29 November 2013

Finding Lost Time

Years ago, a good friend in her mid-forties was working on a Masters degree, and a professor urged her to pursue a PhD in order to teach. She demurred. “I’ll be fifty by the time I complete the requirements,” she said. The professor replied: “You will turn fifty in five years – you can be fifty with a Doctorate or with a Masters.”

I never forgot those words. They apply to everyone with a dream. The only thing we know for sure is that we will age. What matters is what we do with our years. There is no statute of limitations on a dream and no rush.

I was in my late forties when I completed my Masters in Writing. My first novel had already been roundly rejected and I saw that was like training wheels on a bike – great for beginners but better stored in the shed. I was in my fifties when the next novel attracted a serious literary agent, and a slew of raves for writing, but no acquisition, and the agent gave up quickly. So did I. Perhaps, I thought, time had run out.

Still hopeful, I gave up my businesswoman persona and spent the rest of that decade as a journalist, and was nearly sixty when I started blogging. Writing is writing, whatever the form, and I learned a lot, and never gave up on fiction.

In truth, age is a writer’s ally. The greater the experience, the more we have to say. More time to learn important truths, to establish a more expansive point of view, to refine skills and find your voice, and infinitely more stories to be told. The novel I will publish in January could never have been written twenty years ago.

I would have loved to devote my life to fiction and I always admired those writers who woke before dawn to knock off five thousand words before getting a nutritious breakfast on the table for their children and heading to work. I don’t have that sort of stamina. I had a husband and children and turns out there is a shelf life on that time. Parents also needed tending. Friends needed a friend. I wanted to take vacations at the beach and save for retirement. I had a room of my own and carved out time to write, but never enough time. Or was it determination? Courage?

Time is on your side whatever the obstacles in your path, as long as you don’t let the calendar undermine your resolve.

I still make a living as a journalist and marketing writer, so I split my days. Mornings, I craft articles, book reviews, newsletters, brochures or grants. I work at home, the kids grown, husband gone. No distractions. However writing, as you know, is a lonely job, so in the afternoons, I write fiction at a café. I like the sense of camaraderie there, even if I rarely lift my eyes from the screen. With a change of scene I also change my voice from the expository to the novelist. Sometimes I use people at the next table for character sketches; sometimes I borrow snippets of conversation. Sometimes I read, which is never wasted time because I truly believe you cannot be a great writer unless you read great writers.

I wrote a story while in graduate school in 1999. An African-American nurse, a single mother with three children, tried to run three times a week or so to stay sane. The only time she had to call her own. A tragedy stops her in her tracks. I love to read short stories, but rarely write them, although some years later, I wrote another story about a depressed girl who takes up running, and I realized she might be the grown daughter of the nurse. What might have happened to the nurse? To the other children? Their kindly neighbor? Their father was Caucasian, so what challenges do brown people face these days in the land of black and white? Who might they encounter on their journeys? A novel was born. Many characters came and went, and direction shifted many times. Years passed. But now, as Toni Morrison advised, I wrote the book I wanted to read.

Age however crept up on me when I realized I had no desire to waste time querying agents or praying for an editor or wading through the labyrinth known as the publishing industry. No, I would rather be writing, so I will self-publish “Colors of the Wheel” in January and the many friends and colleagues I have known throughout this long life are rooting for me. Hopefully, they will also spread the word.

If you don’t count the original story, six years is what it took to get this book right. Six years! I might have had a PhD. 

This post was just published today on women writers, women's books: http://booksbywomen.org/age-a-writers-ally-by-randy-kraft/

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