Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Dawn Copeman
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Wow! We have a lot of late bloomers amongst us. Let me begin by introducing you to one writer who proves it's never too late to start a writing career: Mary Alice Murphy. She wrote: "Well, I'm not quite as late a bloomer as Francine Allen. I wrote my first novel at age 49-50, but never published it. Finished another a few years later, again not published. Wrote most of a third, which I've never quite figured out how to end. Published a book with a co-author at age 61 and have been working as a newspaper reporter since I was 58 - full time since 62. I'm now 65 and still working mostly more than fulltime at the paper and do several freelance articles a year, too. I won't get rich at it, but I'm sure having fun!
"I write every weekday at the newspaper and sometimes on weekends, although I usually save them for my other love - photography - journalistic and art. Ain't life grand?"
Another successful late bloomer is Barbara Mackinnon. She emailed to say: "I too am a Late Bloomer and enjoying every minute of it! I had my first novel published last year, entered it in a contest, and won a prize! 'Now' is always the time. Time will pass anyway so why not take a shot at your dreams?"
"I almost typed knickers rather than bloomers," writes William Barbee. "But at 89 I am generally allowed a little leeway. I began outdoor writing two years ago and had to literally go back to school. Roger Brunts' School of Outdoor Writing has been a big help. I have had two articles published, even being paid for them, and another accepted, but not published."
Another successful late bloomer is Joan Sutula, who writes: "My writing journey started when I was 59 years old. Now, at the age of 75, I have had short stories published in local publications, and two stories of mine have appeared in two of the 'Chicken Soup For the Soul' books –'Cat & Dog Lover's' and 'Every Mom's Soul'. Currently, I am doing an 8-week writing session, so far producing one new story, and revising several of the approximately thirty short stories dancing around in my computer. Like all of my 'Twiggie' friends, I plan to keep on writing for many more years!"
Many of our late bloomers started writing earlier on, and then life interrupted them. People like Edward Kelemen, who started writing in his 30's and got a job with a small newspaper. When that folded, he put away his writing ambitions, until he turned 61 when, inspired by his ex-wife, he joined a writers' group. He writes: "Since joining the group and restarting my writing I have been lucky enough to have gathered a number of writing credits. I write a weekly column in a regional newspaper. I have had articles and short stories published in local, regional and national publications. The GWG has produced an anthology called, 'The Phantom Detectives,' in which I have two stories. I co-authored a book about local hauntings and have placed in a short story writing contest. I also co-authored a play which was produced in 2006. And finally, I completed a detective novel which has been as of now, rejected 18 times and the sequel is almost finished.
"I know that the previous paragraph reads like a lot of BSP(Blatant Self Promotion), but it is really intended to show how the right critique group can make or break an aspiring writer.
"Anyway you look at it, it's not to shabby for a late bloomer."
Not too shabby at all, Edward, and neither is the story of Carol Gursky. She wrote: "Although English was my favorite subject in high school, I didn't start writing poetry seriously until I was 65 years old, ten years ago. I self published two chapbooks and went on to write and have published personal essays and short stories. My collection of 13 detective stories was published this year as 'The Porter Sisters Investigate.' And now I'm writing romance stories for the older adult, which I hope to have published some day soon. I belong to a writing group with an author instructor who encourages us to continue writing until the end of our wonderful life. Amen."
But for many of our late bloomers, the act of writing itself is liberating and life-enriching, regardless of whether they get published or not.
"Hi, my name is Anna W. I also am a late bloomer. I just turned 42 and decided if I ever wanted to something with the stories I have written for my own kids then I had better start now. I am in the process of losing my eyesight and I would like to see at least one book in print before I do. I intend to keep writing with the help of my husband or sons to do the spelling and grammar check for me and if I cannot publish a book before then I will continue to write for my grandkids with the help of their parents to read them the stories. I thought I would have plenty of time but you never know what the future holds. Don't wait, head for your dreams now."
Someone who is definitely heading for her dreams now is Virginia P Elliot. She wrote: "I have sold short pieces to several national magazines, have a column (monthly since 1992) have a novel, a mystery and a family history in progress. I have written and sold out the entire print run of 3500 for each of two family memoir cook books, and written and produced T.V. And I am just beginning to bloom in my 88th year. I have spent too much time trying to 'learn to write' and reading about other's success and how they did it. The past month I have been ill enough to realize I better get cracking if I want to get all the blossom out of my bloom before the stalk dies.
"So, I am reducing my time on email, and scouring the internet for advice and 'how to', and beginning to really write as if my life depended on it. It does. I've just won an essay contest, the prize was a catered dinner in my home for 20 guests, and I have promised myself and my kids to write 500 words a day as well as keeping up with the fitness program. I am feeling a bloom warming my stalk."
But the final word on this matter goes to Michele Ivy Davis, a self-confessed late bloomer who is proud of it. She writes "While I had a few short pieces published about 35 years ago in 'little' magazines, I was busy owning and running several businesses and raising two children until I moved to Florida in my mid-fifties.
"While we were looking for and settling on a house, I took a writing class that awoke my creative muse after a long, l-o-n-g sleep.
"I joined a writers' critique group, read everything I could about writing and submitting, subscribed to writing magazines, got a job in the office of a small local newspaper, and wrote. I found everything I did brought me closer to publication and to understanding the business of writing.
"Soon my work was published in the larger Tampa Bay newspapers, as well as literary and other magazines and several 'Chicken Soup' books. I met a retired police lieutenant at my critique group and we have teamed up to write nearly 150 articles for law enforcement and fire rescue/EMS publications. These articles are accompanied by photographs we have taken and from time to time our pictures grace the covers!
"And I started a novel, something that I never thought I'd have the patience to write. My manuscript was a finalist in one national contest and won the grand prize in a contest sponsored by Penguin Group USA. 'Evangeline Brown and the Cadillac Motel' came out in 2004 and has since won a first prize in Switzerland for the German translation.
"So is it possible to be a late bloomer and have some writing success? You bet! And at 62, I'm looking forward to more years of writing.
"My advice for other late bloomers is to learn all you can, write what you want (after all, most of us are also retired and that means we only have to do the fun stuff!), expect a lot of rejection slips (but keep a 'Feel Good' file for anything you receive that is positive -- sometimes you will doubt yourself and the world), join a critique group, and grab every opportunity you can, including entering contests. You never know where something will lead!
"And here's an insider's tip: unlike many of the arts, NO ONE KNOWS HOW OLD YOU ARE! So those of us with wrinkles and sensible shoes have just as much chance as the Barbie dolls -- our work speaks for itself.)Remember, it's better to be a late bloomer than never to have bloomed at all."
Good Advice, Michele.
"I'm not a late bloomer, I started writing in my thirties and now I'm only...um...39-G. I did wait until my kids were old enough to fend for themselves so I could pursue my work with less distraction instead of taking up the pen while the babies still wore diapers. My youngest is now seventeen and he's capable of making a sandwich and bringing it to my desk."
"Francine has struck a chord with me with her question about late bloomers. In fiction, I am one. What a rejuvenator writing has turned out to be!
"Here's my story. I woke up one morning deciding that I wanted to write a self-help book and started down that path. I was tired of chasing contracts as a consultant and thought maybe I could translate some of what I did in my work into ideas that 'normal' people could use in their 'normal' lives. I did the normal thing one does nowadays -- hit the internet to learn as much as I could about writing self-help books. But then I had a life changing experience.
"I signed up for an adult education course that was supposed to be about the publishing industry -- the ol' 'how to get your work published' class. However, the centre couldn't find a teacher for that subject, so it turned into a beginning writers workshop, focusing on fiction. Talk about disappointment! I sat there with my arms crossed, steaming that I'd wasted my time and money and expectations. Fortunately, I didn't let my negative attitude walk me out of the room. I stayed and tried to learn what I could from the weekly sessions. Well, we sketched a story and guess what -- four of us took the project forward on our own and finished the darn thing!
"I found myself sucked into writing fiction at 50+ years, on a completely new adventure. Four years and three novels later, I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the second time, have joined umpteen online writers groups, learned about crit groups and all sorts of other networked writer support, and have decided that writing fiction is one of the most 'complete' activities that anyone can do -- right from home! My imagination is sharper. I've improved my prose immensely. I've polished and tugged and restructured; analysed themes and character motivations; and documented scenes. I've queried and subbed novels and short stories. I've blogged. About the only thing I haven't spent time on is my initial non-fiction project! But I have set a goal to do that in 2008, and to use the skills and techniques I've learned through writing fiction to create what I think will be a more enjoyable book.
"That's my story. Thanks for asking!"
"I'm probably the definition of 'late bloomer' in regards to writing. When I was a kid, I was the neighborhood storyteller, scaring the audience on my front porch with made up ghost stories. An avid reader, I thought about being a librarian for awhile in high school.
"Life went on though, and I found myself on roads less traveled (for good reason!) and ended up focusing my energy on building some badly needed self-esteem.
"I began storytelling again in the form of writing five years ago. At first, the thought terrified me; who was I to think I could write a book? Would I embarrass myself? Would I become the sad stereotype - the person who tells you at cocktail parties: 'Yeah, I'm writing a novel'?
"These thoughts and others paralyzed me for months. Finally I gave myself permission to write. 'After all,' I told myself, 'No one on the planet has to ever see what I'm writing, right?' How could I be embarrassed by what no one ever saw? That broke the logjam, and I finished my novel two months ago, and am now in the process of editing it for submission to agents by January 1.
By the way, I'm now 53 years old...better late than never!
"I consider myself a late bloomer in writing. I started about five or six years ago (I'm 53). I was listening to the radio and heard a new children's program being promoted. I thought that it sounded like fun and wanted to try my hand a writing. The first story was meant to be a picturebook. Let's just say that the idea 'may' be good, but the voice and execution need a lot of help. Several picturebook attempts later I got better, but definitely not good enough.
"By that time My daughter was teaching fifth grade and complaining that there are too few good books written to the audience of urban, male, reluctant readers. So I considered that option. The story was much better, even good, but still the writing needed help. My next attempt was writing a young adult science fiction. Better story and better writing. My current project is better by leaps and bounds. Bottom line...I'm having the time of my life. And who know, maybe one day I'll even be published. Until then, I'm keeping at it. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it."
"I love reading your articles, and I was so thrilled to read about Francine Allen. At aged 65 she is a true inspiration. I am not sure yet whether at 46 years old I qualify as an "oldie" as such but I do know that with the last of our six children in teenage status I am totally looking at new ways to express my creativity especially through writing and art.
I think the wonderful thing about both forms of creativity is that you can't really get it wrong. My favorite quote comes from Winston Churchill (an unlikely source I know) who said 'success is going from one failure to another with enthusiasm.'
My advice to anyone contemplating writing anything more than a shopping list is to say 'Go For It'. Women with children spend almost half of their lives caring for others. It is such an empowering thing to reach a stage in life where you can start to do what you WANT to do instead of what you SHOULD do.
I'd love to hear from older writers who are learning to express themselves with words and pictures. Us Oldies are an amazing group of people :)
"I am a late bloomer just like Francine. I have just started to learn writing skills last month. Writing is my passion and I want to be a writer. I am 45 years old and most people will say an old dog cannot learn new tricks. Here in Malaysia when you are over 30, you are considered too old to learn new skills. We do even have a word for late bloomer in our Asian languages. I am actually learning secretly in the privacy of my own home to avoid people making fun of me. I have a separate room for my writings and I spend an hour everyday learning from the internet."
"Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to write. I think I was born in between covers, particularly fascinated by rhymed poetry. I wanted to become a poet, never mind the lost-in-the-world look that was the trademark of the profession. There were not many 'careers' a girl dreamt about, growing up in Cairo.
"So poems came first, then a diary, which was more of a catharsis for my teenage problems than a literary engagement. School composition progressed from a blank page to essays arresting attention. Upon graduation I registered for a writing course by correspondence with an institution in England. My teacher was unaware of taboos in Egypt, and I knew nothing about my English-reading audience. A few articles, published in local ethnic newspapers, released some of my innate desire for expression. Pressures for earning a real living pushed my writing aspirations to the sideline.
"Upon arrival in New York, as an immigrant, after five years of an itinerary life, I promptly registered at Columbia University, to pursue my dream. Adverse circumstances forced me again to give up ambition and tend to family, but the dream kept flickering. I tried Toastmasters as the back door to journalism. A few 'best speaker' and contest awards kept the fire going.
"Upon retirement, with a pension to rely on, I pursued my passion like a maniac. Day and evening writing classes, a Writers Digest correspondence course, a PEN USA West scholarship, and tons of courage to feed ambition propelled me to write a book. 'The Immigrants’ Daughter', a compendium of essays on growing up in Cairo, published through Booklocker.com, won the Best Books 2006 Award, and placed finalist in the National Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards, both under the multicultural non-fiction category. The first wiped out my inhibitions about being an ESL (English as a Second Language) writer. The second razed my self-doubts on my abilities as an author. I have reached my core. I have become myself. Fans boost my ego beyond inflatable capacity.
"All impossible accomplishments start with a dream. Perseverance brings them to life. The journey in between is sprinkled with hope, zest and perspiration."
"I, like, Francine, am a 'late bloomer' at 60.
When I joined my husband where he is working in Africa, I found myself with lots of free time. Teaching, family responsibilities, and the burden of taking care of a house are no longer part of my daily routine. I have time to pursue writing and art, now.
Unfortunately, I realize that I could have made time for these before.
While I know it's never too late to achieve one's goals, I do often think of time wasted and what might have been accomplished already.
"I have also just reached 65 (August) Its really hard to believe, I don't feel it, and people tell me I don't look it. I still feel like I have a whole other career ahead of me. I just want to support you and tell you to keep moving on, we need to change the worlds opinion about age 65. I have written small bits and pieces all of my life, but I really am a newbie, so I subscibed to your Newbie Newsletter. Thank you for creating it and I am looking forward to getting it."
Virginia B Elliot's comments in full
"I was five when my grandmother gave me a fat black pencil with fat black lead and no eraser. The following year I had learned to write my name, and to spell and pick out words and to read books for that age level. And I started school. I was ahead of all the kids in the class because of Gram's tutoring. I adored pencils. Still do. I was never without a pencil. Then in highschool a teacher said I was a writer....I did not know it, but I kept on writing: poetry, little plays, short paragrphs that told a scene. Then came highschool's end, when I was a junior. It was the depression and I went to work to help out at home. But I wrote for fun, for relaxation and for peace in a troubled world. Well, to get to the point...I have sold short pieces to several national magazzines, have a column ( monthly since 1992) have a novel, a mystery and a family history in progress. I have written and sold out the entire print run of 3500 for each of two family memoir cook books, and awritten and produced T.V. And I am just beginning to bloom in my 88th year. Have spent too much time trying to 'learn to write' and reading about other's success and how they did it. The past month have been ill enough (TIA's) to realize I better get cracking if I want to get all the blossom out of my bloom before the stalk dies.
"So, I am reducing my time on email, and scouring the internet for advice and how to, and beginning to really write as if my life depended on it. It does. And I am regaining strength, don't need the walker, can walk two miles in 30 minutes, do pushups, get in and out of the tub alone, and down on and up from the floor with my great grand kids without help, just won an essay contest, prize was a catered dinner in my home for 20 guests, and have promised myself and my kids to write 500 words a day as well as keeping up with the fitness program. I am feeling a bloom warming my stalk.
Joan Sutula's comments in full
"I am another 'later bloomer' among your subscribers. I started writing poetry in 1991, when I joined our State Poetry Society, and I now have been a member for almost 16 years. My poetry has been selected to appear in approximately 14 of their annual publication, 'Lyrical Iowa', plus numerous other anthologies. I've also honed my writing skills by taking classes in all writing forms at our local Arts Center, and Community College for almost as long. A group of us with a strong desire to 'keep on writing', formed a writing group TWIG, (Thursday Writer's Input Group) and we have met monthly for the last 9 years. Most of us are short story writers, but we dabble in all forms
. These contacts with other writer's have been the motivation to keep me writing. The classes are about a 30 mile drive, so I try for an 8-week class every spring & fall.
My writing journey started when I was 59 years old. Now, at the age of 75, I have had short stories published in local publications, and two stories of mine have appeared in two of the 'Chicken Soup For the Soul' books—"Cat & Dog Lover's" and "Every Mom's Soul". Currently, I am doing an 8-week writing session, so far producing one new story, and revising several of the approximately thirty short stories dancing around in my computer. Like all of my 'Twiggie' friends,
I plan to keep on writing for many more years!
Edward Kelemen's comments in full
"I am a late bloomer with my writing career. I tried to do something with my writing when I was in my 30s, after all my relatives told me what a gifted writer resided between my ears. I managed to grab a spot in a very small newspaper doing fluff features and a factual column (Note: no creativity involved.)
I also managed to gather a sheaf of rejections for anything else I wrote. So, not surprisingly, I quit when the little, unprofitable paper went under. And, for nearly 30 years, I wrote nothing.
Finally, at the ripe old age of 61, i was involved in a conversation with someone who didn't even like me(an ex-wife). She happened to mention that she absolutely loved a novel that I had started while we were married and said that, as a talented writer, I should start writing again.
That's all the impetus I needed. During the intervening 30 years I had gathered a bit of experience with and amusement at the human race.
I fell into a writers' group quite by accident, and the Greensburg Writes Group was the best thing that happened to my writing career. The Greensburg Writers' Group is an off-shoot of the Ligonier Valley Writers, (www.ligoniervalleywriters.org.) Within the GWG is a core group of writers who include within their ranks a person who's occupation is proof-reading, another who has written some 25+ romance novels, another who ha written 9 novels with one published, a 17 year-old girl who has written 4 novels, a lady who has written and had produced a half-dozen or so plays, a gentleman who has published childen and young adult books and others who have published a total of maybe 75 books.Plus, five members of the group teach writing popular fiction as part of an MFA program at a local university. The GWG is what I call a gentle critique group.
What I learned from joining the group is that, while I can tell a story, I didn't know how to write! I absolutely had no idea how to use a semi-colon; and still don't. The advice I received was to eliminate its use completely and instead of being wrong 99 times of 100, I would be wrong only once every hundred.
I learned plot structure, story boarding, punctuation, continuity and a hundred other things. The most important thing I learned was that joining such a group and making friends of other writers lessens the aloneness of writing.
Since joining the group and restarting my writing I have been lucky enough to have gathered a number of writing credits. I write a weekly column in a regional newspaper. I have had articles and short stories published in local, regional and national publications. The GWG has produced an anthology called, 'The Phantom Detectives', in which I have two stories. I co-authored a book about local hauntings and have placed in a short story writing contest. I also co-authored a play which was produced in 2006. And finally, I completed a detective novel which has been as of now, rejected 18 times and the sequel is almost finished.
I know that the previous paragraph reads like a lot of BSP(Blatant Self Promotion), but it is really intended to show how the right critique group can make or break an aspiring writer.
Any way you look at it, it's not to shabby for a late bloomer.
Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).