Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

No Regrets

When is it time to let go of a book?

I have donated my collection of books on writing to my local library. Why? We will get to that.

Image: Vince Vawter

The books were gathered over a period of 40 years or so. I didn’t publish my first novel until 2013, but I cannot recall a time I didn’t think about telling my stories on paper.

The books, more than 50, are a hodgepodge. Some are wonderful (Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, John Gardner, Elizabeth George); some are nuts-and-bolts guides; some need to be recycled into pulp — immediately.

Curious about the monetary investment I had made in the books, I started a quick calculation of the retail prices. I stopped counting at $750, knowing full well that return-on-investment of both money and time don’t come into play in the writing and publishing game. I can say that each book I purchased filled a specific need at a specific time. I have no regrets.

So, to the question of “why.”

No — at 75 years of age I’m not about to croak. At least I have no plans in that regard.

No — I’m not downsizing. One of the main reasons we bought our house was due to the abundance of bookshelves.

The reason must be, then, that I think I know all there is to know about writing. The exact opposite is the truth. I have found the best approach to writing fiction is to convince yourself that you know absolutely nothing. In my case, that seems to be easy to do.

The abandonment of rules and strictures — that sense of freedom — is necessary if one hopes to write well.

However, one can’t play tennis without a net.

When I speak at schools, I’m often asked why there are no commas or quotation marks in Paperboy. I give my reasons, which I maintain are solid, but I’m always careful to remind students that you have to know all the rules of grammar and punctuation before you have license to break them.

A recurring character in my fiction might have the best answer for why I’m donating my collection to the library. In Chapter 28 of Copyboy, Mr. Spiro says:

“We don’t own books. We borrow them and pass them on. What we own is what the books leave inside us.”

Thanks, Mr. Spiro.

However, the poet T.S. Eliot has the ultimate answer:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Thanks, Mr. Eliot.

No Regrets

Copyright © by Vince Vawter. All rights reserved. Vince Vawter lives in Louisville, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. He retired after a 40-year career in newspapers to write fiction. His first novel, Paperboy, was awarded a Newbery Honor and has been published in 16 languages. A team of Broadway professionals is collaborating to bring a musical based on Paperboy to the stage. His second book, Copyboy, has been published in four languages.