by James Wallace Harris, 11/25/21
When I left the work world back in 2013 I thought I’d apply myself toward writing science fiction short stories in my retirement years. For some reason, I’ve hit a barrier that hasn’t allowed me to do that. Very few people succeed at new creative pursuits in old age. I still hope to beat that statistic.
I’ve decided to attack the problem with a different approach. For my seventies, my goal is to write a nonfiction book. This is kind of an absurd goal since I’m starting to have trouble cranking out blog posts. But I have an idea — aim low, but be persistent. I seriously doubt I can produce a commercially successful work of nonfiction, so my ambition is to write a book I wouldn’t be embarrassed to self-publish on Amazon.
Two things make me think this is possible. I’ve written thousands of blog posts. All I’ve got to do is write fifty 1,000-word essays on the same topic that ties together in a coherent readable way. I already have several ideas that interest me, but can I make them interesting to other people?
At seventy, focus, concentration, and discipline are hard to come by. This week I’ve been watching videos on the Zettlekasten method of taking notes. Those videos have inspired me because they use an external system to organize ideas and build connections. This might let me overcome my cognitive limitations.
The older I get the harder it is to hold a thought in my head, much less juggle several thoughts at once to show how they connect. I’m encouraged I might overcome this limitation with the software Obsidian. That software is designed to help retain what you study and build a knowledge base. To help me remember what I find while researching on the web I’ll use Raindrop.io. I’ve already been using the mind-mapping software Xmind to organize ideas visually. Combing all of these programs might let me construct a large coherent collection of related thoughts and ideas.
I need tools that map where I’ve been and hopefully reveal where I want to go. These tools need to quickly show what I’ve already thought through. I just can’t do that in my head anymore.
Of course, I could be deluding myself. I used to wait until I felt good to work on my hobbies, which is a terrible approach. Now, I never feel good, so I’ll have to push myself to work anyway. That should be good for me. I’m usually drained of all psychic energy by mid-afternoon. I’ve even quit going out at night because I’m no longer functional by late afternoon. Working on this goal feels like I’m rolling a rock up the hill.
I just don’t want to give up, at least not yet. I just don’t want to become a passive consumer of other people’s creative efforts. There’s nothing wrong with that. Consuming creative works still gives me a lot of pleasure. I’m just an old dog that wants to learn one last new trick.
12 thoughts on “On the First Day of My Seventies”
Early in the Typewriter Era, some authors preferred to write with pencils or fountain pens (let the feelings flow through the and instrument). Creativity apparently has advanced (?) to using software to assemble thoughts, which then are set down electronically via speech programs. All in the way you look at it, I suppose. But ultimately everything comes from the mind and the heart and the soul. Age may be only a barrier to be conquered.
Niklas Luhmann who created the Zettlekasten method wrote on index cards, so the system works by handwriting too. I’ve thought of doing more handwritten work because I’ve read many articles (probably all based on the same research) that say people remember better when they handwrite their notes. But I’ve forgotten how to do longhand, and my printing is painfully slow. But I still might try some handwriting of notes.
I’m intrigued by this method because it creates externalized thoughts and thought processes.
Try writing short stories first. I have a few ideas for books but am not there yet. My wife gave me an Underwood portable typewriter last Christmas, but it kills my fingers to use it, so it’s back to the laptop. I use a pencil and journal book for layout than the keyboard. Hemingway said that his books started as short stories, either in his head or on paper, I like that.
I’ve written about thirty short stories but I’m never satisfied with them. I haven’t completely given up on fiction but polishing a story to a finished state is getting harder and harder. I can churn out crappy stories, I just can’t make them good. Although, there is one story I still haven’t given up on.
By the way, I’ve wondered about using a typewriter. I used to love typewriters and had several over the years.
I have ideas for several nonfiction topics I’d like to research and write. It’s a matter of applying myself, of developing discipline. When I was young I rationalized that I didn’t write because I lacked the time. Now that I have all the time in the world, I rationalize I don’t write because I lack mental energy. But I’m not giving up yet.
Many of the short stories I write end up in the trash bin. If I can’t make it happen in a page, then I start over. Re-write if it doesn’t work. Most of mine are fiction, or historical fiction that may have my family or past friends as characters. Much of them are based on true accounts from my childhood. My fathers family was street rat crazy so I have a wealth of material to draw on. Good luck and don’t give up.
Good luck with it, James, I hope all that software and process works for you.
Thanks, I hope so too. There’s a lot of people on YouTube touting that software.
If you really want to write a novel, I highly recommend the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. He has a book on it, but you can get the gist of the technique from his website.
It forces you to first identify the core of your story and then slowly flesh it out from there.
Fascinating – cannot wait to follow the links in your post. I just saved the entire post to Evernote and tagged it with “Aging” “Craft of Writing” and “Knowledge Base”. Evernote was meant to be my auxiliary memory, I have thousands of notes in it, many linked to one another, but it just feels like a morass of disconnected crap. Could Evernote be my Zettlekasten?
Excellent post – I am 74 and plagued with the same demons as you are. It helps so much to know I’m not the only one.
Happy belated birthday!
LLDW, 74 sounds scary to me. I feel like I dramatically aged in the last two years. I can’t imagine what four more will bring.
What happened to that good looking bearded guy in the striped shirt? If you write that book, I want to read it!
I thought I should be more honest and show what I look like at 70. That older photo might even go back to my 50s, but probably just 60s. Time just zips by.
I’ll post a link to my book if I ever write it.