Age Makes You Wiser, But Is Time Running Out? On Writing and Aging
April 23, 2015 § 31 Comments
All my life I’ve been trying to communicate. The funny thing about wanting to say something is that no matter how articulate you become, how presumably skilled in getting across your point, you may never feel you’ve nailed it. I’d guess most writers are plagued with the impulse to make themselves understood. I know I’ve been that way since, well, forever.
I wrote my first short story when I was six. By the time I was sixteen, I decided music was the medium and wrote all sorts of original songs, including music and lyrics for school productions. After graduate school and a short stint on Capitol Hill, I was slaving away as a “singer-songwriter” before falling back into the less glamorous but more lucrative career of public relations. Along the way and relatively late in life, I got married. I was forty.
A dozen years later, my husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks. Impelled by the need to express my sorrow and find my healing, I wrote. The very public death of my husband along with thousands of others gave me a platform. I produced essays, editorials, speeches, delivered via major outlets. I was fifty-two.
I then wrote a book about post-9/11 contemporary culture. Because I Say So: Moral Authority’s Dangerous Appeal, published in 2010. I also began publishing on a now-defunct platform called Open Salon. Two years later, another book I wrote was published about my search as a skeptic for a version of hope I could believe in. Hope in Small Doses was published when I had just turned sixty-three.
After nearly three years of practicing on short stories, some of which were published and many of which were not, I published my first novella, Don’t Move, a suspense thriller. Now I’m working on a novel. I’m . . . well, you do the math.
Second chance vocations, avocations and passions are all the rage nowadays with organizations like ENCORES and AARP promoting opportunities. A recent New York Times article focused on people finding (and defining) success “well past the age of wunderkind.”
I have yet to discover whether I have a literary career ahead of me. I’m occasionally appalled to find my chosen field so very crowded. Everyone is a writer; really, ask anyone: they will tell you they’re writing. #amwriting is a more popular hashtag on Twitter than #amreading, which begs the question: are there any readers for all the writing being put out there?
No matter—well, most of the time, no matter. I’m human after all, still searching for a way to be heard above the din. Age has possibly made me a little less competitive, though, I never really was.
And I’m financially secure enough in my retirement that I don’t need to scramble for $50 in order to supply “content” to some website that makes no distinction between good and not so good writing.
Good writing—including my own—is paramount to me. I delight in putting words on paper but I’m a deliberate sort. Although I’ve written dozens of essays and short stories, I;m not a “high producer.” Not only that, I’m a very compact writer—I say what I have to say in a few lovingly crafted and carefully edited words. Industry standards say 40,000 (sometimes 50,000) word count is the necessary minimum for a non-fiction book and 80,000 words for a novel. E-publishing and even improvements in printing, along with varied delivery systems allow us to blur, if not challenge those numbers.
Good, because I’m not about to spend ten years on a novel.
Age is not just a number; it’s reality. I have fewer years ahead of me left to write and possibly fewer than most of you. I fight some anxiety about having the time and the cognitive ability to send into the world a decent number of thoughtful, interesting and above all entertaining things to read. Writing helps, though; it gives me purpose and focus.
Age may make you wiser, but in my case, not less sensitive. I sense my age may make me irrelevant to the world at large, until I turn eighty-five and turn out a book and have everyone ooh and ahh and say, “Isn’t that amazing! At her age!” probably while I’m in the room and can hear them saying it.
Oh well. I need writing and I hope to discover that writing needs me. So full speed ahead. BTW, I’m almost cool with my impending role as elder writing statesperson, should that be an option. Almost.
Nikki Stern is the author of Hope in Small Doses, an Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal Finalist and Because I Say So: Moral Authority’s Dangerous Appeal. She’s also written several short stories published at Fictionique Magazine and elsewhere and has published Don’t Move, the first in a trilogy of novellas about a retired assassin. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, Humanist Magazine, CBS Sunday Morning, Salon, and many other venues. Follow Nikki @real nikkistern or visit nikkistern.com.