by guest blogger Donnell Ann Bell
Sadly, my girlfriend broke her hand on the job last week, and after surgery she’s going to be laid up for an entire month. She’s been working and studying hard to be a chef and had recently gained an externship at The Broadmoor, a five-star hotel in the city we live. This externship is a big deal, not only for her, but for her friends and family, who have missed her delightful company over the past two years. What’s equally tragic about her story is that with three adult boys, like many writers out there, she waited until they were grown to fulfill her passion.
So to take her mind off her setback, we toured a bookstore, where she asked me to recommend some books. After all, if she can’t cook, she might as well catch up on her reading. As I excitedly pointed to authors I love, she picked up a few and said, “You know what’s interesting. A lot of these people are your age.”
Since her hand was already broken, I showed my compassionate side and didn’t attack her. But her comment did make me smile and think about what writers and chefs have in common. Because, the way I see it, members of these occupations don’t learn their trades overnight. To make our plots gel, writers often have to let their ideas simmer, and life experience and work are the requisite ingredients needed before they can say, “The End,” or in chef speak, “Dinner is served.”
To prove this point, I became a roving reporter and approached some authors I admire and asked them the following: Did maturity and age help you in your writing career, or do you wish you’d started earlier? Interestingly enough, no one claimed to have properties of fast-rising yeast.
In alphabetical order …
(Harlequin/Silhouette author and soon to be Berkley author, introducing her SWAT trilogy, Waking Nightmare, Waking Evil and Waking the Dead.)
After I finished my Master's program at twenty-five, I read a lot of contemporary romance. Theoretically, I could have started my writing career for Silhouette at that time, had it occurred to me then. However, between twenty-six and twenty-nine I had a third baby and then a set of twins, so time might have been an issue! As it turned out, I started writing when my twins turned four. When I sold my first manuscript two years later, I avoided selling on proposal for a few years, simply because I didn't want the demands of my second career to interfere with time spent with my kids.Every person goes through stages in their lives, and every stage brings a different level of insight, different perspectives. There's no doubt that experience brings deeper introspection and that directly impacts our ability to develop characterization. Things tend to appear more black and white to us when we are younger. Age brings an understanding of the shades of gray, and the complexities of human nature. That understanding and our ability to convey them in our plots make us better writers.I know that I couldn't write the edgy suspense I'm writing now while in my twenties. That took years to hone. And I don't think I would have been comfortable tackling some of the gritty elements I include in my stories now. I guess it's good to know that there's at least one thing age and experience are good for!
Allison Brennan (multi-published with Ballantine and New York Times Bestselling Author, What You Can’t See (anthology 12/26/07, Killing Fear 1/29/08)
Being a writer has always been my dream. When I was 13, I wrote to Stephen King and told him I wanted to be a writer when I grew up (after I gushed over THE STAND.) He sent me a postcard that said, "If you want to be a writer, write." It took me nearly twenty years to get serious about my writing. I had over 100 beginnings and no endings. But after a day care scare with Brennan #3 (then 8 months old), I was determined to finish one of my stories. Ignorance IS sometimes bliss: I thought getting to "The End" was the hardest part of getting published. But I've typed "The End" 15 times: on four never-to-be published novels, six published, two in production, two short stories, and a novella. My inspiration is my dream--this is what I've always wanted, the one and only thing I've ever done solely for myself from the beginning.
I don't think I would have sold before I turned 30. My stories were juvenile at best, but even more important than that, I didn't have the discipline to learn how to be a better writer, or the patience to make sacrifices. When I was twenty, television, socializing with friends, going to the movies, weekend trips, all held far more allure to me than sitting at a computer everyday writing. Writing was a hobby. I also think that making friends, getting married, having children, building a career, and becoming immersed in day-to-day living has helped me develop insights into human psychology that are invaluable to my stories.
Ronald Cree (Young Adult author
who writes the Gus Gonzales mystery series, published with Simon Pulse)
After college, I immersed myself in three years of volunteering. Working in the Hispanic community, I began seeing all sorts of possibilities for characters and stories. During a brief stint working as an Occupational Therapist aide in a hospital in Lancaster, California, I met a young boy named Rafael who would later become the basis for my first novel's main character, Gus Gonzalez. Years later, I was assisting a number of Hollywood actor friends with their professional websites--including The OC's Nicholas Gonzalez and Desperate Housewives' Eva Longoria--when one of the stories in my head finally gelled and Desert Blood 10pm/9c came to life.
Laura Iding (Practicing nurse and Medical Romance Author, published with Mills and Boon)
I think a lot of us wish we were sold earlier in our lives, but I honestly don't think my books would have been nearly as emotionally fulfilling. My career as a nurse has dramatically helped my writing, not just because I write medical romances (although that certainly helps in writing my medical scenes), but because of the insight I've gained into people's thoughts and feelings. Great characters are the mainstay of every story and meeting people, learning about them, is key to writing great characters. When I get stuck with heroes and heroines who aren't doing what they're supposed to do, I feel very lucky to have the ability to go to work, meet some of my patients and their families. This invariably makes me realize exactly what I need to do to help my characters move the story forward.
Madge Walls, (Author of Paying the Price, an award-winning novel of real estate in Hawaii and Hawaii Real Estate Exam Book)
I wanted to write fiction when I was younger, but I didn’t have anything of interest to say. By the time my children were teenagers, I suddenly had lots to say! Not only had I been tempered by my sons and difficult husband, but I began to understand the dynamics of my parents, siblings and friends as well. Then there was my career as a Realtor. I got involved in the lives of so many interesting people, and the stories began to spin in my head. I realized I’d been studying people all my life, trying to understand their motivations, their fears, their passions and more. And I developed the discipline to get up an hour earlier every morning, cuff my ankle to my chair, and spend an hour writing before work. That kind of steady output finally got me published. In my case, writing required an amount of maturity that I just didn’t have in my twenties and thirties.
Thanks very much to the wonderful authors who shared their insights and for affirming when it comes to writing, age might actually be an asset, and to my friend Fran Gleason who unwittingly provided the impetus for this blog.
As for all of you out there, I’m curious. Has age helped or hindered your careers? Maybe you can provide a different slant. And to Fran, like everything you do in life, you’ll sail over this in your magnificent fashion and emerge even stronger and better.
Donnell Ann Bell is an award-winning aspiring author and a 2007 Golden Heart finalist. Check out her web page at http://donnellannbell.com/