The 3 Acts of a Writer’s Life–Or How Your Age Affects Your Writing

I’ve been writing consistently since I was twelve, which means I’ve now been writing for the (amazingly long very short?) period of twenty-two years. In that time, almost as much about my writing has changed as has remained the same.

This is something I’ve been casually pondering for a while now. Then, last week, I received the following email from David Hall:

Down the street I can see 70 years coming toward me. A few more months and it will be impossible to avoid. Have you ever discussed age and how it affects the material we write?

For starters, let me say that this one of my favorite types of email to receive—those sent to me by older writers who are either just starting out or are still going strong. With this year’s birthday, I will reach the moment in my life where fifty is as near to me in the future as twenty is in the past (and since I still feel like I’m a seventeen-year-old who was somehow given a fake ID, I’m experiencing a mild case of shock over the realization). It is deeply inspiring to me to realize how much can yet be accomplished in the years still before me.

I’m also beginning to realize that whatever those years bring, I will almost certainly be surprised by their offerings. Certainly, the effects on my experiences as a writer are vastly different to me as an adult than they were when I was a child. Indeed, since I never expected things to change at all in that regard, the differences I’ve encountered have all been tremendous surprises, sometimes disturbing, sometimes delightful.

Although at present, I can offer only a limited amount of personal insight into the how your age affects your writing (no doubt David could offer a good deal more himself), since I was asked I thought it might be a fun topic to explore. This is especially so in light of the fact that the readers who frequent this site present a vast variance in age—and also because this is, inevitably, a topic that touches us all.

The Three Acts of the Writing Life

Interestingly enough, this idea of life evolution and how age affects our perspective of and impact on life is one I’ve lately been exploring from the lens of story theory. As I’ve teased a few times on the podcast, I’m currently wrapping up research for a new blog series that will explore successive archetypal character arcs, which are representative of the seasons—or acts—of life.

As a sneak peak, since it ties in with today’s subject, I believe we see the pattern of story structure’s Three Acts played out in the typical human lifetime—in which approximately thirty years comprises each act.

The First Act—roughly, our first thirty years—is largely about defining our relationships with ourselves and our own personal identities. When the archetypal arcs of those years are properly completed, they lay the foundation for healthy arcs in the following acts.

The Second Act, made up of roughly the next thirty years, is focused on our relationships with others—friends, mates, children, community.

Finally, the Third Act—what for most of us will be the last thirty or so years in this life—then becomes the climactic act, which focuses on our relationship to Life and Death itself, in all its transcendent mystery.

Even though I began studying these “life arcs” as a way to further develop my understanding of how to structure my characters’ arcs in the most resonant way, the reason these arcs are archetypal is because they necessarily first apply to our own lives. Because I can already see the First and now the Second Acts playing out in my life, I believe the archetypal principles of the Third will ring true as well.

The Writing of Youth: Writing to Ourselves

Why We Write: In both my young self and in the many young writers with whom I regularly interact, I see the ebullient joy of creation simply for creation’s sake and a sort of desperation—as represented in Jo March’s statement (from the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women):

Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation.

We start writing for the pure joy of it, whether it is the joy of fantasizing ourselves into the midst of miraculous adventures or the cathartic joy of our angst poured out in characters who are deeply intimate projections of ourselves.

What We Write: When we are young, writing is an exploration. I daresay the young dislike the stricture that we should “write what we know” more than any of us. After all, the only things we know at that age are what we write.

And we write all kinds of things—fantasy, romance, adventure, even serious social dramas. We are perhaps never more derivative than in the beginning, as we begin inhabiting and owning the stories of others which have first carried us away with ourselves. But we are also perhaps never more original than at this age—when everything is new. When I look back at the stories I wrote in my First Act, there is a special freshness and passion within their rawness and clumsy technique. For all that my adult novels are technically “better,” they are not stories I inhabit in the same way I did those early ones.

How We Write: We write like Jo March, scribbling madly away into the night. However much we may desire the approval and enjoyment of early readers, we write these stories for ourselves. We write, not because it’s a job, not because we’ve made it a goal to show up at the desk everyday, but because we want to. We write ourselves bleary into the night and think it the greatest fun of all.

We write with varying degrees of control and technique. If we pursue our writing diligently as time rolls on, we begin to discover that writing is not simply the breathing of one’s soul upon the page. It is, indeed, the art of communication, and that however innately talented or imaginative we believes ourselves, we aren’t actually that good at it. The angsty teenage years begin in earnest, affecting our writing as much as anything else, and we begin to take it all very seriously.

The Writing of Adulthood: Writing to Others

Why We Write: Well into my twenties, I insisted I wrote for myself and that I would continue to write even if I knew no one would ever read what I wrote. Although I still (mostly) stand by that, I have witnessed a distinct change in myself here in my mid-thirties. My Second Act has seen me grieve for and grapple with the fallen expectation that my relationship to my writing would always be as ecstatic as it was in my First Act. More than that, I’ve surprised myself by realizing that not only do I now write as much for others as for myself, but that it is important to me to do so.

If writing in the First Act was all about my joy in expressing and exploring myself, writing in my Second Act has brought with it the increasing awareness of my responsibility in relating with others and, indeed, my great desire to use writing to have a positive impact on my world. “There’s no such thing as just a story”—this statement began in my twenties as a passionate defense of the idea that my stories were an important part of my life, but has since transmogrified into an even more passionate belief that every word we write—fictional or not—is a catalyst either for good or for ill.

What We Write: The blaring passion of our early stories gives way to a more deliberate pursuit of meaningful resonance and purposeful originality. Although we may well “have just one story to tell and go on telling it over and over again in different ways,” we grow significantly more refined in our execution. The type of stories we tell may change entirely. The more ground we cover the more we may branch out, experimenting with how to share our enduringly passionate truths in original ways that avoid treading the same ground.

We become more conscious of the symbolism and themes that populate our stories. We understand what we are writing more clearly, to the point that ideas we would have blithely written about in the First Act are now rejected or perhaps just honed.

If we’re writing professionally, we’re also writing for others not just as a communal whole, but as customers. We’re constantly trying to find that balance between the old youthful enthusiasm, the demands and desires of the market, and our own purposeful convictions about the nature of art. In my experience of the Second Act so far, that is the hardest balance to perfect.

How We Write: For those of us who began writing in our First Act, we have the blessing of years of experience and learning behind us at this point. We’ve made mistakes and learned from them—both in style and in process. We’re perhaps at the stage of “knowing what we know.”

But that same experience that allows us to easily avoid the beginner’s mistakes can also lead us to burnout and repetitive fatigue. Some of the methods that served us well in the first blush of youthful passion no longer come as easily. We have to reconnect with the inner child, with the deep motivations that brought us to writing in the first place. We have to learn how to harmonize the child and the adult into a new synthesis that is built upon the past but also completely different from what we may have taken for granted would always be our own particular creative experience.

The Writing of Age: Writing to the Universe

Why We Write: As we enter the Third Act, I imagine we may well find ourselves having proven—to ourselves and to others—many of the challenges that seemed so vital in our early acts. There is a return of sorts to the old stomping ground of the First Act, when we wrote purely for ourselves because we wanted to and because it brought us joy. But now we write from the vantage of long years of experience and knowledge.

The passionate stories we wrote as children were questions we asked of the life that lay before us. Many of those questions have now found their answers. Now it is something else that lies before us and new questions that our stories ask. So I imagine we write both for ourselves—to ask these larger questions—but also for others—to leave to them some of the answers we have found.

What We Write: I think there is a period late in the First Act and throughout most of the Second when we care zealously about how our writing will be received and what sort of impact it may make on our readers. But I also think that at a certain point we don’t care as much. Authors in their Third Act aren’t as rigorous with their form anymore. They begin experimenting more. They are asking questions again rather than just filling in the expected answers, and these questions show up in how they treat the actual process of writing as much as anything else. There is a playfulness that may not have been fully present previously.

Too, I see in many older authors a deeper passion than ever before. Their time is limited. Their own life stories are coming to a close. They have only so much longer to share the stories that are important and to give to the following generations—of both readers and writers—the truths they have won in their own hard-fought battles. If our Third Act sees us sometimes more playful than we have allowed ourselves to be before, it may also see us more intense than ever.

How We Write: After a lifetime of writing (or even just a lifetime of living come to that), there is a good deal of instinct that naturally flows through us. Techniques we struggled with in the First and Second Acts are long since mastered. If story itself remains an affectionately unruly beast, it is perhaps one we no longer view with the same frustrated suspicion we sometimes did in our earlier life. Perfection may both come more easily and, in some measure, be less important. We’re now writing less because we have something to prove to the world and more because we have something to share.

***

In closing this post, I realize even more than when I began it that I’m massively unqualified to have written it, since more than half of my ideas about it are total conjecture. Still, it has been a thought-provoking exercise and roused a hopefully not-too-idealistic anticipation of what the rest of my Second Act and all of my Third Act will bring for me as a writer. Since we are all at different points in our life stories, I hope you will share you own insights into how age affects your writing—both in its challenges and its opportunities.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How does age affect your writing? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. pieemme2 says

    Hello Katie,

    your topic struck the nail on its head with me. I guess that, based on the feedback, you will be able to segment your readership. 😀

    It was always my dream to be a writer, ever since my early twenties, but I always feared not to have enough life experience to write about. This was typical evidence of lacking self-confidence. Now I have the urge to write to tell my story, not in a biographical sense, but rather about what I learned about life. And my goal is to complete this before I take off. This gives me the illusion of living a second life, different from my own, based on experiences I’ve had, in different contexts. The protagonist lives a military career, an option I didn’t take, although I went to a military (naval) school and was also a reserve officer for a couple of years. What I keep asking myself, while I write, is: does this matter in face of death? Would I still be writing this if I were about to die? This is a good filter.

    I am approaching my seventies as well.

    • Sara Read says

      “Would I still be writing this if I were about to die” is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you! I’m just entering my 50s, but had a bout with cancer a few years ago and have a pretty clear sense of mortality. This helps clear up the confusion of possible stories, thinking about what’s “marketable,” etc. etc.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a great filter–no matter our age!

      • I wrote my first novel at age 20, but lost the draft while hitch-hiking in Europe and didn’t have the will to restart it — probably an indication the novel was best left lost. I spent the next 44 years as a journalist and academic, doing lots of writing, but mostly about the exterior of events. I retired to have the time to go back to novel writing to deal with the interior emotions and thoughts. But now I have the advantage of a lifetime of experience — travel, learning, relationships and stories to draw on. My first novel (an historical novel, Beads on a String) has been accepted for publication — due out in September. Now at work on the sequel I realize I will probably need four books to tell the full, multi-generation tale.

        It was interesting to read through your three ages of writing. I suspect that as a novelist I am dealing with elements of the first and third ages at once. I have the excitement of characters and situations bouncing around in my brain like a teenage writer. At the same time, I know that at age 71, I may not have the time to get tell all the stories I want to tell. While I know I still have much to learn of novel writing technique, I have been experimenting with forms much different from those I used as a journalist and perhaps a bit different from other novelists.

        As I edit my writing I ask myself whether each chapter, each scene is what I want to leave behind for others. As you noted “—to leave to them some of the answers we have found.” That has become my main source of motivation and satisfaction.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          “I wrote my first novel at age 20, but lost the draft while hitch-hiking in Europe”–there’s a story in that alone!

          Congrats on your publication!

  2. Really? I’ve never written in that “first age”–and I’ve been writing since I was, say, eleven or so, like you. At 68, I’m still not interested in writing about Third Act. Nor will I be, I don’t think, except in relation to what You’re calling Second Act. I tend to personalize Death as a character. But, then again, I write epic fantasy (Terry Pratchett, for instance, uses Death as a character remarkably well). We’ll have to see when you get there if you actually do write Third Act more than once.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I know I projected much of myself and my own experiences into this post. I was interested to see where it diverged for others.

  3. I am going to be turning Fourty next year. (It’s weird because I’m only just now starting to feel like I’m in my Thirties.) I’m not sure how my age affects what I write, though I have found that I’m a bit more comfortable in my own skin, and have an easier time relating to other people. I guess I’d be on the tail-end of the middle act. I’ve been trying to regain a sense of joy in my writing -something I lost for awhile. Not that I expect all my youthful exuberance to return! I’m just trying to put less pressure on myself while I work.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, the thirties seem to be a weird age. You still feel young and yet middle age is right there in front of you.

  4. Good for you! Mine never left, but I only published for the first time last year.

    • Congratulations! That is awesome! 🙂 I am still unpublished, which is why I was putting so much pressure on myself to measure up. (It took me a long time to let go of the idea that I had to go the traditional rout, which didn’t help. -Too easy to freeze up because you’re suddenly convinced the book will turn out unmarketable.)

  5. A question was posed to me a few months ago. “What story would you write if it was the last story you would ever write?” I thought. And thought. I have several titles and worksheets that will be stories some day (I hope), but I answered with the title of the story I’m presently first drafting/editing/layering. The working title, funnily enough, is “No Tomorrows”.

    The one who asked the question answered. “Write that one. Don’t stop until it’s finished. Then write the next story that will be the last one you will ever write. It’s the only way.”

    I love that advice.

    I started writing seriously in 2015, when I was 61. I can’t honestly say, “I’ve always wanted to write”…it wouldn’t be true. But, I’ve always wanted to create. For the first and second acts, I was a vocalist and created music. Then I lost that ability through an illness. It was hard, believe me. It was my identity.

    In 2015, I sort of fell into writing-the best slide of my life.

    So now, it’s like I’m trying to cram my first and second acts into my third-sort of mash them up together. It’s exhilarating! Some days I approach my keyboard with that top-of-the-roller-coaster feeling of the first act. Other days, more plodding and rule-oriented. Then days when it all seems to come together and I write that one sentence I’ve wanted to write forever. The sentence that makes me say, “Aha! That’s what it’s all about.”

    Then, I realize, rather sheepishly, that it was my MC who came up with that sentence-not me.

    That’s even better.

    • I love that advice and may just have to employ it myself.

    • I love this advice, too! This is advice to ponder.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s a great question. I’m going to have to give that some thought myself–especially as I’m still the throes of a story that’s been stuck for over a year now. I’ve always believed the story I’m supposed to be writing is the one in front of me–but there is one particular story I know I want yet to tell before I’m done. If I continue with my current plan of finishing my Dreamlander and Wayfarer trilogies, it will be years yet before I tackle it.

  6. Staci Ana says

    I am a teenager and I’ve fallen in love with writing. Although I’ve always enjoyed writing and making music, acting and photography, those futures haven’t been as real to me as authoring. Balancing homeschool, music, photos, art and writing has been difficult for me, but I guess I’ve been pushing my way through it all. I’ve dreamed of being on a stage and having my own albums, but sometimes it is saddening when that seems so far in my future.

    Writing helps me dream of a world where I can come up with characters who do what I wish I could do. Superheroes, famous musicians, photographers travelling across the world and bounty hunters roaming throughout the galaxy –they bring me encouragement and excitement. Maybe it’s hard to make friends in real life, but it sure is easy when you have a pen and paper.

    I hope I never lose my passion and I hope no one else loses their passion. I once thought I’d lost my passion for music and I asked God to help me get it back. A quiet voice answered: You haven’t lost your passion. You just have to do something with it.

    And I have been doing my best to follow through with my commitment.

    All those who read this, keep up the writing!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There is a ton of truth is the idea that if we don’t exercise our passions, we lose them. Sometimes even just the act of writing when we don’t feel like it is enough to kickstart everything again.

      • Staci Ana says

        I totally agree. About a year ago, I began writing a science fiction novel and I ended up basically trying to put Star Wars and Star Trek into one book and the blend… let’s just say it wasn’t so good.

        I gave up on writing then and thought that I’d never write anything again. Then I started goofing off with a simple idea of making a clean, not-overly-preaching Christian, serious, action novel. And then I started writing and writing and writing. I got so excited and I finished the first draft in less than six months. I was so excited because it was the first project I’d ever actually gotten anywhere with. Now I’m halfway through the second draft and I’m loving every step of it (besides fixing the mistakes I made in the first draft.)

        And what’s better than that, is that I actually inspired my little sister to start writing. She’s never really wanted to do anything specifically with her life and now that she does… it’s so exciting.

        Thank you for having such an amazingly helpful website. You’re making a big difference in this world.

        And it’s for the better.

        🙂 Have a fantastic day –to all who’s reading this.

        -Staci

        • And Staci, you have just inspired me, a 62 year-old who’s been writing since she was six!

          I completely agree with your three act descriptions, KM! I lived them all, including getting burned out after a well-received first novel at about 40 years old… couldn’t write anything I was happy with for more than a decade, then decided I was just going to write for me–again.

          And I’ve been doing that ever since. When a reader writes (or comments in a review) that they enjoyed a book of mine, I rejoice. But those days of writing to publish, to impress, to prove something to myself or others–are gone. Ahhh!

          Thanks for this great post!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            That’s great, Ellen. I think we writers generally put way too much pressure on ourselves to conform to some “standard” of what a writer should look like–usually, someone very prolific. Being a writer looks different for all of us. We have only to look at Harper Lee to know that sometimes one good book is better than a couple dozen.

        • I love this post because I have had such a similar experience. I’m a teenager, and an ex-homeschooler, and I only recently started outlining a Christian fantasy. Still working on how to make it meaningful without it becoming preachy. Good luck with your second draft! (PS: my attempts at SciFi have turned out very similarly😂)

          • Staci Ana says

            That’s fantastic, Ellen. I still struggle not to try and impress people with what I write. (not that I ever do impress anyone) It’s just that sometimes it’s so easy to look at what people want to see and try to be it or write it. Pleasing people is a weakness I’ve had to deal with a lot. Being a mediator personality, I try to make everyone happy… and that is a very, very, impossible task in this broken world of ours.

            Thanks, Grace! 😀 Good luck on your fantasy novel too! Not being to harshly preachy has been a difficulty for me. I read a few of my old short stories a few days ago and wow… thank God I found this website. ♥ ♥ Yeah… sci-fi is a path I’ll travel on a little later in life… once I completely forget Star Wars and Star Trek so I don’t get influenced. XD

            Amazing advice, Katie. You’re a fantastic author. Your blog is awesome!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Thanks for reading, Staci! 🙂

  7. M.R. Spann says

    I started my novel at age thirteen, and am now seventeen-almost-eighteen. I had a bout of serious burnout in which I thought I’d never be able to write again. I am now coming out on the other side of that and I feel like I am in the latter stages of the Adulthood section of writing. Do you think that’s possible?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Makes total sense to me. I have a theory that we all have just one story to tell and most of us go on telling it over and over again in different ways. But maybe you just did it all in one book!

  8. Great post!!! I’m in my early 70’s and have been writing ever since I could hold a crayon! Short stories, plays for the neighborhood kids – life experiences (as well as a wickedly inexhaustible imagination!) DO help to round out one’s writing and of course, I’ve had all those years to practice! I SHOULD be a bit better, and hopefully I am! Writing and story telling is in my blood and hopefully it will continue to be as I take my last breath.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Love this! I used to write plays too when I was young. In fact, I think there was a play I wrote when I was around eleven that was probably the first thing I ever wrote. It was called the “Royal Lovers.” :p

  9. Neal Hammond says

    I have read so many self-published books, especially non-fiction, by writers in the third phase of life. As you mentioned, they are less concerned about style, and more concerned about content. They’ve had something inside of themselves for their whole life. By God they’re going to say it in the strongest language, and to as many people as will listen.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if they could be more subtle? Give us something to think about, and stop writing in bold, italics, and underlined.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I suppose it depends on the topic, the author, and the intended audience. I was thinking more of experienced authors who have written their whole lives and who branch out in the Third Act.

  10. I’ve been writing since I was about 16 though seriously only in the last 9 years. In a way, I feel like I’ve covered all of those three acts in these last years. In the last couple of years, I’ve moved back to what I love…fiction. Though I wrote poetry first, as a way to get my thoughts and feelings out, it was in fiction where I found my heart. So, I’ve returned to it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If we look at life as a Three-Act model, I absolutely believe we see a sort of spiral pattern in which the essence of the structure repeats itself on a smaller scale over and over and throughout our lives.

  11. As an older writer, I have seen cultural changes reflected in the romance stories, mainly regarding sex. It used to be that sex before marriage was frowned upon and now is acceptable. It used to be that heroines were content to give up their career ambitions when they married, but now they want it all and can have it in the happily ever after endings. Like in real life, heroines have all sorts of occupations formerly only held by men. In my stories, I have tried to keep up with the times and try to keep younger writers in my critique group to remind me when I write something that sounds old-fashioned. Deb said to think I’m writing the last story I will ever write, but I have too many ideas and don’t want to stop writing stories. Carolyn Rae, author of Royal Wedding Scoop, Cordillera Royals.

  12. J.D. MacLeod says

    1 – In my teens and very early twenties, I spent most of my time writing fiction (when I wasn’t creating comic books). Some short stories, but mostly novels, genre fantasies that I never finished. Honest friends pointed out how my prose strained to Sound Like A Writer, and in retrospect it was uniformly terrible.

    2 – Once I hit my mid-twenties, I gave up and convinced myself that I was Not A Writer. Oh, I still wrote stories, but they were all comics scripts. Almost without realizing, I also found outlets for columns and essays. All of these were fairly well received, but I (for whatever reason) didn’t consider any of it Real Writing.

    3 – Nearly four decades passed. My reading habits changed: I abandoned genres that no longer spoke to me, and took up reading other books that I wouldn’t have gone near in my youth. At age 61, I discovered the unadorned prose of Alice Munro, which suddenly made me feel like this was something I could do. And that year, my wife, a NaNoWriMo veteran of several years, finally convinced me to try it with her after many unsuccessful attempts.
    I completed my NaNo novel in less than half a month, and went on the following year to write four more. And I’m inclined to agree with much of your assessment of the Third Act: I write what I want, because I want. I don’t worry overmuch about toeing the line of the various How-To rules. (Which may cost me a readership, but so be it. If I were seeking a mass audience, I would be trying to write what they want.) And yes, a lot of what’s in my books is me putting out there some things I have learned, for those who might care to look.

  13. I am writing in my Third Act and I have another writing dilemma: my characters are MG age. Their life is different from mine now, although I am attempting one MG family mystery that takes place in the city and year that I was a MG child. Another book is contemporary. So I read the new and classic books of children the age of my protagonists and imagine in my brain what they are telling me about their lives. A famous MG/YA author recommends we label ourselves pre-published instead of “unpublished. ”
    Thanks for this introspective post!

  14. Peter Moore says

    Katie,

    Very interesting and thought provoking post, as always.

    As you stated in the post, life arcs are one of the influencers of character arcs. I’m wondering if it is more complex than I first thought. I get that there are truisms which serve as the foundation for archetypes. But, also there are so many variants based on background, relationships and personalities, etc., that there are as many individuals within the archetypes as our imagination can come up with. It’s that variety, the idiosyncrasies, and changes characters experience which make writing and reading so enjoyable. I am very much looking forward to your upcoming series character arc blogs.

    I think this principle may be true of writers, too. I am a new writer (at least in the “cross my fingers to get published“ sense) in my early sixties. I can see the third act tendencies to finish things while I still have time, but also having a perspective of that comes with years.

    At the same time, I find myself caught up in your first act exploration. I recently hit the pause button on the manuscript I am working on because of a dream that is working it’s way into a fascinating short story.

    I haven’t recognized much of the second act in myself as a writer, but I’m sure I can find it if I look hard enough. At any rate, I love your posts. Each one teaches me something both about my writing, and in “real” life.

    Thanks for all your work.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I was wondering how the Acts might look different for authors who were in their life’s Third Act but just entering their First Act as writers.

      • Patrick Macy says

        I fall into that category, in my third act of life and my first as a “pre-published” writer. Although I have published hundreds of lab reports, and written many background stories for characters/players in my gaming group, I had never attempted a novel until I retired. Since finishing the first draft (almost two years ago,) I have been reworking the first chapter… over and over and over. My friends tell me I need to finish and get it on the market (one even says it is better than most of the self-published books he reads.)
        But, it is not…? I keep reading blogs from other writers and listening to your podcasts, being inspired to work some more, finding flaws, but not completing the first chapter to my satisfaction. Unlike a young author, I wonder if I have time to polish my story to my satisfaction.

  15. Well, Katie, I didn’t start writing until the third act. My first writing attempt I was 75 and that ended up my published memoir at age 81. I wrote for others–the grandchildren. I was upset that my grandparents never talked about their early years, I never really knew much about their life. That experience, and being introduced to Creative non-fiction, led me to try a fiction piece. That was published “a women’s fiction novel,” at age 84. Yes in both instances, I wrote about what I had experienced and or knew others who had a story I wanted to tell. My topics, of course were germane to my generation. A short story- “The Christmas of ’44” was about the worries of a nine year-old that WWII might cancel Christmas. I am driven by a need to keep learning, and experiencing new things. You have been an inspiration for me since I first started. Thanks for all the good ideas. I expect to give you notice as a guiding light in my website, http//www.richardmarcott.com in the near future. I read your blog every week.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great. I often wish my grandparents were still alive to tell me more about their lives.

  16. Doug Fortier says

    At 73, my writing is bound only my imagination. I’ve easily slipped into first-person as a thirteen-year-old boy and a twenty-seven-year-old woman. There are more pieces about death and dying, but that’s no surprise.

  17. Well, all that introspective analysis is good, I suppose, but didn’t happen that way to me. I was a trained professional stage/film/TV actor for 45 years. Basically retired at around age 65…or just stopped getting good jobs. Like all actors, I dabbled in writing screenplays. We almost all get the thought when we audition for or perform certain characters in certain stories…’Who wrote this crap? Hell, I can write better’n this.’ So, I suppose I wrote somewhere around twenty screenplays and around thirty teleplays (shorter). Actually got one that I wrote funded, produced, and I directed it. Won a few awards but never achieved wide distribution.
    A friend from the Marine Corps contacted me to say, ‘Hey, Kenny, i wrote a novel’. – ‘Well, hell, good for you, John.” – ‘Can you adapt it to a screenplay?’ – ‘Sure, send it down.’ He sent a 730 page, 350,000 word novel. ‘Hell, John, why didn’t you send just War and Peace?’ – Long story short, my producer and I converted it to a 128 page screenplay in about 12 weeks. (It’s still making the rounds at Disney). My producer and I looked at each other when we finished and said together. ‘Hell, we can write a novel.” I was age 69. I just turned 79 last week and released novel #36. Fourteen with my partner and the rest alone (22) in four genres…Military action, Police procedural mystery, Western and Western Supernatural. I am currently writing two novels simultaneously, a Western Supernatural (part of a series) and an American Classic Mystery in the vein of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and Reavis Wortham’s ‘The Rock Hole’.
    The upshot is at age 65 I found I still wanted to ‘Create’. I call myself a Storyteller who Writes. I love to entertain. I am a pure Pantser and write stories by Improv. Meaning I take Who, What, Where, When and sometimes Why and just go. I don’t think about life arcs, but use my years of experience as a great reservoir of information, characters, and situations. I just don’t think consciously about my character’s goals or the story goal, I just stay the hell out of the way and let the characters tell the story and it’s all by instinct.
    One of my WIPs, the American Classic Mystery will be a first for me. All my previous work has been in third person…this one, entitled ‘Three Creeks’, will be in first. I sent the first chapter to a best selling author friend of mine for his objective view. He wrote back…’I read the first chapter. I am stunned, in a positive way. As good as your other writing is, this narrative just comes alive. The narrative itself is the stuff of serious literature. Depending on the rest of the plot and how it comes together, I wouldn’t be surprised to find this required reading in some schools in a few years. As good as your westerns are, this could be the novel that defines your career. This might be the one people talk about when your name is mentioned, even decades from now.’
    If he was stunned, I was even more so. Wasn’t sure about the first person thing, but the damn thing just seems to be pouring out…We shall see.

  18. I have always written. I wrote a 26-page story at ten, I write poetry the way others write journal entries. Like some others here I have made a life of creative pursuits, both personally and professionally. Writing was an avocation. In my 50s I embarked on novel-writing and I find it exhilarating to start something new in my third act of life. I feel no need to summarize a lifetime. Instead, I feel a wondrous sense of being an explorer of new worlds. It’s the same way I felt at 19 in a poetry class with a national poet as a teacher. So much to learn and discover. I hope to always keep that joy.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I keep wanting to do some poetry, but it just never happens. I read a quote somewhere that the poet’s brain is different, and I kinda feel that way. :p

  19. You’re such a deep thinker and express these ideas so well. Though I’ve been writing since I was a teenager and have published short stories, I’m more serious about it in the sense that I want to do it continuously. But this comes later in life for me. Raising my kids and working has slowed the process, though not the passion. So considering the acts 1-3, it makes me wonder if I’ve returned to the game too late. Do I need to make a mental trek back to act 1 to “complete it” or move along? The answer is obvious, but it does lead to much pondering. That’s why it’s a great post!

    Hopefully I’m not delusional when I think that my age (middle life) and life experience gives me SOME kind of advantage, even if I don’t feel I’ve traveled through the acts as you presented (or I have the acts scrambled up a bit ;-).

    Perhaps I did experience act 1 as you described, and I’m in act 2. I just never thought of it that way. Great post. Thought-provoking.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Life doesn’t happen the same way for all of us. Each of us hits certain developmental stages and archetypes with more force than we do others. Sometimes, we have to do some catching up later in life on areas we didn’t fully develop. But, often, I find life just kind of catches us up all on its own. Our instincts arc even when we ourselves perhaps do not.

  20. Hiya, I’m 65 and in lockdown in South Africa. I’ve been a fan for over two years. I’ve finished my first novel today! Put it up to Kobo and developed my own website to market. Every week I’ve tried to act on one of your posts! You’ve helped me so much. I’ve written a backward looking novel (to 2003 in post-Apartheid South Africa) The main POV is a fifteen year old, golf mad, girl from the townships. Couldn’t be further away from my persona, but you got me thinking out of the box. Tonight I thank you, these last few months of self-isolation would have been unbrearable without your posts.

  21. I just turned 70 this year. I’ve been writing since I was in grade school but only writing actual books after my parents passed away about 10 years ago. You see, I’m a lesbian and although my family loves and accepts who I am, my parents would have been embarrassed by my work. My dad was a minister. I couldn’t have shared my work with them and I would have wanted to.
    Being older has now given me not only the freedom to write what I want about what I want, I also have, as you mentioned, the benefit of years of experience and reading and writing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think we all have different stories to tell at different times of our life, for many reasons.

  22. M. Lee Scott says

    Awesome post, K. M.!! What a way to draw us old folks out of the woodwork. I’m like David…looking at 70 and taking it as a blessing. I love where I am in my writing journey even though it’s kicking my butt. I write romance and it’s hard for me to write about the feelings of someone in their early thirties while trying to remember what it felt like for me. I rely on reading other romance writers for research and uses of phrases that are beyond me. I think my next romance will be about an older couple and second chances. That, I can relate to.

  23. I’m in my mid thirties too; been writing off and on since I was a kid, and I don’t think I ever quite had that glorious joy in writing when I was young – not all the way through a piece; not more than I do now.

    I think it was largely that my discernment of what was good writing and what wasn’t was always ahead of my writing skills. Like having perfect pitch and knowing you’re slightly off-key without being able to just fix it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “My discernment of what was good writing and what wasn’t was always ahead of my writing skills.”

      Which, honestly, is an *amazing* skill to have.

  24. I started writing at age 7, mostly animal stories and stuff a 7 yr. old would find interesting. I wrote short stories and poetry through my school years, even had 2 of my poems published in the High School anthology.

    I stuck mainly to poetry throughout my twenties and thirties, all that angst, meaning of love, heartache, and where to we go from here stuff. Somewhere in my forties and fifties, the passion went dormant.

    In my sixties, it came back. I wrote a few fanfiction stories based on a video game I play. It was a nice way to come full circle without all the pressure and learn the basics all over again. At 70 I published my first book through a small indie press, but traditional nonetheless. I wrote because I wanted to, because I had a story to tell. I wasn’t looking for awards or accolades or even a lot of sales. I simply wanted to write and being published was a check mark on my bucket list. I’m now working on a novella that may turn into a series, if I don’t die before I wake.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, all my early stories were about horses. It’s a good place to start. 😀

      • Well Katie, my story is also, to a considerable extent, about horses too😁

        Thank you again for this post, as well as your ever inspiring blog. We all here clearly love and admire you, for your honesty, your courage and intelligence.

        Maybe you’ll never make loads of bucks (we weren’t programmed for this from the beginning), but you are certainly offering an outstanding contribution as a leader of a faithful community.

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