The Perils of Being Married to a Writer

Arnie at the helm, the day before the capsize

Arnie at the helm, the day before his misadventure

Last week my husband and I took a four-day vacation at a rustic but absolutely magnificent hideaway in Algonquin Park. One of the best things about Arowhon Pines (aside from the food) is that there is no internet access, no mobile access, no television. You can use the overpriced payphone if you must. If there’s an emergency at home and someone needs to reach you, they can call the desk and staff will come and get you. And at 9:30 each evening if you are desperate for digital entertainment, you can go to the recreation hall to watch a movie on DVD. Aside from that, you’re on your own with the trees and the stars and the lake.

Needless to say, this is a perfect place to be a writer, because you can’t get onto Facebook. If you’re on your computer, there is nothing to do but reorganize your files, see what books you remembered to download before you left the city, and then get to work.

Not that you actually have to open your computer. You can go canoeing, swimming, hiking or kayaking instead. You can sit on the dock, look out at the lake (where no motorboats are allowed), enjoy the quiet or listen for a loon, try to catch sight of a moose, a bear, a fox, or a great blue heron. You can write in your journal. You can take a nap. You can read a book (apparently some people call Arowhon Pines “Camp Library” because everyone is either carrying a book or reading one.). You can sit by a campfire, sing and roast marshmallows.

Aside from catching sight of moose or bear (thank god), we did all of the above.

If you’re a writer, a place like that makes you feel like writing. It doesn’t have to be Arowhon Pines, of course. It’s the remoteness, the quiet, the space – mental, physical, emotional – that makes you feel like writing. So after lunch one day, I told Arnie that I was going to sit on the covered dining hall verandah that overlooks the lake, and work on my new novel. He said he was going to take one the two small Hobies out for a sail: he’d done that the afternoon before, and he’d enjoyed it. Today the lake was a bit rougher and it looked like rain, and I told him to be careful. “I’m too young to be a widow,” I said, giving him a kiss goodbye. I assured him I’d keep my eye on him.

And for a while, I did. I settled myself in one of the Algonquin chairs on the verandah, where I had a view of the dock and about half of the lake, my feet up on the middle rail so I could rest my laptop on my thighs, and I opened my computer. I watched as Arnie prepared the boat and himself for his excursion, then waited for a sudden downpour to pass by and the sun to come out again. I watched him unfurl the sail (there’s only one on those little boats. No jib) and start out toward the middle of the lake. Then I got to work.

Occasionally I looked up to see where Arnie was, but the third time I looked up, I could no longer see him. I wasn’t concerned. I could see only half the lake and I was sure he’d simply sailed out of my view. He’d gone all the way across the little lake and back the day before, without incident. I got back to work. Soon I was utterly lost in what I was writing, and almost unable to tear my eyes away from the screen….

Some time later, my concentration was disturbed by the sound of a motor boat setting out onto the lake. This I found curious, as there is only one motorized boat at the lodge – a pontoon boat – and it is only rarely used. I looked out at the lake again. Nothing to see there. I was settling into work again when I heard a person farther down the verandah say to another person, “I think someone’s in trouble in a sailboat, and they’re going out to help.”

I felt my heart begin to pound as I looked up and out at the lake again. Sure enough, there was the pontoon, chugging in the direction of something and someone that I, on the verandah, could not see. But I knew what and who it was.

I closed my computer, gathered up my notes, and headed down to the dock to await the arrival of the rescue vessel, now heading back to shore with the sailboat – my husband once more securely seated in it – in tow. I was glad he was wearing his personal flotation device. I noticed that his (Tilley) hat was gone. I was incredibly happy to watch his slow return to shore.

There were several people sitting in lounge chairs on the dock, two of whom were women of about my own age, facing out toward the lake.

“That’s my husband,” I told them, nodding in his direction, hoping they didn’t notice that even my voice was shaky.

“I saw him go over,” one of them said. “He righted the boat, and then it tipped again.”

The other woman nodded.

“After I few minutes we decided we’d better raise an alarm. So I went up to the reception desk and told them, and they sent out the pontoon boat.”

During all of this time, I’d been buried in my novel.

I didn’t mention that.

“Thank you for saving my husband,” I said as Arnie, having let go of the pontoon’s tow rope, paddled the sailboat up against the dock. The pontoon boat motored off, back to its mooring on the far side of the dining hall.

“How are you?” I asked him.

“I’m fine,” he said.

After he’d  tied up the Hobie and climbed back onto the dock beside me he said, “These little boats without a jib are impossible to bring about. I got caught by a gust, and when the boat went over, the sail went straight down into the lake. There was no centreboard to climb onto, so righting it the first time wore me out. When I went over again, I just hung on and waited. I knew someone would notice, and they’d send the boat.”

“Fortunately, someone noticed,” I said, indicating the women behind me.

Still holding my laptop and my papers in one arm, I grabbed a strap of Arnie’s safety vest and held on tight with my free hand as we walked off the dock together.

In future, if Arnie insists we take two other women with us every time we head for the wilderness, at least I’ll know the reason why.


Mary W. Walters is the author of Rita Just Wants to Be Thin, among several other books.


BookBub and Me: 20,000 Downloads, 50 Reviews, and a Month (so far) of Daily Sales

I even made it onto three Amazon e-book bestseller lists

BookBubI’ve never figured that paying a promotions company to market my book was a worthwhile investment of my money, but in the past month I’ve discovered – yet again – that when it comes to promoting books, I’m a neophyte.

After a few writer friends experienced success with a site called BookBub, I decided a few weeks ago that I’d give the company a try with Rita Just Wants to Be Thin. At the time, Rita was languishing at an average of about zero sales per week.

I was prepared to consider the $165 US or so that I thought a BookBub promo was going to cost me  (for “worldwide” distribution of a book in the Women’s Fiction category) as money down the drain, but aside from the money ( ! ? ), I had nothing much to lose. I was curious. I figured it would at the very least provide me with the fodder for a post on this blog. As it has. But I never expected that I’d be writing such an enthusiastic review.

How BookBub Works

Millions of readers from all over the world have signed up at BookBub, and every day those readers are sent an email notification of one-day-only deep discounts on e-books in genres that interest them. Typically, e-books from publishers such as Random House and Penguin that normally sell for $11.95 are offered on BookBub for anywhere from $1.95 to $3.95. The e-books may be available through Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, etc. (Please note that BookBub promotes only electronic books [e-books] – not print books.)

Although BookBub subscribers get one notification per day of books that may interest them, not all readers are sent notifications about all discounted e-books. Notices go out only to those who are interested in that genre, and only to those in the geographic areas selected by the publisher. Books are individually approved by BookBub’s editorial committee before they are scheduled for promotion. Once your book is accepted, you are able to set up your author profile.

The cost to the publisher (me, in this case) of the one-day promotion of a book depends on its genre and the geographic area(s) selected, the choices being 1) USA, 2) International or 3) All. Every few months, BookBub adjusts its prices depending on the popularity of various categories, and on recent sales figures in different regions. There is a list of prices – and typical revenues – on the BookBub’s “partner” site.

Bestseller July 8

For a few days, I was on Amazon bestseller lists in Canada, the US and Great Britain

(I just checked how much it would have cost to list Rita in the women’s fiction category for All regions today, and the price might have scared me off. It has gone up considerably since I started my BookBub adventure. So if the cost for your book’s category seems too high, wait: maybe it will come down again in a month or so.)

Why I Set My Price at Zero

Since the regular price of the e-book version of Rita is $2.99, and since Amazon won’t let me drop the price below $1.99 without my giving up the benefits of being in the Kindle Select program (which I don’t want to do), and since giving a book away for free on BookBub costs a whole lot less than selling it, I decided that I would offer my book as a giveaway. Amazon allows Kindle Select participants to give their books away for a maximum of five days every quarter.

I was pleased that my book was approved by BookBub right away. I was also pleased that they suggested a less expensive category (Chick Lit) than the one I’d chosen (Women’s Fiction). I don’t consider Rita to be chicklit, but I figured, what the hell: the cost savings was considerable.

I then stood back and waited to see what would happen.


I was amazed.

On the day of the giveaway – July 5, 2016  ­­–  19,159 people downloaded Rita for free! The following day, 740 more downloaded it for free (probably an international dateline thing). But more amazingly, on the day after the giveaway, nearly thirty people bought the ebook at its regular price of $2.99. The next day I sold eight copies, and I figured my moment of glory was done. But the day after that, I sold fourteen copies, and the day after that, 18. I’ve been selling e-copies of Rita ever since… at least one or two almost every day, and sometimes more. In addition, hundreds of people have read the book in the Kindle Unlimited library, and I get paid for those readers too.

One of the best results of the BookBub promo is that, since July 5, I have had nearly fifty reviews – most of them positive – on,, and I even had one review on (that reviewer hated the book, but I’m sure the next reader from Australia is going to love it, just to balance things out). I’ve also noticed an uptick on my reviews on GoodReads.


I was 
hoping to do a promotion of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid on BookBub but my application was turned down. They say that sometimes they have too many books in a certain category already, and they invite publishers whose books are turned down to try again in four months. So I will do that.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 9.01.27 PMIn the meantime, I’m going to try out a few other book-promotion platforms. Rita will be featured on StoryFinds on September 1, but without a price discount. I don’t expect anything like the BookBub response… but then, what do I know?

In the meantime, I highly recommend that both traditionally published and self-published authors check out BookBub. I’ve made my money back and more – and the reviews the promotion garnered were worth the investment all on their own.

While you’re at it, you might want to sign up at BookBub and StoryFinds to get some great deals on some great books.


I invite you to share your thoughts on this or any other subject related to writing and publishing – either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

PLEASE NOTE: I will be away from email for one week (until August 24) so I will not be able to approve/post your comments until I return. 


Why do I let myself be muzzled by the PC police?

Thoughts from a first-world-Topic discussion on my Facebook page

Sorry I selected an image of a white male to accompany this article. There was a black male with a tape across his mouth on the iStock photo page but for about 100 reasons you can probably guess, I did not feel comfortable posting that. There was a young woman with a muzzle, but I did not want to go there either. People might think I was trying to avoid facing my age, among other things. Various subjects had both muzzles and chains. Nope. So I ended up with a white male. The PC Police will be right with you.

Apologies for selecting an image of a white male to accompany this article. There was also a black male with a tape across his mouth on the iStock photo page, but for about 100 reasons you can probably guess, I did not feel comfortable choosing that one. There was a muzzled young woman, but I did not want to be accused of denying my age. Various subjects had both gags and chains. Nope. So I ended up with a white male.
The PC Police will be right with you.

This morning I posted a statement on my personal Facebook page on a subject about which I have been thinking for quite a while. Here it is:

How ironic is it that the barbarians among us feel more free than they ever have in my memory to say aloud and do the most despicable things imaginable, while the humanitarians are often discouraged from speaking at all, for fear of being judged politically incorrect?
One of my many intelligent and interesting Facebook friends replied:
People gotta learn to speak up and damn the consequences. There is a word for that. It is called courage. And we must encourage people to say what they feel, or do what they feel.
Injustices were never corrected by not speaking up.
Evil triumphs when good men remain silent.
The future lies not in the stars but in ourselves.
Thus it has always been.
And then I said,
I agree, but when it reaches a point when I am hesitant to support a group or position that I actually agree with, not because I fear the reaction from people who disagree with the position, but because I have been made to feel that I have no right to comment on an issue where my demographic has been part of creating the problem (e.g., aboriginal issues, Black Lives Matter), or that I have no right to comment because I am one of the entitled (Caucasian), it makes my brain go into a twist that I can’t untie. I post comments [on FB, about current issues], and then I take them down.
And when I don’t agree with a position of a disadvantaged group (e.g., certain Palestinian leaders), I don’t even think about saying anything.
The same friend replied:
Yes, you are right Mary. Those who disagree are marginalized by the marginalized. You are immediately dismissed and your voice becomes irrelevant in the discourse.
If you do not support the prevailing ethos you are treated like a bad person with bad ideas whose views should be ignored and eradicated.
Then another of my intelligent and interesting Facebook friends said:
[W.B.] Yeats made the same point and I paraphrase: “A time will come when the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Written in 1922. Could have been yesterday.
And I marvelled at how much more clearly and succinctly Yeats had said it than I had. The line is from the wonderful poem “The Second Coming,” which contains another of my favourite lines: “Things fall apart: The centre cannot hold.” That, too, seems painfully relevant today.
On a more positive note, watch for an upcoming article here on The Militant Writer entitled How I gave away 19,159 copies of the ebook version of Rita Just Wants to Be Thin, and finally started selling the book on a regular basis in the US, the UK and Canada five or so years after it was first published under another title, thereby restoring my self esteem and motivating myself to get back to work on my next book.” Or something to that effect.
As always, I welcome and encourage your thoughts on these or any other matters relating to writing and the militancy necessary to get it done.

What a great idea! Books on the Bus in Red Deer

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.46.58 PMI am grateful to Write, the newsletter of The Writers’ Union of Canada, for alerting me to a brilliant initiative now underway in Red Deer, Alberta (Canada) called Books on the Bus.

Buses in Red Deer now feature mini-libraries from which riders can borrow a book to read to themselves or their kids as they wend their way through town. They can also borrow the books for the weekend or the week, or even longer, and return them when they’ve finished reading them – or  they can “share the books with friends and family” and never return them at all. They can also donate books for the mini-libraries at various Red Deer locations.

Like the neighbourhood book boxes that are (happily) appearing everywhere, all of this happens at no cost to readers (aside from bus fare, in this case). “Books for all ages and reading abilities are available including children’s books, graphic novels and fiction and non-fiction for adults,” says the City of Red Deer’s website, which goes on to point out that “Providing access to literacy materials is a poverty reduction strategy identified by the Central Alberta Poverty Reduction Alliance (CAPRA).”

Genius! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of this idea before, and I think it should be happening everywhere. Which is why I am telling you about it.


Not every editor is the right editor

I’ve just been reading an article called “The Trouble of Rational Thought” by Miranda Popkey in The Paris Review about a writer I’d never heard of until today – Helen DeWitt. The subtitle of the article – “How Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai cultivates ambition in its readers” – caught my attention immediately, and by the time I’d finished reading the article, I’d ordered the book. (Which shows how someone writing a review or an article about your book can help sales.)

Quite aside from how intriguing the book itself sounds, the story of how it came to be published gave it an irresistible mystique. (“News of it traveled by word of mouth—and if that word reached you, it said something about the kind of reader you were: attracted to the recondite, undaunted by formal difficulty, unconventional in your tastes,” Popkey says.) Due in part to the challenges built into the structure and content of the novel, DeWitt had serious problems back in the mid-nineties trying to find an editor who was interested in what she was actually trying to do with her novel – who was willing to allow the writer to write her story, as opposed to the story the editor thought she should be writing.

It is clear that DeWitt’s novel was both unusual and ahead of its time – we’d be less surprised today to find different fonts and different languages in a published novel ostensibly in English than we might have been fifteen years ago. However, her story serves as yet another reminder that despite how important it is to have an editor (two, in fact – one for substantive editing and one for copy-editing) for your book, you also cannot just settle for any editor. The one you work with must appreciate that the book she is editing is your book, and not hers.

“My view was that the book benefits from the undivided attention of its author. And this turned out to be a scandalous… I mean it wasn’t even scandalous: it was so outrageous a point of view that it didn’t even cross anyone’s mind that one might think that: obviously what you needed was guidance.” – Helen DeWitt

As writers, we can always benefit from the knowledge and guidance of good editors. The authors of (almost?) every brilliant book I’ve ever read have acknowledged the contribution their editors have made to getting the manuscript into its final format. However, we also need to be aware that just as there are times when we need to listen, there are also times when we need to push back – even just a little, by saying “that’s not what I am trying to say,” or “That’s not how I want to say it.” And if we can’t get the editor to hear us, maybe we need to find another editor.

The story in The Paris Review led me to watch an interview with DeWitt herself, which is one of The Paris Review‘s “My First Time” series. In it, she recounts her problems with editors of The Last Samurai. Check it out:


Subsequent poking around the Internet has led me to discover that DeWitt’s problems with the publishing industry were not restricted to the experience of getting her first novel published. Her second novel, Lightning Rods, took ten years from completion to the bookshelf, and that experience also nearly drove her crazy.

I don’t know why I find DeWitt’s story reassuring, but I do.

How do you beat writer’s block?

WritersBlock.jpgI suppose that some of you have never had writer’s block. I’ve heard about people like you. I’ve read about people like you. I guess I even know some people like you (I am thinking here of a long-time writer friend who seems to be writing morning noon and night, in pubs and coffee shops, on scraps of paper and in notebooks: his fingers fairly fly across his keyboard when he’s on a computer; and I’m thinking of another, more meticulous writer friend who sits herself down at a certain time each morning and writes for a specified number of hours every single day, then stops).

Life with a block is bad

I have been through several periods of writer’s block, some brief  (about one of which I have written previously on this blog) and some extended, and I detest them. They make me feel depressed and lazy. Most of them arise from a lack of confidence, and of course they also contribute to a lack of confidence. They are almost impossible to “will” away.

Sometimes the lack of confidence is in the particular piece I’m working on, and this has led me to abandon quite a few stories, articles and even books, half-written. Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence in my ability to write anything of value. In those periods I can write if I force myself to do it, but when I read what I have written I am overly critical and I start cutting everything out. There is no point to continuing, and I stop.

And sometimes I have no confidence in the entire enterprise of writing: particularly the closely crafted writing of long pieces that I particularly enjoy. I decide that no one is reading anything longer than a caption or more complex than a set of instructions any more, and that what I am doing is an absolute waste of time. In those periods I consider my decades-long writing career to have been pointless, and think about all the things I could have done instead that would have paid me better. However, I am unable to do anything but write, nor can I even begin to contemplate the act of giving it up. Despite my wonderful family and many friends, my life would be barren if writing wasn’t in it. So I am stuck.

Life without a block is good

Happily, at the moment I am not blocked. If anything, the opposite is true. All I want to do is write. I have recently completed three short stories that had been simmering for months or years, and I am pleased with them. I have dozens of ideas for blog posts that I want to write – not only here, but also on my I’m All Write blog site, and on my Success After Sixty blog site. Everything suddenly seems like a topic that needs to be explored with words. My confidence has returned.

What got me out of my writer’s block this time was a period during which I forced myself to write, despite how hard it was, no matter how pointless it felt – mainly because I couldn’t stand living in my brain if I wasn’t creating something. I started by leaving  my usual surroundings and writing in Second Cups and Starbucks, on airplanes, even on the subway. I used a writing competition deadline as my impetus, and tried to convince myself that the deadline was as inflexible as one for an editing client would be.  I got one story finished and submitted, and then I did another. Getting around to the third was easier – I was able to do even the preliminary work on that one at home. And now I’m eager to start the fourth. It’s fun again.

I’m not the only writer to have experienced writer’s block. A whole article about the condition appeared recently in the New Yorker. The author, Maria Konnakova, tells us that Graham Greene kept a dream journal to avoid it. She goes on to discuss opinions on the subject of writer’s block from psychotherapists and psychologists – two of whom concluded that we are not all created equal: there are four different kinds of blocked writers, they decided. (It is interesting to read their list and to figure out where on the spectrum you might fit.) These two – psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios – even developed a therapeutic intervention that seemed to help blocked writers.

When you have a writer’s block, no one cares but you, but you care about it so much that it affects everything else you do.  I hope I never have it again – maybe if I never stop writing again, I’ll never have to start again? – but if I do I’m going to re-read this post and Konnakova’s article.

So, how about you? Have you had writer’s block? How did you overcome it?

Get with the times, Ros Barber: “Self-published” no longer means “inept.”

(A rant, and a challenge)

Yet again a major media outlet has granted space to a writer who wants to rail against self-publishing and to denigrate those who have chosen to pursue that route, particularly those who write fiction.

None of the arguments Ros Barber sets out in her recent article in The Guardian  is new. In fact, they are all so old that they have begun to smell – or, at the very least, to bore writer-readers who are not already members of the choir half to death. (Writers who are in Barber’s corner love to read the list of self-publishers’ shortcomings over and over again. They will never tire of it –until they become one of us, or die, whichever comes first. Despite the fact that it would force her to rethink her views, I wish upon Ms. Barber no novel that fails to sell to her publisher’s expectations, thereby banishing her from the traditional publishing firmament forever.)

I am not going to waste space taking Ms. Barber’s arguments apart. I’ve been taking the same ones apart for years, as have dozen of other respected and respectable writers on blogs and in numerous other venues. What she (and, it seems, the team of editors in the Books section at The Guardian) takes as cutting-edge insights are merely misguided opinions that have already been widely and frequently debunked.

What bothers me are not the points she makes, but the tone in which she makes them – and specifically, the utter lack of writerly fellowship that her article betrays. Such supercilious opinions as “good writers become good because they undertake an apprenticeship,” which suggests that those who self-publish do not know how to write, are utterly insulting to the innumerable writers who have completed agonizingly long “apprenticeships,” but whose writing is deemed by agents and/or commercial and/or financially hard-pressed (!) literary houses to be too offbeat or too marginal or too kinky or too similar to something that came out last year to be worthy of their imprint. Barber’s success in attracting even a £5000 advance for her most recent novel speaks more to blind luck or favourable industry connections than it does to talent.

The one point on which Ms. Barber almost indicates a passing knowledge of what she speaks is the one in which she says that self-published authors must invest 9/10 of their efforts in marketing, leaving only ten percent of their time for writing. (Although I do argue with her numbers: she has failed to consider the time it takes for any writer to earn a living while building up a readership.) However, as I’m sure she knows, it is fallacious to use the marketing imperative as an argument against self-publishing. If Barber’s publisher does not require her to spend a good deal of her time promoting her book, she’s not having the experience of most of my traditionally published colleagues. (I think she does know: anyone who can get an article into the Guardian is no slouch in the marketing department.)

I am sick and tired of finding it necessary to apologize not for the quality of my two most recent novels (for one should never attempt to defend what one has written), but for the way in which they were published. Who the hell cares how books reach the market? Readers certainly don’t. Nowadays, only small-minded, defensive writers seem intent on railing against those of us who have chosen to take our fates into our own hands.

The challenge: I invite Ms. Barber (and anyone else who wishes to do so) to request a complimentary copy of either of my self-published novels (Rita and Don , to read at least a decent chunk of it, and then to point out either publicly or in private the precise locations where the novel displays either a lack of publishing quality or dearth of literary talent. But people like Ms. Barber won’t do that: they’ve made up their minds ahead of time.

Ros Barber, please do not tar everyone with the same brush. You may have chosen to publish traditionally, but increasing numbers of us are choosing to do otherwise. Canada’s primary organization of creative writers, The Writers Union of Canada, now admits self-published authors whose books have been approved by its membership committee. Granting agencies and awards programs everywhere are going to need to consider how to manage the books by many younger writers who (like young musicians and film-makers) are choosing to go indie from the outset.

We are all in this together. We are writers. Some of us write better than do others, but increasingly this has nothing to do with how our writing reaches readers. A traditional publisher is no longer the only imprimatur of quality, if it ever was. The opinions in your article show you to be as disdainful as you are out of touch. I hope your fiction, notwithstanding its apparently historical nature, is more current.

Interested in a new language? Why not learn two? Or three?

"WELCOME" sphere icon with translations in various languagesWhen you take the possibility of perfection off the agenda, as I do with languages, the possibilities are endless.

Source: Interested in a new language? Why not learn two? Or three?

Virtual Reality and The Writer

Last weekend, I read an intriguing article by Simon Haupt in the Globe and Mail about the impending reality of virtual realityIn “Reality Check,” Haupt explores the downsides as well as the upsides of being able to put on a headset (“…really, just a pair of special goggles attached to a smartphone,” he says) and be immediately transported to somewhere where you’re not. I’ve considered the possibility of virtual reality before – who hasn’t? – but I’ve never before considered the impact it could have on my own life… the benefit it could have, to be specific.

Here’s the thing. As I have groused elsewhere, often, I have wanted my whole life to travel, but I have only now started to be able to do it. The list of places I want to visit has been growing over the years to the point where I am sure I will never get to all the destinations I want to reach before I am too old to get to them.

Now, I have an alternative! If I can travel to the places at the top of my list while I still can, I can spend the next decade virtually visiting the ones I didn’t reach. (Although I do have a caveat: the virtual reality [VR] experience needs to include smells, because smells are – to me – a very important part of travelling. They’ll have to add a smell recorder to the Google car, I guess. By the time my knees and stamina for actual travel have given out, they should have been able to iron out that wrinkle.)

[Virtual reality is] coming very soon to a home near you, with the potential to transform not just gaming, entertainment and social media but social justice advocacy, tourism, education, marketing, shopping, and dozens of other everyday experiences. – Simon Haupt

After I’d finished thinking about how I could travel to Johannesburg from an armchair using only a headset and my iPhone (think of the money I will save!), I started thinking about the effect widespread access to virtual reality might have on writers, specifically of fiction. Haupt mentions that a VR experience based on The Martian is already in the works, and at least one VR creator he interviewed for the piece predicts that simply placing viewers in VR situations will not satisfy consumers for long.

Haupt relates his conversation with James Milward, president of Secret Location, a Toronto marketing company that is already making award-winning VR content. “Soon, he says, we’ll need stories, or ‘something you’d demand in any other medium to make it meaningful. So I think that’s inevitable. We’re going to have to continue to push how we make things, and what we choose to make, in order to make it meaningful’.”

I cannot begin to fathom how difficult it would be to create a novel that translates easily to to a virtual reality format, and I’ve already decided that Rita Just Wants to Be Thin is not likely to appeal to most people who are consumers of VR. Who wants to actually go through the experience of trying unsuccessfully to stick to a diet? Maybe once or twice, but not the number of times it takes Rita to finally figure out how to live a life that is not associated with overeating. The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid on the other hand? That might be fun.

What do you think? Can you imagine writing something that can be reproduced in virtual reality format, or is it going to take a whole different kind of creators to make appetizing “stories” for virtual reality consumption? Maybe it isn’t possible at all, and (as Haupt also suggests) perhaps this is just a fad that is blowing in the wind.

In confidence

“You will be glad to know that there comes a time when you no longer care as much as you once did about what other people think of what you write. Now you write primarily to please yourself. After many years of practice and of being your own worst critic, you see that when you are ready to let a piece of writing go, it is because it really does have merit. Nothing has changed except your perspective, and your knowledge that you’ve earned the right to feel the way you do.”