It’s a daunting proposition…nearing retirement and trying to make the call if we’re ready to jump into a new career as a writer, especially knowing the tremendous work ahead to become a powerful storyteller. And yet, many courageous people do just this.
Author Barbara Stark-Nemon is one of them and has some great advice on how to make the transition. Read on!
I already thought I was the luckiest person in the working world. I had a thirty-year career as a teacher and speech and language therapist, and believed I’d made a real contribution to the students I worked with. The gratitude I feel for being able to write those sentences now extends to my second career as a writer and author which has brought immense satisfaction and creative energy into my life. For those of you wishing or preparing to make a transition to an encore career writing, I can offer five strategies that I believe helped me make that change successfully.
1. Plan Ahead. Four years before I wanted to switch to writing full time, I prepared by researching and making adjustments in these areas. Look at your…
- Retirement: Maximize contributions to any retirement program. This might include increasing work hours, changing deductions, increasing contributions to a 401k, or buying other types of retirement credits or investments dedicated to future income.
- Family Finances: Know what you will need to contribute, both in salary and benefits, after the switch to a primary career as a writer.
- Future Work Opportunities: If full retirement is not possible, explore whether reduced or flexible work hours, or a job that would be more writing related are options.
2. Create a Transition. I knew I couldn’t work full time, participate in my family life and summon the focus to write a novel—lots of people can do this, but I couldn’t! I did work toward my writing career while still teaching full time. These are transitional activities to consider:
- Research/Reading: My first novel was European WWII historical fiction, so I read every historical novel I could find in that genre. Other essential research activities include travel to important settings, searching in archives for letters and relevant documents, interviewing people and gathering factual information.
- Improve craft: I attended a week-long writing conference as a retirement gift to myself. It was the best way to launch writing my first book. Here are two lists of top-rated writer’s conferences in North America if you’d like to find one yourself: ONE & TWO
- A transitional work opportunity: It can be hard to move from one career to another abruptly. I was fortunate to teach a small English class two days a week in the school year following my retirement. I was writing, and my students were writing. I began to feel more like a writer. What writing-related options might be available to you as you move toward writing full time?
3. Find others who share your interest. The change of identity that goes with career change can be unsettling, and joining others in moving toward a new “brand” is a positive way to cope. I joined a critique group, which has been critical to my developing sense of myself as a writer and editor, and has certainly made my books better. I also got involved in She Writes, an online writing community where other writers share their experiences, and expertise. This cooperative, collaborative community has continued to provide invaluable support and helpful resources for all the myriad tasks and skills that are required to publish a book.
There are many other such sites including those suggested at The Write Life’s list of 100 best websites for writers.
4. Keep your expectations reasonable. It takes time to learn new skills, time to adjust from a former schedule, and most importantly, time to figure out who you want to be in your new role as a writer. Do you have one book in you or five? Will you add teaching or editing to your work writing your own books? I retired thinking it would take at most a year to write my first book. It took four. I focused on writing the best manuscript I could. I taught myself about book editing, worked over my manuscript several times— and then hired a professional. It took another two years to educate myself about the business side of bringing a book to publication, publicizing, and marketing.
5. Before you seek to publish, research. Consulting the many resources, such as those available at the websites listed above (including this very wonderful website and the books available here!) will save time, money and heartache in the publishing process. Understand the paths to publication (Brooke Warner’s Greenlight Your Book has a great discussion of publication and marketing issues.) Be systematic and organized in your approach. (Yes, I did learn how to use a spreadsheet!)
People often ask me if I regret not having started my writing career earlier.
I have no regrets. This time in my life provides the space, the time to educate myself, and the perspective to write. I’ve loved rising to the challenge, despite the steep learning curve. This brings me to my bonus piece of advice: Keep front and center why you wanted to be a writer in the first place.
Follow the joy—you deserve it!
BARBARA STARK-NEMON is the author of the award-winning first novel, Even in Darkness. She lives, writes, cycles, swims, does fiber art, and gardens in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and her Website.
Hard Cider: Abbie Rose Stone believes she has navigated the shoals of her long marriage and complicated family and is eager to realize her dream of producing hard apple cider along the Michigan lakeshore she loves—but when a lovely young stranger exposes a long-held secret, Abbie’s plans, loyalties, and definition of family are severely tested.
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