Nine Lessons I’ve Learned on My Writing Journey

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After a brief hiatus, I’m back to writing for The Regal Writer. The time away has cleared my head. I’ve been writing this blog since 2016, and I found that I was running out of story ideas. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my writing journey, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you. Hopefully, my lessons will resonate with you.

Lesson 1: It’s never too late to begin your writing journey.

I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since I was in my 20s when I dabbled with a few story ideas. But nothing concrete ever took shape. Once I got to my 50s, well, it seemed all the more pressing to begin the process. So I took a few classes to learn about the writing process and experimented with different storytelling techniques. I realized early in this journey that I was not alone. I’ve met several new writing friends along the way with similar goals. I also learned that numerous other authors were late bloomers. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House on the Prairie and its series at age 65, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula at 50 and Raymond Chandler penned his first novel The Big Sleep at 51. I figured if they could find success, so could I.

Lesson 2: Read widely in different genres.

One of the first books I read about the writing life was On Writing by Stephen King, which I highly recommend. The book freed me to start this writing journey and to take chances with my writing. One piece of wisdom he shared was to read and to read widely, not just my chosen genre but others, because reading is the best way to learn about crafting stories. My library is stocked with everything from non-fiction, romance, literary and the classics. There is something to learn from each one.

Lesson 3: Keep learning – and growing.

Much like reading books of different genres, it’s important to keep up with your education about writing. It seemed that the more classes I took and the more articles I read, the more there was to know and understand about writing. I’m still learning and growing, and I expect I will continue for as long as I call myself a writer. I have also learned that the best education was the actual process of writing. The more I experiment with ideas and characters and plot lines, the more I’m learning about the craft of storytelling. You learn best by doing.

Lesson 4:  Fiction writing is very different than writing for the business world.

I’ve enjoyed a successful career as an editor and communications professional. I’ve seen my work published in association publications and earned a byline. But I quickly learned on this journey that writing fiction is a very different animal. Like other newbies, I had to start at the bottom and learn how to craft a story, how to create the plot, develop characters with depth, and how to create suspense that will satisfy readers. It’s been a long, arduous process, and I’m still working on it. That said, writing fiction is more fun.

Lesson 5: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different writing styles.

When I began this journey, I had yet to settle on novel writing. The first classes I took focused on essays of about 1,000 words. The hardest part of this experience was revealing personal details of myself, which made me uncomfortable at times. I wondered if essays were the best avenue for me. I experimented with other styles – short stories, novellas, and eventually worked my way up to a full novel. I’ve dabbled with writing suspense, romance and women’s fiction, because I enjoy reading all those types of books. Experimenting with the different genres and lengths helped me determine that women’s fiction is probably the best outlet for my talents.

Lesson 6: Don’t be afraid to fail.

I once heard those words of advice from someone interviewing me for a job some years ago, and they’ve stuck with me ever since. In writing, it’s easy to fall into the mind trap that I’ve failed just because I never finished a manuscript or an editor rejected your latest piece. But no writing effort is ever a true failure. There’s always something to be salvaged from the manuscript – a piece of dialogue or a character with a unique perspective – that you can adapt to another piece of work. In writing, the only true sign of failure is giving up. Which leads to lesson 7.

Lesson 7: Never give up on your writing dreams.

I’ve had this dream of being a writer since I was in my teens. I’ve had teachers who encouraged me along the way. While I didn’t write a word for a couple of decades while I focused on my career, built a home life and enjoyed a social life, I was still compiling life experience. When I was ready to write again, I had plenty of fodder to draw from. So if you’re grappling with how to fit writing into your life, all I can say is there are ways to make it happen if you want it badly enough.

Lesson 8: Finishing the first draft is easy; it’s the revision process that is most challenging.

With several manuscripts in various stages of completion, I can honestly say that drafting stories is so much fun. I may sketch out the first few chapters, then begin writing. That’s when my imagination takes over. Characters show up that I never envisioned and plots develop in unexpected ways. It’s when I get to revising, shaping it into a marketable piece, that the hard work begins. That’s when I need to arm myself with patience to get through the often slow, painstaking revision process.

Lesson 9: It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. Enjoy the ride.

As I mentioned above, once I begin writing, I allow my creative muse to take over. My hands on the pen or keyboard are only the conduit for the words that come. It’s that part of the process that I enjoy most. I rarely think about what the end goal is. Maybe I’ll get my work published, more likely I won’t. But I relax and enjoy the process all the same. Don’t worry about what the end looks like, just enjoy the ride. Hope these lessons inspire you to keep writing.

Start a Writing Practice — No Matter What Age You Are

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If you ever thought you were too old to begin writing, whether for business or pleasure, guess again. Consider these late-blooming authors:

* Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing when she was in her 40s. Her first book Little House in the Big Woods was published nearly 20 years later.

* Harriet Doerr was 74 when her first novel, Stones of Ibarra, was published.

* Frank McCourt was 66 years old when his memoir, Angela’s Ashes, was published.

* English author Daniel Defoe was almost 60 when he finished writing Robinson Crusoe.

* Nora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, didn’t begin writing until she was in her 40s.

There are numerous other authors who did not get published or begin writing until they were in their 40s or older – proof that you don’t have to be a young spring chicken to write. (Here’s another great list of women writers who were late bloomers.)

In fact, it may be more advantageous to start a writing practice later in life rather than earlier.  For one, you have the benefit of life experience. By the time you reach your forties and fifties, you’ve acquired plenty of life experience – new jobs and losses, moving to a new city perhaps, starting a family, starting a business, health crises, etc. You’re able to look back at your experiences to learn from life’s lessons. All you really need to write is the desire and a willingness to commit to it.

As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to the conclusion that our lives are divided into two halves. The first half is all about acquiring knowledge, skills and experience. We’re students of life. During the second half of our lives – after age 45 or 50 or so – we look for opportunities to share what we’ve learned with others. We become teachers.

So it makes sense that many older adults rediscover writing as a way to express themselves while sharing their lifetime of knowledge and skills. Writing is the path to teach others about what they’ve learned on their life’s journey.

Writing also challenges you mentally, and at times, emotionally. It keeps your brain active which is important to ward off dementia. By writing, you become more aware of people and events around you too. You notice things more – like the bright colors of flowers, the sharp sweet smell of coffee in the morning, the way someone speaks. You pay more attention to these details because your writing thrives on these types of details.

If you are over age 50 and you’re new to writing, here are a few tips for starting a writing practice. Of course, many of these tips are appropriate no matter what age you are. But I think they are particularly helpful for older writers.

* Be open to learning new things. Attending workshops and classes can help you develop new skills and gain an understanding of the writing process. You’ll meet other people just like you who are starting their writing journey. You’ll have a lot to talk about with them – and a lot to write about afterwards.

* Don’t overlook your life experience. You bring a lot to the table by virtue of your life experience. When it comes to writing, age is an advantage, not a flaw. Write about those experiences that made a difference in your life. Share your life story with others so they can learn from you. Your personal experience is valuable, giving your writing added depth and perspective.

* Start small and work your way into bigger projects. Especially if you’re just starting a writing habit, begin by writing shorter pieces. Even writing in your journal counts. Aim for 100 or 200 words to start, then as you get into a rhythm, you can extend yourself to 500 words or more (if your schedule allows).

You may find that starting with shorter pieces is easier because once you complete them, you feel a greater sense of accomplishment. This approach serves two purposes: it allows you to  test out story concepts in shorter formats to see if they’re viable, and it helps you refine your writing technique for specific genres. Don’t be afraid to start small.

* Pay attention to the world around you. When you begin a writing practice, you may notice events and people around you more keenly. You may pay more attention to little details – the way a woman’s dress moves when she walks down the street, the smell of onions and garlic as you pass an Italian restaurant, or the cheerful chirping of birds outside your window at five in the morning. Writing gives you a renewed appreciation for life, one you appreciate even more as you get older.

* Make an appointment with yourself to write. Put the appointment in your calendar. If you’re good about keeping appointments, you’ll likely be as vigilant about keeping up with your writing practice.  

* Create a body of work you can be proud of. Regardless if you get published or not, keep writing to complete as many essays, stories and blog posts as you can. You’ll develop a body of work to leave as your legacy. More important, your body of work is evidence that you are never too old to start a writing practice.

The best part about starting a writing practice is that you can write well into your 70s, 80s or 90s. No matter what age you are, you can enjoy a writing life for years to come.