I wonder if resurrection would work.

  5. Walking in someone else’s shoes, or hometown, or country is a great way to get a new perspective on things. For writers, I would think writing about a place you’ve never been to would be hard to do, although I have seen my husband do it on occasion.

    Sounds like your Peace Corps experience was a great time for you. 🙂

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