Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is It Too Late?

I wrote an article some time ago about people who started their writing careers past the age of fifty. Many people think about writing but might sigh and push the thought aside. Maybe I'm too old to start writing now is their reasoning. Read the article about several people, including Kathe Campbell featured here yesterday, who didn't push the thought aside.

Is It Too Late?


By Nancy Julien Kopp

     "I'd love to write, but I'm too old now." Have you thought or said something like that aloud? Is it too late once you've passed through your forties? Can you learn a new craft later in life? Come along with me and meet several writers who took the first step when well into, or past, middle age.
     Tragedy turned Kathe Campbell into a writer at the age of sixty-two. A wretched accident at her Montana ranch resulted in the loss of her right arm. Still in shock and feeling useless, Kathe held many a pity party. No one showed up but the Guest of Honor. Her son built a computer and urged her to practice using the keyboard with her left hand. Once a 120 words a minute typist, she played with the keyboard a little, finding it difficult but challenging. Kathe says "If any old broad ever needed confidence during this settling and coping time of life, I did. I discovered several writing e-zines on the internet and unabashedly submitted the wrenching story of my loss at the age of 62. The entire effort served as mental and physical therapy, jolting me right back into allowing my thoughts to spill over pages once again." Only a few years earlier Kathe had written her first story detailing a journey through her mother's Alzheimer's Disease. Cosmopolitan magazine published it. She never wrote another until after her accident. Now, at seventy-two, she turns out story upon story bringing folksy humor and touching warmth to readers at several website e-zines. Chicken Soup For The Grandparent's Soul recently published one of Kathe's true life tales.
     Did Kathe Campbell start a writing career too late in life? She waited until she harbored a lifetime of experiences to draw from, until the goal of succeeding seemed less important than the fact that she enjoyed writing with every fiber of her being. In her own words, "Writing is such a lot of fun." Her accident became the catalyst for a part time career she'd never considered in her younger years.
     Hollywood portrays young men writing the great American novel in garrets, outdoor cafes, or even at a kitchen table. They sweat, they agonize, they labor long into the night until that magical first sale turns them into Pulitzer Prize winners in a flash. Oh, that it might be that easy. Have you ever seen a film that portrays someone over the age of forty-five writing their first story? They don’t fit the stereotype Hollywood has invented, do they?
     More than a few writers launch freelance careers in mid-life and beyond. Madge Walls, author of Hawaii Real Estate Exam Book, tried to write in her thirties but found the distractions of young children overwhelming. She shelved the writing itself but attended every workshop on the subject of writing that came to Maui where she lived. "I knew I would write seriously some day and wanted to absorb all I could while waiting to get the little distractions grown up" Madge says. She feels the older you are the more wisdom and experience you have accumulated. At sixty-one, she believes her writing to be much richer now than it might have been years earlier. Madge is currently working on a historical fiction novel and has completed another novel based on her experiences selling real estate in Hawaii
     A woman in her sixties, who prefers to remain anonymous, entered the writing world partly because of being a copious letter writer all her life. Letters filled with mini-stories were a medium of self-expression which, over the years, evolved into writing short stories and novels. She enrolled in a correspondence course to learn the basics, writing many articles and stories that never reached publication. Rather than give up, she signed up for several writing courses found on the internet. Many were excellent but left her searching for more. She needed feedback and interaction, which these courses did not offer. She wrote five adult novels, one for teens and two for middle grade children. An online critique group became an eye-opener, teaching her more than all the previous period. Nearing seventy, she is an active person who still works to support herself but also writes four hours each day. Her positive attitude and consistent hard work aid this writer on her journey to publication.
     Dick Dunlap creates stories that bring both laughter and an occasional tear to the reader. Dick says that anything he wrote in high school was overlooked because of poor spelling and bad handwriting. In spite of that, he won second prize in a Woman's Club essay contest in his teen years. It was the first time he received recognition for his writing, and the excitement was never forgotten. Dick avoided writing through the majority of his life, being ashamed of its appearance. When over sixty, he submitted a poem to a newspaper. A Writer's Guild member contacted him, and he took a big step by attending meetings. Soon, he bought a word processor and signed up for a writing course for Seniors. He created a fictitious family called "The Nevers", writing story upon story about the folks who make up this bumbling family. Dick says, "I like what I write. I laugh, I get a tear in my eye, I live my plots."
     "Will the Boots and Saddles Club please come to order?" That was the first line of a novel Molly Samuels penned at the age of 8. Molly says, "That was so horrible, I put my writing skills to work elsewhere for the next forty-four years. I never lost that desire to write a book, even though it was one of those "someday" dreams. I'm fifty-eight now and have been seriously focused on writing for only four years." At fifty-two Molly came to a cross-roads in her career. She realized that everything she enjoyed throughout her career related to writing, and a new door opened for her. She spends her free time turning out chapter upon chapter of a historical novel that has captured the interest of her online critique group.
     Molly states her thoughts on writers who jump into the writing game at a later stage of life. "I really think we need to age a bit to get experiences, things to fill those wrinkles in our brain for our sub consciences to ferret out, for our writing to glow. I don't think the first fifty-two years of my life were wasted, even though I never wrote anything more scintillating than a survey analysis."
     A teacher's criticism douses the spark of creativity in many cases. Shirley Letcher had an interest in writing all through her high school years. A creative writing teacher criticized her work mercilessly, adding a massive dose of sarcasm. Shirley did not write again for more than twenty years when she returned to college to pursue a master's degree. Professors complimented her on weekly essays she submitted. It wasn't long before she was publishing articles and getting paid. She writes in her free time and finds it exhilarating.
     Leela Devi Panikar operated a lucrative pub/restaurant business in Hong Kong. At the age of sixty-six, her life moved in a different direction. She found it necessary to bring her elderly wheelchair bound mother to live with her. Leela's care-taking duties are time consuming, but she is well aware that she needs something else in her life, too. In her precious spare time, she works on a novel set in Hong Kong.
     I have a personal interest in the topic at hand. A desire to write occupied the recesses of my mind all through my growing-up years, college, career, and raising children. Too busy now I told myself, until, at the age of fifty-three, I landed in a small town that did not accept new people very readily. I was lonely and homesick for all we left behind when my husband made a job change. I plunged in head-first by enrolling in a correspondence course that promised to teach me how to write for children. I was hooked after Lesson One, and I've never looked back in the fourteen years since.
     Middle-aged and older people who have never written before can learn the craft. Bumps and bruises await along the road to a writing career, but if desire is strong, and you practice patience and perseverance, satisfaction and success lie within reach. Draw from your wealth of experience to write that first story soon.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nancy,

    Good post. I began to write in earnest in the late nineties at age 60, and believe it or not, the first story I sent out was accepted! My first Chicken Soup for the Soul story was accepted in 2000 for the Christian Family Soul! In the 12 years since I began, I have 70 books under my belt and scores of magazines as well. I have never had the ambition to write a book, although I was even asked to write one about my WW II experiences as a child in Hungary. I want to enjoy my life in the woods, and not be tied down to a computer all the time. But that's just me.

    No, it's never too late to begin to write.

    I am home today catching up with some chores, and will be out and about tomorrow, having fun with friends. Life is good.

    Take care!

    Renie

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