Reinventing The Self: We Always, Always Change
By Sandra Novack
Years ago, I got an octopus tattoo on my back, because I related so strongly to the symbolism of this ancient cephalopod. The octopus can quickly change color and blend with its surroundings and seemingly disappear; it is known for its constant adaptability, clever diversification, ability to "feel out" things, and its art of camouflage. In short (and among many, many other things): It’s a great master of disguise.
Given my love of the octopus, it’s probably no surprise that I might be a fan of the word ‘reinvention.’ I am the first person to switch gears, step back, dart off, or otherwise change course when my intuition guides me to do so. I seldom look back once on a new trajectory. I actively seek out new “dens” as needed, for growth, security, or just a place to call “home” for a while. My motto: Change is good! Reinvention? We require it.
As writers we are always, in a way, reinventing things. The very act of writing is a radical (and political) subversion of “normal” expectations, a way to actually reinvent the world we all live in. (Can someone call us all anarchists? It's not far from the truth!) In lesser ways, each time we start a new book, we are taking up a new way of thinking and feeling. When we add characters to our new fictional worlds, we are constantly shifting gears, exploring new temperaments/passions/careers/habits that may radically be different from our own. When our work comes out to the public, we put on new hats, magically becoming PR people, that vision (hopefully!) of those who are actually comfortable doing things like touting our own work, giving interviews, talking on radio or TV, answering questions on a dime, all with grace and verve. We do this even if we are otherwise quiet homebodies.
On a personal note, there are other ways I’ve reinvented myself over the years. I wasn’t one of those people who “always wanted to be a writer.” I started writing seriously in 2001, started publishing (over thirty) short stories from 2003-2006, and then started a novel. I switched gears from shorter to longer forms when I realized novels just sell better, and when I genuinely just had more ‘stuff’ that I wanted to put on the page. Those were natural reinventions, but really all my reinventions have felt that way—natural, what I wanted, rather intuitively, to do next.
My work has been considered ‘literary’ fiction, though lately I’ve been hearing (and embracing) the word “commercial”, so, in a way, I’ve shifted gears again, to make my newest work much more plot-driven (action, action, action) and “high concept.” During this, I have SEVERAL times fantasized about sticking a pen name on it and sending it off to the world that way. I know quite a few writer friends who have changed names or have been asked to change names to reinvent themselves. Most take umbrage to that, given that they work so hard to build their list. I totally understand that.
But sometimes I look at it another way: I am inherently shy, dread reviews (even when they are starred and wonderful—can someone please tell me to relax!), and I would love nothing more than to slink away from my own name, from time to time. I always figure, hey…if you totally deviate from your “platform” and a book does great, you can always own yourself back (See that awesome selling book…that’s ME!). And if you try something radically different and it doesn’t do well, you can just disown it completely (that’s not my baby!) and go back to doing those things people know about you. In all this, you still get to write and make a living.
Though it remains a fantasy (i.e. no one has asked me to do this, even though I often think about ‘pitching’ the idea), it makes me slightly giddy to think I could become my own fictitious character, another writer who does things no one named “Sandra Novack” would ever do. I think it could be quite liberating!
The octopus in me agrees.
Sandra Novack is the author of the novel, PRECIOUS, and the short story collection, EVERYONE BUT YOU. Currently she is working on a novel, THE PEACOCK ANGELS (name still sticks!). Visit her at: http://www.sandranovack.com.