When Writers Get Old

Reading & Writing

There are certain writers I can’t read now. They’ve got comfortable. They’re listened to. Their anecdotes calcify and they only hear themselves. They end up writing about writers because eventually that’s all they know. How do you avoid this happening?

Earlier in the year I made a conscious decision to avoid festivals and professional events for a year and go back to my roots. Instead of standing around with champagne and canapes struggling to have conversations with people I saw in the same place every year, I started going out to writing groups to encourage and advise new writers.

This wasn’t entirely altruistic; what I got in return was displays of incredible freshness from young men and women just starting out and finding their confidence. In the process I discovered half a dozen electrifying writers whose first works deserved to knock the old school off their cosy perches and make them think about sharpening their acts.

These were not people reinventing the wheel. They weren’t reading Joseph Campbell and coming up with high concept plots. They were telling stories about falling in love, learning responsibility, getting knocked back by misfortunes, but with an unjaundiced eye that made everything fresh.

Last night I performed at a gig with a baby-faced 23 year-old compere who told some stories; one about proposing to his girlfriend, the other about a girl crying on a bus and trying to hide her feelings from other passengers, and they’ll stay with me for a long time to come.

Interestingly, writing seems to be one of the few professions you can carry on with well into your eighties if you have the right frame of mind. The answer to freshening one’s act, it seems, is to reach back to a point when everything was new and feeling it over again – sadly for too many of us, that feeling vanishes from view and cannot be found again.

Read HG Wells’ short story ‘The Door In The Wall’ to see that subject beautifully explored in just a few pages. Go on, download it now and see if you agree!

5 comments on “When Writers Get Old”

  1. keith page says:

    I know that story well; H G could write a great short story.My other favourites are ‘The Magic Shop’ and ‘The Crystal Egg’

  2. David Read says:

    Fritz Leiber carried on til just before his death with ever more challenging stories.. Horrible Imaginings for example.

  3. FabienneT says:

    That’s why I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s something that you can do anywhere, any time, at any age, and nobody retires you from it. It’s a lifeline and hope it will carry on for as long as possible. All you need is a pen and paper (even in our technology-obsessed society).

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    Yes, freshening your act and watching the words you use when you create younger people than yourself. And I think the observing, plotting, word selection and writing maintains the writer’s brain, unless there’s an illness. A salute to Terry P. here.

  5. Laura Jefferson says:

    Wow. Thanks for the story. It’s not just writers who find their contemporaries stifling. I feel a bit better,hearing this from you, heartlessly abandoning my age-mates for the students and recent-students among the archaeology field school.

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