Thursday, February 3, 2011


A week or so ago Sue Pike wrote in her birthday blog that she wanted and intended to write a novel, became discouraged but then gained courage and inspiration from novelists whose first novels appeared when they were past retirement age.

Her reflections and the fact that I have been in a state of limbo while my ever helpful writing group is reading my manuscript led me to consider the nature of writing. Each morning, when I do not have an ongoing project, I rise with a feeling of loss. There is lots to do but I don’t feel right not spending time working at my desk or carrying on life’s routines while simultaneously exploring possible plots and characters. I know why many writers don’t park their pens and retire. It’s because we can’t.

Is writing a vocation, a hobby or an obsession? The answer may differ from author to author. A vocation is defined as a “calling, life's work, mission, purpose, function; profession, occupation, career, job, employment, trade, craft, business, line, line of work, métier.” That seems to fill the bill except that you can and most people do retire from business. Few writers choose that option.

Perhaps it’s a hobby defined as a “pastime, leisure activity, leisure pursuit; sideline, side interest, diversion, avocation; recreation, entertainment, or amusement.” I suspect most writers would be offended by this description. Writing is not something we do to fill our time and amuse us.

If not a vocation or a hobby how about an obsession? The definition is “fixation, ruling/consuming passion, passion, mania, idée fixe, compulsion, preoccupation, infatuation, addiction, fetish, craze, hobbyhorse; phobia, complex, neurosis.” This seems closer to the truth. For most of us writing is something we have to do.

I hope that when I sit nodding in an advanced state of decrepitude I’ll still be watching the attendants, noting their mannerisms, questioning their motivations, considering plots and living a rich interior life because that’s what writers do.

Or am I wrong? Do writers retire? Do they stop plotting, taking notes asking ‘what if”?

Joan Boswell A member of the Ladies Killing Circle Joan co-edited four of their short story anthologies: Fit toDie, Bone Dance, Boomers Go Bad and Going Out With a Bang. Her three mysteries, Cut Off His Tale, Cut to the Quick and Cut and Run were published in 2005, 2007 and 2007. In 2000 she won the $10,000 Toronto Star’s short story contest. Joan lives in Toronto with three flat-coated retrievers.


  1. I agree, Joan. I think the internal, mental writing task probably continues into advanced old age because that's what we do, even when not actively sitting at the computer, writing. It's hard-wired into the system. Hopefully, it ends up externally, as a book or short story.
    Instead of retiring, it's transitioning, into another aspect of writing.

  2. I remember Stephen King said he would retire from writing after his terrible accident. You just have to look at the best-seller lists to see how well that worked.

  3. Apparently, like life, you can't get out of it alive.

    But hey, you sure can have fun with this obsession/hobby/job.