The first writer I ever heard give a talk was Larry McMurtry, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning epic Lonesome Dove I had devoured in a particularly fallow week while drifting jobless through the suburban wastes of Glendale, CA. I had since moved to Seattle where my then fiancé and I went to see him at the University of Washington. I was twenty-five, and just begun my first novel.
As with all of these sorts of talks, I remember only three things about the experience. One: I liked him; he was funny and spontaneous and interesting. Two: A woman asked him what he thought about the importance of style, and he said he thought style got in the way of the story. And three: he said writing is largely a middle-aged profession.
I have since met many successful writers who are not middle-aged, but I think McMurtry was correct. It’s not a matter of having more to say when you’re fifty than when you’re twenty. I think if you’re alive, and you’re interested, and you let your imagination do its thing everyone has a story to tell. It’s just that when you’re in your teens and especially your twenties and early thirties the question of survival often hovers over your every move. It did mine. Can you do this adulthood thing? Can you make a living and have a relationship and just survive in the world on your own? You’re not a kid anymore. So can you do this?
It’s a powerfully compelling question, and exactly the kind of question that interferes with the questions you have to ask if you want to write stories. The imagination, the Muse, doesn’t care one whit about the dull, gritty, joyless business of not-dying. It wants to make something that wasn’t there before, it wants to find an interesting path, it wants to play, it wants to live. There is a difference between living and not-dying. I’ve never died, but I’ve often felt as if I wasn’t really living.
You could say writing is a kind of mid-life crisis. Eventually most of us figure out how to survive. The thrill of answering that question is gone. What to do with the remaining thirty or forty years? You could buy a Corvette and start dating a yoga instructor, or you could write a book. I recommend the latter. Creativity is where we really meet ourselves. You know you are more than some mule put on earth to plow the fields until you’re buried in them. You have always felt it, an impulse toward stories just for telling, toward life just for living.
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com