5 Writing “Life Lessons” from an Empty Nester Author

Recently I entered a new life stage: the Empty Nester parent. My oldest son, following his younger brother’s lead, moved out a few weeks ago while my husband and I were in South America. Now, we’re back…and the house is a lot quieter.

When we’re out on a walk now, Scott and I sometimes run into friends with children. They ask about our boys and when we tell them we’re empty nesters, they glance at their kid-and-toy laden wagons, chuckle darkly, and say how they’d do anything for a bit of freedom again.

Sure, I’ll admit it’s nice to have a freer schedule and a much smaller grocery bill (guess who can afford the fancy 100% vitamin D eggs now—THIS girl!). But once the kiddos are gone, THEY ARE GONE. It doesn’t take long to wish the clock could run backward, to have a few moments where I was my boys’ world, when they would rush home with fistfuls of drawings to tell me all about their day at school.

The irony of each of us wanting what the other has, right? Writing is that way sometimes, too!

Like when I started out, I wanted to hurry up and be “good enough to publish.” I just wanted to skip past the sweat and pain of that evil learning curve and hold a book in my hands. (Sound familiar?)

Well, fast forward to now. I have books under my belt (hurray!), but I need to market, run a business, deliver a cohesive brand, network, research, stay on top of all the changes that upend the industry, teach, create more books…and oh yeah, continually improve my craft because (spoiler alert) the learning curve never ends. I totally admit I sometimes yearn for that simpler time when I was learning the ropes, blissfully unaware of the mountains still to climb.

Back to Empty Nesting…

This new stage of life has me looking forward and back so I thought I’d share five writing life lessons that helped get me to where I am today. Then in a future post, I’ll list 5 lessons to better internalize moving forward in hopes of gaining an even greater level of satisfaction with my writing career.

Life Lesson #1:  Open your mind to learning…I mean, really open it.

I run into non-writerly folks who think what we do is easy. I’m sure you do too…you know, the ones who say, “Yeah, I’m a good writer; I do it all the time for work. And I have the best idea, trust me, you writers would kill for it. When I retire and have time, I’ll publish a book.” 

(Did you cringe a little as you read? Probably.)

Those of us on this path know storytelling is an art, and it takes a lot of time and energy to become proficient (like any other professional career). But we don’t always know this at the start. When I first began penning stories, I thought I only needed a bit of polish to become “good enough.” (Oh, past Angela, how naïve you were.) Little did I know I was years away from getting agents and hitting acquisition meetings. Years away from my first book (which turned out to be non-fiction, something else I didn’t see coming).

So, don’t be afraid to push aside your ego to learn. From experts. From other writers. From sources all around you. Do whatever it takes. This dream of ours is a big one, and that means it takes a bucket-load of courage and sweat to see it through.

Life Lesson #2: Find your tribe.

Most of the time, writing is solitary. But writing alone doesn’t mean traveling the road alone. Joining a community of writers can open up our world in so many ways. The insight, knowledge, abilities, and red pens of others helped me grow into a stronger writer. A tribe will also keep our feet on the path if we become discouraged and lose faith in ourselves. Others will see our potential when we cannot, and their encouragement reminds us to believe when times are tough.

Life Lesson #3: Fill your writing toolbox.

One terrific thing about being a writer today is that help is everywhere…all we need to do is take advantage of it! A vast landscape of blogs, websites, apps, software, courses, workshops, forums, and custom tools ensure help is available in all areas of writing, marketing, and publishing. I have amassed a huge collection of resources over the years.

While you can find so much for free, don’t be afraid to make an investment if you find a class, subscription, or tool that helps you become a stronger storyteller. We have a lot to learn and manage as writers, and time is at a premium. Invest in a support system that works best so you have more time to create new books!

Life Lesson #4: Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t.

This was a total game changer for me. We all know that this career is full of uncertainty and upset that can leave us feeling inadequate. We think an agent is key to getting our book in front of editors, but can we make them say yes? Of course not. Once an editor has our book, we want them to take it to acquisitions, but will they? Who knows. And, if it does end up there, will it come out on top and result in an offer? Will the publisher invest in promoting it? Can we get a Bookbub? Will it hit the bestseller list? On and on it goes.

Stressing about an outcome we have little influence over is a waste of energy and time. Instead, we need to put our focus on what we can control: that our craft is strong because we’re constantly in a cycle of growth and learning. That we research what agents and publishers are looking for (if we go that route) so we target well. We can invest time into understanding our audience, how to best deliver what they need, and how to market effectively so we can place our book in their hands. We can build a brand, network, and research strong business practices to manage everything as best as we possibly can.

Lesson #5: Be authentic in all that you do.

This industry is tough. We all know this. Discouragement can sometimes cause us to not do what’s in our heart and mimic others instead because we think that must be “the magic.” Don’t get me wrong, paying attention to our peers’ experiences, the market, and what readers want is important absolutely, but we should never lose sight of WHY we wanted to write in the first place.

Each of us is unique; only we can tell the stories we are meant to tell. I believe we were all called to this work, otherwise we’d choose something much easier. 🙂 So, make sure the spark of who you are is in everything you do. This authenticity is YOUR superpower. If it’s missing from your writing, your branding, your interactions with others…readers will notice. You’ll notice. Yet, when your purpose and actions align, you’ll feel fulfilled and love the work you do.

These are my big ticket lessons and I’d love to hear from you! What are some of the aha! moments you’ve experienced on your journey?

About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in About Us, Focus, Goal Setting, Motivational, Publishing and Self Publishing, The Business of Writing, Tools and Resources, Writer's Attitude, Writing Groups, Writing Lessons, Writing Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to 5 Writing “Life Lessons” from an Empty Nester Author

  1. My adult children are with me because of the reasons listed above: companies not wanting to hire full-time to avoid benefits. Plus, they know on my disability pay, I need their help. They give me space for writing and I let them work on their own dreams.

  2. Our empty nest quickly recycled with adult kids moving back in, from necessity. Companies won’t hire them full time to avoid benefits, plus we like having built-in house-sitters when we travel. I began this whole writing gig in June, 2015. I hit all my free lance short term goals of publishing in regional and national publications. Then…the dreaded novel of Mt. Everest. Still climbing it after several years of writing. Three novels in my computer, fermenting. Herding the shortest, latest one up to the summit. What still amazes me is the amount of TIME it takes to do this to get something to market that doesn’t suck LOL. You have shared parts of this journey with me, and I’ll be forever grateful. So happy for you on your success! Congratulations! Still can’t believe I got to meet you in person. You seem so normal LOL. Thanks for sharing, Angela!

  3. Thanks for this, Angela. My empty nesting happened too many years ago to count. I didn’t recognize it as a monumental moment of loss because other activities had already taken hold, but in retrospect I could see how my ever-changing life had changed yet again. Sometimes we do conscious soul-searching and make decisions about our future; sometimes it’s all an on-the-fly process.

    I’m happy my grown family are still part of my daily life, albeit often just via long-distance communication. They share in my writing with frequent encouragement, as does my hubby, but I suspect they sometimes question how realistic my goals are, given there aren’t many visible results. They recognize, however, that I’m doing something I love, and that’s ultimately all that matters.

    • Yes, I know my family struggled to understand why I was writing before I published, and ironically I think they would struggle again if I switched exclusively from NF to fiction…they would wonder why I would do that when they believe my talents lie in the NF direction. *sigh* But if the shoe were on the other foot and I was an outsider watching a loved one do something that was exceptionally hard and with so little tangible return, I would stress about what it might be doing to their self-esteem and if they might not be happier doing something else. So I can understand how they must feel watching us write.

      I’m glad your family encourages you! That is one of the best gifts.

  4. Tracey Brown says:

    “This authenticity is YOUR superpower” Love this reminder, Angela. Thanks for your heartfelt post.

  5. I love all of these, Angela! Great post! And I’m tearing up a little because I’m only a few years away from going from a full house to an empty nest. (The hazards of having three boys in three years.) Wah! But the writing stuff is awesome! 🙂

    • Yes, it is a big change, because being a parent is a huge (and fulfilling!) role that becomes our main priority for so long that when it transforms into a support role…wow. Life is different and suddenly you’re taking a long look within and what you want the rest of your life to be about. I am just so grateful I fostered a good relationship with my kiddos. <3

  6. julie Brown says:

    I’m an empty nester, too. We all know writing doesn’t happen “when we have time”. It happens when we make it a priority — a number one priority–because empty nesters still have other obligations not to mention distractions! For me, every day is a balancing act. Some days it works, some days not so much.
    And I’m taking #4 to heart – trying to control things we cannot control (something I do do) is a the worst kind of stress. Angela, we’ve never met, but you’re part of my tribe! Thanks for everything <3

    • I am honored to be part of your tribe! Having the same dream and goals is powerful, and we’re all in this together.

      I know for me, I was getting more and more discouraged by the lack of success (manuscripts that ended in no’s, queries that no one responded to, watching other writers find home from their books when I couldn’t, etc.) and I read a book called Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. It was all about changing how we look at the things that happen to us and flipping on a “learner’s mindset” to view the situation in a different light and what we could learn from it. Once I was able to ask questions that were less “Why can’t I succeed? Why does this keep happening to me? Why am I not good enough?” to “What can I do differently–what is within my power to help change the outcome for next time?” I was able to refocus on what was in my control and put my energy there. Total light bulb moment! 🙂

  7. The first eye-opener for me was at a conference in 2009. Part of the fee included a book doctor reading the first 25 pages of a completed manuscript submitted two months before the conference.

    I learned more about writing in that 10-minute critique than everything that I learned up to that point.

    I wish they still offered that service, alas, it went the way of Borders.

    • That’s so great. Having an expert, a real story expert, review your work…it’s powerful, isn’t it? They have the perspective we lack, and the experience to be able to see issue clearly. It’s amazing.

  8. Sandy Perlic says:

    When I first started out, I bought into the idea that there was one right way to be a writer. I’d hear things like you have to write every day or you have to have this kind of social media presence and be doing x with it… but the fact of the matter is, you don’t. What you really have to do is find the way you work best and do it. (Authentically, as Angela says!)

    • Yes! This is something we all learn, isn’t it? I think when we start (with writing, platform-building, agent-hunting, whatever) we feel so out of our depth we gravitate to “you must do it this way” advice. This is where really working to develop our writer’s intuition is important, because we’re in a better position to assess the advice and decide if it works for us or not. There’s never “just one way” to do anything, is there?

  9. There are some real nuggets of wisdom here. Thanks for sharing from your heart.

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