When I retired in 2007 and began writing my first novel, I thought my case was unusual––that most writers who had the talent to make a career of writing fiction were discovered when young. Maybe that was true once upon a time, but the world of writing has changed dramatically in the past decade. Today, when I attend writers’ conferences and workshops, half or more are seniors or retired.
To begin a new career is always a daunting undertaking, so what is motivating this generation of older writers to take the plunge? One reason is that people are in better health than ever before when they retire from their work careers. Fewer retire for health reasons, and therefore they have the energy and interest to try something new.
A second reason is that retired people have a wealth of knowledge and experiences that they are motivated to share. That is especially true of those who decide to write memoirs. They want their children and grandchildren to know about their lives and in many cases have insights that non-family readers can benefit from.
Changes in technology is another driving factor. With the arrival of e-readers and self-publishing the notion of seeing a book in print is not as far fetched as it might have been when today’s seniors were beginning their careers. Writers have options and plenty of people ready to help—from agents to editors to publicists to marketers.
While the hard to define notion of talent still plays a role in what gets published and widely read—as well it should, retired people who wonder if they have the talent to write well have discovered another important aspect of the modern writing world: that writing is largely a craft.
The key to successful writing is having something to say. Yes, some people have a knack (or talent) for saying what they want to say well, but those who are unsure of their talent can learn to write well by practice and by taking advantage of the myriad resources available to would-be writers.
Writers’ association workshops, critique groups, adult-education courses, and online resources provide the would-be writer opportunities to test and improve one’s essays, memoir chapters, or fiction. A key mind-set I’ve learned working on my own writing over the past decade plus is perfection is impossible, but getting better is not. In fact, every person I’ve met who has put in the effort has shown improvement and most have achieved results beyond what they expected.
In the past, the test of one’s writing ability was a hard-cover book put out by a publishing house. That’s no longer the case, as online and print magazines, e-books, self-published paperbacks offer opportunities to people of all ages and talent levels to be published and read. All it takes is the desire, effort, and, as stated above, having something you feel is worth saying.