Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Time to Hang up Your Keyboard? - Nicola Morgan

I've just read The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson. Apart from the fact that it made me want to give up writing because it's so brilliant, it was unadulterated pleasure, as all her books are. As you'll know, Eva Ibbotson died in October last year, aged 85. She'd just finished going through the proofs of her next book. And if you've read her books - if you haven't, please, please do - you'll know that her writing is fresh and vibrant and sparkly, magical, seemingly effortless, and pure, pure brilliant.

In many ways, there's no reason why someone shouldn't be writing as well at 85 as at 45. But it made me think: when, why and how do authors retire? Do we have to go on till there's no breath in our bodies? Are we allowed to stop? Sometimes, should we? Some people, writers or not, lose touch as they get older - and losing touch is a complete no-no for a children's author, so what if that happens to us and how will we know? Will someone tell us? What if we're different from Eva Ibbotson and actually decline in our writing ability, as is possible? How do we decide when it's time to hang up the keyboard?

Leaving aside the question of money, which for most of us is not a very big question - or at least not a very big answer - I have some questions for the published writers amongst you.
  • Do you expect to carry on writing until you no longer can? 
  • Have you given any thought to when or if you'll stop?
  • Will you announce that you've retired? Or will you perhaps carry on writing but not go through the publishing process, not jump through the hoops that publishers and reviewers set?
  • Perhaps you're tired of the whole thing and are secretly looking forward to stopping? (It would be a hard thing to admit, wouldn't it? After all, we're supposed to love writing. But it's hard work, often very hard work, even before all the promotion stuff we're supposed to do.)
I'm interested! What do you all, different ages as you all are, think you'll do about stopping, or will you go on, as wonderful Eva Ibbotson did, as long as your health and energy permit?

Perhaps the ideal is that we reach the stage when we no longer care about success and simply write for the love of it. Maybe that's what Eva did. Maybe that is the secret. Maybe, to adapt the words of Robert Frost, my favourite poet, she still had stories to tell before she stopped and words to write before she slept.

18 comments:

Mystica said...

I haven't thought about it the way you did but your post has set me thinking.

Elen C said...

Publishing feels like a rug that might be pulled out from under me at any minute. So the idea of planning for a future in it is impossible.
But, I'll always write.

Whirlochre said...

This is a very difficult question.

On the one hand, passion decrees that you carry on, no matter what. This is true for any endeavour, though writers are cut considerably more slack in this regard than astronauts, mountaineers or air-headed colossal tit havers.

On the other hand, age changes people in ways they can't foresee and what I'm finding at the moment is that although my faculties seem mostly OK and no-one has started complaining that I'm writing the Drivel of Decline, my previously effortless forays into the World of the Young are becoming trickier to negotiate, all of which is directing me to subject matter I find less compelling (ie death, rot, oblivion etc).

Joan Lennon said...

Dementia - that's the full-stop, as far as I've seen.

Having said that, I love the title "The Drivel of Decline" though perhaps it would be less about old age and more about a drooling troll who lives under a steep hill ...

david said...

There are plenty of writers who keep going well into dementia, Iris Murdoch being the most obvious example. The sad truth is that a) most writers can't afford to retire b) all but the biggest tend to get retired anyway, because nobody will publish them any more. Publishers are constantly being offered books by former names who they don't see a big enough profit in. Of course, if you don't need an advance, you can slam out your own eBooks, social network like crazy and hope to get lucky, but see a)

madwippitt said...

No pension, so no choice ...

adele said...

I intend to go on as long as I keep on getting ideas and as long as publishers want to publish what I've written. Which may be sooner than I think, though I hope not. I am 67 and would like, ideally, another fifteen years though I'd never announce my retirement...just fade away I guess. I feel as though I've done a bit of fading away recently anyway, what with not writing much in the last year but do have an Arnie Schwarznegger feeling of I WILL BE BACK...which may, of course, be mistaken.
Eva Ibbotson was marvellous. That book in particular is a terrific one and she was such a lovely person too.
I like thinking about Diana Athill and PD James....going on to their 90s. Fingers crossed.

Dan Holloway said...

A very apposite piece in the light of what I've been hearing about an iminent first public interview in decades with Harper Lee, the most famous retired author of all. I'm absolutely intrigued to see how much she'll give away. Whether she's been writing, but for herself, or whether she feels that's part of another life.

Ann Turnbull said...

With family members retiring all around me, I think about this a lot. Should I join the throng, rather than be the spoilsport who insists on being busy when others want to party? But I can't imagine retiring. I'm 67 and have been writing since I was six. I'd like to carry on as long as possible.

Katherine Roberts said...

I think if the stories keep coming then you have to keep writing them... simple. There may be a day when they stop coming, or you are physically unable to write, and that is when you can stop and rest.

To me, stories seem to have a life of their own, a bit like those red fairytale shoes... and what starts out as a dream wish can turn into a curse if you try to stop too soon! When I get tired, it's always the publishing side I get tired of, not the stories or the writing.

Rosalie Warren said...

I'm already quite old and I've only just got going, so I'm hoping to continue until I'm very old, if I possibly can.

Book Maven said...

I intend to keep going till I drop - always assuming I can still get published.

Have just reviewed Eva Ibbotson's last book for the Guardian and I loved it.

What an example - dying at 85 in your sleep having just finished the edits on your last book.

Celia Rees said...

Just caught up with your post, Nicola. I have thought about this and there is no retirement age, is there? I think I will give up when I no longer have any ideas and when/if it becomes chore, because there will be no point in it then. Writing has to be a passion, something that you love to do, or it would be purgatory - for the reader, too.

Lucy Coats said...

Having just turned fifty, I will admit that the 'how many writing years do I have left in me' question did cross my mind. Having thought about it, my answer was that, like Mary H (Book Maven) and others, I will keep on until my fingers drop off and my brain falls out. Writing is a part of what I am. I could no more contemplate not doing it than not breathing. If events overtake me, then tant pis--but I won't be stopping voluntarily.

Linda Strachan said...

I feel like I came to the party late. I didn't know I wanted to write when I was younger and I am pretty sure I will never have enough time to write all the different things I want to write and all the different kinds of writing I want to experiment with.
So I am in the 'won't stop till I drop' camp.
But I would imagine I would do a lot fewer, if any, events and travelling and if I couldn't get published I am fairly sure I would just write anyway!

Stroppy Author said...

'[money] is not a very big question'? Yes it is! No writing, no money. That aside, though, I can't imagine why anyone would want to retire. Even if I became suddenly and miraculously wealthy I would carry on writing until I dropped. Isn't retiring throwing in the towel, saying 'OK, I've done life, now I'll wait to die'? Maybe not if you had a job you didn't like, but writing = life. What would I *do* all day if I retired?

Nicola Morgan said...

Stroppy - I'm sorry, I didn't make myself clear. I was referring to the fact that the money isn't very big! You probably realised that, though... ;)

Odette Elliott said...

That was an interesting post, Nicola. I am retired and have a busy life. But I have never earned my living from writing. I can see that the situation might be different for professional writers.

In between other activities, I really love thinking about the next story. I love finding somewhere pleasant to sit and write for hours. Among places I write are: The Festival Hall, our sun porch, our garden, a grassy bank in Scotland. . .etc. There is no pressure, just the joy of writing.