When I’m Sixty-Four

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me?”

Fill in the blank…

Of course: “…when I’m sixty-four.”

Yeah, I played the HELL out of Sgt. Pepper when it came out.

My older brother and I each had record players, but one copy of the record between us. We would sit in each other’s rooms and listen. Rapt. Over and over. The White Album, too. Holy smokes. We were nuts about The Beatles. When a new album came out, we would own it within the week.

I liked The Stones better than he did; he liked The Who more than me. (Tommy changed my mind. But every band took second place to The Beatles).

But that song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.”
Catchy, bouncy, plaintive—impossible. And so clean and melodic, the second song on Side Two after the psychedelic “Within You, Without You.”

Sixty-four seemed ancient. I pictured a wheelchair, watery oatmeal, infirmity. Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?

Then my father died at age 54 in 1979, and seven years later, my mom died at the same age. By the late 1980’s I thought maybe there was some sort of ticking time-bomb inside me, too.

You know, an expiration date.

By the time my mother died, I had been writing fiction for a few years. I was working on a draft of an early novel.

Three years after my mother passed away, I got married in a double wedding on the top floor of an old funky warehouse in LoDo (when the buildings were empty). It was 1989. I had just landed a good agent in New York for that first book, a mystery, and quit a good TV news job to write a second book. The first book had taken six years. I didn’t want the second book to take that long.

At the wedding, the bar was open before the ceremony started. We had a great rockabilly band on hand for the dancing.

And we walked down the aisle to…

“When I’m Sixty-Four.”

Our friends loved it. We laughed.

Sixty-four seemed, still, so distant.

Eighteen years later, I finally got published at age 53—a small, indie press. I had a great time seeing a book reach readers. Phew, published. Right under my personal deadline (literally).

Did I have one year left? It didn’t feel like I was about to die. I mean, what does that feel like?

A second book came out when I was 57 and a third when I was 60. Then, a fourth at age 61. The third and fourth with Midnight Ink, a fine house.

Last week, I turned 64. (No wheelchair! No watery oatmeal!)

I Feel Fine. (Another Beatles song.)

And I am making plans to publish Book #5 next fall—the fifth book in the Allison Coil series. It’s called The Melancholy Howl. At the same time, my amazing agent in New York is shopping a standalone mystery. It’s called No Lie Lasts Forever.

And I’m starting to write a new one.

My heroes are writers like Pat Stoltey, still in her mid-70s and cranking out books. Or James Lee Burke (born in 1936) and Lawrence Block (1938) and still, yes, cranking out books. How about Mary Higgins Clark? Born in 1927.

Every day I write is a good day. Every day I wrote was a good day.

There are lots of cool things about the writing business, starting with the writing itself.

But here’s one more. As I start to think about winding down the professional career (Note to my mortgage holder: starting to think about it, not actually doing it yet!) I am glad to have writing out there as something that will keep me going, interested, engaged. Most of all, it will keep me writing.

No matter what happens to the stories I put together, I’ll be writing.

Maybe even when it’s time for watery oatmeal.

WHEN, WHERE, and HOW do I write a book?

I’ve been so busy writing, editing, and reading, I almost forgot about this blog.

 

WHEN:

A wise friend of mine said to me, “Time is there, you just have to take it.”

If you have trouble with it, then tough. That’s right, I said it—tough! Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write. When you say you don’t have the time, what you are really saying is, “Something else is more important right now than writing.” ~Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D

Create a schedule (please don’t forget about pets, spouses, children, and a steady income).

An old song’s chorus begins like this: "To everything there is a season..." Be sure this is the right season for you to write an entire manuscript. If not, one suggestion is keeping separate files for future characters, settings, plots, etc.

If you ride a bus to and from work, well, there you have it.

 

WHERE:

Be prepared to write wherever you may safely do so. Jeffery Deaver writes in his office in the dark. The only light is from two computers, one for internet use and one for writing. Anne Perry often writes (by hand) overlooking a beach.

“When you’re reading, you’re not where you are; you’re in the book. By the same token, I can write anywhere.” ~Diana Gabaldon

 

HOW:

Invest in you. Join RMFW for classes, retreats, conferences, blogs, critique groups, or monthly presentations. There are many incredible authors (traditionally published and self-published) willing to help—check out the wealth of education, knowledge, and experience our members have.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.” ~Stephen King

“You start at the end, and then go back and write and go that way. Not everyone does, but I do. Some people just sit down at the page and start off. I start from what happened, including the why.” ~Anne Perry

Be observant. “You see something, then it clicks with something else and it will make a story. But you never know when it’s going to happen.” ~Stephen King

Participate in RMFW’s NovelRama. “25,000 words in 4 days. Because you can.”

Setting Smart Goals for 2015

By Liesa Malik

New Year's Resolutions. Bah, humbug, right? The whole practice of writing down what amount to goals that seem firmer just by calling them "resolutions" can be intimidating and defeatist.

Me? I've always liked this clean-slate time of year.  At least for a week or so I haven't goofed up my brand new year.  I really will lose those ten pounds, leap tall buildings in a single bound, write that best-selling novel that gets turned into an Academy Award Winning motion picture, earn millions, and go live in the Bahamas when Colorado winters get to me.

But wait!

A resolution is a goal, a plan, a firm decision--not a wish and a dream.  And here's where the conflict begins.  As writers, our job is to live in a semi-dream state for a good deal of our time.  Without our imaginations we couldn't conjure up the stories we do.  Without a wish, our heroes and heroines would be, well, just like us.  We need that skewed perspective on life.

But as professional writers, we also need a foot firmly planted on the ground.  We need to take our literary vision and make it a reality. So how can we blend the two?

In my work as a marketing professional for twenty years, I've had this conflict a lot (both with my own goals and those of my clients).  Over time, I've learned to embrace it, and one of the best tools I know to do so is the S.M.A.R.T. goal. Here's how it might work for a writer.

One: Dream Big

Think of all the writing projects, awards, accomplishments, and kudos that could happen this New Year.  Go ahead.  Shoot for the stars.  Say things like, "I will finish that novel I've been working on and write a complete second novel to boot!" or "I will write twelve short stories that will make it into the finals of the Writer's Digest annual competition."  You can even go so far as to jot down, "My mother will be so proud of me!"  Whatever your heart truly desires.  Take time to enjoy a great vision of  yourself (hey, we're all entitled to a holiday gift from ourselves, right?)

Two: S is for Specific

Now take your dreams and turn them into a list of goals.  But be specific.  Writing a novel is a good goal, but a novel can be a romance, a murder, a sci-fi piece, and a novel can be 80,000 words or 120,000 or anything you determine is right for your project.  The point here is to choose what specifically is right for you.  Go ahead.  Look through your dreams and write down a few specific goals.

Three: M is for Measurable

Eew! As writers, measurable sounds an awful lot like math--hex, gag, whatever!  But being measurable doesn't have to be intimidating.  Let's say you've chosen to write a novel in the mystery genre. That's nice and specific.  But let's make that goal measurable by putting a word count to it.

"I will write a mystery novel with a goofy protagonist who likes romance but keeps stumbling across dead bodies in 85,000 words."

Wow. That is both specific and measurable. Cool. What's next?

Four: A is for Actionable

Now is where we start to deep dive on a goal.  What actions can we take to get that novel written? In other words, what smaller goals do we need to put into place to make that new novel appear in electronic form instead of in dreamworld hopes?  Here are some things I would consider as good actions:

  • Make a character list
  • Write character biographies or backgrounds
  • Develop a theme or life question that really challenges me
  • Write a list of obstacles or challenges that might appear by putting two or more of my characters in a life-defining situation
  • Write a short outline of "what happened" from each character's point of view
  • Make a master outline (sorry pants-ers, us plotters need this sometimes)
  • Write 1,000 words a day in my first draft

Five: R is for Realistic

Ouch! Who wants real in a creative writing project?  Well, to be honest, I do.  I have a hard time thinking that maybe one day I'll have a novel published when I don't have a plan to get that novel written.  For a goal to be realistic you need to be in control of the outcome.  You can't say "I'll get a contract for six new novel sales this year" because you don't control the editors and agents who might offer that contract.  However, you can say "I'll pitch to twenty agents and editors each month this year," and then you can have realistic hopes of landing a contract.

Six: T is for Time-Bound

Again, this may sound restrictive at first, but in reality a project with a beginning, middle and END is very satisfying.  Let's say you've been working on a novel for oh, six or seven years.  Will this be the year you finish it?  YES!  If you tell  yourself you'll have goals X,Y, and Z done by June 15th and that date comes, you have the power to say, "Know what? I've put enough time into this project. Do I still want to invest more in it, or do I want to go on to something new?"  That isn't being a quitter.  That is being realistic.  Some projects work, and others don't.  If you're into your new novel and the deadline (decision time) looms, you can sit back and say, "Okay, I'm behind schedule, but I can get back on track by doing . . . " It's your decision.

Yes. I like resolutions.  But I love SMART goals.  Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a New Year that's filled with SMART writing success.