I have always loved to write. Should you give it a try? The answer depends on what you want to do – and be.
Many people think that this is a glamorous activity, but I can assure you that it is not. You sit at home on your own, in your own world. Or in a cafe, with noise all around, but in your head, you are alone with your computer.
You struggle to think how to put your thoughts. Sometimes nothing comes. Sometimes what does come is not worth the candle.
In the old days of paper, you often found yourself with a wastebasket full of scrunched up bad starts. Now, you just press a computer key and everything disappears.
And yet I love it. Because sometimes you say exactly what you wanted to say. And then it is wonderful.
Children and writing
Most of us were expected to write from time to time as a child. I am sure I wrote the usual dull stories of princesses that young girls tend to write. I don’t remember them at all.
Perhaps you wrote something more interesting then.
What I do remember is going to my father’s office one Saturday morning, when he had urgent work to do, but needed to look after me. I was given some paper and pens and was told to sit quietly at a big table.
The idea came to me to write the story of my life (I would not have known the word ‘autobiography’). I had one line for each age.
The whole thing ended with the memorable statement “Age 8: And then I understood what life was.”
For some reason – I didn’t know why at the time – my parents thought this was funny. Or, perhaps, charming.
They kept this document safe, and I found it with their papers after they had died, along with the jacks and rubber ball I used to play with at more or less the same time.
Finding a career
I never thought of pursuing writing as a career, for instance becoming a novelist. This was never seen as a ‘real’ career. I also didn’t feel I had enough to write about. And, most importantly, it would not support my husband through his PhD.
But writing can take many forms and, in the end, I found my way. I became a social researcher and wrote numerous reports, articles and, yes, even books on the topics of my research. I liked doing this and others seemed to like what I produced. And so it went on year after year.
When I chose to work freelance, I was asked to do a lot of writing – reports from Committees of Inquiry or for Government departments, more mundane reports and even research proposals. I also found myself doing a lot of editing.
Even after retirement, I carried on doing unpaid what I had previously done for pay, because it was what I liked to do. I even went back to that day in my father’s office and wrote a kind of memoir.
Not that I really know what life is.
The process of writing
So why do I like writing? For as long as I can remember, I just liked the process – I enjoy the challenge of working out how to begin and how to find the right word for any particular context. The rhythm of a sentence is important to me.
I like seeing a piece of writing grow, like a knitter of an ever-increasing blanket or sweater.
And equally importantly, I love the process of cutting it back, namely editing. It is like weeding. Just as a garden can suddenly have a shape and a beauty when the weeds have gone, so too can a piece of writing.
Should you take up writing?
Would I recommend writing as an activity to take on in your 60s or beyond? Why not, if you have the inclination, feel you have something to say and want to try.
Even if you’re not sure what you want to say, it is worth having a go.
You may find a whole new career, writing down stories you told your children or grandchildren or exploring difficult or interesting experiences from your life.
Or you might even find yourself producing a novel.
If you are seeking fame or, indeed, an easy income, it is definitely not a good idea. It is possible to become rich and famous as a writer, but it is exceedingly unlikely.
But it is a great way to challenge yourself and do something that is genuinely creative. And you can do it anywhere and anytime.
Think about it.
A version of this article can be found in my book, The Granny Who Stands on her Head: Reflections on growing older (see getbook.at/Stands-on-Head)
It was first published on SixtyandMe.com