Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Better late than never

This article made me feel rather ashamed of myself. Author Phyllis Whitney, who died last month, didn't start writing until she was 40, but sold more than 50 million copies of her romance and mystery novels, and wrote 76 books in her lifetime. I've read some of them and they're rather good. She did live to be 104 though. Apparently, she didn't eat sugar and took 86 vitamins and minerals a day, so maybe that's something I should look into.

Before she succeeded as a novelist, she wrote articles, short stories, textbooks, worked in a children's library, and as an editor and taught junior fiction writing at New York University. There was a woman who Got On With It, I thought. I felt guilty just reading about her. No procrastainating for Phyllis. I bet she never found herself with a nice swathe of writing time on her hands and decided to re-grout the tiles in the bathroom instead. The figures speak for themselves, methinks.

It proves the point, though, that's it's never too late. Well, clearly it is at some point, but you get my drift. Mary Wesley didn't take up writing until she was 70, and was incredibly successful. Catherine Cookson started writing aged 11 but was 44 before she got her big break. Mind you, I think if I started training as a plumber (I'm obsessed with plumbers, I'm sure I've mentioned them on here before) aged 11, and didn't quality until my mid-forties I'd be pretty peeved. Not to mention broke.

That's the bugger (and beauty) of writing, I suppose. It's not a trade that can be taught over a two-year period. Or can it? Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree here, but it seems to me it's mostly the Other Thing. The Thing that simmers away for years, putting down roots and taking shape and disguising itself as a desire to work in an office, or to pull pints or clean houses, and takes second place to everything else, until it can no longer Be Denied. Then, to be annoying, you realise it's harder than you thought, and wish you'd knuckled down properly years ago, instead of fannying around with Other Stuff. Maybe that was the apprenticeship, though. Ooh, I'm getting all existential now.

I think I'll pop down to Boots and see if they do a vitamin that will unleash my genius in the next two weeks. 70 is still a long way off, believe it or not, and I don't think I can wait that long.


Yvonne said...

Spot on Karen, great post! It really does sneak up on you, doesn't it? I'm also kicking myself that I didn't start earlier but I don't think I had enough patience then, I had other stuff to get out of my system first.

aliqot said...

Mary Wesley has to be my role model for getting something published. That gives me nine years. I am still the world's champion procrastinator, Karen. Fight you for the title!

FPDuck said...

Writing, is nothing short of an artform. In my eyes, no artist is brilliant from the beginning. They can display talent, but they have to work at perfecting it.

And how long that takes depends on the person.

There are a few lucky SoBs that get their break quickly, but most (not all) of these fall off the radar soon after.

Burn quickly, burnout just as quick.

So I agree, I don't think it's an easily learned trade. Instead you need determination and drive.

Or you could laze about, casually writing like I am. Which is why I'll never get anywhere with it, whereas you will.


P.S. I was ordered to try creative writing by my year 2 teacher (How old was I... seven? Eight?), because she thought it may help my concentration.

Did it work? I don't know, I wasn't paying attention.

Alis said...

86 vitamins a day!!! When did she have TIME to write 76 books?!
Great post Karen!

Debs said...

If you find the vitamin pls let me know. Your post gave me hope that I still have a bit of time on my hands.

Anna said...

having gotten into this writing thing at 40, I heartily concur.... it will happen when it's meant to.

meanwhile, I think I need to take my vitamin! thanks for the reminder... :)))

ps... liked your story! don't worry about the commas. if you take them all out, an editor will just put them all back in again.... ha ha...

Tom Foolery said...

Clarkey, get us some of those magic vitamins. What a grand old lady, (not you) Phyllis Whitney was TFX

KAREN said...

yvonne - I don't think the time was right then for me either. That's what I tell myself anyway :o)

aliqot - Nine years is a decent enough deadline - I'd still leave it to the last minute though!

mike - You're so right. Talent's one thing, but only perseverance and drive will get you there. And inheriting a publishing house, possibly.
It would be a shame if you didn't get anywhere with your writing - it deserves an audience!

alis - I know - she must have rattled when she walked!!

debs - Haven't found it yet, but I'll keep you posted :o)

anna - Thanks! lol about the commas - I reckon you're probably right.

KAREN said...

tommo - I'm going to have a look on ebay.

SpiralSkies said...

Bet the old girl didn't write a blog though...

L-Plate Author said...

So I'm not too late at 41, phew! x

HelenMH said...

Patience is definitely the key here! And possibly fistfuls of vitamins!

Lane said...

I think you might have found us a role model Karen:-)

Mind you I couldn't be doing with all those pills ...or no sugar.

Sometimes I think I'm already too old for this malarkey.

Sarah Dunnakey said...

Spot on post Karen (sorry for the pun. I have often cursed my late start in the writing lark. Despite having scribbled for years, it's only been in the last couple that I have 'applied myself'. But I don't think I could have written what I am writing now when I was younger. I like your idea of all those other years being an apprenticeship. Although unlike apprentice plumbers (yes I have a bit of an obsession there too) we can't expect huge financial rewards at the end. But we also don't have to deal with other people's toilets, so on balance I will stick with writing

Tom Foolery said...

Tommo! Hmmm, me thinks it has a certain ring to it.
To MMO (moo) or not To MMO (moo), sorry being silly :)
TFX aka Tommo.
(PS. K is for Karen, still looking for that C, chirst this is like morse code dammit I need chocolate)

KAREN said...

spiralskies - Bloomin' good point. On the other hand that could have been the secret of her success. That, and her talent and determination of course.

l-plate - Nope, you're definitely not too late. You've got at least another 39 years at least :o)

helenmh - They say patience is a virtue - I'm not sure about all the vitamins though...I wouldn't be able to stand up if I took that many!

lane - I think there are worse role models. Enid Blyton, for instance, was my favourite writer as a child, but it turned out she was horrid to her children :o(

I keep trying to give up sugar but it's not working, and at 45 I definitely worry I'm past my best!

sarah - I hadn't thought of that. Writing is much better than fiddling about with u-bends, despite the financial rewards being higher. Where there's muck there's brass. I might incorporate a plumber into my story...

tommo - Yes, it rather suits you somehow. I've no idea how, but it felt natural to type it :o) Maybe I should crack open those vitamins.

Helen said...

I wish I'd started earlier too, but I didn't realise that this fabulous thing called writing was actually something I could make a (sort of) living with (that would be the non-fictional stuff)!

Anonymous said...

Another great post. 86 vitamins and minerals a day, I think my mum is nearly on that many. Doubt she'll ever write a book but she could tell a story or two.

Crystal xx

Annieye said...

This is a really good post and spot-on. I've always thought of writing fiction as my hobby, and like other hobbies you try to get better and better - it's part of the thrill.

I'd love to write fiction full-time, but a part of me thinks that once something becomes mandatory then you must lose some of the thrill.

I'm lucky in that part of my job is writing. Looking back, I think it must be why my career path took the direction it did.

KAREN said...

helen - I'd never considered non-fiction until I did a home-course a few years ago, and they suggested it. Having my first couple of pieces accepted (and paid for) definitely spurred me on :o)

crystal jigsaw - My mum scorns the very idea of vitamins! Like yours, she could definitely tell a story or two though - some of them stranger than fiction!

annieye - It must be good practice that writing is part of your job. I try to think of mine as a hobby - getting published would be the icing on the cake, but I'd do it anyway :o)

Maddie Moon said...

I love the thought that I'll still be writing when I'm a very old lady. Now that I've found this thing I can't ever imagine giving it up.

KAREN said...

maddie - Me neither. I'm in it for life!

Poetess said...

Great post. I think blogging is a big distraction. I'm so nosey and want to see what everyone else is up to.


KAREN said...

poetess - For me too - I need people to be less entertaining so I'm not tempted to peek all the time!

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