Some Advice For Older Writers of Fiction

Every writer has had the experience of talking with friends or strangers who upon learning that he has written a book, respond, “You know, I have a book in me.”

If you have a book in you, then get it out. The writer is the one who writes, who lets his or her work do the talking. The maxim, “Don’t talk about writing your book, just write it” applies to writers of all ages but especially to us older writers. We have less time left.

Older writers have less time in terms of years left, but they have a precious advantage: life experience.

I have tremendous admiration for younger writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Nathan Englander and Jonathan Foer who seem to know so much about life in their 20s and 30s, but many of us don’t have that gift. For us it takes the birth of children and their growing up and marrying, the illnesses and deaths of parents and relatives and friends, the experience of the people we meet in work and play, at home and in travels, in volunteering, in church or synagogue, to be able to describe life in all its variations.

These are experiences that older writers have in abundance. Use them to create stories and to fill them with real people, people who have struggled and are struggling with desires and weaknesses, with successes and failures.

When I say “create stories” I mean that literally. Too often would-be writers, both young and old, say they want to write “about” something-about their time in the army or the Peace Corps or in jail or in business or in the classroom or backpacking through Asia. But writing about something is not the same as telling a story. For a book of fiction to succeed it needs a story, and the sooner you find the story, the better your writing will go. A story entails conflict, it involves real people struggling to overcome an obstacle, and it ends with either the happiness of a quest fulfilled, or the tragedy of failure. Once you find a setting that you’re comfortable with and the story you want to tell, it will be that much easier to fill it with characters that readers want to know about.

How do you know that your book is any good? For this you need readers who are brutally honest with you. They might be other writers, friends or relatives, friends of friends, but they are people who like to read, who are interested in life and its stories, and who will tell you frankly whether you are on the right track. I’m not talking about professionals-agents, editors, publishers. That comes later. What you need first is feedback that says you have written something that actual readers want to read.

Finally, as an older writer can you get your book published? There’s no reason to sugar coat this: getting fiction published is tremendously difficult, and for older writers even more so. Publishers want to bet on writers who can create a stable of work, and that gives them an understandable bias toward youth. So you’ll have to work extra hard, you’ll have to knock on every door you can think of (starting with literary agents, most of whom won’t even answer you) to get publishers to look at your book. But that’s another job. The first job is to find the story, write your book, and make it as good as you possibly can-before you begin to look for a publisher. I do think that in the end, quality will find an audience. That doesn’t mean it will find it quickly.

But can older writers get published? Obviously my new book proves that they can–but with a caveat. Getting fiction published at any age is incredibly difficult; I can’t begin to calculate the number of unpublished novels (many of which deserve that fate) sitting in desk drawers or on hard drives, having been rejected countless times.

But it’s even more difficult for older writers. There are lots of reasons why publishers should want youth. Young writers have energy, young writers are in touch with all that is fresh and exciting in the world, young writers are photogenic–and most of all, young writers have the potential to write lots of books. A novelist who succeeds brilliantly at age 30 (translation: sells many, many copies) and has a dozen other books in his head is a publisher’s dream.

In my own case, all I can pray for is that I can do another three. Or four. Or five.

No way will I compare myself to him, but in terms of output, I take my inspiration from Philip Roth, 75 years old and actually getting better and better, so good, in fact, that it’s scary.

Two things are certain: I’ll get older (I’d rather not consider the alternative right now) and I’ll keep at it. What is uncertain is what is uncertain for any writer: Will it be any good? Will any publisher care?

Immobilienmakler Heidelberg

Makler Heidelberg

Source by Efrem Sigel

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