In retirement, I tackled puzzles that once I would have passed over as too hard. It was luxury not to have to interrupt a sudoku or kakuro because my lunchbreak was coming to an end, and I found I could complete most of the newspapers’ logic and number puzzles.
How did I ever find time for work?
I told myself that puzzles would keep my retired brain from turning to mush and branched out to Cryptic crosswords in a bid to exercise the language-oriented side of my brain. (Although I still don’t understand half the clues, even after seeing their solutions.)
Well before retirement, I’d often struggled to find the word I wanted when I needed it. In retirement I was spending less time interacting with other people, but struggled as often to find the word I wanted. Might creative writing help?
This, dear Reader, was my chief motivation for starting to write.
“But is it working?” I hear you ask.
It’s hard to tell in lockdown, when I’m having fewer conversations than ever. While writing, I do try first to conjure the word I want out of the air. . . but then I resort to an online thesaurus because I’m impatient. Sometimes I find that the word I think I’m looking for doesn’t exist in any thesaurus either, but it isn’t only obscure words that evade me. I believe I am finding it easier to recall the “everyday” words that play hide-and-seek with me. I’m looking forward to being able to meet up again with other people so I can test this theory.
I expected that when I retired, time would pass more slowly, but the reverse is true; months and years disappear so much faster now. Or is it that I have the leisure to notice how quickly they’re flying? I’ve taken to wearing a wristwatch again, now it’s a tool to keep track of my day and no longer a tyrant regulating it. When I began writing, an unexpected bonus was that I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow, right through till morning. I still can’t explain that.
I started with a novel – as you do – before realising that short stories were a better path to feedback. Professional editing is expensive, but short story competitions often offer feedback for an affordable cost – the trick being to sort the genuine competitions from the scams.
I enjoyed reorganising my sentences and paragraphs to lead into each other more naturally, and I recalled making that same discovery back when I was penning instruction leaflets for students. I learned then not to burden my readers with knowledge they didn’t need at that point but to hold back information until they needed to know it. Little did I suspect this would also apply to storytelling.
Back then, pressure was on to get those instruction leaflets out; I didn’t have long for tweaking. Now I have no deadlines and tweak as much as I like. The initial process of getting things down might be a bit haphazard, but I can knock it into shape later.
My first encouragement was publication in Scribble magazine after being placed in an essay competition.
I was moved to invest in a Writers’ Bureau story-writing course and was lucky to get a published author as my tutor.
I also joined a well-organised online writing community which gave me the confidence to actually post my writing for others to read. Before I could do so, I had to earn points by critiquing others’ work, which was a learning curve in itself. I realised then that feedback on my own work would vary according to how advanced along the writing path my reviewer was, and how brutally honest s/he was being. At times it could feel more like a mutual appreciation society.
Most competitions stipulate that entries must not have been previously published in print or online. Occasionally submission rules might clarify this by exempting websites with a password login from the stricture. More often, they don’t. I thought it safest not to post any story I might later want to enter into a competition.
I searched instead for a local writing group and found the Whittlesey Wordsmiths (although we didn’t call ourselves that until we published our first anthology). Joining the group pushed me to produce work every month, whether I liked the topic or not. And somebody would be reading it.
When we decided to publish a collection of the group’s work, I found my proofreading course hadn’t been a complete waste of time after all. I also discovered how incredibly helpful the online writing community is, with advice available on everything from punctuation to paperback formatting. Some of the results are scattered around these pages.
I have no expectation of profiting from my hobby, but every competition placement or shortlisting brings another morale boost. I am in awe of published authors who hold down a day-job while writing for publication.
However do they find time to go to work?