“I’ve always wanted to write a book. Maybe I’ll do it when I’ve got more time, after I retire.” If you’re hesitating on the brink of writing, or if you’re postponing your dream of writing until you are retired—and therefore older—here’s some advice.
Why this writing plan is flawed:
- You’ve already got 24 hours per day, just like the rest of us. You’ll never have more hours in the day.
- Writing a book is not a single skill that you can suddenly acquire. It’s a skill that needs learning and practice, like skiing or sewing.
- Maybe after you retire you won’t want to write a book. That’s fine! Just sayin’.
- Maybe you don’t actually want to write a book. And that’s fine too: accept it.
As we get older we have more to write about, but some find it very difficult to tackle a whole book because of age-related changes. In old age we may have physical impediments, an elusive short-term memory, a lack of energy and a lack of stamina. These difficulties I understand and share, now that I’m pushing 80.
If you really want to write, why does it have to be a book?
Some alternatives are blogging (obviously!), letters, Flash Fiction, short stories, poems, talks, videos—anything short and modular that you can write in short spurts. A full book takes longer, and that’s just the start. A book needs all your concentration. It needs deliberate structuring — for which you need to make numerous decisions small and large, which can be much slower when you’re old. It needs marketing and publicising and publishing. All these pressures can take the pleasure out of writing. If you can’t find a publisher (and most don’t) you might feel very disappointed.
For the same reason, if you do write a book in retirement, I suggest you write it in small, self-contained pieces that can be shuffled into shape. (I’ll explain this more when I discuss writing memoirs and family stories, maybe next Thursday.) Those 3-volume sagas, complex thrillers and ground-breaking non-fiction stunners are pretty hard to write when you’re easily distracted or can only write for an hour each day.
The biggie: how to find time
Believe me, I understand this problem! It’s a special sort of time you need, not just any old time. You need regular, dedicated time to get stuck into the writing and enjoy it. Some options if you are stuck:
- If you haven’t started writing yet, start with a Tiny Habit: go to BJ Fogg’s website tinyhabits.com and do his tiny, easy, infallible course. Takes 3 weeks, about 5 minutes a day. You could, for example, write for 30 seconds after lunch every day.
- Stop saying you’ll start writing when you retire. Start now.
- Try to keep one day a week clear of appointments and go to a library to write.
- Start with free writing, and I mean free. Just write for ten minutes by hand not thinking of grammar or story or style, just keep the pen to the paper and write continuously. Anything. Your name. Garbage. Anything. This is priming the pump and many people find it invaluable.
- Keep a notebook with you at all times, even in bed, to jot down ideas.
- Set small writing tasks for yourself, not big ones. And celebrate every one you accomplish — a tiny blog post, a wee poem, a good paragraph. You deserve congratulations.
- Don’t stop writing because a word eludes you or you doubt your memory. Just write. Fix things later.
- Never beat yourself up over your writing. Enjoy it! Do not compare yourself with anyone else. You’re doing fine!