In my early sixties, I resolved to phase out my career as a freelance writer/editor and ease into semi-retirement as a novelist. As a first step, I took a course on writing mysteries. I followed up by forming a critique group with other aspiring writers and writing, at night, a chapter a week.
I finished the first draft of my mystery in about a year. I learned a tremendous amount and became comfortable writing fiction, which requires a different mindset than nonfiction. I couldn’t sell the manuscript even after revision, but writers learn to withstand rejection. I resolved to devote two hours a night to writing fiction.
By age 68 I had sold a novel and a short story and was balancing my time between fiction and nonfiction. By 75 I’d stopped working for clients and spent most of my time writing and promoting my Show Me mystery series. My fiction earnings didn’t compare with those from nonfiction, but that didn’t matter. Much.
My series came to a natural end with Show Me the Sinister Snowman. Holding the details of a mystery’s convoluted plot in my brain was becoming a challenge. I resolved to switch to shorter forms and to increase leisure activities, including the reading I’d sacrificed while writing.
In late 2018, cancer made me doubt whether I’d turn 80. As the New Year began, medication-induced insomnia and energy prompted me to concoct the characters, setting, and plot of a new novel. The concept united a leisure interest, Jane Austen’s novels, and a long-time concern, the survival of family farms. My three pages of notes became a lifeline, enabling me to focus on creating and peopling a world rather than on worrying about leaving mine.
My two critique partners supported my faltering efforts, giving me useful feedback in gentle tones. Chemo cripples the brain for months, and words crawled rather than flowed. Still, by the end of the year I’d accomplished enough to resolve to continue.
Since then I’ve finished several drafts, but not the last. That’s partly because real events affected my made-up ones, largely because I wasn’t satisfied with the result. The book I dreamed of writing remains beyond my capabilities. I can no more be Austenesque than I can run a marathon. I accept that. Also, moving interrupted my final edit in 2023. And, to be truthful, writing took more time and energy than I could muster.
So now what? At 84, writing still gives me a rush. In 2024 I resolve to finish my last novel, a couple of short stories, and a dozen blogs.