Robison Wells, Compulsive Creator
I met Rob Wells at a book signing, back when writing was his hobby instead of his full-time job. He was personable and funny, and I liked him immediately. Since his writing and characters were also funny and personable, I ignored my budget, bought his books, and became an instant fan.
It’s every author’s dream to affect a reader in this way—to have them practically ache to read more of the story that bounces around in your head for months. Rob kind of fell into the writer’s dream. Though his family was supportive of the arts—his brother was a writer, his sister danced, and Rob took oil painting classes from the age of ten—Rob never even considered becoming a writer. It wasn’t until he was studying history in college that something sparked an idea. He approached his brother, Dan (who is also a published author and quite successful) and suggested he put the idea into a story. Dan told Rob to do it himself.
Dan Wells, author of the “I am not a Serial Killer” series, and Brandon Sanderson, author of “The Wheel of Time” series, were members of a writer’s group. This wasn’t the feel-good “ooh, I like your story,” type of writing group. These men took their work seriously, and Rob probably didn’t know what he was getting into when he started attending their meetings. “They nearly beat the love of writing out of me,” Rob said. “They made it very clear how terrible I was.”
Though he was clearly a good writer, the idea of writing full-time and making a living still hadn’t crossed his mind. He continued school, changed his major five times, and finally told people he was studying architecture just to have an answer to their questions. Rob was interested in theater as well, and while he attended the University of Utah, he had his first paying gig writing for RED Magazine. The biggest perk to the job was free tickets to plays. He learned quickly that he was more interested in theater than he was in journalism. “…it was great when I got to watch good stuff, but I also had to report on industry news and do feature stories about experimental stuff, and I just didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t a particularly creative kind of writing, and it wasn’t a subject I was interested in.”
That affinity for theater shows in his rich, realistic dialogue. I love good characters with
and vulnerabilities, and Rob’s characters are strikingly realistic. When I asked him how he accomplishes this,
his reply amazed me, as it demonstrates an approach I had never
considered. “I used to base my
characters on real people, and then I realized that was hampering me more than
helping—I wasn’t really creating characters; I was fitting clunky
impersonations into my book. I think
with me, it all comes down to conflict.
I look at the setting or the plot first and then I try to come up with
characters who will come into the most conflict with that. I also spend a lot of time—the biggest amount
of my writing time, I think—focusing on voice.
If I can get the dialogue moving smoothly, then I know that my
characters will feel realistic.”
As I interviewed Rob, I thought of a lecture from my Creativity and Cognition course at the U, and saw many textbook creative traits in him. Rob is definitely a risk-taker. The average person wouldn’t complete a novel and send it to the publisher of his wife’s current paperback. He is definitely quiet and self-reflective, as is shown in his hundreds of blog posts contemplating everything from books to food to road trips. Rob clearly has intrinsic motivation, and has become a hard-working, prolific author.
Rob also associates closely with the creative person who suffers from anxiety issues and mental illness. For the past two years, Rob has suffered with Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Despite the challenges, Rob continues to publish. Writing with the intent to publish requires a totally different approach than writing just for the joy of it. Still, the pressure a contracted author feels has been therapeutic for Rob. “I work a lot, partly because I’m writing full-time and partly because I’m mentally ill. I have OCD, and one of the problems I face is an inability to relax—I always need to feel like I’m doing something, or else I get sick. Consequently, I head to my office as soon as I wake up—usually around 5:30 A.M., and I’ll stay until 6:30 or 7 P.M. I also work Saturdays and almost all holidays.”
As a result of his hard work, Rob writes roughly six to seven thousand words a day. According to word count, that translates into a novel roughly every two weeks. Of course, much of his writing includes blog entries, book reviews, essays and novellas. He has also created several podcasts about writing. Rob is an avid tweeter, as well, and will often blog about hot topics on Twitter. He reads a lot of books, and he reviews the books he feels strongest about. Somehow, Rob has found the balance between writing for pleasure and writing to publish.
Despite his need to spend hours writing, Rob still makes the time, sacrifice, and effort to book public appearances and signings. Often, these events are required by publisher contract, and cause anxiety for any author. I can only imagine the challenge they present for Rob. Yet, he perseveres, even when the events are out of state.
In a recent essay about being LDS and having a mental illness (Deseret News, February 20, 2013), Rob wrote, “I firmly believe that as in other areas of life, conveying the truth is the key to banishing ignorance, stigma and prejudice that surround mental illness.” I asked him how his openness has been received. “…it’s been very positive,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who are glad that I’m talking about it because they have similar problems and they’ve been afraid to talk about them. Ever since then I’ve tried to be as open as possible—even about the scariest stuff—because I think it helps to reduce the stigma. It shows people that you can be really sick and still be successful.” In another effort to express the truth, he wrote an essay in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, which addresses the importance of understanding the mentally ill and providing proper help. (robisonwells.com, December 16, 2012)
When I asked Rob where creativity comes from, he replied, “For that, I rely heavily on Malcolm Gladwell’s research: talent gets someone interested in a topic, and that helps, but only hard work makes anyone good at it. Anyone who puts in the effort can, I believe, be creative and successful.” Creative people apply their creativity to every facet of their lives, and Robison Wells is a prime example of this. He faces his trials with determination and a great tenderness and appreciation toward his wife and the way his illnesses affect her. Somehow, he strives to create, pay his bills, be an advocate for others who also suffer from mental illness, and teach people how to love reading and writing. I was honored to interview this amazing man, and I look forward to his continued success.
Deseret News, February 20, 2013, “Mormon Author Talks About His Mental Illness and Faith,” http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765622942/Mormon-author-talks-about-his-mental-illness-and-faith.html?pg=1
Robisonwells.com, October 23, 2012. http://www.robisonwells.com/2012/10/rob-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest/
Robisonwells.com, December 16, 2012. http://www.robisonwells.com/2012/12/how-close-are-we-to-more-killings/
Robison Wells’ website and blog http://www.robisonwells.com/
Twitter page https://twitter.com/robisonwells