Are you someone who started writing fiction late in life? What got you going?

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synecdoche
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Fri Jan 01, 2021 5:57 pm Post

Are you someone who started writing after years and years of wanting to write, but never actually doing it? What finally got you going?

Since I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote lots of stories when I was a kid, and into high school. Then when university came, and grad school, I sort of fell out of the habit. I do write an awful lot as part of my job, but usually in PowerPoint decks or word documents. And, last year, I made a commitment to start blogging about professional topics, and was able to write a post a week (plus an accompanying email to a modest list) for much of the year before taking a break in December. Really, I do write, and quite a lot. I've written a dissertation (with significant thanks to Scrivener), articles, essays, and of course emails and that kind of thing.

But I feel the lure of writing fiction. This has been a constant throughout my adult life, but I've never actually been able to sit down and start writing fiction in a meaningful way. In a very cliche way, I want to write a novel. However, when I think about the enormity of it all, I just get overwhelmed. I have a few loose ideas kicking around around characters, situations, moods, but the idea of turning those sketches into something significant is intimidating. So I read a lot about writing, and lurk on forums like these, but I don't actually put fingers to keyboard.

I suspect there are a lot of people like me who want to be a writer without having written. But I'd like to hear from those who moved from wanting to doing, and kept on doing. What finally got you over the hump? Did you implement any particular techniques or strategies? Figure out some new way to look at the world?

I know everyone's experience is likely to be different but I'm looking less for advice for me than anecdotes from people who have made the trip before.

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lunk
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Fri Jan 01, 2021 10:02 pm Post

Here is a story from someone who made the leap of faith...

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/timeline/

A lot of good advice as well.
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auxbuss
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Sat Jan 02, 2021 11:14 am Post

Philip Pullman has spoken about the importance of routine: of sitting down each day and writing regardless of how you you feel. You'll hear the same from many writers. It's obvious really: nothing gets written unless you turn up.

A common difficulty is thinking your way out of writing. This seems to come in many forms, and I suspect it happens to all of us at times.

Forget about the enormity of the task. That's clearly not going to help. Think of 80,000 words. Of scenes of ~2,000 words. That's 40 scenes. Think of a beginning. Think of an ending. Only 38 to go. Don't worry too much about how they fit together, that'll come – and scenes often simply turn up when doing that task. I seem to remember reading that Nabokov wrote on cards.

The Nanowrimo technique might help. Write 1,500 words every day for 30 days. Never go back. Move on. Move on. Fix it later.

And for reference, many writers write far fewer words than you might expect. Pullman, for example, used to aim for three sides of A4 a day, but now aims for two. A lot of writers I've seen mention a thousands words per day as their target. Only last night I read that JG Ballard aimed for 800 words.

But most of all, you have to turn up. Nothing will happen until you do.

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Dorothea
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Sat Jan 02, 2021 3:04 pm Post

There really is only one way: Start typing.

Youf fingers will find their way thorugh the story. Your fingers - yes! Because you need to let go of "thinking". Let your muse play; don't frighten her with judgement.

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jamesmor
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Thu Jan 07, 2021 2:55 pm Post

lunk wrote:Here is a story from someone who made the leap of faith...

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/timeline/

A lot of good advice as well.


I'm a fan of her blog as well. There are tons of life-saving advice. Just follow your dreams!
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EricC
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Thu Jan 21, 2021 5:31 pm Post

That would be me. What has held me back for so long is I never had anyone tell me that I could write. I was the kid in the back of the room that was quiet and had bad grades, but not bad enough. I never caused any problems, so teachers left me alone. My wife recently asked me if I always had stories in my head and the answer is yes. That is. where I was at , being so quiet in the back the room. I was in another world, telling a story. When I hit 50 years old, I just didn't care what people thought and I did not have any more excuses not to start to write these stories down. It is difficult for me to maintain a routine, but. I am slowly putting the pieces together and crafting my voice. I have "0" grammar skills; so I am not sure that what I write will be understood, but I have a plan for that. I will see what the future holds, but. I do exploring other worlds and creating lives and finally putting them on paper...or at least on a hard drive.

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huguatrix
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Fri Jan 22, 2021 6:01 pm Post

Thanks for the question, synecdoche, and the reminder, lunk, to scan Joanna Penn's site again. (I went straight to the inner critic/self-doubt section--argh.)

[I've framed this as advice--I see that I missed your wish for anecdotes rather than advice--but most of this mirrors my process: of learning to switch to a different perspective and mental framework, and of learning craft nuts and bolts. And especially learning to allow myself to learn, be creaky, to develop, and to be curious about how characters and story, and my process, develop. My fiction writing's changed quite a bit from when I started this venture.]

I began late (middle age) and with a well-worn mindset that one had to be sparklingly creative to write fiction: that writing fiction was for other, special people. (That movie image of the author sitting at the typewriter writing furiously until a giant stack of papers magically appears. Yes, some write like that. Most wrestle.) I also came from an academic background (PhD) and tech writing. (I'm still wrestling out my mystery novel, revising and working on fixing muddy plot holes.)

One thing I'd like to mention is that it took a while to develop a different writing mind, so I'd suggest letting yourself allow for growth, with kindness for the creaky parts. Academic writing, and that world's expectations, trained my writing and thinking in a very specific way, as did other nonfiction/technical writing. It took a while to shift to a different thinking process. And most especially voice, come to think of it. John Cleese did a wonderful lecture on the creative thought process, which helped me quite a bit with this. (It looks like he has a book out now?)

Also, lots of craft books and articles and classes. I have an ever-growing stack. :oops: I especially like Elizabeth George's books on writing, and with your academic background you may like how she talks about building her books, even if your genre isn't mystery: she does a lot of background building and scaffolding before she moves to writing.

Craft and technique is hugely helpful, because the scaffolding of a story or novel isn't usually taught in academic fields. Now when I watch a movie or series I notice a lot of craft things: how background is shown (and why it works or feels creaky), how a character's desire is shown, etc. etc. I was just rewatching the old Smiley's People with Alec Guiness and realized that a character and scene were there only to explain important background and context (Roddy Martindale). This may not be as alien to you since you wrote as a kid.

What characters want, and why, and how they work to reach that desired goal, with lots of obstacles (internal and external) thrown at them--that's your playground. Just sketch, noodle, doodle, listen to what sparks you--for 15 minutes if that's the time you have. You don't need a big chunk of time, however nice that might be. Allow yourself to find your process.

Some favorite authors and books on writing:

First:
Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit

Elizabeth George's Mastering the Process, Writing Away
James Scott Bell
Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer's Workshop
Donald Maass
Susan Reynolds, Fire Up Your Writing Brain (helpful for getting into the mindset)
Anne Lamott, bird by bird

Dip your toe in! I'd love to hear about your steps: because it really sounds like you so want to.

Oh, on creakiness and allowing for it: watch or listen to Ira Glass. (Speaking to myself now, really.)

P.S. "Writing" as a process includes messy stream-of-consciousness zero-rules free writing, mind maps, lists of questions, bullet point lists, sketches. It is not (or only extremely rarely) presentable prose in paragraphs. It is learning, with friendly curiosity, about your characters and their world, and especially learning about the process that fleshes them and their story out so that, eventually, once all this is packaged and edited in prose, the reader imagines them fully in her mind.

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Jack Daniel
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Sun Jan 24, 2021 4:00 pm Post

I loved the pulp novels of Richard S. Prather as a kid, the Shell Scott series.

Very late in 2015 I picked some up on my iPad. I liked them still, but I had an epiphany—"I can do this!" I also thought maybe I could do it better.

Well, who can judge?

I decided to try. 12 days later I had 60,000 words. I was a pure pantser. It changed my life, changed everything.

I'd never had anywhere close to this much fun in my entire life.

So it became a quest and a passion. I write/rewrite for about 7 hours a day, every day, and I've never stopped.

Now I have a courtship love story trilogy of nearly 600,000 words and two detective novellas, one 50,000 and one 20,000, all in very late-draft mode. Anyone who wishes, can read them, and even critique them if they like. Just PM me.

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HeatherH68
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Sun Jan 24, 2021 8:45 pm Post

I started writing when I was eight years old, but my mother made it abundantly clear that being a "writer" was on par with being an "artist", neither of which would produce enough income to earn a living. So, I was steered away into a job in healthcare which I held for 22 years.

At 33, I was off work for an extended period of time and decided to take some courses in writing short stories for children and teens, then another course in writing a novel for children and teens. I successfully published a short story and have a YA manuscript that needs re-writing. I returned to work and was forced to medically retire in 2012.

I deviated into coaching for four years and then in 2017, I began writing nonfiction articles for one online magazine (not paid) and then became a contributing writer for a different magazine submitting fictional short stories and poems (unpaid). I was promoted to editor in June of 2020 and now have my own team of writers that I edit. All of this is unpaid. That being said, I completed the first draft of my first novel on January 16/21. I am now in editing mode and intend to publish this year. I turn 53 in March.

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Silverdragon
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Sun Jan 24, 2021 10:19 pm Post

I always wanted to write science fiction and/or fantasy. As a middle grades to young adult reader (not that there were such classifications in those ancient days!) I inhaled Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien, and many others whose names are now lost in the mists of pulp.

I myself turned away from writing. For many years I was terrified to try, not because anyone discouraged me, but because there was no absolute way to judge writing. It was clearly subjective as opposed to judging math and science in which an answer was either right or wrong. So I became an engineer.

As a profession, engineering was good to me for 3 decades, but I often wished that I dared write fiction. I made occasional feeble stabs at it. In 2001 or 2002 I started taking film classes after work. In 2005 I tried my first NaNoWriMo. I've written more or less steadily since. My output may never be what I'd like, but I keep on churning out words in dribbles. I even won NaNoWriMo a few times (the first was in 2012, 7 years after I started doing NaNo!)

So here I am, still trying to complete & polish a full-length novel, but I've had 2 short stories published and self-published a novella. I keep chugging. :D
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