With Queen Elizabeth turning 90 recently and still looking pretty spry, it got me thinking that one of the secrets to healthy aging has to be a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the mornings. In the case of the Queen, she has commitments – speeches to make, buildings to open, medals to give out. And hundreds, often thousands of people would be put out if she pulled the covers over her head and refused to get out of bed because her arthritis/lumbago/gammy hip was giving her trouble.
The challenge for many people after they retire from the workforce is to keep active and fill their days with challenging and worthwhile activities; otherwise it’s a short slide into a twilight of daytime TV, curtain twitching and writing daily irate Letters to the Editor.
From that point of view there are many advantages to being a mature age author. I’m not fond of the expression ‘mature age,’ but have used it mainly for convenience. And it is satisfyingly vague – you don’t have to specify an age. If you identify as being mature age, you are. But to me mature age, for a woman at least, conjures up images of a bosomy matron who wears crimplene pant suits, plays bridge and has a husband named Frank and/or a yappy terrier called Muffin.
I am none of those things, but for the sake of this blog post I will identify myself as mature-aged, even though it makes me sound like a block of Strong & Bitey vintage cheese. So here are five top benefits of being a mature age author.
1. We don’t have to retire
In fact, we don’t want to retire. Writing is part of who we are, so if we were to stop writing our souls would wither away and die, leaving just an empty shell of a body. There is no-one from up in the hierarchy who is going to sit us down one day and say, ‘You’re getting on a bit now, you’re 95, I’m afraid I’m going to have to give you a gold watch and let you go.’
As long as we’re capable of sitting at a computer and typing, we’re working. And if that’s beyond us, there’s always dictation. I rather fancy myself lounging on the settee Barbara Cartland style with a fluffy dog in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other, hopefully not getting them mixed up, and nattering away into my iPhone (the modern version of Barbara Cartland’s secretary.)
2. Use it or lose it
This well-known adage is true for our brain, as well as the rest of our body. We’re close enough to the edge of mortality to realise the importance of it and we’re constantly using our little grey cells as we plot and plan, write, re-write and edit. Even when we’re not writing, we’re writing – thinking up plot twists in the shower, fleshing out characters in the supermarket queue, nutting out a love scene at Great Aunt Muriel’s afternoon tea. We’re not only pursuing our art, we’re staving off dementia.
3. We have a wealth of life experience to draw from for our writing.
As philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau said, ‘How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.’ Not only are all our experiences grist to the creative mill, but we bring to them a maturity and wisdom that comes from having lived a few decades.
As another philosopher Kierkegaard said, ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’ We have the benefit of years and hindsight to help us understand our past actions and emotions, and this insight makes us a more astute judge of others peoples’ characters as well. All of which give us plenty of material to create satisfying plots and rich, multi-dimensional characters in our novels.
4. We can remember typewriters
And carbon paper, encyclopaedias, (hard cover, 43 volumes, A-Z) floppy discs and Word Perfect. How is that a benefit? You may well ask. Apart from stories to tell our grandchildren about the hardships we suffered in the 'good old days,' it makes us appreciate the technology we have at our fingertips now. The internet is a writer’s best friend when it comes to research; it beats looking up musty old books in the library and peering at reams of microfiche any day.
Although sometimes when my computer freezes, I think wistfully of my old typewriter with the ‘a’ key that always stuck, the sandwich crumbs in between the keys and the clunky carriage return.
5. We can indulge our eccentricity
In fact, we’re expected to be eccentric. Being of a certain age and a writer as well means a double whammy of eccentricity. So if:
· you’re chatting away to yourself about plot twists while out for your walk and passers-by give you a wide berth
· or having a conversation with one of the characters in your book while stopped at the traffic lights in your car, and you look across to see the man in the car beside you staring at you
· or you arrive at the supermarket wearing your slippers and your pullover inside out because you were up till 2 am writing and you’re still half asleep
· or you suddenly whip out your notebook at a dinner party and start scribbling madly because you’ve just had a fantastic idea for a novel, and it was nothing to do with Nigel’s boring discourse on real estate prices
All you need to say is, ‘I’m an author, I’m writing a novel.’
And all will be forgiven. (But if you’re going to put Nigel in your novel as an opinionated windbag, make sure you disguise him well).
Is there anything I’ve left out? I’d love to hear your suggestions!
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.