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Festival of Books: How B.J. Novak found his voice, with audience help

April 12, 2014|By Saba Hamedy
  • "Part of a journey I think I'm still on is realizing how much of your own voice is your writing, and I think a lot of writers, including myself, start out in a much stiffer voice," B.J. Novak said Saturday at the Festival of Books.
"Part of a journey I think I'm still on is realizing how much of… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

For B.J. Novak, whose father was an author, writing seemed like a “regular thing to do” but not necessarily a desired profession.

“When I was a kid and people would ask, 'Are you going to be a writer like your dad?' I was like, ‘Oh no, why would I do that dorky thing and go upstairs and write all day?’ ” Novak said at his Los Angeles Times Festival of Books appearance Saturday.

It wasn’t until Novak, who grew up in Newton, Mass., saw Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” that he realized “being a writer was cool and not [just] what dads do.”

The lively writer-actor, who got lots of laughs from the audience during the hour-long conversation with Times movie critic Kenneth Turan, discussed  his work on the TV show “The Office” as well as his recent book of short stories, “One More Thing."

FULL COVERAGE: Festival of Books

“Part of a journey I think I’m still on is realizing how much of your own voice is your writing and I think a lot of writers, including myself, start out in a much stiffer voice,” he said.

Novak finds his voice stems from comedic writing that has depth, as in “The Office.”

“All my stories [in “One More Thing”] … had to make me smile first,” he said.

INTERACTIVE GAME: How to be a writer

To test out his stories, Novak said he would read them aloud at a monthly show at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. “Literally, with pen in my hand, I’d edit my stories with the audience,” he said. “I only read the ones I liked, and I only kept the ones they liked … unless I was sure it would be better on paper.”

Novak said he wanted the book to “feel jagged” and vary in length from story to story. “As a comedian, you know when something’s a one-liner and when an audience would like to hear more,” he said.

Much of his inspiration comes from comedic nonfiction writers, such as David Sedaris and friend Mindy Kaling.

“I put myself into every one of my characters," Novak said. “I think writing is a self-seduction and I think it’s important to indulge that and take it seriously."

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