An elderly author recently asked me how retired authors can make the most of the time they have left. It’s an insightful question, and the truth is, we all need to be asking that question because we are all going to die. It’s the ultimate statistic: 10 out of 10 people die.
Any of us could die at any time. Some people who think they will die soon live on for decades. Others who think they will live forever leave this Earth all too soon.
Making the most of your time isn’t just for retired authors. It’s for everyone who wants to make the most of their writing time before they die.
How do you make the most of your final years as an author?
I started working with authors when I was in college. For a long time, I was the youngest person at all the writers conferences. Now that my hair has started greying, I realize I’m rarely the youngest person in the room.
Over the years, I’ve worked with authors of all ages, and I have learned by watching successful, older authors.
“I’m too old to write.”
First, let’s address the common objection that “I’m too old to write.” Frankly, it’s not true and only serves as an excuse to get out of writing.
Early in my career, I taught a week-long class on writing and marketing. Throughout the week, the students built websites and started blogs. One of my students was an 86-year-old WWII vet.
The 30 and 40-year-olds were rolling along, but the 60-year-olds were whining about how hard the technology was. Meanwhile, the WWII vet was quietly blazing ahead.
By the end of the class, he had made more progress than some of the 60-something authors because he wasn’t afraid. What is a new blog compared to the Nazis? He knew the only thing between him and success was hard work, so he didn’t make excuses or complain. He had what his generation would have called grit.
I had a lot of respect for that man. Seeing his work ethic made it obvious why we won the war.
Are you too old to write? No. You can write if you are willing to put in the work. The rules don’t change just because you are older.
Advantages of Age
In fact, with age comes several writing advantages.
According to the United States Federal Reserve, in 2016, the wealthiest age group in America was over the age of 75. According to the Fed, the average 75-year-old had a net worth of $1.1 million. The median net worth of the same age group was $281,600. The next wealthiest age group was between 65 and 74, followed by those 55 to 65.
The data reports that people get wealthier as they age. Their homes appreciate. They pay off mortgages and put money in savings.
The younger someone is, the poorer they tend to be. My toddlers, for example, feel rich if they have paper money rather than just coins. According to the Fed, people under the age of 35 had a median net worth of just $12,000.
Most people over the age of 65 are what economists would define as “independently wealthy.” An independently wealthy person’s passive income exceeds their passive expenses. Or put another way, an independently wealthy person doesn’t need to work a day job to cover their bills. The more common term for this situation is “retired.” If you are not independently wealthy, you must keep working to cover your bills.
If you don’t need to work a day job to pay your bills, you’ll find it easier to write.
In addition, seniors receive discounts, government-subsidized healthcare, and subsidized prescription medications. In the United States, people of retirement age also get checks from the government every month.
This is not to say every elderly person is rich and every young person is poor. But statistically speaking, the older you are, the higher your net worth. For most people, that fact is self-evident. How wealthy are you now compared to 20 years ago? Are you in more or less debt? Do you have more or less money in savings?
Are you “rich” or “poor”?
Many elderly people complain about being “poor,” but they are often “poor” in the same way a Jane Austin character is “poor.” Jane Austen’s “poor” characters may not have as much money as the “rich” characters, but they still have enough money to not need a job. If you own a house and a car and have money in the bank, you are not what most of the world would describe as poor.
Wealth is a great advantage in publishing. The wealthier you are, the more options you have as an author. You can hire multiple professionals to elevate your writing and marketing.
Writers in their later decades also have the advantage of available time. Many cash-rich workers are time-poor because they work long hours to earn money. The high-rolling lawyer who works 80 hours per week might have a lot of money, but he has no available time.
Retirees tend to be rich in both money and time.
Writing is a time-consuming activity. Authors need time to study, write, and promote. The more time you invest in your writing, the more successful you will be.
Young people can learn the craft of writing, but they often lack life experience, which makes it harder for them to craft believable characters. The more life you’ve lived, the more life experience you can draw from when writing your book.
Life experience benefits fiction and nonfiction writers. In nonfiction, your life experience also gives you credibility. When I talk about my dad, a CPA who has worked with authors for nearly 40 years, people sit up and take notice. Experience commands respect.
Growing old is not all roses and butterflies. Some challenges make writing harder.
In general, health declines with age. And poor health consumes your time and money, compounding your writing challenges. Energy levels also tend to decline over time.
Some authors find their regular writing routing rearranged when they become a caregiver for a parent or spouse. It’s hard to write when your spouse has dementia.
Caregiving most often affects people in their sixties. Their parents may need to be cared for, and their kids and grandkids may need to move back in.
Caregiving doesn’t need to derail your writing. Many successful authors are caregivers. Tricia Goyer has her mother and grandmother living with her and still writes multiple books every year. Even C.S. Lewis was a caretaker.
When I ran my web design agency, client travel was the biggest reason for website launch delays. We needed our client’s feedback on a webpage, but they were on a cruise, or in Alaska, or visiting their grandkids. Travel is a wonderful gift, but realize that choosing to travel is choosing not to spend that time and money writing.
Shrinking Social Network
The more friends you have, the easier it is to spread the word about your new book. But as you age, you outlive more and more of your friends. As your friends die, your social network shrinks.
But a shrinking social network is not inevitable. In fact, being an author is a great way to make new friends.
The biggest challenge that many retired authors face is a sense of entitlement. This can manifest itself in several ways:
Entitled authors say things like “I don’t need to:
- do the hard work to hone my craft.”
- write the book for my reader.”
- follow the rules.”
- learn how to market my book.”
- learn how to use technology.”
When you were younger, the key to success was to be humble and hard-working. The keys to success don’t change just because you age. That’s why the 86-year-old WWII vet succeeded when entitled baby boomers struggled. He was humble enough to learn and hard-working enough to do the work.
Many older authors think they should take shortcuts because they don’t know how much time they have left, but that is often a mistake. People who promise you quick results are often scammers. Remember what your dad used to say back in the day: “There’s never time to do it right but always time to do it twice.”
The shortcut is a path filled with foxes, wolves, and pitfalls.
Identify Your Goal
How do you overcome the challenges and find publishing success? The first step is to determine what success is for you.
Most retirees I’ve worked with fit into one of three categories:
- Writing to Leave a Legacy
- Writing as a Hobby
- Writing for a Living
Let me be clear, all three of these motivations are worthy goals. You want to be clear about your goal because it will affect how you measure success.
Legacy writers measure success by whether they create a book to leave for their children. Hobbyists measure success by whether they enjoy the process of writing amazing books. Career writers measure success by sales numbers.
Goal #1: Writing to Leave a Legacy
You will die, but your book might live forever. Writing to leave a legacy is about leaving something behind after you’re gone. Legacy authors typically want to write a single book and not multiple books. They are not motivated by money or by sales numbers. Recording their story is more important than enjoying the writing process.
Goal #2: Writing as a Hobby
Hobby writers enjoy writing for its own sake. Sometimes hobbyists get their start as legacy writers who discover they enjoy writing and want to keep at it. Other times a hobbyist has always wanted to write but never had the time until they retired. Instead of playing golf, they write.
Writing is an excellent hobby for retirees because it keeps your mind sharp and allows you to make new friends while leaving a legacy. It’s also not as physically taxing as mountain biking or tennis.
Goal #3: Writing as a Career
According to the Harvard Business Review, retiring shortens your life expectancy. Some older authors treat writing like a second career. They may enjoy writing and want to leave a legacy, but they also want to work hard and earn money. They may even know that working hard and making sacrifices might extend their lifespan. The difference between hobbyists and career writers is the number of sacrifices they are willing to make for their writing.
Tips for Legacy Writers
Most of these tips for legacy writers also apply to hobbyists and professionals.
Determine a Timeline
Go to this website to calculate your life expectancy based on statistical research. If you have months to live, your options will be different than if you have decades left. Having an idea of how much time you have left will help you make the most of your time.
If you are in your seventies, you may still have decades of writing ahead of you. Don’t feel rushed into cutting corners.
Create a Budget
Knowing how much time you have left is the first step in putting together a time budget.
I also recommend creating a financial budget. How much money are you willing to spend to make your book a reality? Discuss your budget with your spouse to ensure you are on the same page.
For more on budgeting, see How to Launch Your Book on a Budget.
If money is no object, and you don’t want to bother learning to write, you could spend $50,000 to work with a turnkey operation like Renown Publishing, which will interview you and write the book for you.
Most legacy authors prefer a more balanced investment between time and money.
Since you aren’t planning to write multiple books, you may want to hire professionals rather than learn to do things yourself. Consider hiring professionals for typesetting, cover design, editing, and more.
You can find freelancers on the AuthorMedia.social job board. We have an amazing community of hirable authors and professionals who will help you with almost every step of the publishing process.
Hiring professionals is much cheaper than contracting with a turnkey operation like Renown.
Tips for Hobby Writers
Read Books on Craft
Improving your writing craft is part of the fun of writing. One of the best ways to improve is by reading books on craft. One of the major elements of the 5-Year Plan is a five-year reading plan of craft books. There are many great books on writing, so keep reading!
Start a Critique Group
Participating in a critique group can be one of the most enjoyable parts of being a writer. Getting feedback, making friends, eating donuts, and drinking coffee contribute to the fun.
Sadly, many authors don’t have a critique group near them, but that’s where retired authors can shine. As a retiree, you are “time rich.” It is easier for you to organize a critique group than for the author with small children. You don’t have to be an amazing writer to start a critique group. You just need to be willing to put in the work. If you want help starting a critique group, check out my course, How to Start a Writers Group.
Attend Writers Conferences
One of the biggest benefits of being a writer is having opportunities to make new friends at writers conferences. You may even connect with the first members of the critique group you decided to start. Conferences are also a great way to learn from and connect with industry professionals.
Subscribe to Podcasts About Writing
A quick Google search for writing podcasts will give you a list of some great podcasts about writing that will help you get better faster. Subscribe to podcasts through a podcast app on your phone. I recommend the free app PocketCasts which is available on iPhone and Android.
Once you get PocketCasts on your phone, go into the app and subscribe to some podcasts about writing. New episodes will begin to appear on your phone automatically.
Some podcasts I recommend are:
Invest in a New Computer
Part of the fun of any hobby is spending money on the hobby. Playing golf is a great excuse to buy new clubs. Consider your writing hobby your excuse to upgrade your dying laptop for a new one that works well. You can find my laptop recommendations here.
Invest in Software
As a hobbyist writer, you’ll probably want to learn to do your own typesetting. That means investing in tools like Scrivener, Vellum, and ProWritingAid (Affiliate Link). These tools will make book writing easier.
Tips for Career Writers
What must you do to make your writing more than a hobby?
Write Every Day
I know one author in his 80s who writes “morning pages” every day. Every morning he reads his Bible, prays, and then writes three pages of whatever is on his mind. These three pages are in addition to the writing he has planned for the day. Morning pages serve to keep his writing sharp.
Writing morning pages is a popular practice among authors of all ages, but he finds it particularly helpful as he gets older.
Keep Up with Your Genre
If you want to write the kind of books people want to buy, you need to keep up with the kind of books they’re already buying. If you write cozy romance, read the bestselling cozy romance books. Just remember, you’ll need to do your genre reading in addition to your craft reading.
Turn off the TV
Did your parents spend their final years watching TV from morning until night? The cost of TV-watching is everything else they could have done with their time. Remember how you told your kids that too much TV would rot their brains? Listen to your younger self and turn off the TV.
Invest in Education
Professionals consider education to be an investment. Educate yourself by taking courses on craft, publishing, and marketing. Improving your skills in technology, writing, and marketing will increase your chances of success as a professional writer.
I have a course on how to “get good” with technology that’s part of Obscure No More. Authors of all ages have found it life-changing.
Success requires sacrifice. You may need to sacrifice your TV time or a trip to Europe. Perhaps the prize of leisure is not worth the cost. But if you are willing to make sacrifices, you will be surprised by what you can accomplish.
One thing that separates hobbyists from professionals is that professionals become business savvy. For example, as a professional author, you may be able to take advantage of tax deductions. If you want to learn more about the business side of writing, check out my course, the Tax & Business Guide for Authors.
Be encouraged! You are never too old to write and thrive in publishing. Remember that the rules for success don’t change just because you are older. You may have more money and time than someone in their twenties, but you still need to work hard to succeed.
If you give minimum effort or take shortcuts, you will get minimum results. However, if you work hard and focus on thrilling your Timothy, you will reap what you sow.
If you want help building your platform, my course Obscure No More will help you grow your email list, influence, and notoriety. If you feel like you are writing in obscurity, Obscure No More will show you the path forward.
One night, Bobbi Sue Baxter spots what looks like an alien. A blinding light flashes, and when Bobbi Sue can see again, the creature has vanished. She says nothing, but when well-known townsman Ross Garland is found shot dead in the area where she saw the figure, Bobbi Sue knows she can’t stay quiet. She has no idea more excitement than she’s ever wanted is about to come after her.