Retirement brings with it the chance to fulfill ambitions that have been sidelined for decades by the all-consuming demands of work and parenting. If you’ve always wanted to be a writer, there’s surely no better time to give it a red hot go.
The good news is that writing is a great brain gym. It is therapeutic and giving voice to your writing has never been easier. For a start, wanting to be a writer does not necessarily mean wanting to be a novelist or a poet.
After all, people write for many purposes. Some writing is to share and some is not. Journaling, where you write down your thoughts in order to work through and clarify them, or keeping a diary, maybe for your eyes only.
However, if you are politically minded or issue-oriented, you could try your hand at submitting letters to the editor or opinion pieces to the daily newspapers. Letters to the editor are a popular measure of public opinion and having your letter chosen for publication from the hundreds received by letters editors each day is an achievement.
Nowadays, you could also start an online blog to showcase your stories or poems, but the competition for readers and viewers online is intense. Unless you can find an innovative way to promote yourself (perhaps on social media), your blog will only be seen by you, your close friends, and (maybe) your family, the younger members of which are probably too busy with Tik Tok.
The option of self-publishing makes it easy to get your words into print. Apart from the time and effort needed to familiarise yourself with software, self-publishing with Smashwords, Lulu or Amazon, for example, costs nothing. You are able to publish in e-book format, soft cover or hard cover and you can write about anything that captures your interest. Self-publishing is a great option for retirees who are interested in publishing their life stories for their children and/or grandchildren or making a record of the family history. Alternatively, there are many do-it-yourself autobiographies and family history books on the market from which to choose.
If all else fails, you could approach a vanity publisher, who will edit (after a fashion) and publish your manuscript so long as you are prepared to pay them for it. Beware though, vanity publishing (sometimes called subsidy publishing) has a poor reputation. It is a choice reserved for authors whose work is not commercially viable or of a high enough standard to interest traditional publishers. Note that vanity publishers make their money from fees paid by their clients (aspiring writers) rather than from book sales.
For would-be novelists seeking to follow the traditional path of being published by a major publisher, the news is complicated. Having your work read and picked up by a large publisher has never been harder – unless, of course, you are a celebrity. Nineteen year old Milly Bobby Brown’s debut novel Nineteen Steps, for example, is a best-seller and Brown who stars in the Netflix mega-hit Stranger Things, did not even have to write it. The book was ghostwritten by author, Kathleen McGurl.
Similarly, Prince Harry’s book, Spare, was written by J.R. Moehringer. Other celebrity novelists for whom publishers have opened their doors include Sarah Ferguson, Madonna, Sidney Poitier, Molly Ringwald, Steve Martin, Ethan Hawke, and Hugh Laurie. While it is galling for talented unknown writers to be overlooked, celebrities are bankable, and with traditional print markets shrinking, publishers are increasingly risk averse.
Regardless of the foregoing, major publishers do call for general submissions and if your dream is to have your novel published by them, then there is no substitute for careful preparation and patience. First, while you may think the first draft of your debut novel is a masterpiece, it is not. Put it away and let it “rest”. Successful authors work and rework their stories to get them right and the process can take years. Just remember that it took the fabulous J. K. Rowling numerous rewrites and thirteen tries before she found a publisher for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone!
While your novel is ‘resting’, spend time expanding your resume and building a writer’s profile. Join writers’ groups and/or societies. Not only will you meet like-minded people, but you will build networks. Playing an active part in writers’ groups will raise your profile. You can also polish your formal writing skills by completing a creative writing course (or two). Learning how to improve your formal writing skills may quarantine your manuscript from spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors – all of which are major distractions to the reader and likely to lead to rejection.
Submit short stories and/or poems for possible inclusion in anthologies and enter writing competitions. Seeing your work in print is exciting and winning writing competitions is self-validating. In addition, a prospective publisher will view your list of writing achievements as proof that you can write.
Lastly, if you want your work to be read by any publisher, you must adhere to their submission guidelines. You can find submission guidelines on every publisher’s website. Submission guidelines are always extremely specific – even to the choice of font and spacing, and preferred style guide.
This article is based on my lived experience. I have written and submitted many Letters to the Editor over the years. Letter submission guidelines now forbid multiple submissions, but I was able to score the trifecta on a few occasions, having the same letter published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph, and The Australian on the same day.
My background is in teaching. Blake Education, Herald Education, and Everytime Press have published my educational resources. Since retiring, though, I have concentrated on writing fiction (and a smattering of poetry). Consequently, my stories and poems have been included in anthologies and magazines, both here and overseas (in print and online).
For a year or so, I also entered every writing competition I could find and I won several – international, national, and local. I am proud to say that my work was included in Award Winning Australian Writing 2017. Bequem Publishing (South Australia) published a collection of my stories and I have self- published using Amazon. All of my books, including Ageing in a Flash: (almost) 50 Shades of Silver (one for the over 60s) are available for purchase online.
As an administrator for the 52 Week Flash Fiction Challenge (now in its tenth year) and for the Stanhope Writers (now in its eighth year), I am an integral part of two communities of writers, one international and one local. Both groups have Facebook pages and if you are interested, we welcome new members.
Christopher Hitchens, an American journalist, one famously claimed that “everyone has book inside them.” Do you and, if so, what are you going to do about it?