Being a Writer Is the Worst

Of all the creative, artistic vocations, being a writer is the worst. I mean, I love it, but it’s the worst.

I envy other artists because of something they can easily do that is ridiculously difficult for a writer to accomplish, which is one very simple thing: to see someone actively enjoying their work.

If you’re a musician, actor, or dancer, you can perform live for people. If you’re a painter, sculptor, or other material artist, you can watch visitors to a gallery showing your work.

But writers don’t get to watch people reading their books.

It’s considered creepy and is frowned upon in polite society.

“Not true,” some of you are saying. “Like poets, authors can do public readings of their work!”

Yeah, which means I can experience live reactions from a tiny audience hearing me read a few pages of a 300-page book. That’s like a painter displaying only the top inch of his wall-sized mural or a musician playing only the opening chords of a song.

Don’t misunderstand… I do keep correspondence from readers who have read and loved my work and those messages mean a great deal to me. But it’s all past tense. “I loved your book.” They’re done. They’ve read the entire work. There’s no way for the writer to see the moments of surprise on a reader’s face at plot twists, to see the reader cry when a beloved character dies, to hear them laugh at your stellar sense of humor. Because by the time they write to us, all that is just a memory.

I’ve been fortunate over the years to have been able to talk with a few readers while they’re between chapters of my books. And that’s really great, because they can share their reactions and thoughts when they’re at least still fresh. But those reactions aren’t now.

It’s never now for authors.

Being a writer is the worst.

Posted by vmwales in Readers, Writing Process

The Perfect Reader

Art, in general, is a subjective thing. Two people can look at the same painting, listen to the same song, watch the same movie, or read the same novel and get very different things out of the experience. I can’t speak for all artists, or even all novelists, but I know that there are certain things I very much want my readers to get out of my work.

For example, I have scenes that carry a lot of emotional weight for me. I’d like to think they have the same gut punch for my readers, but of course, I’m never going to know it unless readers reach out and tell me. To my great satisfaction, this does sometimes happen. And sometimes, you find that one reader who tells you all the things you want to hear… how all the scenes you love as a creator are the ones that writer loved the most, too. I call them Perfect Readers… the ones who react as though you wrote your story just for them.

As opposed to Easy Reader.

Several years ago, I received an email from a young man who’d just finished reading Wish You Were Here. He went on at length, listing all the things he loved about it. But then he mentioned the last paragraph of the novel. The final sentence, even. He said they were perfect. Exactly what he wanted. And this meant so much to me, because I can’t tell you how many times I revised that final paragraph until I felt it was exactly what I wanted, too.

Of all the readers who gave me feedback (whether in actual reviews or in personal emails), he was the only one who specifically mentioned the final passage. His email is one I’ll forever treasure. He was my first Perfect Reader.

More recently, I was chatting with a friend who’d just finished reading Redemption. I was asking him what he thought of certain scenes, including ones no one had mentioned in reviews or emails. “What did you think of the airport scene?” I asked him.

“Omigod,” he said. “That was intense. I about cried.”

“Good,” I said. “‘Cuz I cried while writing it.”

Perfect Readers. I hope all you writers out there can find at least one.

Posted by vmwales in Readers

The Value of a Book

Several years ago, I was part of the California Authors exhibit at the California State Fair. This one evening, I was seated next to my friend Phil Silver, a children’s book author who had two small books for sale. At one point, a man and his son (maybe four years old) stepped over. The man picked up one of Phil’s books and flipped through it. Then he turned to his boy and said, “Hey, would you like to get a book?”

The son seemed fairly disinterested, but the father continued to leaf through the pages before saying, “Are these free?”

Phil and I sat there in shock for a moment before Phil advised him that, no, they weren’t free, but seven dollars each or both for twelve (or something to that effect).

The man looked absolutely incredulous and said, “Seven bucks? For a book?”

He said this in all seriousness, then put down the book and escorted his son away… carrying a can of beer that I knew was selling at the fair for six dollars.

This is what’s wrong with America.

I regularly tell this story as an example not only of a massive parenting fail, but of society’s misplaced sense of value. A man will pay six dollars to enjoy a beer for maybe fifteen minutes, but be utterly appalled at the suggestion that a book was worth seven, even though it would likely give his son many hours of enjoyment.

This could not be more backward. I admit that the concept of “value” is somewhat subjective, but only a person dying of thirst should find more value in a beer than a book.

Posted by vmwales in Other Writers, Readers

Not Age Appropriate… Honest

Years ago, not long after Wish You Were Here was published, an acquaintance told me that her daughter had read it and really enjoyed it. I knew this woman hadn’t read it, herself, so I asked how old her daughter was.


I groaned inside when she told me that. Unless her daughter was pretty mature for her age, this was not an appropriate book for her to be reading. (As it happened, she was.)

Here’s what I think of your age rating system.

Not long ago, another acquaintance purchased the book and said he was going to read it to his kids, who were considerably younger than twelve.

“That’s really not a good idea,” I said, and told him the book was not even remotely appropriate for children.

“It’s okay,” he said. “I can edit on the fly.”

I continued trying to dissuade him from using this as bedtime story material, telling him that the maturity level had everything to do with subject matter and nothing to do with four-letter words, but he assured me he knew what he was doing. “Okay, then,” I said, mentally adding, “but you’ll be sorry!”

I saw him yesterday. “Wow,” he said, “you weren’t kidding! It was fine, up to a point, but then I just had to stop. You cover some really heavy issues.”

Yes. Yes, I do.

Way to traumatize those kids, Vince. Good job!

“It’s not at all what I was expecting! But it’s really good. I’m gonna read it again.”

Lesson to be learned, people… if the author says a book isn’t age appropriate, you’d best believe it.

Posted by vmwales in Details, Readers