Sunday, August 11, 2013

Retiring Writers

"Author Alice Munro recently created a stir when she announced her retirement from writing, following an example set by novelist Phillip Roth, who declared last autumn that he had also written his last book.

Munro is 82, and Roth is 80, each well past the standard retirement age. Even so, the idea of writers trading their keyboards for gold watches still seems unusual. One of the small benefits of writing, after all, is that one can presumably continue doing it at any age, and many authors keep plugging along, despite the march of years."

LUCY BURDETTE: I read the above quote recently from Christian Science Monitor, and then a discussion of the topic on the blog, The Passive Voice. And there's been quite a lively thread on some of my writers' lists in the past week--bemoaning how hard the writing/publishing/promoting business is. When is enough enough?

I don't have an answer to the question yet--maybe a wishy-washy "as long as I'm having fun" or a more practical "as long as I have a contract" or a more egotistic "as long as people are reading what I write" or worried "until I lose my marbles" or plaintive "what in the world would I do with all my time??"


How about you writers--how long will you continue? And readers, when should authors retire?


35 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I would think that retiring is pretty much a personal choice, and the answer must, therefore, be different for every writer.

Simplistically, perhaps the answer is that a writer retires when there are no more stories to be told . . . .

Reine said...

Since I just started writing fiction I don't want to stop. I'm not sure I can stop. I write all the time, even when I watch TV. I wrote 433 words watching Cedar Cove today.

It's harder writing while watching TV, because I can't use my speech to text. It works but annoys the family. I don't know why it would bother two deaf guys, an assistance dog, a feral kitty, and a Maine Coon Cat, but it does.

So I poke away on Pages for iPad. At the end the guys pretend they're not quizzing me about what happened on the show. So no—I don't think I will stop—ever.

SandyG265 said...

I think a writer should retire when they aren't able to write at the same quality level that they have been. Lillian Jackson Braun comes to mind. The last several books in her Cat series weren't up to the standards of her previous writing. After the final book was canceled it came out that she had been ill and the last few books had been at least partly ghost written.

Hallie Ephron said...

Simple answer for me: when it's not fun any more.

And I'm not keen on this trend for dead writers to have someone else continue with the franchise.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

That's an interesting point Sandy and Hallie...I have not read the later Dick Francis books or the "Robert Parker"...and also the Dixie Hemingway mysteries by Blaize Clement are now being written by her son. I would imagine that trend is related to $$$...

Rosemary Harris said...

I may retire soon - ask me in 90 days.
It's a pretty sad commentary on the state of publishing when a dead author's name can be slapped on a book written by someone else. Didn't they do that with Robert Ludlum too?
As if we didn't already know, we are product. And interchangeable to some.
Oy, this is a cheery subject for a Sunday morning!

Rosemary Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan Brogan said...

This is an interesting question Roberta. I think of it in terms of journalism as well as fiction. In journalism, where all the facts need to be triple checked, I think a writer might retire when that gets to be too exhausting - or when they start getting the facts wrong.

in fiction, there probably aren't any "shoulds," but I completely understand why at 80, a writer might want to give it a rest.

Ramona said...

Wait.

We're allowed to retire?

Kaye Barley said...

I remember the last "The Cat Who . . . " book published before Lillian Jackson Braun died and I remember thinking the publisher had done this grand lady a MAJOR disservice in putting that book out. Of course, I do not know the story behind it, but that book, which was obviously still in draft form, has stayed with me and bothered me a great deal.

Jack Getze said...

Jan: I retired from journalism in 1977 when my editor started telling me what the story was BEFORE I researched it. In my mind, the crusader rabbits took over all news functions after Watergate. Balance, reporting both sides -- that stuff went out the door. The paper wanted to GET bad guys and any search for truth be damned.

I wanted to write my own stories anyway, so everything worked out. I hope to die at the computer, halfway through another novel.

Kathy Lynn Emerson said...

To quote several romance-writing friends from right after LaVeryle Spencer retired, back when I was also writing romance novels, "I'll retire when they pry my cold, dead hands from the keyboard." Of course, that was also before publishers started consolidating and killing lines. Many of us who are still writing had to reinvent ourselves to survive, some of us more than once.

Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Emerson)

Lorrie said...

I think I'll take the Alice Munro retirement with a grain of salt for now. Perhaps that's wishful thinking, since she's one of my all-time favorite writers. But I do think she's been dealt some terribly difficult blows recently, with the death of her husband and with her own illnesses--and it may be that she's just plain depressed or tired or in need of regrouping. Of course, if she has indeed retreated from the field, she's done so with all honors and the respect of the reading world. We who love her work hope only for the best outcome for HER.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Well said Lorrie! And Jan and Jack--interesting perspective from the journalists' POV.

LOL Ramona:)

Kathy Lynn, you're right, it's a crazy world right now.

Ro, sorry to be depressing--it's just been on my mind--more thinking that people last longer continuing to work as a writer than in other worlds.

I just remembered, I dreamed about moderating a panel with Mary Higgins Clark last night. I believe Hallie was there too...no one could think of anything to say, nor was there an audience.

In that case, it would be time to retire!!

Deb Romano said...

I hope that Munro and Roth continue to write for THEMSELVES, if not for publication. The idea of a gifted writer just coming to a halt is depressing.

Purely from a selfish reader's viewpoint, I don't like the idea of any of my favorite writers, especially those with ongoing series, deciding to call it a day. I understand that there are now circumstances beyond their control, and I want the authors who no longer have contracts to understand that we readers are also devastated. It's as though someone killed friends of ours when a series comes to an end.

I don't think I'm making a lot of sense, but I'm exhausted: I was up late reading.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Oh you're making sense Deb--that's why writers keep writing!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Certainly, if a writer thinks she has nothing more to say, or his health inhibits his continuing to write well, the writer should retire.

The tougher issue is what a writer should do when the quality of their writing starts to slip. Monetarily, as long as a publisher is willing to pay money and the public read, there is no reason to quit.

And yet, do writers, like aging athletes, want to be remembered for their lesser works done late in life. There is no senior league for writers.

I made the retirement decision once, choosing to retire way early while I still enjoyed what I was doing and while I was still on top of my profession.

In writing, I hope I will make a similar decision - but since I'm still on the upward curve (or so I tell myself) that decision is a ways off.

~ Jim

Deb said...

I've always assumed that writing was a job you didn't retire from, unless you got ill or lost your marbles... I suppose PD James has been my model. I wonder if she'll write another book, having stated that she is finished with Adam Dalgliesh, and then writing Death Comes to Pemberley?

Writers write--which makes me think of all the furor over JK Rowling's mystery (which I've just finished and liked very much.) Did anyone actually think she would just STOP writing????

Oh, and a word in defense of Felix Francis! He had participated in the Dick Francis books since he was a child, coming up with plot ideas, researching, etc. When his father became ill, he "co-wrote" several books, and is now writing them as Felix Francis. He's quite a good writer in his own right and I certainly think would like to be seen as more than a Dick Francis franchise...

Lori Berhon said...

I agree with Joan Emerson -- when there are no more stories to tell. I've got enough to take me well past 80!

MsWormwood said...

Thanks very much to those who wrote of Lillian Jackson Braun. On PD James' Austen pastiche, it was a mistake.

Rosemary Harris said...

Lucy, that was before my coffee! I did interview Mary Higgins Clark last year at the Brooklyn Book Festival. She was amazing and the line stretched around the block - not a mean feat in downtown Brooklyn which you might expect to be filled with hipsters and folks who are cooler than thou.God bless her!

Lauren Taylor said...

I think I'll merge two previous answers: when the writer has no more stories AND when their writing is not up to their previous works. I stopped reading one author all together because I loved his older books, but his later works were not at all the same. He told a good story for two hundred pages, then just seemed to give up at the end. After three books like that, I threw in the towel and moved on to someone else.

Hallie Ephron said...

On J. K. Rowlings - yeah, BUT what 'unknown' author publishes a book these days and then does NOTHING to promote it? I mean, what did they think was going to happen? She's not Hemingway.

And Ro: in 90 days what happens??

Rhys Bowen said...

What a scary question, Roberta. I've already reached the age when most of my friends have retired. I, on the other hand, am seeing my career on the up, the publisher demanding more books etc. I've just signed a new 3 book contract for one series so I'm committed for the next few years.

I'd like more time to travel. I'd like to go to museums and art galleries more BUT I can't imagine life without writing. What would I do all day? So the answer for me is when I look upon it as a chore that must be endured rather than a challenge that keeps me excited.

I just did a lovely event yesterday and to see those faces smiling at me and telling me how they love the books is enough to keep anyone young and motivated.

Darlene Ryan said...

The Munchkin--who is still in high school--has been talking about a Phd. I think retirement is a long way off.

Jan Brogan said...

Jack,
I remember a little of that - in fact, I argue how little people really know when they think the paper the are reading is objective. That young reporters know exactly what they have to write and the take they must have to please their editor - and get on page one.

But that said. It's still a fabulous profession and hope that someday the economics make it work again, for future journalists,
Jan

Edith Maxwell said...

Well,like Jim, I'm just getting started! I have a lot of ground to cover before I retire from writing fiction, a few dozen books to write, or more, I hope. And when the commute involves walking upstairs, the job leaves time for gardening and exercise and the occasional weekend off. I'm good with that!

Pat D said...

A writer can keep writing but maybe shouldn't publish when the quality slips. Alistaire MacLean comes to mind. Unfortunately the publisher isn't going to police the quality of popular authors and tell them to retire.

Kathy Reel said...

I would think that a writer would continue writing until it's not enjoyable to do so. Well, that's the simple answer. I'm sure that there would be pressure from publishers and fans for a best-selling author to keep writing, and it would be difficult to ignore that pressure (and money). There are many authors that I read who have longevity and quality.

Also, I can't imagine Deborah and Julia not writing my favorites anymore. And, as I delve further into the writers in this group, I know I would be mighty disappointed for the stories to end.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Retire. Huh. I feel as if I JUST started writing.. and "retire" is a long way away. I hope.

As for "retire" from TV--so many of my age cohort are doing that right now..very interesting! We all think we'll never retire.. and it's an interesting evolution of priorities.

Anonymous said...

This is a complex area... and so individual. We all age at various speeds. An artist - be it writer, musician, film, painter, etc, dancer - is not like most of the human race. There is no way these souls can set a date to retire. Genes, health, goals , talent - there are so many variables. To each his/her own - time and place... Thelma in Manhattan- who never plans to retire unless the body and mind force it to!

Reine said...

DebRo, thanks for making that distinction, because writers write. I don't think I could write if the only reason to do it is to be published. That doesn't mean I don't want to be published. That doesn't mean it isn't a goal. It just means that I will write until I can't. I never want to write academic papers again or, god forbid, exegeses—not even a discussion regarding a Salem hermeneutic. Okay maybe that. But I will write what I write just because.

Lesley Cookman said...

I spend a lot of time complaining that I would like to retire but I can't afford to. Which is true - I have no other income - but my grown-up children scoff. "What on earth would you do if you did, Mother?" I hope my editor or publisher would tell me to stop if the books got really bad (I think they're all cr*p when I deliver them), otherwise I shall just carry on until the brain stops functioning!

Charlie M said...

As a reader and a bookseller there are many authors I often hope will never retire. On the other hand there are some I often think...please, stop.

Personally, I think a writer or anyone in a field based upon creation & imagination should retire when sitting at the keyboard, easel, pottery wheel, etc becomes a chore vs a joy.

Selfishly, I would love some writers to clone themselves so they could retire on self and allow the other to go on with ideas, stories, publishing.

Ellen Kozak said...

More on the subject of retiring from writing, from an article about 90-year-old science fiction writer James Gunn in the Kansas City Star:

"[H]e has written or edited 42 books and published more than 100 short stories.

"'I hope to keep writing,' Gunn said. 'Isaac Asimov once said that he wanted to die with his nose stuck between the typewriter keys. It is something that gets ingrained in you. If you are not writing, you don’t feel that you are really deserving of that day on Earth.'”

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/08/16/4412747/for-james-gunn-science-fictions.html#storylink=cpy