In recent years several best-selling authors announced their retirement from writing. My first reaction was disbelief. These were successful writers. They won prestigious prizes. Their works were rich with theme and message. They had thousands of devoted readers awaiting their next publications.
And maybe that’s one reason they chose to retire. There’s something to be said about knowing when to leave the party, about going out at the top of your game.
I’ve never—to use a baseball analogy for success as an author—hit one out of the park and cleared the bases. If I had, I probably would have 1) wondered how the heck I did it, 2) doubted I could ever do it again, and therefore 3) been afraid and embarrassed to return to the plate.
But I haven’t had that base-clearing slam yet. I haven’t hit the top of my game. Or . . . maybe I have. Maybe I didn’t realize it. Maybe . . . Well, let’s not go there. That leads to self-pity and that leads to the basket of snacks on top of the refrigerator.
In at least one case, a retiring writer used the word “struggle” in connection with the writing process. Now, “struggle” is a word I’ve also been known to apply—but mostly to my attempts to stay at the keyboard and out of the kitchen and away from that basket I mentioned in the last paragraph. The struggles of these successful writers were on a much deeper and/or higher level and probably didn’t involve snacks. And that could be another reason for retiring.
Lurking on a number of chat sites as I’m wont to do when I’m putting off writing, I’ve encountered writers wringing the towel and considering whether to throw it in. Many of them have written just a few books—or perhaps only one—and haven’t had the positive reader response they expected, didn’t make the money they hoped for, or were stung by reviewers. Others stagger under the burden of jobs and obligations, responsibilities and interests that leave them little time to write. They take time out. Often, they return revitalized and with fresh ideas and perspectives. Sometimes, no matter what their intentions, they never return.
I don’t blame them. Writing can be frustrating and discouraging and painful, especially when your expectations don’t mesh with reality. It can give you tunnel vision and put a strain on relationships.
On the other hand, writing can also be rewarding. I’m talking not about financial rewards, but about getting that e-mail from a reader that thanks you for making her laugh, or about someone who drives an hour to a book fair to meet you.
So, I’m not retiring just yet. My husband and I have a collection of short stories called Sucker Punches about to pop up as a digital book and I’m putting the final touches on The Devil’s Tombstone, the 3rd in the Catskill Mountains Mysteries. After I demolish the leftovers from Thanksgiving, I’ll waddle to the keyboard and start on the 4th in the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series.
What about you? Which one of these statements describes when you’ll retire from writing?
When I reach my goals
When I’ve delivered my message
When the thrill is gone
When the idea well runs dry
When the voices in my head stop
When the voices in my head start
When they pry the keyboard from my cold fingers
The Dames and I are looking forward to your comments.
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and soon-to-be-released The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and five novels written with her husband, Mike Nettleton: The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deception at Devil’s Harbor.
She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking