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Do you ever worry about it being “too late” for you to write? Perhaps surprisingly, there are many benefits to being an “older” writer…
I am 62 years old. That doesn’t quite make me a senior — yet — but I’m old enough to understand acutely that my time is being whittled away. Still, I have found that writing has become significantly easier and more interesting — more fun! — with every additional year.
My son is a musician and I know from him — and some of his 70+-year-old friends and colleagues — that musicians never stop their work. In fact, they get better at it with age. And their habit seems to lengthen their lives, making everything more pleasant and interesting.
I think writing operates in exactly the same way. Here is my analysis of the benefits of being an older writer:
- We have more life experience: In the act of living we all enjoy moments of pleasure and times of strife. Understanding that we’ve survived these occasions can inform our writing, giving us more to write about and a greater understanding of human motivation — useful for both fiction and non-fiction writing.
- We are more mindful of taking advantage of every opportunity: When time is running out we become better able to focus on achieving what’s really important to us. If there’s a chance to do something important or interesting, we’re less likely to let it pass by, thinking, “I can always do that later.” After all, what if there is no later? Carpe diem!
- We don’t care as much what others think: When we’re younger, we’re more apt to fall under the spell of societal expectations and norms. Everyone has a house and a car and 1.5 kids so we should, too, we figure. But an older writer is more likely to understand that everyone is different and we’re usually more able to respect our own likes and dislikes and value our own opinions.
- We’re better able to let go of “perfectionism”: Being young often forces us to have high standards. But while it’s okay to expect a lot of ourselves, it’s not smart to focus on trying to get things perfect. In fact, as Voltaire put it, “The best is the enemy of the good.” When we have a sense that time is running out, we’re more likely to just get things done.
- We have much clearer priorities: The life of younger people is incredibly pressured: paying the mortgage, taking care of kids and looking after aging parents. We’re pulled in a dozen different directions and jobs like ‘writing’ often end up far down the list. When we’re older, however, many of those responsibilities have faded and we have time to devote to those tasks that are most important to us.
- We find it easier to manage our emotions: One of the biggest benefits of aging is that we’re no longer at the behest of our emotions. We understand that feelings come and go — changing in a heartbeat. If writing seems hard now, we can continue writing, knowing that 20 minutes from now it may appear easy again.
- We have a better sense of self-worth: Self-worth appears to increase with age, perhaps as a result of all that we have seen and learned after decades on this earth. We’ve seen some smart people fall (e.g. Bill Clinton) and troubled people succeed (e.g. Albert Einstein). As a result, we’re more likely to understand that we’re all human beings facing similar challenges. Our self-worth is not defined by what we do but by how we behave.
- Writing can make us happier: This is particularly true if the writing focuses on our own goals. Research by Laura King shows that this type of writing not only makes us happier, but also, healthier.
- Writing leads to better thinking: Did you know that Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Bill Gates are all serious writers? They use writing as a way of refining their ideas and articulating their thoughts. The act of taking what’s in our brain and committing it to paper forces us to document our logic and explain our reasons. This discipline, by definition, makes us better thinkers.
- Writing gives us a way to handle hard times: No one escapes this life without some challenges. For people like neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, who died of metastatic lung cancer, writing his luminous book When Breath Becomes Air, allowed him to have more time with his wife and gave him the chance to have a child before dying at the age of 37. But you don’t have to be on death’s doorstep to be facing hard times. A dysfunctional boss or client, a troubled kid or sibling or an angry partner can all be annoying enough. Don’t just stew; write about it!
- Writing keeps us sharp: Writing increases brain plasticity, which means it enhances our ability to change. This flexibility plays an important role in furthering brain development and reducing decline. A brain with more plasticity will do a better job of retrieving words, memories, references and thoughts than a brain with less plasticity. (In addition to writing, I’m also working on my French for precisely this reason.)
- Writing is relaxing: If you associate writing with your grade 11 English class (which you hated) then you might not think of writing as relaxing. But it can Instead of focusing on the result, pay more attention to the process. Like any repetitive activity (eg: knitting, walking, doing yoga) writing is a task that can help relax you. Resolve to make writing an activity that makes you feel better.
- Writing helps us become better learners: Most writing forces us to use our critical thinking skills. Regardless of subject — i.e. even if we’re not writing about something scientific — we need to name problems, gather and analyze ideas, prepare hypotheses and form arguments. We are never too old to learn.
If you have procrastinated about writing because you fear you’re “too old” or that you don’t have enough time, re-evaluate those thoughts! And be aware that artists don’t ever need to retire. We keep working because we love what we’re doing.
If you want to build your own writing habit in 2020 — for a book, thesis, dissertation or anything else — consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’m holding a no-charge webinar this Thursday (Dec. 12/19) to introduce you to the principles I address in the program. Register by emailing me. If you already know you want to apply to the program, go here, scroll to the very end of the page and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.
My video podcast last week considered the pros and cons of writing classes. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
Are you an older writer? What benefits have you experienced? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Dec. 31/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!