Gail Godwin, age 73, has outlived Henry James, and in a wonderful essay in the NYT, she contemplates the changed way she now writes. She starts out by talking about when she was a young author, looking at every writer’s birthdate, comparing their age to hers, and their number of published books. Ouch, yes, she got my number. She doesn’t do that anymore, but what she does instead is encouraging:
You want to be taken seriously; that doesn’t change. What has changed for me is the degree of compromise I am willing to inflict on my work in order to see it in print…
When I was a young writer, I would jump-start the next project as soon as I completed the last. “You have been too damn lazy,” I scolded myself..
Now I do a lot of lying around. Finally I have accepted that my supine dithering is fertile and far from a waste of time…I have discovered I can compose whole paragraphs in my head and find them waiting, intact, next morning.
I am looking forward to that! Like Godwin when she was younger, I can only write paragraphs when I write. My head doesn’t (yet) produce any worth remembering. She also has an instructive attitude toward the disappearing words phenomenon of aging.
Now you wait, and this waiting offers a variety of responses. You can rail at your “senior moment”…You can, of course, resort to your ragged thesaurus…You can do without the word and perhaps realize how little you needed it, especially if it happened to be an adjective or an adverb…You can also take a break from your work and read some poetry…
For me, a consolation prize of word delay has been an increased intolerance for the threadbare phrase. I don’t want anyone on my pages to “burst into tears” or “just perceptibly” do anything, ever again. Better to take a break and ask: “What exactly do I want to say here? How does this really look?”…The old writer hopes to do credit to the material that has been hers or his alone.
Well, this is all so exciting, I’ve got to think–why wait until I’m 73? Like the woman in the poem, I should start to practise now.
from: Warning – When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
By Jenny Joseph
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
h/t Beth Kephart who brought this article to my attention. Thanks Beth! I am going to lie around now and think about a mother and daughter in my new book.