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How to Be a Writer at Any Age

10 rules to live by from the author of 'The War of the Roses'


Part of the Artful Aging Special Report

I always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I was conscious, I felt that inexplicable pull to tell a story, to create a scene, to leave a reader wanting to know what would happen next. When life’s responsibilities came knocking, i.e. I had a family to support, my career as a published author was put on hold. However, I knew that nothing would block the path to my dream: to be a full-time writer in control of my career and destiny.

I had a late start as a published writer, at 46, and since then I’ve published more than 50 works, including The War of the Roses, which became the nomenclature of divorce worldwide and turned into a box-office hit. Having been in the creative ballgame for nearly half a century, I have seen the various reincarnations of the publishing industry.

Self-publishing was my way of taking back control of my own destiny. Folks often tell me that I’m the oldest working writer they know. The truth is: I don’t know how to stop. I work on novels, articles, blog posts and maintain contact with fans from around the world every single day. I hope my insights below and my optimism inspire you to persevere through struggle and continue on your writer’s journey.

1. Do not overanalyze.

You can think something to death and never get anything done. Keep moving and don’t look back too often. I find it boring to be constantly looking back. The future is much more exciting.

Folks often tell me that I’m the oldest working writer they know. The truth is: I don’t know how to stop.

2. Never take rejection of your work to heart.

Rejection is an inevitable part of any dream you pursue. I’ve been told “no” many times and never took it seriously. It may be impractical, unwise, foolish, pure madness, but if you truly believe in yourself, your talent, your ideas, your calling, your personal mission, why not, as Lewis Carroll wrote, “go on until the end, and then stop”?

My first novel wasn’t published until I was 46 years old. Ignore insults and negative, unproductive feedback. In today’s age, where everything is gone with the flicker of a screen, be happy that your work is garnering attention. Make sure your name is spelled right.

3. Mind your morning rituals and stay informed.

I wake up every day at 5 a.m. and write until 10 a.m., after which I read the various news outlets.

Read the news and the world’s happenings around you. Inspiration and enlightenment come from current events. Gaining a new perspective never hurt anyone. The truth is, most times, stranger than fiction.

4. Write at least 100 pages before you decide to scrap a novel.

Don’t be so quick to toss work to the trash heap. Get to know your characters and story, but also know when to start anew.

5. Don’t be afraid of change.

Embrace change while staying true to yourself. When digital publishing was in its infancy, few people believed in its power to revolutionize the way people read. I was thought of as crazy, but I was determined to achieve independence as an author and I made it happen.

6. Seize opportunity whenever you can.

I would never have predicted that my first novel would be published the way it was. I was running a PR agency at the time, when a client walked through my door, asking if I could promote his book. I decided to take a risk and said that I would promote his book for free if he published my manuscript. To my utter delight, he agreed and the rest is, as they say, history.  

The War of the Roses Author and Book Embed

7. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur as well.

People who join the fray as individual authors in self-publishing will have to think of themselves as being in business on their own and pursue strategies as with any business venture.

8. Never let anyone else control your destiny.

Keeping my authorial name alive involves some pretty heavy lifting, investment and optimism, but it’s 100 percent worth it.

9. Stand up for your beliefs and take action.

Don’t be afraid to be the first one. I fought to keep a library open in Wyoming that I knew would benefit generations to come and I got my way. I was also a pioneer of the short story contest, launching the Jackson Hole Writers Conference.

10. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.

I write what I want and I never repeat myself. Writing the same book over and over would bore me. Each novel I’ve written is a different story, a different tone and genre.

I hope that my insights inspire you or reinvigorate your zest for this strange and phenomenal path that we’ve chosen, or more accurately, that has chosen us.

What are some of the rules that you live by? Share your thoughts below and share your personal story about why you write on Writers of the World.

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