Saturday, 25 August 2018

When Is It Too Late In Life To Begin Writing Fiction?

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Here's an email I received a while ago (a few details and the name have been changed).

"Hi there, My name is Jenny Hill and I'm a 69 year retired female. Being now retired and having a little spare time on my hands, I thought I would have a go at writing a short story (very short) to begin with. All I want is for someone with the expertise to analysis and critique my work. Just to see if It's worth pursuing. I have no GCSE's or 'A' level in English literature, just what I believe is a vivid imagination. I believe my biggest fear/problem is punctuation. I do not fear criticism has I have nothing to lose all I want an honest opinion on my work. Can you, or do you know of any literary organisation who can help? Regards"

This was my reply (slightly altered to remove some personal details).

"That’s impressive, and it’s certainly never too late to start! Short stories are also a great way to begin practising the craft. I’d suggest just writing to begin with – anything. Descriptions. Ideas. Let the inspiration take you and don’t worry about it too much. That comes later as you learn more (along with editing and rewriting skills). But to begin with – it should be fun!

Once you have some stories finished (by which I mean written, then edited, then polished, each time making it better) it is worth seeking critical feedback. Critical does not mean bad – just that the feedback will point to strengths and weaknesses in the writing, characterisation, plotting etc. If there isn’t a local group then you might like to try an online one. I wrote about these some time ago - and your best bet would be either Critique Circle or Scribophile. They both work on the basis that you read and comment on other people’s work; in turn you earn credit to get feedback on your own. Critiquing other people’s work is a valuable exercise, and really gets you thinking about what works and what doesn’t in a story.

It is very rare for anyone’s first works to be good. Very few people are naturally talented writers. Despite popular belief, it is mostly craft and polishing that makes things shine. On the plus side, we all improve. That’s a positive message. You could always buy a book about writing – there are many of them! Any one of them would probably have at least a few useful tips and pointers.

“Just to see if It's worth pursuing.”

As to whether it is worth it, that depends on what has worth. Financially? Rarely. Most writers would earn more working in McDonalds. It’s not a way to make money in most cases.

But is it worth writing because you feel compelled to? Because you enjoy it? Because you have stories you want to tell? Self-fulfillment? For all those reasons and more, writing is always worth pursuing.

So go for it!"

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