The only writer’s group I belong to these days is Novelists Inc. Each member is a multi-published commercial fiction author. NINC has a fabulous conference every fall, and no matter how well-published we are as individuals, we always have much to learn.
NINC also has a listserv, and recently the following post appeared there. I was taken with this author’s story, and immediately thought that you might be, too. So I asked her if she would let me add it here, and she agreed. I’ve never met Jenny Brown, nor have I read her books, but her post made me think about the many people who read this blog who might wish they’d begun to write, play the piano, paint, learn another language, but feel much too old to start.
No matter how old you are, you are not too old, and today Jenny tells you why.
Thank you, Jenny for sharing and for allowing my readers to be inspired by your story. (And by the way, I love your morning glories!)
Though I was 62 when my first novel came out, I had made the very understandable mistake of publishing too soon. I had only written two novels when I sold Lord Lightning to Avon, and I had written the first book over a long period of time without much formal understanding of how I was doing what I was doing. The experience of trying to write two more books on contract was a nightmare for me, because I felt so much pressure to produce something good, and because, to mix metaphors, all I knew how to do was pants my way through the mist. The two books I owed my publisher took forever to write, completely destroyed my personal life for two years, and left me in a state where I was actually relieved that Avon botched the releases, because it meant I didn’t have to write any more for them.
But books are my life, and novels are the books I always wanted to write, and Novelists Inc. (NINC) kept me connected to people who write the books I love to read. So after I attended an inspiring session about reviving a stalled career at the NINC conference, I found myself just fooling around with a fragment I had started right before I parted ways with Avon. I had read a wonderful book on plotting that connected with the way my creativity works—Libby Hawker’s, Take Off Your Pants, and I put her system to work to see if I could finish off the 43 page fragment quickly. It worked. I ended up a couple months later with a book that still needed a lot of work, but it was a book, and as we all know, once you have a draft no matter how awful, you can fix it.
This past winter, I sat down and wrote a full draft of something brand new in just about three months. For the first time since I signed that accursed contract, I enjoyed every moment of writing it. I got some extremely helpful, trenchant critiques on the NINC online critique group, rewrote it, put it through another couple drafts, and ended up with a book I am really proud to have written.
In the middle of writing that book, I ran into a friend who is even older than I am who wrote his first published novel at 68. He told me that he really didn’t are about how many copies sold. What mattered to him was that he had written it. At the time, I found it really hard to understand that sentiment, but it made me realize the extent to which I had only valued my work in terms of how other people responded to it.
Over the next couple months I did some very deep inner work, exploring why it was that I had always felt that my work wasn’t meaningful unless other people responded to it. I saw that for me, with the long history I’d had of not respecting what I was because of the very toxic environment I’d grown up in, it would be a huge achievement to be able to create something all my own and be satisfied with having created it, no matter how strangers might respond to it. Energized by this new understanding, I launched my re-release of the old book this month and got the two brand new novels books ready to be published. I did this feeling that the triumph lay in the fact that I had written the books until I was satisfied with them and thoroughly enjoyed the process, and that their value did not lie in how they might fare in a cold, increasingly cruel world that has diminishing respect for creative people.
I want to keep writing books from that place where I enjoy the process so much that how others respond is irrelevant. I realize that I’m in a fortunate position being at the stage of life where I don’t need to write to pay the bills. But ironically, the writing that paid my bills from my late 30s on was made up of books that I wrote because I felt like they needed to be written, and because they were wonky nonfiction, I didn’t care what people thought about them. It was the caring about the fiction that was so crippling.
I know many of you don’t have issues with self-confidence about your writing, and suspect most of the professional novelists in NINC don’t have problems with coming up with ideas and turning them into books. But for those reading here who do, all I can say is that these issues are surmountable.
Are your own issues surmountable? Do you, like Jenny, let past trials keep you from moving forward? Have you considered if what’s really stopping you is not age or ill health, but a fear of failure? You can overcome it. Jenny worked with a hypnotherapist who helped her find the courage she needed. If you really want to move forward, find somebody you can talk to, as well.
In the future look for more author posts on my blog under the category A Writer’s Journey.
(The above link takes you to Amazon using my affiliate code, for a small bonus for me. Some of Jenny’s books are only available there.)