Old Writers Never Retire – Or Do They?

Remember that famous line from a ballad, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”? I’ve always thought something similar about writers and some artists. They never retire. Why would we? Unlike other types of jobs, we can pursue our art until we die, right? And don’t we always say that writing is not what we do, it’s who we are? If that’s the case, why would we ever give up a part of ourselves?

Recently, though, we met with our financial advisor. She asked my husband, as she always does, about his retirement plans. She had heard me say over the years that I doubted I’d ever fully retire, so she almost didn’t ask me. So this time, I piped up and said I just might.

Here’s a list of current authors who are still writing in their 70s: Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Sue Grafton, Russell Banks, Lois Lowry, and Isabel Allende. Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, and Tom Wolfe were still publishing in their 80s, and Herman Wouk published his last novel at the age of 97!

But times are changing. Gone are the days when writers (or artists) could sit at their desks researching and writing books, and then go on the occasional book tour or TV show (yes, I know I’m simplifying that a little). Nowadays, we writers spend as much of our time, if not more, working to market our books as we do to write them. That is especially true for self-published authors, but it’s true for traditional authors as well. Every author I know spends an increasing portion of their workday answering e-mail, keeping up with social media, sending in guest blog posts, speaking at events, etc. These are not just things that take time, they take energy.

And gone are the days when a successful author could count on book sales alone to pay the bills. Most of the authors I know still have their day jobs, or work at least part-time teaching classes, editing, doing technical or commercial writing, speaking, etc.

So, yes, for the first time in my life, I’m starting to think about retirement (though it’s still at least 15 years away). It’s hard to imagine not writing, but I can easily imagine no longer having the will or energy to do everything that goes along with it.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe in my retirement years, I’ll finally have time to read again. I can read the writings of the up-and-comers and wish them well on their writing journeys!

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