Kay: Not Dead Yet

“Nuns at a Calder Show, Los Angeles” photographed by Imogen Cunningham when she was 70

I was on public transportation the other day when two women—neither of them young, but both of them younger than I—sat down on the seat behind me. They didn’t hesitate to use their outdoor voices on the train, so consequently I learned that one of them is writing a novel, and the other envies her friend and wishes she could do the same.

However, she said, she’s too old to start now.

For any of our wonderful followers who might feel the same, or who know others who might feel the same, let me first draw your attention to Ida Pollack, who had a book out to her editor for revisions when she was 105. Helen Hooven Santmyer hit The New York Times best seller list and became a celebrity at 88 for her novel . . . And Ladies of the Club. And Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of the “Little House” books, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65 and the last one when she was 76.

Clearly, as long as you’re not dead, you’re not too old to write a novel.

But the conversation between these two friends on the train made me think about the writing life—a slow and often tedious process filled with (sometimes years of) revisions and then years of submitting and rejections before the hopeful author finds the editor of his/her dreams. Or, in today’s indie world, that author has years of writing and revisions, followed by (a long time, but probably not years of) hiring or arranging for editors, proofreaders, cover artists, distribution channels, publicity mavens, newsletter organizers, advertising sell-throughs, and giveaway gimmicks before, it is hoped, sales. The process isn’t fast, no matter how you do it. Cherry Adair says that it took 17 years for her to get her first book published, and then another five to get the second one published. I’ve been writing for what most people would say is “a long time,” and I don’t have much to show for it. I’m not speedy. On the other hand, also not dead. So that’s promising.

I mean, it’s one thing if you want to be a lumberjack at 88 or 105, right? At that age, becoming a lumberjack is a career goal that might forever go unfulfilled. But to be a writer? All you need is a pad of paper and a pencil. Or a computer and word processing program. Then you sit down and type. It isn’t easy—if you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ve heard all of us whine at some point about finishing our books—but it’s do-able. Heck, they say that if you sit a monkey at a keyboard long enough, eventually she’ll type Shakespeare. I guess I just haven’t been sitting at the keyboard long enough.

Alicia Rasley has a nice essay up about the myths of writing after the age of 50. I mock—no, I sneer—at the “50” part of this essay, but her points are otherwise good. (Always remember: Ida Pollack. Helen Hooven Santmyer. Laura Ingalls Wilder.). You can read Rasley’s essay here.

So how’s my writing going, you ask? Pretty good. At least, I’m not dead yet.


4 thoughts on “Kay: Not Dead Yet

  1. How’s my writing going? Not dead yet 😀 Yesterday was a day of negative wordage (boo!) but overall I’m making forward progress. This book writing stuff is taking WAY longer than I thought it would, but every day is a joy and a privilege, even the disasters.

    And you’re right about Alicia Rasley’s essay–she makes some excellent points, but 50? These days, that’s a good age for a mid-life crisis. Check out Mary Wesley’s Jumping The Queue, a brilliant, dark, funny, sad, moving, bestselling first novel she wrote at the age of seventy. If you’re still breathing, and thinking, and you can hold a pen, or type, or dicate, right now is a great time to be a writer.

    • Yes, exactly! Now is a great time to be a writer. I’ll check out the Wesley book. It sounds great.

      I take a lot of reassurance from everyone who’s still writing at ages that most of us can only aspire to. Congratulations on not being dead yet! And let’s hope that your forward progress surges in the days to come.

  2. My writing is as well as can be expected for someone who’s spending an hour a day in a lead-lined room.

    Alicia visited our chapter recently–she was great!

    • Jeanne, I’m so sorry that your writing is facing challenges these days, but you’re such a gifted writer that I’m sure on your bad days you’re doing work that the rest of us can only hope to achieve.

      I envy the chapter meeting with Alicia Rasley! Her web site is terrific, so right now, I have to settle for that.

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