Top Ten Suggestions for Writers Over Age Fifty

A friend asked me the other day if I had any tips for anyone wanting to write over fifty. At first, I was a little taken aback. Most suggestions I had applied to any writer, of any age, but starting later in life does make a difference.

 

It is an exiting time. Ours is the first generation to actually look at retiring in a whole new light with anywhere from twenty to thirty years of productivity. It’s a second chance for some, no longer tied to a nine to five job or the demands associated with raising kids. A time to unselfishly reach for the stars.

 

Someone over fifty has, more than likely, experienced success at some level. But tackling anything as a new venture, whether it’s writing essays, short stories, a novel, or attempting publication, at this time of life takes tremendous dedication. Also, an idea and fingers on the keyboard won’t even buy a cup of coffee, unless you are a celebrity with a contract. It’s a humbling realization.

 

That said, writing is a dream come true for me. I had this insane thought: I loved to read, and if I could read, I could write. There is some truth that to be a good writer one must be a good reader, but a bibliophile isn’t an instinctive author. Bearing that in mind and armed with determination, I read everything from pamphlets to entire books on writing, joined a writer’s group, and learned the craft. What I learned–a writer gets better only by writing and writing and writing. Let’s get started.

 

Top Ten Suggestions:

 

  1. Commitment–Stop procrastinating. Just do it.
  2. Set a realistic goal–For me, this meant a screenplay before I started a 85,000 word novel. If I could write 90 pages, then I could write 180, then 300… and so it went.
  3. Make a place to write–This is more important than it sounds. I started with a makeshift place at the top of the stairs, but it was a place to leave my computer, notecards, and ideas. Now, I have an office, a real desk, and a window.
  4. Schedule the time–if you want others to take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously, first. This might take a while. Some authors write first thing in the morning, others write at the end of the day… I write three full days and two afternoons each week. Put it on the calendar so nothing interferes with your writing. This will take some retraining of friends and family, maybe a day without the grandkids, so be warned. It won’t be easy.
  5. Write–Put your butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard. The first line is the hardest, but you might be surprised where it takes you. Nothing is written in stone. Delete what you don’t like; no one else will ever know.
  6. Find a writer’s group–I can’t stress enough how important this is. The greatest support comes from other writers, also the greatest access to craft education and workshops. And don’t worry, the room isn’t filled with twenty year olds when you walk in
  7. Don’t let “just” anyone read your work–Although ejection is part of the process, it doesn’t sit well when it comes from friends and family. Be careful who reads your work, especially at first. It’s your baby; you don’t want anyone to call it ugly.
  8. Allow written works to rest before doing revisions–Typos, dropped themes, and one dimensional characters are sharper and clearer once a little time has gone by.
  9. Rewards come with each milestone–The first chapter, the first draft, the first completed revision, the first query, the first rejection: all were celebrated at our house with champagne or a latte with friends.
  10. Read, read, readThere is so much to learn by reading other authors: word usage, information delivery, and dialogue. There is no greater aficionado of prose than a fellow writer.

 

These are just my suggestions, but if you have others to share, please contact me through my blog site: Phyliscaskey.com. I would love to hear from you. We stop learning when we stop sharing.

Telling Time during the Middle Ages

In an age before clocks, how did one tell time? Of course, someone will answer with the position of the sun or the seasons. And they would be right. Precisely how did it work? For one thing, time was vague unlike today where you can glance at a phone, watch, computer, or the giant clock at central station and read off the hour, minute, or second.

 

Around the mid-fourteen century most towns owned a clock, but until then time was, at best, a crude measurement. Religion and seasons were the timekeepers. The church broke down time into twelve equal segments of the day from sunrise to sunset. Basically the divisions were set up for communal prayers, seven sets a day:

 

Matins – around 3 am or at dawn

Prime – around 6 am

Tierce – around 9 am

Sext – at midday

None – around 3 pm

Vespers – around 6 pm or after dinner

Compline – around 9 pm or before bed

 

A cathedral, monastery, or chapel rang bells to mark division from Matin until Vespers, calling priests and monks to prayer. Shopkeepers, farmers, peasants, and nobles planned not only their meals and work around the clanging bells, but rising and sleeping, as well. Of course, there was the method my neighbors still use, rise when the rooster crows.

 

The Seasons were more important than an actual calendar year to the average peasant because if crops weren’t planted at the proper time an entire village could starve. Bearing this in mind, winter started at Michaelmas in late September and ended at Christmastide. Nothing was planted during this season; however, November was called the blood month because animals were slaughtered to provide enough meat to last through the winter.

 

Spring was from Epiphany to Easter when fields and gardens sprouted back to life, and animals that survived past winter mated. In early February, Candlemas, oats, barley, and beans were planted. Hocktide began two weeks after Easter and continued until Lammas in August. Lammas to Michaelmas was harvest time.

 

It is easy to see how important the seasons were to people in the Middle Ages when they didn’t have the luxury of picking up items at the supermarket and refrigerating them until needed. Accuracy wasn’t the aim, survival was.

Writing for Chocolate

Sometimes it’s fun to write about something totally ridiculous. We all have that reward system we tell ourselves we don’t have. That little voice that starts as a whisper then turns into a full on earsplitting yell. I always says things like: If I run five miles today, then I can have a dessert tonight at that hip new restaurant or no one will know, it’s only one piece.

At least one hundred million women writers choose CHOCOLATE as a reward, coming in at a close second are shoes. Depending on the writer, chocolate can be a daily or weekly thing, for some it’s directly tied to word count. For me it’s just finishing the day still in my chair.

But chocolate is also linked to hormonal shifts, depression, pregnancy, divorce, new love, and just about anything else a woman can imagine. As silly as all this sounds, there are women who would probably kill without some type of daily ingestion of this dark, luscious, seductive bean. There is definitely an addictive agent in its makeup, yet psychiatrists haven’t banned it or set up major rehab facilities for it. Probably because they’d never be able to resuscitate someone going through a delirium tremor associated with sudden cessation of the cocoa bean and it would be way to easy to sneak in, m&m’s can be sewn into a hem way to easily. Besides what would the replacement therapy be?

Binging on chocolate after finishing a manuscript is better than champagne, or enhances champagne, however you want to think of it. Christmas would be beyond boring without chocolate Santas, but how could Easter even be celebrated without the rich, black Easter Bunnies?

I wonder how many books, especially romance, would be completed without this decadent little bean mixed with copious amounts of sugar? My guess… not many.

Research is for Writers

One of the most fun aspects of writing Historical Romances is the research. I’m such a goober when it comes to digging up dusty, interesting facts and trying to find a tie-in for a book. Right now I’m working on a series set during medieval times, twelfth century to be precise.

While mapping out the timeline, I used a Regnal calendar for Henry the Second. Since religion dominated everyone, from the lad to Lord, it was important to know when holidays occurred because during holy days, especially Lent, milk and meat were forbidden. This may not sound like a big deal, but milk and cream was used as thickening agents in porridges and sauces to stretch already scarce food for the lower classes. Eating daily was a luxury for some peasants. However, some inventive person, probably a woman, came up with almond milk as a substitute for cow’s milk.

The book, Pleyn Delit, gives step-by-step instructions for making almond milk using the same method used in the Middle Ages. Now I’m crazy for almond milk, but I think I’ll stick to buying it at the supermarket.

Even though a book is fiction, most historical writers try to make the world real. Believe it or not, many authors love a day in the library or in a courthouse or interviewing an expert. Whether it’s elaborate clothes, distinctive foods, traditional weapons, castles, folk medicines, no matter what the research, some author is gleefully finding a way to insert some cool new fact into a manuscript.

I’d like to blog once a month about some new piece of information I’ve discovered while writing. Today I was researching types of calendars used during the middle ages and found that September was the start of wine making season in the Northern Hemisphere going back to, at least, 1480. In Bruge, researchers found a calendar dating to the fifteenth century, inside was a beautiful drawing depicting a woman harvesting grapes and pouring them into a vat. Must have been a fun month.

Movie Stream Addict

I thought movies might be an appropriate blog to start with because other than books, I love movies more than any other form of entertainment. That said, I’m really getting into the new options on Netflix where one can download an entire series at will.

Have you tried it? It’s amazing. It reminds me though of an episode on Southpark “where the characters become addicted to shows like Investigation Murder and the term “Murder Porn” is born. In the real world, “Series on Demand” is worse than any drug or porn addiction. Soon the Department of Justice will get involved, and it will be the war on “Video Series Addiction,” and an entire new branch will be formed to stop the networks, cause the anything fun can’t be good for you. Any series downloaded and watched in less than 3 days, will be banned.

I watched all five series of The Good Wife in less than 6 weeks! Yes, I admit I became a Good Wife Junkie. I even had withdrawals at night, dreamed about Alicia and the love triangle she was all tangled in. Then when it was over… I died. How could I exist without Alicia, Diane, Kalinda, and Will?

I was totally sucked in. When my husband left the house in the morning, The Good Wife was on and when he came home at night, The Good Wife was on. He had OD’d on the show early, which left me googly-eyed and banished to the upstairs television. I felt like the lone smoker in the office, restricted to the parking lot with my detestable habit.

Don’t get me wrong. My husband can be the enabler, especially if he likes the series. House of Cards is the perfect example. The weekend the second season started on Netflix, we went to the store together, stocked up on eatable goodies normally reserved for the Oscars, and came home prepped for the marathon. Yes, we watched the entire series over the weekend. It was wonderful!!! It was cold and rainy here in the South, so what else was there to do? And of course, there was Kevin Spacey!!!

I’m debating over whether this is better than actually going to the theater. I can’t believe I just wrote that. I love going to the movies. The smell of popcorn alone is like an aphrodisiac. And in the Indie theaters, I can have a martini, too. But there’s something about not getting dressed, wearing my pj’s, pouched up super-comfy on the couch with my dogs sleeping beside me. God I hate to say this, but streaming may win out. And I’d really hate that.

One more time.

After last year and the thundering crash of my website (I’m sure you heard it if you live anywhere in North Louisiana), I thought about abandoning the whole thing. Then I read my first post. Yikes. Stilted and unemotional. Boring. So today I’ll start all over and be a little less shy. When I read other websites, I’m amazed at how open, funny, and revealing some people are. I don’t know that I can ever leave the bathroom door open for all to see, but I promise to put down a few things going on in my life.

Today is the last day before my son, Stephen, leaves for Europe, and we’re spending the day visiting a few people, eating American food, and all the last minute things you thought were all ready done. I’m super lucky that he lets me tag along sometimes. We’re ending the day by  seeing the movie Epic written by another Shreveport native, Bill Joyce. The book, The Leaf Men, was one of my son’s favorites when he was little. So we’re gonna pull on the germy glasses even though they swear the bugs have been irradiated and enjoy the 3-D extravaganza tonight.

I hate it when Stephen leaves. It always seems like he just got here, and we finally settled into a rough routine. But how fun to be in college and travel to another country with cool instructors who have intriguing backgrounds. Gives a whole new meaning to classroom assignments when the classroom is a museum, an ancient fort, a city park, or an embassy. Part of me wishes I could have a do-over. I’d take a year off and travel as far as $25.00 would take me cause that’s about how much spending money I had in college. I have friends who were more adventurous and worked a semester or two abroad and then jumped into the inevitable grind. I have few regrets, my children can tell you, and this is the one, the big regret. Rarely, have I heard: I traveled too much. I highly recommend taking the time to see the world before thirty while your body can still sleep wound up like a pretzel anywhere on anything.

Okay. If this is going to be a weekly thing… I’d better start getting with it. Living.

Thanks for checking on me.

Welcome!

Welcome.

I have to admit the idea of blogging and starting a website is scary. All right not as frightening as my first day working in open-heart surgery, where I actually placed my hand inside a human and felt a beating heart, but close. Putting myself out there is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

If you aren’t a writer, you’re probably asking, “Why?” I’m not sure you’ll understand, but I’ll try to explain. All of us have these ideas floating around in our heads and most of the time they just zoom in and zoom out never planting roots. But for me these ideas, notes scribbled on scraps of paper, become stories and some grow into novels.

I get to spend hours with reluctant, occasionally overly confident heroes and heroines, as well as their wonderfully wicked antagonists. They captivate and draw me willingly into their unique imaginative worlds, hopefully to return to my family around suppertime.

With luck, one day I’ll guide you through incredible worlds with heartwarming stories chocked full of memorable characters. I invite you to come along and follow me as I ease into publication, the most fascinating world of all.